What Sports Franchises Teach Us about Customer Loyalty

As I’m sure everyone has realized that I like a good sporting event. While baseball is my sport of choice I like any event where I feel like I can get emotionally invested in something happening on the field or court. Last week, I watched some of the Giants / Cowboys NFL opening game because it seemed like it would be a good one. This week, ESPN released its Ultimate Team Standings for 2012, which polls “fans” on their approval or disapproval of professional sports franchises.

The teams that ranked in the top 10 were not at all surprising, ranging from the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder to the MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks. (Sidenote: Congrats to my Texas Rangers for ranking #9!) In determining top ranked franchise teams there are a number of factors that ESPN takes into consideration and since we’re all trying to get “fans” on various social networks and boost referral customers, I thought I would break down some of the factors and how you can apply them to your business.

Fan Relations.

Are you providing excellent customer service to your fans? How accessible are you day and night for your customers to get the help that they need? Do you respond to Facebook comments or even negative remarks about your company? It’s important to meet your customers’ needs and be ready to respond if they need something.

Bang for the Buck.

When it comes to a sporting event, fans expect that their experience should be worth the amount of money they have spent for all aspects of their time at a park. This is everything from ticket prices to food prices, and even parking. If a fan doesn’t feel like it was money well spent, they won’t rank that team to have a good reputation and they probably won’t visit again. This one is pretty simple – a business should make sure a customer is getting what they are paying for.

Players.

Are the franchise team players accessible? Is it easy to get an autograph or attend a warm up practice? Even the demeanor and attitude they have in television interviews can be a factor in determining a player’s effect on fan perception. Step back and take a look at your customer service representatives and make sure that they are going above and beyond for clients. Do they smile while they are on the phone? Are they patient and understand when trying to walk a customer through steps? These are factors that will make a mark on customers that will affect your team, and business, as a whole.

Those are just a few factors that can cause a positive or negative reception of your team and business. While the Toronto Maple Leafs (dead last) and the Sacramento Kings (next to dead last) haven’t quite figured out how to make their fans happy, your business has a unique opportunity to learn from the mistakes of those franchises and improve customer relations immediately.

After all, fans always reward their team in the end, one way or another.

8 Things I Learned From Subway

My first job was working at Subway Sandwiches in my small little town. Since the town was small, it meant that I didn't often get slammed by a rush of customers, but sometimes - a school bus would stop for sandwiches on their way home. I was sixteen years old, working until 10 PM on weekends, and I would have rather been uptown with the other kids my age. Eventually, my grades started to suffer so my parents told me that I had to quit - a decision I didn't mind.

I didn't realize it but working at Subway prepared me for any job I would have after it, including this one. Now that I'm older and more mature I look at teenagers who are working fast food and I just want to reach across the counter and tell (punch) them that they are missing a huge opportunity to learn about customer service. Working in fast food taught me eight things that every teenage employee needs to know and these are things I use every day.

  1. Smile - When I am on the phone with a customer they can tell if I am smiling or not. It's important that my tone is friendly and welcoming. There's no way you can hide if you're smiling or not when you're infront of the customer. Smiling at your customer is an important part of all customer service and helps the customer feel like you're glad they are there and chosing your company to so business with. It makes a huge difference to the entire transaction when you simply greet them with a smile.
  2. Acknowledge their presence - Even when you have a line out the door you still need to acknoweldge the presence of the people who are walking in. No, you don't have to call out across the resturaunt that you will be with them in just a moment - they can see that, but when they get up to the counter and are ready to order, simply thank them for waiting. They could have chosen to walk out the door and go down the street to your competition but they didn't.
  3. Put away your cell phone - When a customer is infront of you that customer should be the most important thing in your world. End of story.
  4. Take It Seriously - You are working in food service and, sure, a lot of people would look down their nose at you, but don't let that affect your work attitidue. You're handling food and have the potential to seriously affect someone's health - be sure you keep that in mind and wash your hands, follow cooking instructions, and don't do anything that's going to make me call the health inspector.
  5. Each Customer is a New One - I know that working in fast food might mean you deal with the overly angry customer who treats you like dirt simply because he or she can. That customer is a jerk and he shouldn't treat you like that just because he/she thinks that behavior is acceptable. We have all had bad customers or people that we couldn't communicate with but once they walk away you have to let it go, otherwise every customer will be that guy to you, and you're guranteed to have a horrible day.
  6. Respect the Order - If your company allows for special orders it is really unfair to your customer to roll your eyes when they try to place one. If I want a cheeseburger with extra cheese and no onions please don't make me feel like I've ruined your day by placing such an order.
  7. Keep Opinions About Your Job to Yourself - I know it's not where you see yourself working forever - but for now, it's the job you have and it only makes your customers uncomfortable to know that you dislike your job.
  8. Find Something You Like or Leave - When I worked at Subway, one of my favorite things was to chop tomatoes. It sounds silly, but there was something stress relieving about the giant tomato slicing machine. I looked forward to that time of day even as silly as it was. Find something you like to do and try to look forward to that.

Bonus Tip for the Customer - Sometimes, we make food service jobs very hard. If you walk into a resturuant and have to stand in a very long line to get your food, why are you so mean to the teenager behind the counter? Do you think they wanted to be short staffed today? I know it's easy to just assume that the business didn't properly staff the location but there's a good chance someone called out sick or there was a problem with a register before you got there. If it's noisy in the location and the cashier has to ask you to repeat yourself why do you get so upset about that?

When it comes to customer service, most people are generally understanding of issues that might arise and we try our best to be patient when we're hungry and cranky. One of the things that makes customers less cranky is having a kind, polite, and friendly person behind the counter to speak with.

How to Squeeze More Out of Your Weekly Meetings

It’s hard to imagine anything more routine than a weekly meeting. Typically scheduled at the same time every week, the meeting starts ten minutes late. People filter in and chat about the week. You try to get some things done: discuss the previous week of work and projects, lay out a foundation for the next week, some people take notes, some don’t, and then someone says meeting adjourned and everyone gets back to work—most likely grumbling. Okay. It may not be this bad—but still, it may not be all that good either. Routines are helpful, but they can lose their spunk. By this I mean they turn more into a rut than a routine. With regard to weekly meetings, your team may start to think they’re mundane, a formality, a little unimportant. In reality, a weekly meeting is very important: it can catalyze new ideas, get people back on track with their projects, and it’s a great way for everyone to keep abreast of the bigger picture, keeping some perspective on what your company or organization is doing.

So here are some ideas to help squeeze more out of your weekly meetings.

  1. Make Sure You Have a Weekly Leader – Your organization may be somewhat informal and your meetings are more like discussion time. While in some respects this is good and can breed fruitful ideas, in other respects it can be quite damaging to your meeting’s productivity. Having a leader is important because he or she will keep things moving. They can settle disputes, bring up the next point on the agenda, make sure the meeting starts and ends on time, make sure people stay on topic. Your leader needn’t be the same one each week. But a meeting without a leader is like a ship with no captain at its helm – it will drift off course. To watch a discussion about the importance of a meeting leader, see Broken Meetings (and how you’ll fix them).
  2. Make Sure Your Meeting Starts on Time – People are busy, and it’s annoying when others don’t respect others’ time. Therefore you should always start your meeting punctually. This seems like a given, but how many times have people showed up a few minutes late apologizing and everyone just shrugs it off? This can actually be damaging because it subconsciously primes people to take the meetings less seriously: they figure, meh, no one cares if I’m on time, it’s a pretty casual meeting anyways. A simple system of rewards and punishments will encourage people to show up on time. It doesn’t necessarily be anything big—you could reward those who show up on time with their first choice of projects, for example. Or, for those who are late, they may have to do more work that week. Or, more simply, the person who is late might have to take meeting notes and email them to everyone. For a more exhaustive list of ways to get your meeting kicked off on time, see here.
  3. As Meeting Leader, Set Clear Agenda – Weekly meetings will run most efficiently if you have a clear, step-by-step agenda. This can be organized with a broad topic and a checklist. For example, this week’s broad meeting topic may be “Increasing Customer Base.” Under that broad topic you would then have an agenda by which you proceed: Brief Intro – 3 minutes; Brainstorm – 10 minutes; Pick Strategies – 10 minutes; Plan for Implementation – 7 minutes. Having a time-stamped breakdown will keep things moving fast, keep things on topic, and generally help keep the meeting productive.
  4. Keep Meetings Short – A meeting should waste no unnecessary time just like a painting should waste no unnecessary paint. One of the common ailments of a weekly meeting is simply that it’s allotted too much time. Keeping them brief-20-25 minutes-is good because it allows your team to focus on a few key items, lets people get back to work, dissuades people from showing up late, and is respectful of everyone’s time.
  5. Use Tools Available For Organizing and Timing – The Internet has recently sprung to live several free web apps that will help you organize meetings. For keeping meeting notes, we recommend Evernote – it syncs all of your notes in the cloud, meaning they’re available on all of your devices and can be shared with your whole team. Another great app for minutes is minutes.i, which is devoted to meeting minutes. You fire up the website and it generates a minutes template that can be shared immediately after the meeting. Timebridge coordinates everyone’s calendars, finding the best times to hold your weekly meeting, check it out here.

4 Little Things That Matter

A lot of customer service happens through communication mediums that aren't the telephone. Most companies have recognized that and provide tons of ways for their customers to get in touch with them. (For example you can get us here, here, here, or here, and you can call us too!) While we still have a lot of customers that like to talk to us on the phone, there are many who prefer to contact us via email. Over the phone, it's easy to gain a connection to your customer by simply smiling or having a brief chat about something that's not related to the purpose of their call. Without your voice to back you up in an email it becomes even more important to do those "little things" to get close with your customer.

Spelling

Did you spell the customer’s name correctly? This might seem like an obvious common sense kind of thing, but I can speak from personal experience here. I have a unique spelling of my name and while I am usually pretty forgiving of the misspelling, I feel like an agency that gets my money should spell my name correctly. Email correspondence already loses some of your interaction with the customer, so make sure that the extra second is being taken to spell the customer’s name right.

Making The Offer

I'm not talking about additional products and services here, just the general let me know if there's anything else comment. The way we handle customer service is a policy where anyone can help a customer but we know there are customers who want one contact. By making the offer to help with anything, we let customers know that the person they are corresponding with can help them with any of their questions.

Please & Thank You

Losing the vocal connection with a customer means that they can't hear your tone. I've warned before in posts that one of the biggest concerns about email should be the lack of tone. A customer can infer what you're writing however they want and that can be good or bad for you. By using please and thank you in the email you're letting them know that you're asking them for more information. Don't overuse the phrases and end up sounding condescending.

Know When to Call

I've said it before and I'll say it again - if an email takes longer than two replies to resolve an issue or answer a question, pick up the phone and give the customer a call. Once you start firing a long chain of emails back and forth things are going to get very confusing. The third email you have to send to a customer should include the sentence When is a good time to give you a call so we can talk?

Customer service is something that needs to be available on all platforms that a customer might be using. Businesses are available on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks because their customers are there, but in the end, it's mostly the main forms of communication that remain - customer service by phone and customer service by email. When you lose the phone portion of customer service you lose some of the connection with your customer. You can do a little more in your email correspondence to make sure the customer feels the same kind of connection. What other "little things" can you do to make sure that customer service is translating across email?

Customer Service Chat Tips

I sit behind a computer a lot, pretty much all day long. I check news sites, I write at work, I write at home, I send Tweets and update Facebook. Like many others, I am probably more likely to answer an email or a tweet than I am to answer a phone call. So when it comes to getting some help with a question or a need – I’m the person digging around on your website for a chat option, because I have too many things going on to try to wait 30 minutes for a rep to pick up the phone.

Not too long ago, I was on a chat with a company and felt like I was not being respected as the customer. I kept being told to hold on, there were long delays in getting any kind of response, and it seemed like the person wasn’t interested in dealing with my questions.

If you have read our post over on the AMEX Open Forum you know that we have very specific policies in regards to the way we handle customer service. When we decided to integrate a chat option, we kept many of the frustrations in mind and adopted five rules on how to responsibly use our customer chat feature.

  1. Take people chatting with customers off the phones. When we get notification of a chat, the person handling it immediately goes out of the phone queue. The chat customer deserves our full attention. We would never take two customer phone calls at the same time, so why try to juggle a chat and a phone call?
  2. No pop up window asking if someone wants to chat. We make our chat button visible and available on our website. We never “time” our customers and interrupt their browsing session in order to ask them if they need help. If they need us, they will let us know.
  3. We don’t ask our customers for feedback at the beginning of the chat. We feel like this can take advantage of the relationship we have with our clients. We believe that we shouldn’t ask our customers to “sell” our business for us, but if they want to talk to the manager or leave us great feedback, we will happily accept it.
  4. We let them know what’s going on. If a customer asks us something and we have to do some research on it, we always let them know to hold on for just a second and we’ll check everything out for them. If it takes us longer than we expect, we go back to the chat and update the customer. We would never leave a customer on the phone on hold for a long time and we don’t do that with our chat customers.
  5. Still no scripts. We have no phone scripts and we have no chat scripts. Just like over the phone, being able to operate without restrictions allows us to develop a friendly relationship with a client and better answer their questions. Copy and pasting is lame.

For the most part, customer chat seems to run smoothly, but recently, I’ve had some really annoying experiences and wondered why companies make things so difficult. Chatting is a great way for customers to contact us and we’ve had great success with it. Our customers are happy to have a lot of options if they want to get in touch with us. What are you doing to make chat customers feel as welcomed as those that call in on the phone?

Are You Asking The Right Questions?

I’ve finally purchased a home and one of the (many) unexpected things I have to do involves transferring my utilities. My power company makes it very easy – all I have to do is go online and arrange for the start date at one address and the stop date at the other. (Thanks Reliant)

With my cable company, my husband and I have been considering switching to a different company, since my bill has gotten completely out of control. I joined the customer service chat with my current provider to get details on how to turn off the service, if we chose to do so. The person I chatted with was very helpful and I was very honest with her about what we were considering.

She gave me all of the information, let me know about when I would be billed again and how the bill would be prorated should we chose to disconnect our services. She forgot one very important thing – she never asked me why I was planning a switch of services. There’s a good chance that with the right price, I could have been persuaded to stay with them a little longer.

My reason for wanting to leave is the steady dollar or two rise of my bill over the last few cycles, which can add up fast. This representative failed to ask me one very simple question – Why is it that you are looking for a new service? It’s very important when a customer calls you to cancel or close their service you ask them why they are interested in discontinuing their services.

Even if you can’t retain the customer, they might be willing to give you some insight on how you can improve an aspect or two of your company. Are you asking questions when your clients call in to cancel services? Do you think it’s important to find out why they are leaving and going to another brand? What do you ask them instead?

Why a Follow-Up Email Works

I have done business with a particular insurance company for about seven years now. I’ve never shopped around and I know that there are probably other companies out there who could give me similar coverage for a better rate. With two vehicles and a renter’s policy, our insurance each month is probably on the higher end of average, but I write them a check with a smile on my face.

The other day I was reminded why I stay with that company. I checked my email, just to see this note:

Subj:Hey Girl:

Hey Miss Maranda, {A recent referral to them} name just popped up on my screen and it made me think of you. I hope all is well with you!! We just don’t email and talk like we used to when you were {with another company} so I’m just stopping in to make sure everything is going okay.

Quick, simple, to the point, and it made me smile. She didn’t ask me for additional business, nor did she try to include any additional services or sell me products through this email. She simply asked me how I was doing. This is an excellent follow up email simply because there was no reason for it except that she was reminded of me.

Are you doing that? We all have memorable customers (I know I have) and the human brain will remind us of these people on occasion. When a customer pops into your brain, are you doing anything about it or simply asking yourself Hey, I wonder how they are doing up there? It’s not to sell anything; it’s to establish a relationship with your customer because it’s important to do so. I know that I’m not the only customer my insurance agent deals with, but with this wonderful member of the agents team thinking of me, it makes me feel like I really have made the best choice in my auto and renters insurance.

What does work for them is that the email reminded me I need to get my homeowners insurance quotes from them. So even though she didn’t mean to, she just generated some more business for her company. Are you sending your customers follow up emails when they cross your mind? Do you use them as an opportunity to pitch new ideas or simply as a way to reach out to them and see how they are?

Internet Explorer Nine BETA & AccuConference

Just as a quick public service to all of our customers out there, we’ve been notified that some customers who are using IE 9 are having some trouble when trying to use our services. The problems stem from those who are still on the BETA version of IE 9. If you’re having problems with IE 9, you simply need to install the full version in order to be fully operational with our services. If you’re not sure how to find out if you’re on IE 9 BETA or the full, completed version, you can find that information under “About Internet Explorer”.

The Responsibility of an “Expert”

In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, sometimes we get thunderstorms that prompt tornado warnings and sirens, sending families and pets into the bathroom or underground to take cover. Weather both fascinates and scares me, so when there’s severe weather in the area, I’m always on a local station website. Some of these sites include chat programs where volunteers, usually storm spotters or chasers, help the public to understand when and where these storms will be moving.

They aren’t meteorologists but their experience makes them a trusted source. Imagine my surprise when one of these trusted sources began to talk about how he personally didn’t feel like there was much of a tornado threat in our area, despite active watches in the area. He’s trusted, certified, and understands how the weather works. On Tuesday night, there ended up being 13 reported tornado touch downs in our area which made his comments very irresponsible.

When you call yourself (or get called) an expert, it puts you in the position where you become responsible for communicating accurate information, no matter what the subject.

Anytime you consider yourself to be an expert, you have to respect that title, and use it to educate your clients, customers, or people looking to you for advice.

For example, we are considered to be conference experts, but that is only because every single one of our operators is trained the exact same way with all of our products. This is to ensure that a customer can speak to anyone and always get consistent information. We also try to educate our customers so that they know and understand how a product works, or what additional features might be available to them. We can walk you through setting up your first conference from start to finish, and even suggest any of our services that might help you get a little more from the service.

Since we are experts in our field, we take it very seriously, and if you’re in the position where you feel like you are “expert” enough to make yourself publically available, you better respect that. How do you stay true to the trust that your customers and clients have given you?

The CDC Gets Their Marketing On – Zombie Style

“Honey – do you have something called a zombie plan?” The newlywed wife asks her husband. He turns to her, shock on his face that she could even ask such a question, and then nods, solemnly, holding a hand to his heart in a patriotic fashion, before replying. “Yes. I do. I’ve had one for many years.”

Before I was married, I had no idea that something called a “zombie apocalypse” was a concern, nor did I realize that men spent a lot of energy thinking about escape routes, weapons, and doing careful research on the best way to kill the brain-eating un-dead. (I also learned that snickering, making fun of, or pointing out the flaws in the plan was bad.) After learning this, I asked my Dad and brother what their plan for the zombies entailed and realized that not only did my father and brother have a plan; they spent many evenings when I was a child, discussing how to barricade the house and protect the women of the household.

Apparently, the Center for Disease Control and Preparedness also has a zombie plan. Released this week, the “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” gives you tips and tricks on how to prepare your home for the impending doom. The funny thing about the guide is that the emergency kit suggested is a lot like the kit they suggest for a number of natural disasters: flashlights, water supplies, shoes, and food, just to name a few.

Hold the phone, CDC. I thought this was about preparing for the zombie apocalypse, not readying myself for any kind of emergency.

This is the brilliance of their zombie preparedness guide. Who among us have ever Tweeted or shared a link to a “how to be prepared in the event of a flood/earthquake/tornado” guide? The answer is probably not many of us have shared that information, much like many of us don’t have the proper items in an emergency kit. With the zombie preparedness guide, the CDC has made us read about something that might be pretty boring to most people – preparing for emergencies. They have marketed the importance of being prepared on a level people care about.

That’s what we should be doing with our clients. We have to find a way to talk to them through the channels they are using. There are few people out there who have a plan for floods or an earthquake, but many who know what to do in the event of a hypothetical situation like zombie roaming the earth. We have to be able to find a way to tell our customers what we want them to know through a subject they care about. We’ve already done that by migrating customer service to include social avenues like Twitter and Facebook but are we being sure to see what else our customers are talking about?

It’s absolute marketing brilliance on the part of the CDC who wants you to get a kit, have a plan, and be prepared no matter what the emergency. While their zombie plan is missing some of the things I’m told are essential to a zombie-survival kit (sawed off shot guns and Japanese throwing stars, for example) their suggestions make for a great kit in the event of a tornado – which is what they wanted me to think about in the first place.

How are you leveling with your customers like the CDC?