Tag Archives: Customer Service

Half-Truths and Omission of Facts in Selling

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Photo Credit: Flickr

My first job was working for a sporting goods store in a mall. I was really excited because it was a well-known company and had a sister company selling athletic shoes and clothing. But my manager was a guy much more concerned with making a sale than building a quality sales team or creating customer loyalty.

One incident still stands out in my mind to this day. A teenager and his mother came into the store looking for a new backpack since the seams were coming apart. I asked him the brand of his backpack, and when he told me, I shared with him and his mom that he did not need to buy a new backpack. Instead, all he needed to do was write to that company and ask them to repair or replace the backpack since it has a lifetime warranty on it. I told them that I had done this and that company honored their lifetime warranty and repaired my backpack just several months before.

My manager smiled, but as soon as they left, he berated me for losing a sale. When I tried to explain why I did what I did, he dismissed my reasons and told me that I did not have to tell them the whole truth, and that I should have left out the lifetime warranty part so they would have to buy a new backpack from our store.

I shared this piece of information with them for two reasons. First, it was the right thing to do. Rather than leaving out important information (e.g., they did not need to buy a new backpack) or tell some half-truths I felt it was best to help them save money. Second, by saving customers money, I established trust and built an honest relationship with a potential repeat customer or have that customer share via word of mouth how helpful I was to their friends and family. In fact, the mother was especially thankful and kept thanking me as she was leaving our store.

BUSINESS LESSON: What that sporting goods store manager failed to understand was that a sale was not lost, but rather a customer was gained. And in the eyes and minds of those two customers, I had earn their trust and respect. What’s more, they might be returning to the store because I had taken good care of them. They might even tell other people about their positive experience with me and refer other customers my way. Making a quick buck by deceiving customers with half-truths and leaving out important facts is what a manager with a short-term, self-serving mentality does. However, a great long-range mentality manager knows that business sales depends greatly on establishing and maintaining relationships with customers, and this is achieved by earning their trust.

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Customers Hate Rudeness Even When It’s Not Directed at Them

In their research studies, Porath, MacInnis, & Folkes (2010) “demonstrate[d] that witnessing an incident of employee-employee incivility cause[d] consumers to make negative generalizations about (a) others who work for the firm, (b) the firm as a whole, and (c) future encounters with the firm, inferences that go well beyond the incivility incident” (p. 292).

We might expect that incivility directed at consumers would just have negative effects on those consumers. However, and this is what’s noteworthy, research showed that “consumers are also negatively affected even when they are mere observers of incivility between employees” (Porath et al., 2010, p. 301).

In Study 1, the researchers (Porath et al., 2010) used an employee-employee incivility incident among representatives of a bank, and involved a reprimand of one employee by another. Study 1 demonstrated that consumers became angry when they witnessed an employee behaving in an uncivil manner toward another employee, even when the organization was new (or unknown) to them (consumers).

In Study 2, the researchers (Porath et al., 2010) used an employee-employee incivility incident among representatives of a well-known bookstore. The researchers discovered that, even for a place that was familiar, when customers witnessed one employee being treated uncivilly by another, the customers’ anger lead to ruminating about the incident and faster and more negative generalizations about the company.

Sound Bite: Customers are watching not only how companies treat them, but how these organizations treat their own employees and how coworkers within the organizations treat one another. More importantly, even when bad behaviors are not directed at the customers themselves, their negative observations of incivility between employees lead to negative impressions about the organizations for which the employees work.

“[I]ncivility (and the anger it induces) causes consumers to make far-reaching and negative conclusions about the firm” (Porath et al., 2010, p. 300).

Reference

Porath, C., MacInnis, D., & Folkes, V. (2010). Witnessing incivility among employees: Effects on consumer anger and negative inferences about companies. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(2), 292-303.

What Customers Want

In “Serving Internal and External Customers,” Swartzlander (2004) outlined what customers want. She maintained that customers want to feel valued by the companies and/or places they conduct business with. More than anything else, customers value the way they’re treated. An American Society for Quality Control study found that less than 10% of customers leave/go elsewhere (defect) for reasons not related to the business (e.g., moving or no longer need the product); less than 10% liked a competitor’s product; and about 15% defected because they were unhappy/dissatisfied with the product. However, the study discovered that more than 65% of customers went elsewhere because of poor customer service.

As a former waiter and someone who has held various customer service jobs, I instantly look for good customer service everywhere I go. I expect good customer service when I go to a bookstore, when I go to a restaurant, when I buy groceries, etc. About two weeks ago, my wife and I went to the mall looking for an eye glasses case. My wife had misplaced her old case and since we were at the mall, we decided to stop by one of the eye glasses stores there.

In the first store we visited, the employee never even acknowledged us. He never asked us if we needed help or to let him know if there was something he could do. For that matter, he never even bothered looking up from his station! We were there for a few minutes digging through their selection of eyeglass cases. When we didn’t see anything that would fit my wife’s eyeglasses, we gladly left.

The second store we walked into was much different. Almost as soon as we entered, a customer service person looked up, smiled, and asked if he could help. We told him that we were looking for an eyeglasses case. He asked when we purchased the eyeglasses to which I replied that we bought it at another place. This gentleman, smiled and asked us to sit down. He pointed to the area where there were some cases available and then offered to clean my wife’s glasses.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find anything. But, rather than resorting to making faces or displaying other rude nonverbal behaviors, this man called downstairs to a sunglasses kiosk (one of his competitors) to ask if they still carried that small case he remembered from before. He hung up the phone, finished polishing and returned my wife’s glasses, and then told us where to go find a smaller case that would fit.

This employee displayed “positive personalization,” the positive social interaction between a service provider and the customer. Positive personalization has a positive effect on how customers perceive and evaluate the overall service quality of an establishment and in consideration about repurchases.

Swartzlander (2004) stated that personalization can range from the positive, warm feeling to the opposite – cold and impersonal. With the first store, we definitely felt the negative personalization (cold and impersonal), but with the second store our experience of positive personalization (positive, warm feeling) restored our faith that not all service professionals are bad or rude. And even though we may experience negative personalization more often than we would like, we’re always glad to come across positive personalization.

Your business customers want to be treated with respect and civility. It’s not rocket science. If your company/organization does not deliver, remember that out of every 100 customers, 65 will not come back because of poor customer service.

Reference

Swartzlander, A. (2004). Serving Internal and External Customers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bad Attitudes Lead to Bad Behaviors

Back in the 1990’s I took a vacation to Cancun, Mexico. It was a great experience. One thing I still don’t understand is why people get so dressed up when they fly. Think about it, you’re sitting uncomfortably in a seat designed for a child because any adult over 4 feet tall can attest, it’s pretty snug squeezing yourself into the seat, sometimes in between two other passengers. And let’s be honest, airline seats aren’t the cleanest. Then there’s the whole going to the restroom bit.

For all these reasons and more, I almost always wear the most comfortable clothes I have. On most days, this means t-shirt, shorts, and a pair of sandals.

On the flight from Cancun back to Houston (and then Dallas), I was lucky enough to be bumped up to first class. I forgot why, but I think the airline made some type of mistake. No worries, I was excited to be able to stretch my legs and not be packed in with the other passengers back in coach class.

Anyone who’s ever been on vacation as a tourist understands that you end up buying and wearing clothes you’ll never, ever wear again. But, at the time, it’s fun. While in Cancun, I got myself one of those cool (at least I thought so) ponchos that had “Cancun, Mexico” printed on it.

Thus, my traveling outfit that day consisted of my Cancun poncho, shorts, and sandals. I looked like a cross between the guy from the movie Sixteen Candles (the one that said “Automobile?”) and a Mexican cowboy. Looking back, I’m fairly certain I could have been nominated to be on a “make-over” TV show. I still laugh when I think back to what I was wearing that day.

But what happened once I got on the plane wasn’t so funny.

I was like a kid in a candy store. I still couldn’t believe my good fortune to be placed in first (or business) class. Proudly sporting my Cancun poncho and in my comfortable shorts and sandals, I headed to my seat and proceeded to sit down.

Still standing over my seat and just as I was about to sit down, a flight attendant came rushing down the aisle towards me and in a strong tone said, “Sir, you can’t sit here!”

I don’t remember if I was surprised or offended or both, but I smiled and responded, “Ma’am, I’m suppose to be here. This is my seat” and showed her my boarding ticket with my seat assignment.

The great thing about being bumped up to first class is that no one knows about it. So this flight attendant had no idea if I paid for my seat or if I got placed there as a free upgrade. But, that shouldn’t have mattered.

Clearly surprised, the flight attendant nodded, mumbling and stumbling over her words, apologized, and left.

Why did she apologize? Because she took one look and formed an attitude (an impression) about me and my place on the plane, which was clearly not in first class. We all do this. We see people (their appearances) and form opinions about them. Our bad attitudes will lead to our bad behaviors.

In their classic textbook titled “Social Psychology,” Kassin, Fein, & Markus (2008) found that when attitudes (our positive, negative, or mixed reaction to a person, object, or idea) are strong and specific they determine our actions. We vote based on our political opinions, we based our buying decisions on attitudes about the products, and racism is rooted in our negative feelings about a person based on their membership in certain groups.

Attitudes are important determinants of behavior. – Kassin, Fein, & Markus (2008, p. 189)

Our bad attitudes lead, not only to our bad behaviors, they also hurt our organizations in at least two important ways:

  1. Lost of revenue, and
  2. Damage to corporate image

In my case with the flight attendant, forming negative attitudes about others based on their appearances can be embarrassing (at best). But at the other end of the spectrum, you can offend customers so much that you lose them as valuable clients (or fail to maintain those customers who are loyal), and they’ll tell others about how poorly you treated them.

Suppose I wasn’t some college kid, but ran my own business or was CHRO (Chief Human Resources Officer) for a company. And the actions of this flight attendant offended me so much that not only did the airline lose me as a valued member, but I wrote a complaint letter about the incident to the airline president. What’s more, suppose I had told all my family members and friends about what happened. That didn’t happen, but let’s suppose it did.

This next story actually did happen several years ago during a car buying experience. We were so turned off by the car salesman’s condescending attitude (“Can you pay for this car?”) that we actually walked out during the negotiation process and purchased a car from a competitor. And the answer to his question was “yes” we could afford to pay, and gladly did so – to his competition.

How many of us have ever chosen to avoid dining at restaurants with a rude wait staff? How many of us have ever done business with a company because we liked the people working there and how they treated us, even if they weren’t the cheapest? I have and I bet you have too.

How to Change Attitudes

Persuasion by Communication (Change as a Result of Others)

  1. Our attitudes change based on the merits of the source (i.e., influenced by the strength & quality of the arguments).
  2. Our attitudes change based on superficial cues (e.g., if the person has a good reputation, speaks or writes well, we tend to believe and accept his/her message).

Persuasion by Our Own Actions (Change from Within Ourselves)

Sometimes when our actions deviate so far from our character and convictions (called cognitive dissonance), it causes us to want to change our attitudes.

I’ll take the cognitive dissonance example and relate it to the world of business. When leaders, managers, and/or employees act badly (behaviors) toward customers, it’s crucial to get to the root cause by examining both the individual’s and the organization’s attitudes (thinking).

When bad behaviors (toward customers and even one another) deviate so far from your corporate mission & culture, ask yourself:

Isn’t it time the entire company change its corporate attitude?

Reference

Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H.R. (2008). Social psychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Poor Customer Service Hurts Your Business

One thing I always notice is how often quality is sacrificed for speed. At the local supermarket near where I live in north Dallas, they have a “self-checkout” lane that can accommodate up to six customers. For those who have never had the pleasure (I’m being sarcastic here) of using one of these “self-checkout” lanes, let me fill you in on what you are not missing out on.

Apparently, in the quest to improve customer service (and cut cost), grocery chains and even Wal-mart have created lanes that allow customers to scan their own items. In essence, the customer now becomes the unpaid employee.

The idea is fine, that is let the customer do the work while reducing the cost to hire an employee because by doing the work the customer is in control.

This is not very smart. First, your customers should never perform duties meant for employees. This is not elitist, it’s simply the idea that when I go into a store to buy a product, I should not also be forced to work as an unpaid employee.

Second (and my biggest complaint) is that the customer is not trained to perform tasks that paid employees can do. Let’s go back to the “self-checkout” lane. Maybe it’s just that I always have bad luck because these “self-checkout” lanes never work right. At first my wife thought that I didn’t know how to use them. And while it’s true that my wife is right about lots of things, it turns out that she also has trouble with “self-checkout” lanes herself.

Why?

The first problem is the annoying automated voice that speaks when it senses any item being removed from the bagging compartment without permission. Makes you feel like a second grader doesn’t it? For some reason, this bagging compartment police prevents you from scanning your next item until you put back what you took out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to know when things are removed or placed back and will keep repeating the same message.

So, after slowing down the process (with people staring and waiting impatiently behind you), I’ll look around for some assistance (there’s always one person standing there, I think, to supervise). The “paid” employee then walks over, punches in a few codes, and then it’s back to work for the “unpaid” employee.

The second problem is that when you have an item that isn’t listed, you have to find it on the touchpad. But it isn’t always simple to find because there are different varieties of tomatoes, etc.

So, again, after slowing down the process, I’ll look around for some assistance and the “paid” employee then walks over (again), punches in a few codes, and then it’s back to work for the “unpaid” employee. You get the idea.

Call it bad luck because this insane scenario seems to happen to me 9 out of 10 times I’m in these “self-checkout” lanes. It’s rarely ever faster, and instead creates more problems and ends up wasting time (mine and the “paid” employee).

In Harvard Business Review’s “What service customers really want,” Dougherty and Murthy (2009) point out that customers are no longer putting up with “rushed and inconvenient” service that’s become commonplace in today’s business. Customers want a great experience when they come into a business establishment, whether it’s selling groceries or dry cleaning clothes. Businesses that understand this will gain customer loyalty.

In their research, Dougherty and Murthy (2009) discovered that when customers contact businesses for service (i.e., calling customer service), they want two things.

First, is the employee helping me (frontline employee) knowledgeable?

Second, will the issues I have be resolved on the first call?

Regrettably, many service centers (call centers) continue to track and measure time on hold and minutes per call just as they have done so for decades! The irony is that when companies do this, the message to the employees is to hurry up, resulting in a rushed job – exactly the kind of experiences customers hate.

On average, 40% of customers who suffer through bad experiences stop doing business with the offending company.

Companies need to allow for some flexibility. Give your employees some latitude “to meet individual customers’ needs and provide positive, satisfying experiences.” Managers should check whether the customers’ problems were resolved during first contact, find out what the true problem is (if the issue isn’t resolved in one call), and then make the change needed.

Some companies are arrogant enough to believe that irritated, pissed off customers will forgive them and come back for more. But “research indicates that, on the contrary, alienated customers often disappear without the slightest warning.”

Bottom line: Never sacrifice quality for speed. Your customers will become irritated and disappear and your business won’t have the “customer” in customer service to worry about anymore.

Reference

Dougherty, D. & Murthy, A. (2009). What service customers really want. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 1, 2010 from http://hbr.org/2009/09/what-service-customers-really-want/ar/1