Archive

Archive by topic: Customer service

Open Table + Renee’s Rules™

June 13th, 2014

Unless you were asleep today, you know that Priceline is acquiring Open Table.  My main concern about the acquisition is that Priceline might muck up one of my all-time favorite companies!

Why is Open Table a favorite?  Because they follow one of the most important of Renee’s Rules™:  Make my life easy!

In case you have not used Open Table

• It is easy to make a meal reservation
• It is easy to change a reservation
• If you don’t yet know where you want to go, it is easy to decide which restaurant to choose
• It is easy to read reviews, read the menu, find the location, and visit the restaurant’s website
• It is easy to write a review
• They never bug you with unwanted emails
• The site never malfunctions
• After you make a certain number of reservations, you actually get money back to use at an Open Table restaurant
• BEST OF ALL: I have never, ever wanted, needed, or had to contact their tech support!

So many companies send follow up surveys asking you to tell them about your most recent tech support experience.  The question they never ask but should is, “What should we change so that you would not have had to spend your valuable time contacting us?”

 



Healthgrades.com: What’s missing

December 14th, 2013

First, because healthcare is a hot topic, let me be PERFECTLY clear:  I am not an expert on “Obamacare” and do not know whether it will prove, overall, to be a good or a bad thing.  My comments here focus solely on a missing piece at healthgrades.com and NOT any legislation.

If you have followed my blog, you know that I am a strong advocate for results-based hiring and results-based management.  Many bad hiring decisions have been made because decisions were based on “industry experience” rather than results.  Many companies have failed because management was not evaluated or rewarded based on results.

Physicians, too, should be evaluated based on results, and healthgrades.com has an opportunity to help with that.  Currently, their review criteria (somewhat edited) are:

  • Ease of scheduling urgent appointments
  • Office environment
  • Staff friendliness
  • Total wait time
  • Level of trust in doctor’s decisions
  • How well doctor explains
  • How well provider listens
  • Spends an appropriate amount of time

What’s missing?  Level of satisfaction with results.

To illustrate my point:  Although I do care about how long I have to wait, how good a listener my physician is, etc., my main concern is results.  Almost 10 years ago I had a problem with my foot.  I saw a well-known orthopedic surgeon/foot specialist.  His office was exceptionally well-organized; he did not keep me waiting;  he was VERY nice, a VERY good listener, took time to answer my questions, but his recommended solution was a surgery that would have kept me off my feet for 3-6 months.  For a second opinion, I saw a different orthopedic surgeon/foot specialist. His office was not as well-organized, and he was gruff, to say the least.  Bottom line:  He recommended a change in orthotics instead of surgery.  Ten years later, I am doing well and have not had to have surgery, thank you very much!  As you might imagine, I prefer Dr. Gruff-who-got-results-without-surgery to Dr. Nice!  (Of course, the dream doctor is the one who is both nice, etc. AND gets the best results.)

Sometimes, people make decisions–selecting doctors, treatments, etc.,  based on how they feel rather than on results achieved.  If healthgrades.com added “Satisfaction with results” to the list of criteria, it would likely help both physicians and prospective patients focus more on outcomes.

Renee’s Rule™: Results matter.



X1: THE search solution!

November 7th, 2013

Tired of trying to find documents and emails in Windows?  Spending hours doing it?  Try X1

It will change your life!!!  I have been using it for more than a year.  Finding documents is super easy and super fast–and their customer support (rarely needed) is SUPERB.



Has Personalization gone amuck?

September 14th, 2013

Am I the only person who feels “over-personalized?”

The Wall Street Journal on-line now wants to “personalize” my news.  I absolutely love being able to get my news on-line, but one of the biggest reasons I subscribe is to learn about topics that should or might be of interest to me–just like I did when I used to read print newspapers. Over-personalization could deprive me of that opportunity, or, at least, make it more difficult.

On top of that, the current trend to on-line “personalization” can misinterpret my interests.  For example:  On news.google.com (my home page), I read about the Kim Kardashian/Kanye West hook-up.  Into my mind popped, “What a perfect couple!”  (I do not mean that in a nice way…) and–don’t ask me what possessed me–but I clicked to see the article.   For WEEKS thereafter, every time I looked at Google News, there was news about those two.  Was I interested?  No?  But Google News thought I was.

Somewhere between no personalization and extreme personalization is the perfect solution, and I hope someone develops it soon.

What do you think?



My most recent post….

May 19th, 2013

As you can see, I haven’t “blogged” since March 7th.  The reason? I’ve simply been inundated on both the business and personal fronts (most of it good!).

Recently, however, someone whom I respect criticized my most recent post, so I decided to clarify its purpose:

  • In several prior posts, I have made the point that poor customer service and lack of attention to operational excellence can lead to lost customers, lost sales, lower profits–poor financial results.
  • I have also written about “the paradox of choice;” i.e., when companies offer too many choices, people may avoid making purchases and/or may buy from a competitor that provides fewer choices–poor financial results.
  • In my most recent post, I was making the point that not only can poor customer service and too many choices lead to undesirable financial results, but they can also lead to undesirable societal results; e.g., increased stress; wasted time; anger and frustration.

If I were a researcher, I would conduct a study and write a book about the impacts of disorganized, inefficient businesses on society as a whole.  To me, that is a topic worth exploring.

 



Office Depot/Office Max

March 6th, 2013

As you may recall, one of Renee’s Rules™ is “Two sick companies do not make a healthy one.”  

Based on my in-store and on-line customer service experiences with both Office Depot and Office Max, I predict that my rule will prove true for their upcoming merger UNLESS–and this is important–they hire a new, capable CEO for the combined entity. Although it is true that some of their troubles are attributable to the changing environment, the bigger problems is that these two companies simply are not well managed.

I rarely visited the Office Depot store in downtown Portland.  Store layout was horrid.  It simply took too long to find anything.  (Apparently, others felt the same.  The store is a ghost of its former self.)  The last time I tried to do business with Office Depot, I tried to use a coupon I received in the mail to make an on-line purchase.  The website would not recognize the coupon, so I tried calling.  When the customer service rep was unable to solve the problem after 15 minutes, I said, “Thank you very much” and have never bought anything from them again.  I really do “vote with my feet and/or my fingers.”

Office Max seems slightly better, but when I recently returned home from buying supplies at Office Max, I found a coupon that had started that day.  Really?

In the big picture, I am a teeny customer, but the examples above are symptoms of the kinds of problems that affect larger customers, too.

These companies–like too many others (ToysRUs comes to mind.)–simply do not pay adequate attention to operations and to detail.  They do not think about what it is like to be their customer.   The merger will extend life but is unlikely to produce a healthy entity.

 

 

 



Call centers off shore

November 26th, 2011

The New York Times today has a story, “A New Capital of Call Centers,” which focuses on the fact that many  companies with US customers are moving their call centers to the Phillipines or back to the U.S. because personnel in the new locations speak better English than, say, their counterparts in India.

Evidently, these companies believe that customers’ primary concern is the quality of the language used by the call center agents.  My primary concern, however, is whether or not the call center agent is actually able to answer my questions, solve my problem, and/or take my order accurately.  Overall,  I’ve had much better luck with the hard-to-understand foreign agents who seem to know what they are talking about than with US-based agents who are poorly trained and/or work in call centers in which no system is in place to help callers actually get their questions answered.

In brief, I wish companies would pay more attention to this Renee’s Rule™: Make my life easy.

What do you wish?

 

 



Steve Jobs made my life easy.

October 5th, 2011

There have been many analyses written about what made Steve Jobs great, but the articles I have read have missed the key ingredient:  Steve was able to make things easy for his customers.  He knew instinctively that people would be more likely to use products that were intuitively easy to use, and his genius was that he was able to turn the idea of easy into the reality of easy.

My sons have saved my Apple IIe and the floppy disks with the  games they played.  We all love our iPhones, iPads, and Macs…..

I’ve been thinking about the  issue of “easy” because I had two “high-end” ovens installed in my kitchen this week.  Really, I just want to be able to put something into the oven and cook it, but the display is so complicated and the instruction book so inadequate that what should be intuitively easy, will take hours.  Will I love my ovens when I finally figure them out?  Of course, but the manufacturer has missed the boat by failing to provide the “customer delight” that results when something is actually easy to use.

Today, most of us feel that it has become increasingly difficult to get things done, so “easy” is now more important than ever.

As you may recall, one of  Renee’s Rules™ is:  Make my life easy.  This was one of Steve Job’s Rules long before it was mine.



A picture’s worth a thousand words……

June 13th, 2011

It’s no wonder Sears is in trouble.  Their personnel training and software systems need help.

The situation:  A repair person came to perform annual preventive maintenance on my Kenmore washer and dryer.  When I showed the person that I could not get the lint screen clean, he offered to send me a new one because a clogged screen slows down the drying process and uses more electricity.

He ordered a replacement screen.  Sears sent the wrong screen.   It would not fit into the slot.

I called Sears to order a replacement for the replacement and carefully explained what had happened, including that the problem was  that the screen, itself, had lint that could not be removed by the repair person or by me.

Again, Sears sent the wrong part–but a different wrong part.  In the photo below, the original part is on the top; the second replacement part, on the bottom.  As you can see, there is no “screen” on the second part.

Original  and  replacement "screen"

Original and Replacement "Screen"

Here’s the worst part:  After getting the second wrong part, I tried cleaning the screen with a soft-scrubbing sponge–guess what?  It worked!  If the repair person had only been properly trained……

Sears’ cost:  Time for the repair person and the operators who took both the first and second orders + shipping for two parts + an unhappy customer.

 

 

 

 



Foundary.com update

April 26th, 2011

In my last post, I questioned the wisdom of  Foundary.com’s lack of a search function.  In fact, I had actually sent an email to  them about this topic.

Here is a part of their reply: “Because we have a very limited, specialized, selection and each sale only lasts a few days there is no search feature.”

There is hope, however.  When  I visited their site today, there was a “Search” field…It doesn’t work for items on their site–it takes visitors to other websites–but I am hoping this means they listened and will develop an effective search function in the not-to-distant future.  If they do, I may shop there.



What are they thinking?

April 25th, 2011

Zulily.com and Foundary.com are websites that offer products of interest to me, HOWEVER, I don’t shop at either one because those sites have no effective search function.  There is no field that says, “Search.”

What are they thinking?  I assume they think people will buy a larger number of items if they have to navigate through lots of different pages to find something of interest because they’ll see multiple items they’d like to buy.

This may be a great strategy for shoppers who either live to shop or have plenty of time on their hands, but it may prevent busy people from doing any shopping at all on those sites.

Here is the question:  Are the total  sales to people with time to shop likely to be larger than total sales WOULD be if it were easy to search for specific items on these websites?  My gut feel is that if these websites had first-rate search functionality, they would land sales not only from people who have time to shop but also from those who are pressed for time.

Perhaps I live in a warped reality–but most of the people I know (all age groups) would prefer EASY and TIME-SAVING to CUMBERSOME and TIME-CONSUMING.



A retail trend I don’t like

April 22nd, 2011

Retailers are always trying something new to boost sales, but this latest trick, having NO price tag, looks like a mistake to me.

For people who live to shop and have plenty of time to do so, being able to see the price may not matter, but for busy people, having to take time to find a clerk in order to learn the price of an item of interest  is not only annoying but may also prevent them from making a purchase.

Take me, for example:  I definitely do not live to shop and, when I need something,  generally shop en route to some other activity.  A few weeks ago, I spotted the perfect purse at Nordstrom–exactly what I’d been seeking for almost a year: leather, waterproof, big enough to hold an iPad and to serve as a tote for carrying shoes, etc.  Perfect for trips to New York City.  It was not a necessity but would definitely have been  nice to have.

No price tag.  No price tag on the outside; no price tag on the inside.  The clerk was helping other customers but told me that not having price tags on purses was their new policy.   I was on my way to a meeting and couldn’t wait.     Nordstrom lost a sale.

Today, while hiking through a mall on my way to purchase a necessity,   I spotted the perfect gift for my granddaughter at a kiosk.  No price tag.  For that matter, no clerk.  Therefore, that kiosk lost a sale.

I suppose that the theory behind this no price tag strategy is that when customers have to ask the price, it gives the sales person a chance either to make the sale and/or sell different or additional items.

It would be interesting to know (but tough to measure) whether the benefits of this strategy outweigh the costs of lost sales.  I’m sure it is NOT a good plan for customers like me.



Beware of LinkedIn!

February 13th, 2011

The lesson:  If you want to invite people you know to “connect” on LinkedIn, don’t use the section that says, “Enter Email Addresses.”

This is a lesson I learned the hard way.

Recently, I uploaded the email addresses of my key professional contacts (people who were already receiving my periodic email updates) to LinkedIn so I could “connect” with those who wished to do so.  There was no indication that these invitations would be different from those I frequently receive from others.  Those invitations appear only once, and I can either accept or reject them. End of story.

Shortly after the upload, however, I received an email from a long-time professional friend who told me that he had received not one—not two—but three separate invites from me to “connect.”   I was appalled and immediately contacted LinkedIn to stop that process.

Now, I have sent an email note of apology to those who may have received the multiple messages.

If I were the CEO of LinkedIn, I would understand that business relationships must be guarded carefully and take steps to ensure that LinkedIn’s processes would be clearly defined so that my customers could proceed without worry that they might damage their valuable professional relationships.  Evidently the real CEO, Jeff Weiner, does not share my concern.



Size DOES Matter: The Pop-up Principle

January 31st, 2011

Everybody did it:  Borders, Burlington Coat Factory, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Toys “R” Us and others all opened “pop-up” stores for the holidays.  This year, Toys “R” Us alone opened 600 pop-ups instead of the 90 they had last year.

What many retailers seem to be missing, however, is that, with the exception of the short-term leases, the underlying principles that make this boost-holiday-profits strategy successful also provide the underlying principles for improving the bottom line year-round.

Here’s why:  In an ideal retail world, retailers would stock only products with the highest margins, the least waste, and the lowest product-related, facility and personnel costs.

Pop-ups, therefore, are close to the ideal retail because only the most popular, highest margin items are on the shelves.  As a result, fewer square feet are required.  There are fewer sku’s to stock and track, and, at season’s end, there are fewer items remaining.  Those that do remain are the fastest moving and most desirable.  In addition, it’s easier for customers to find things, so personnel can spend less time helping customers find things and more time ringing up sales at the cash registers.  This means shorter customer waits in the checkout lines and/or fewer personnel. Last, but not least: there is no long-term lease expense to drag down the bottom line during the slow seasons.

Except for the short-term, season-only leases, why don’t more retailers apply these same “pop-up” principles to their year-round strategies?  Evidently, somewhere along the way to too many marketing plans, too many people bought into The More Choices Fallacy; i.e., retailers need to carry every product under the sun in order to entice customers into their stores.  The results for too many retailers?  Shrinking margins and turned-off customers.

It’s time to rethink this More Choices strategy because offering fewer choices might well lead to both increased revenues and improved profitability.  Stocking fewer sku’s might increase revenues by making it easier, quicker and more pleasant to shop, and stocking fewer sku’s can reduce expenses across the board.

Increasing revenues

Barry Schwartz, in The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, makes the case that being faced with an overabundance of choices can be both overwhelming and stressful. In fact, he cites evidence that customers are actually less likely to buy when faced with too many choices.  If retailers started measuring sales lost due to customer frustration, the results would likely be staggering, and today, every sale counts.

  • Having too many choices complicates decision making and, therefore, makes shopping take more time.  For many prospective customers, time is a precious commodity.
  • When there are too many products, customers are often frustrated because salespeople either can’t locate the merchandise or can’t answer questions about it.  There are simply too many items for sales staff to master.
  • On top of that, as every shopper knows, many products’ additional bells and whistles don’t work as well as their simpler, less snazzy predecessors—people lose faith in those brands.

Reducing costs

Stocking fewer sku’s can also improve the bottom line by reducing costs.  After all, the more distinct products a store offers, the more people, space, etc. will be needed to support those products. When retailers offer a smaller, carefully chosen number of selections, they have

  • Fewer sku’s to order, transport, stock and track
  • Fewer products personnel need to master
  • Lower facility costs because less space is required
  • Less undesirable, unsalable merchandise left over

Real-life examples

In my neck of the woods, Portland, Oregon, Babies “R” Us and Uptown Hardware in the Pearl District provide a study in contrasts.

Babies “R” Us, with its vast array of goods, almost certainly faces a huge percentage of lost sales.  Almost no one I know will shop there.  It’s too hard to find things; clerks aren’t knowledgeable or available; the lines are too long; the baby registry is broken, etc.

On the other hand, Pearl Hardware, a small store located in a gentrified area with many high rises, is like a beacon in a storm to every shopper I know, male and female; young and old.  Why?  Whatever we need for our households (other than large appliances and furniture), Pearl Hardware has it.  Need stainless steel cleaner? Paint and painting supplies?  A serving dish for that dinner party tonight? Screws, tools, garden and cooking implements? Pearl Hardware has them all. Although the store offers only a narrow assortment of each type of item, every item the store does carry, without exception, is of good quality.  If we need something for our homes, Pearl Hardware has it, so that’s where my friends, neighbors, and I go.  In the meantime, some other retailer is losing those sales because that retailer simply stocks too much stuff that’s too hard to find.



2011: The Year of Improved Customer Service?

January 2nd, 2011

It may be that the economy is, in fact, reviving, but we definitely are not “there yet.”

My prediction for the coming year—maybe longer—is this: In those industries experiencing intense price competition, the big winners will be those companies that figure out how to provide excellent customer service while remaining cost competitive.

Consumers have had it. They are frustrated by having to take their time to make ten phone calls to solve one simple problem or by spending time looking for an item in a crowded store only to find a clerk (finally!) who either can’t find the product or is unable to answer questions about it.

Many financial experts in the corporate suite subscribe to the axiom that improved customer service adds cost and, therefore, hurts the bottom line. Although there are situations in which that axiom holds true, operational experts know that the opposite is often the case, that companies that think through their processes and procedures–how they provide their products and services to customers—can develop ways to deliver superior service at the same or even at a lower cost thereby improving margins and retaining customers who would otherwise be lost.



Hats off to American Express!

September 12th, 2010

Recently, I had to place a call to American Express’ customer service. First, my problem was solved right away. Second, almost immediately thereafter, I received a customer survey. Guess what the first survey question was? “Do you remember this call?” (paraphrased)

I almost fell out of my chair. Someone had finally THOUGHT about a customer survey and what it was trying to accomplish!

Customer satisfaction surveys are conducted, presumably, to get feedback about the customer’s “experience.” These surveys could be powerful tools for gaining and retaining customers and for reducing costs, but too often they are not. I call them the “Silly Surveys.” (Actually, some additional “S words” spring to mind…)

How many surveys have you received and wondered, “Which call and what person is this survey asking about?” If you are like me, too often, either I’ve had to talk with more than one support person, or the survey arrives long enough after the incident that I am not sure which incident, contact, or person the survey is asking about.

In addition, too many surveys fail to ask a critical question: Should this call have been necessary in the first place? Instead, it asks: Was the support person knowledgeable, clear, polite? Was the problem solved? The answer is often, “Yes, to all of the above,” but too often, the underlying problem is that the company has a poorly constructed website that makes it difficult to accomplish simple tasks–tasks that are easy to accomplish at other sites. I had to waste my time placing a call that should have been unnecessary.

In the case of the above example, the support person will get kudos (or, at least, won’t get into trouble), but I, the customer, having made too many similar calls to this company, am likely to be considering changing vendors, and the company is missing an opportunity to reduce its tech support costs. If customers could easily accomplish simple tasks at the website, fewer tech support people would be needed.

Renee’s Rule™: Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.



Renee’s Rule™: There’s more to customer service than being nice.

July 11th, 2009

I have concluded that the vast majority of companies today either do not agree with and/or do not care about and/or are clueless about how to implement the above Renee’s Rule™.   There is a good chance you have reached the same conclusion.  It has become incredibly difficult to get anything done.  The simplest tasks have become complicated.

There seems to be widespread recognition that being nice is an important part of customer service, but the other piece–making things easy for customers–has somehow been lost in translation.  Personally,  what this customer wants/needs is for the companies I deal with to make life really EASY for me.  What do you want/need?

As you may have guessed, this post is the result of a my experiencing a  spate of bad (abysmal) customer service over the last few weeks.  Everyone is NICE; nothing gets DONE--or gets done only with much wasting of time…..I know that you, too,  have “been there; done that;” e.g.,

  1. You are required to enter your phone number to get to tech support, but the first thing the person asks is, “May I have your phone number?”
  2. You call for repair help.  You provide a description of your problem in infinite detail, but the details somehow do not survive the distance between customer service and the people who actually do the repair work, and it takes forever to get the problem solved.

I understand that many of the  companies we call could not care less about whether they are wasting our time…but do they have so many customers, and are they making so much money that they don’t want to improve their bottom lines by streamlining their customer service?   Think of all the personnel time and $ that would be saved if no one had to ask, “May I have your telephone number?” or if the technical person “on-the-ground” received enough detail from customer service to solve the problem on the first try.

Enough complaining for one day–you can tell I’ve had too much TERRIBLE customer service from too many NICE people….It may be time for a new Renee’s Rule™: Enough is enough!”

In future posts, I’ll share some examples from my personal experience about how companies can reduce costs AND provide better customer service.



Renee’s Rules™ for the Recession

July 3rd, 2009

Both national and regional bankers have told me recently that they expect a second wave of troubled companies…..For those companies that may be at risk, here are my key recommendations:

  1. Renee’s Rule™: Don’t sell to customers who won’t pay.
  2. Prepare worst-cast cash projections for each of the coming 6 months; if necessary, take action now to prevent a meltdown.
  3. Solicit ideas from employees and advisors; implement those that will have the greatest impact in the shortest time.
  4. Implement changes to company processes that will lower costs and improve customer service.
  5. Renee’s Rule™:  If you think you may need help, you probably do.
  6. Renee’s Rule™: The sooner, the better.


Pearl Ace Hardware: A beacon of hope in an ocean of dreadful customer service

June 6th, 2009

When I’ve abandoned almost all hope of ever finding good customer service anywhere ever again, I stop by Pearl Ace Hardware to reassure myself that there IS actually ONE place that really “gets it.”

Pearl Ace Hardware may be the best store on the planet. On-line reviews reflect this, and all of my friends and neighbors feel the same way.  I’ll bet that this is one retailer that  is profitable  in spite of the downturn.

Why? Because this store truly understands the marketing equation:

Renee’s Rule™:  Providing what your customers want/need + great customer service = loyal customers +  steady stream of revenue.

They ALWAYS have what I need.  They ALWAYS have knowledgeable, friendly staff available to help.   No problem finding what I seek; no trouble finding someone to answer questions; no long check-out lines; no surly clerks.   It is Customer Service Heaven on Earth!

When I check out, I inevitably find myself saying to the clerk, “I just love this store!”   (And trust me, Reader, I am P-I-C-K-Y.)

Some retailers compete by having the largest selection of merchandise–being a “one-stop-shop.”

Some compete by having great “customer service”–being super-nice to customers.

Too many businesses have neither; too few manage to have both.

If every cloud really does have a silver lining, perhaps the silver lining of this downturn will be that we will see a return to first-rate customer service.  After all, survival may depend on it.

Renee’s Rule™:  There is a connection between customer service and sales.



I love being right, but..

April 11th, 2009

If you know me, you know I love being right, but lately, I wish I weren’t right so often.

When The Oregonian, interviewing me for a story about the Joe’s bankruptcy, asked whether I thought Joe’s could survive and/or might be sold to another company, I said, “No.”  Yesterday, Joe’s started liquidating.

The evaporation of so many retailers is a scenario being repeated too often for three key reasons:

  1. Many retail operations operate with thin profit margins–or no profit margins–so when sales decline, the retailers simply have no (forgive the pun) margin for error.
  2. Many retail operations have no raison d’etre–no reason for being–no strategy that separates them from their competitors, no strategy for meeting changing consumer needs.
  3. Too often, good customer service is missing in action.  Poor customer service can result in lost sales, and few companies today can afford to lose those sales.

Perhaps, as a result of the current economic environment, we will see a return to good customer service.  I’d really like to be right about that!