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Posts from the ‘credibility’ Category

Spotless

February 25, 2015

jessonline

If it’s chaotic and messy- no one will focus on the product. They’ll focus on the messy.

Recently I had some work done in my home, and every day, I knew the contractor was finishing up when I heard the vacuum cleaner running. Every day, I’d go inspect the progress, and the area would be spotless. The result was that the focus was always on the work that had been done- the progress made.

It was remarkable.

Partly because it exceeded my expectations, but mostly because the daily clean-up meant I could see and get excited about the product, instead of focusing on the mess of a work in progress. When the opposite holds true- a mess left behind, dust all over everything, debris scattered about- we can’t help but focus on the debris, and that shapes our opinion about the quality of the work.

This is a good way to think about our work- any work, whether it’s customer facing or internal business. If it’s chaotic and messy- no one will focus on the product. They’ll focus on the messy. If there’s too much information or it’s not clearly organized, it won’t be abundantly clear what your message is, or what you want people to DO with it.

This holds true whether you’re planning a website page, a presentation, or a company communication. Edit vigorously. Keep it clean.

If you want to be heard, do the hard work to make it simple.

Customer service: the great. the good. the abysmal.

June 11, 2013

jessonline

Great service is transformative. I sometimes find myself inordinately grateful and awed by an experience that exceeds my expectations. It just doesn’t happen that often. How often are you WOWed  by amazing  service? And how often are you infuriated with a lack of reasonably good service? Probably not terribly often, for either one. It seems the norm is somewhere between- most reputable companies will do what’s essentially right- fix something that went wrong, refund your money for a defective product, or replace it. That is simply what we expect. And we’re satisfied with that.

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 10.18.39 PM

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

The fact is, extraordinary service requires an equally extraordinary effort. The company has to believe in it- from the top down. Evangelize it. And fund it. Zappos lives the ideal of amazing service. Even their online chats have an extra friendly touch that reminds you you’re talking to a real person, who’s not afraid to deviate from the script.  They live service as an ideal. In fact, “Powered by Service” is part of their logo. If you look at the top area of the site- there are 5 friendly messages going on at the same time- ranging from “Free Next day delivery”, to “24/7 customer service by phone or chat”, to “Free Shipping & Returns 365 days a year”…it goes on and on. And they don’t just promise it- they actually deliver on it, exceptionally well. It’s not easy to deliver great service with a level of consistency. Zappos exemplifies the ideal.

Why don’t more companies build a brand on a platform of great service, like Zappos? Most focus on keeping service costs low- maximizing the efficiencies of cost per call, sales $ per call, and so on. Focusing on great service makes it harder to measure success- or at least, makes it much fuzzier. It will cost more to have customer service agents who are inspired and charged with making the customers happy- who are not rushed to get off the phone. It will take more time, potentially cost more in appeasements or expedited shipping. But does it really? Perhaps Zappos has unlocked the deeper metrics of lifetime value for customers who love the experience- who will come back, again and again- who will look to Zappos first, simply because it is such a great experience. Check out Tony Hsieh’s book, “Delivering Happiness” on Amazon, to see how he did it.

Nordstrom is another legendary company with a reputation for amazing customer service. For them, it’s simple- provide customers with the best possible service- and they do so with simple excellence. They are not as over the top as Zappos about being extraordinary. But they are. They do it quietly, and well. You’ll get treated with respect and helpfulness. You’ll get a business card from your sales person. Sometimes even a thank you note in the mail. And you’ll never have any difficulty returning anything- that’s what they’re famous for. The tire legend lives on- whether it’s true or not, doesn’t really matter (for a recap and analysis of the many versions of this legend, see Snopes. I always assumed it was true- now, maybe, not so much. But it doesn’t matter. They live the ideal of service. It’s enough.

I’ve also been impressed with the Amazon Kindle division. I have a family of readers- and we’ve had at least 3 kindles that stopped working within the first year. Even one that went bad within a month. Each time, I’ve been able to resolve the situation with a quick phone call or online chat, getting a new replacement device delivered overnight, with 30 days to return the defective one. The warranty replacements are brand new- not refurbished. These two things make a big impact: overnight replacement, brand new device. When I’ve had to replace in-warranty phones, for example, I always get a refurbished device- which makes me feel a bit cheated.

On the one hand, the consistency of the product quality hasn’t been so great for all our Kindles. But on the other hand, they support the product so consistently and fairly that I’ve never been motivated to switch to a different brand. I’ve never had to escalate an issue with a manger. Never been frustrated by one of these calls. Even the support for out of warranty devices has been pretty impressive. And several of the devices- 2nd generation kindles, have lasted 4 years and are still working. I always feel good about Kindle after one of these transactions, defective products notwithstanding.

It raises an interesting point: we forgive a company its failures if they solve the problem easily and well. When they don’t?  Research shows that an unhappy customer tells up to 3 times more people than a happy one. I’m betting that this is understated.  When you’re frustrated out of your mind with a bad experience, chances are, you’ll want to talk about it. You may even post it on Facebook- immediately sharing it with a hundred or more of online friends. Or post it on the company’s website, for all its tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of fans to see. A rabidly unhappy customer is more of a problem now for companies than ever before.

So there’s the great. And the good. And now we’ll give a short moment to the Abysmal.

Abysmal is…a company that will spend 40 minutes on the phone arguing with you about why they can’t help you solve a 2 minute problem.

Abysmal is…a company that employs an outsourced customer service company with people that are neither empowered nor knowledgeable enough to say anything beyond the exact lines on a script, over and over again, with no training for how to deal with an upset customer.

Abysmal is…a customer service agent who is trained to be so scared to escalate to a manager that they insist that there is no manager to speak to.

Abysmal is…waiting on hold for so long that you have to give up.

The companies that allow “abysmal” service, well, those are the ones that either just aren’t paying attention- or are making a fatal mistake. The company that spends 40 minutes telling me why they can’t solve my 2 minute problem is not going to get my business, next time. The company that uses outsourced customer service agents that can’t help and don’t acknowledge that they are not solving the problem, is not likely to get my business again.

Great (or even good) service takes a dedicated and purposeful effort. It goes back to what I’ve always told my staff about building a great website: shop it yourselves, and shop it often, from beginning to end. Forget your password and try to get a new one. Get a delivery and return or exchange it. Live the experience the customers get. That’s the only way you can truly understand what the customer is experiencing. In the words of Mark Hurst, the founder and president of “Creative Good”, an organization dedicated to the art of Customer Experience, and a great proponent of great customer experience, “It’s hard to get people to consider their actions from the perspective of another person. That is the basis of all customer experience work.”

Enough said.

Privacy matters

February 3, 2013

jessonline

Everything we do online is tracked- by someone, or some entity. We all know it. Mostly, we accept it.

I don’t get too worked up about it. On the business side, retailers see it as a way to create a better experience for you. Executed thoughtfully, it can be. For example, if you come to a website and look at brand “A”, and add something from brand “A” to your cart, the retailer may send you emails about “brand A” in the future, knowing that it’s something that has interested you. This isn’t such a bad thing, though sometimes it can be misguided (as when you send someone a gift from a website that you also shop for yourself, and forever after get emails about that gift product or brand that you have no further interest in).

I’m not terribly offended by ‘stalker’ ads- banner ads from retailers, which seem to  follow you around as you browse news sites or content sites, showing you an ad based on products you’ve recently viewed on a given website. I don’t mind these, because they seem like they could be a coincidence. I don’t even mind getting an email from a retailer I’ve visited recently, showing me the product or brands I’ve looked at. Could also be a coincidence…although a little spooky when it’s exactly what I was looking at. And when I’ve added things to my cart, and then left the site, I don’t mind getting the email saying, “we’ve saved your cart for you.”  It seems credible that they know I have an interest in that stuff. Of course they just want to capture the sale. But maybe that’s ok- maybe I want to complete the purchase. Especially if they include a shipping or cart discount to encourage me.

Most retailers are careful to stay within the limits of what’s legal or within best-practices for protecting customer privacy. But there’s fuzzy territory when retailers try new things, or cross the line between what seems reasonable, and what seems invasive. What I mind, is when it all seems a bit too purposeful. A bit too obvious. When you think you’re anonymous, and then get called out by the retailer on it. Here’s an example:

I recently visited a website, looked around, and left. Never signed-in. A little while later, I get an email saying, “Glad you checked us out! Come on back….”

That’s just creepy.

Anonymity doesn’t exist anymore, online. There are measures we can take to protect our privacy, to a degree. If you block cookies, or clear cookies before shopping a website, the session can’t be tracked. But this isn’t top of mind on a daily basis, both because there’s not usually a problem, and because clearing cookies is inconvenient. At the end of the day, retailers are just trying to make money. And I want them to. Because then there are lots of jobs for lots of people.

So retailers: don’t forget you make money by making your customers feel good about you: your brand, your stuff, andIs a the experience. Don’t make me feel like you’re looking over my shoulder- or I won’t want to come to your store anymore. It’s that simple. I expect my information to be treated fairly, and thoughtfully.

And readers…What privacy issues rankle you most? How has it changed what you do online, if at all? I’d be interested in your experiences with privacy (or lack thereof).

In the land of Kafka

July 8, 2012

jessonline

The dreaded VRU.  How did it come to be such a brick wall?  It’s a great tool for efficiency, of course- just not for us. No doubt it saves millions in staffing costs for companies, while creating a tedious, frustrating, and mind-numbing experience for those of us who spend infinitely more time navigating through the gauntlet of menus, only to find that none of them offer the right options- none offer a human. I’ll start to feel my blood pressure rising, the frustration growing, finally talking louder and louder to the VRU, as if I were talking to someone hard of hearing, saying, “I WANT A HUMAN!”, then getting the inevitably even-toned “I’m sorry, that is not a valid response. To return to the main menu, please press 1, now”.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there were always the option to speak to an agent, but many companies remove that option. Others offer it, but only after you’ve followed a path of automated responses that exhaust all possible functions the system has in its arsenal. The thing is, I don’t actually want to speak to a human. I’d much rather be able to solve everything through email or online. But sometimes, you can’t- and you really need to speak with someone, and it just shouldn’t have to be so hard.

Used the way they were intended, VRU’s have a place, providing answers to frequently asked questions, saving time and money- theoretically leaving more time for qualified agents to deal with more complicated issues. I get it.  They can be a tolerable evil, to a degree, as long as there’s always the option to speak to someone. It’s just plain irresponsible to omit an option to do so.

In the early days of web shopping, you practically had to have connections to get a phone number at Amazon. There was one- but you could not find it on the site. It simply wasn’t there. When my friend AMB got the number- it was a big score- and we all saved it in our address books for future reference. It was like having privileged information. They’ve come a long way since those days.

Even now, there are a surprising number of high-profile companies that don’t provide phone service at all. Companies that just can’t handle the volume, or plain don’t want to. Some surprisingly big companies in the mix. See “Tech Companies Leave Phone Calls Behind” in yesterday’s New York Times- Quora doesn’t provide a phone number at all. Twitter has one, but it hangs up after directing you to email. Facebook is no better. In the article, Amy O’Leary describes the  Linked In VRU cycle as a telephonic version of “Groundhog Day”. That pretty much sums it up.

And then…there are the times that speaking to an agent seems almost as existential as working your way through a VPU. Check out “The Theater of the Absurd” today in the NYT business section, for a humorous article on the subject, including a transcript of a baffling conversation between Alan Alda and a McAfee customer service agent, in which he says to her, “I am now in the land of  Kafka” after going around in ridiculous circles. Worth a read.

I wonder if Siri could help. Try asking her to get you an agent at <company name here>, and see what happens. Let me know how that works out. I’m a generation behind, on the iPhone 4, so wouldn’t know. It would be worth the upgrade if she has that kind of power.

Racoon at the bus stop

March 10, 2012

jessonline

Making your brand extraordinary isn’t about the grand gestures. You don’t have to be a $500 million company to create meaningful moments for your customers. And you can be any size at all to fail your customers in the blink of an eye.

A pass? Providing your full attention in the moment. Acknowledging the customer who is waiting.  Saying ‘thank you’.  A little surprise, like a Reward card or a sample in the box. Saying ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’.

Epic fail? A scornful response to an angry or annoying customer. Thinking the customer is stupid. Not finding it important to make each contact a positive one. Forgetting that the customer is why you get paid to show up at all.

We always say it’s the little things that make a difference, and yet it’s so easy to forget as we go about our days, with all the accumulated stresses and pressures that we’re dealing with, to make the effort to listen, to really hear, and to respond thoughtfully and generously.  The people and companies that become legendary are the ones who are able to make the minutes count. Even the bad ones.  But how do they do it?  It starts with a clear, focused mission that puts the customer at the forefront. Consistent performance. A culture that sustains thoughtfulness as a value, even behind the scenes.

Have you every noticed how delighted you are when someone gives you what you want, right away, with a smile- even when you want to return something too late, or with the tags off, or you’re being antagonistic because you expect a ‘no’, and then you get a friendly ‘yes’? It’s a nice surprise. It can make you feel so great about an experience, and yet it’s really just such a small thing. It’s  not easy to be that person who smiles and remains friendly when someone’s being difficult and antagonistic, when viscerally, you just want to respond in kind.

That’s what makes it special. It’s harder to be nice sometimes, but it’s a win-win for everyone. For a brand, it can create buzz. It can make you remarkable. And your customers will so happily want to bring friends to you, because it’s surprising and wonderful, and makes a difference in their day.

It reminds me of something that happened last week on the way home. Every day I commute to and from work on the bus. I completely zone out, reading or sleeping the entire way home. It’s the same, day after day. Except one night, last week, we pulled to the back of the parking lot, where the headlights showed a racoon- yes, a real racoon, standing inside a plastic storage box turned sideways, eating out of a Chinese food container. The next night, he was there again, eating from a new one. Now, every few days, we drive that way to see if he’s home. And usually, if we’re there at the same time, he is. Someone is bringing Chinese food to that Racoon. Or he’s having it delivered. Or he’s found a friendly, neighborhood garbage to raid. The point is- it was an extraordinary thing to see in the vast paved parking lot with hundreds of cars and people going about their daily commute. Just hanging out, in all his fuzzy glory, eating his lo mein.

It made us smile. And we’ve talked about it ever since. But really, it was just a racoon. What’s so special about that? It’s just that it was so unexpected. So out of context. It was remarkable.

A great customer experience is like that Racoon. It becomes something worth talking about.

Grammar Matters

February 27, 2012

jessonline

Abysmal writing in business is a terrible thing. Besides being unpleasant to read, it can instantly strip away your credibility as a cause, a brand or a company.

Sure, the advertising and retail world take a little license to play with the English language to make a point, or to create a more powerful message. But that’s intentional, so we give it a pass (to a point).

Bad spelling, misuse of words, or flat out bad grammar can hurt you. It makes you look unprofessional. It makes your message look careless and sloppy. Organizations looking to print, publish or launch something online, thinking perhaps they’re saving a few dollars by writing it themselves, well, they’re not saving anything in the end. They’re losing credibility. They’d be much better served by calling the people out there who make a living doing it.

Here’s a striking example.  I got a letter from a local not-for-profit organization, working to protect open space. The header sets the tone for the entire piece, screaming,  “DO NOT EXCEPT FALSE CHOICES ON TAXES”.  Later in the letter, there’s a sentence saying, “If you were lead to believe…”

The entire letter is riddled with errors- grammatical, spelling, bad word usage.  It’s embarrassing. The letter is signed by a Ph.D and a Lawyer. So either they never took the grammar unit in high school, or perhaps a volunteer wrote it- who knows. The point is, they signed it. If your name is on it, you need to read it.

The other thing to avoid is superfluous formatting: excessive use of capital letters, colors, underlines and bold type- by emphasizing lots of things, they end up featuring nothing. It’s just ugly and sensationalistic. This seems to be a common, yet unfortunate method many direct mailers use to try to get our attention. It does. But not in a good way.

This is an extreme example, but I can’t tell you how often I see grammatical and misspellings in business and upscale retail communications. If you have a brand to protect, and an important message to share- take the time to make it good. Your message will resonate if it’s written well. Or at least have a fighting chance.

The unfortunate mailer:

bad writing works against a local non-profit organization

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