Focus on New Horizons

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Focus on New Horizons

“No matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you.”  Zora Neale Hurston

As the new year comes into focus, personal resolutions are made. Intentions are set to develop a healthier lifestyle, pursue further education, or spend more time with loved ones. Even as these various personal resolutions are made, business owners should make resolutions to improve their companies by increasing the health of the organization, increasing educational opportunities for leadership and employees, and designing new engagement opportunities for customers. Aligning business resolutions with personal goals can make it easier to achieve success.

It is recommended that we visit our primary care physicians for yearly wellness checks. Likewise, gather your leadership team for a yearly wellness check of the business. Annual reviews can be seen as cumbersome or time-consuming, but they are well worth the effort to realize the goals of the company. As a component of continuous improvement, take the time to examine your business from top to bottom, run some tests, and ask relevant questions. Start by pulling out the mission and vision statement of the organization. Are you still operating within the purview of the mission and vision? Have you strayed away and need to assess current practices? Or is it time to update the mission and vision? Is the organization operating with the most effective technology and business practices? Similar to improving personal health and wellness, start the year by assessing where you are versus where you want to be. Determine what’s holding you back and resolve to reach a new horizon.

In a previous blog post, we discussed the importance of continuing education as a tool for employee engagement. Even as business leaders are seeking to attend networking events, conferences, and possibly gain advanced degrees to make them more effective in their roles, employees are seeking the same. Employers who compensate employees for continuing education practices enjoy a higher retention rate. Supporting personal growth while providing a benefit during or after the education is complete will encourage staff to pursue advanced degrees and remain with your organization afterward. Improved employee retention rates provide stability within your organization and a strong foundation for future growth. Allow leaders as well as staff to pursue educational opportunities and reach a new horizon.

Fostering consumer engagement is a goal every business person must reach. Three pillars of consumer retention are partnering with customers, growing with customers, and appreciating customers. Just as we support our loved ones during good times and bad times, business personnel must learn to ride the waves of client satisfaction. Partnering with customers to appropriately celebrate life events demonstrates that each buyer is an individual not a dollar sign. Growing with clients includes offering what they need now even when it’s outside the scope of your business. Offering referrals to reputable third-parties builds trust and goodwill between you and your clients. Customer appreciation is as simple as saying ‘thank you’. Thank you for being a customer. Thank you for sharing feedback and suggestions. Thank you for allowing our company to come alongside you and reach a new horizon.

Focus on new horizons this year both personally and professionally. Go further and do more than you accomplished in previous years. Develop success strategies for leaders and personnel. Most importantly, remember that little can be accomplished alone. Form a team to support you with the physical tasks and provide emotional/spiritual encouragement as you move to reach a new horizon.

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Loving Unlovable Customers

We’ve all heard the phrases “Kill ‘em with kindness” and “It’s easier to catch flies with honey than vinegar”. But how do we put that into play during an interaction with a customer that is not easy to work with? These simple tips on how to show love to your customers (during positive and not so positive interactions) will help you and your service team keep the love flowing all year round.

  • Service with a smile. A warm and friendly smile speaks volumes. A smile conveys openness, approachability and a willingness to assist. It is the first of many ice breakers your clients may need to turn their day around and leave in a better mood. A smile even carries across phone lines. When you smile your tone of voice and disposition changes. A genuine smile will help to ease any tension from the client.
  • Don’t take it personal. We’ve all had stressful days when everything seemed to be against us and we felt as though we couldn’t catch a break. When you find yourself with a customer who seems to be a Negative Ned/Nancy, remain calm and professional in your body language and tone of voice. Remember, if your customer does become rude or disrespectful it is appropriate to turn the interaction over to a colleague or manager after doing all you can to diffuse the situation, per company protocol.
  • Try to make it better, but don’t force it. One of your greatest assets as a customer service professional is people skills. Your ability to read people and intuitively interpret how best to approach them is what will cause you to stand out in your field. Once you’ve gotten a sense of your customer’s disposition consider adding an approved bonus for their purchase or interest in your service. Unexpected freebies are a great way to show appreciation and brighten someone’s day.
  • Mind your P’s ad Qs. Please and thank you seem to have gone away with the introduction of emojis and texting. Common courtesy and good manners will go a long way in the journey to show love to your customers. A simple greeting of Hello, Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening; using Sir or Ma’am; and making eye contact will show your client the respect they deserve as a voluntary patron of your establishment. When making a request for information from your client include please and say thank you. At the end of your service, thank them for coming to the store or calling the customer service line. Wish them a good day.
  • Become interested in what they’re interested in. Spend time getting to know your customers who come in on a regular basis. Listen to their stories, find out about their lives outside of their time at your business. If they’re having something special coming up remember to ask them about it when you see them again. If their grandkids are interested in a sport or hobby, consider taking time to find out about local venues or upcoming events. Sharing this information with your customer will show that you are listening and you care.

Working in customer service can be a demanding position, but most often it is rewarding. There will be days when we have to create those opportunities for reward by our actions and responses to customers. Taking the time to show that you love them in spite of their crabby attitudes will leave a lasting impression. In the end, one old adage remains true treat others the way you would like to be treated.

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Dealing with Customers During the Holidays – (everybody ain’t happy)

The holiday rush is the best, biggest, and busiest time for retailers. The November and December shopping cycles are the largest factor in a company’s annual revenue. With such a big stake in making yearly budgets, it’s no wonder business owners do all they can to prepare for the influx of customers. Here at AYSC, we’ve compiled a short list of reminders for your customer service team to successfully deal with challenging customers.

Plan Ahead: Preparation is everything when the holiday rush comes to your door. From personnel coverage to inventory needs, have everything in its place ahead of time. Seasoned business owners can combine previous season reporting with highest selling items of the year to determine what they need to have on hand. First-time holiday businesses can conduct relevant market research, review recent sales activity, and current buying trends before deciding what to order.

Underpromise, Overdeliver: A well-known phrase in service industries, this mantra rings true during busy seasons. Customers prefer a realistic timeline which is met rather than an unrealistic goal that is missed. What customers love even more is a realistic timeline that is exceeded. Always be transparent with your customer regarding when they can expect shipments, responses from supervisors, or items to be restocked. If your company can exceed the stated timeframe, bravo you’ve just kept a customer.

Increase self-service options: Additional automated recordings featuring current shipping times, holiday hours, or exchange policies is a quick and cost-effective way to address your customers’ needs. For those same reasons, update your website’s FAQ section to include items related to holiday shopping needs. While you’re online, add discount codes, special sale notifications, and highlight any software updates to previously available products.

Authorize employees to make decisions: The goal is to problem solve and allow customers to continue their day. The more decision-making power employees have, the less time customers have to wait for a resolution to problems. Increasing your customer service representative’s authorization to grant discounts, offer free shipping, or add an upgrade will leave the customer feeling satisfied by a resolution and grateful that they didn’t have to spend hours getting one.

Focus on customer satisfaction: During the holiday shopping season, consumers anticipate additional shoppers in stores and longer lines. They also anticipate that business owners will be ready to handle the influx. When their expectations are not met they can become short-tempered. Empowering employees to cover areas of need, offer add-ons as compensation, or

Never too much training: It’s important to train your staff in conflict resolution, maintaining a calm demeanor, and methods of closing out an unpleasant situation. Full-time and seasonal staff both need to brush up on their etiquette and response time. (Read our recent article on Tips for Holiday Staff Training). Cross-training staff is also a good idea as holiday shoppers tend to question the first person they see, not necessarily the person who works in that department. Cross-training in call centers allows managers to pull additional staff in to cover an increase in phone calls.

Holiday shoppers move at a different pace and carry higher expectations for service interactions than everyday shoppers. Their desire to get in and out of your store or out of the phone queue should be your number one priority to meet. Combining organizational preparation with proper training and accurate information for your employees will ensure that customer leave your business feeling valued.

For more tips on customer service training, be sure to subscribe to receive our Blog by email.

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Holiday Training Tips for Employers

Help Wanted

The holiday season is officially upon us. As consumers, we’re moving toward gift purchases and evenings out on the town. As business owners, we’re battening down the hatches and preparing for the holiday rush. As thankful as you are for the boost in revenue, you’re also keenly aware of the need to have more hands on deck. Whether you run a restaurant or a retail store, adding seasonal employees during the holidays is a must. With new employees comes new training. How can you quickly train temporary employees to handle themselves during peak working hours?

These 8 tips will give you the strategy you need to create a successful staff of seasonal employees.

  1. Hire earlier than later. The sooner you hire and train seasonal staff the more comfortable they will be when the rush hits your business. Allow seasonal employees time to shadow full-time employees before the peak season is in full swing.
  2. Stock up on answers. Survey full-time employees to create a list of FAQs. Treat your seasonal employees to a quick FAQ section during training. Prepare seasonal employees to accurately respond to the most asked questions during customer interactions.
  3. Think like your customers. Include role-play in your training sessions as an active way to represent your average customer base alongside the desired response from your employees. This more active model will help temporary staff internalize what a typical holiday interaction looks like and how they should handle it.
  4. Create Master Multi-taskers. When your business is at its busiest how should your employees respond? Share tips on appropriate multi-tasking actions within your organization. Provide ways to dealing with more than one customer at a time.
  5. Create a Buddy System. Pair seasonal employees with seasoned full-time employees. This allows your seasonal staff to bring low-level questions to an experienced team member, leaving managers free to deal with escalated issues.
  6. Rehire often. Whenever possible, recruit previous seasonal employees who performed well. This will cut down on training hours and build a second line of support for the Buddy System.
  7. Offer seasonal employees breathing time. Allow seasonal employees two short breaks instead of one long break. While year-round employees have built up the stamina needed to make it through a full shift, seasonal employees do not. Allowing them an extra break will be a better experience for seasonals and create a more pleasant experience for your customers.
  8. Motivate them. Seasonal employees understand that the job is temporary, but motivation will encourage them to take ownership of their employment within the organization. Employees who make the job their own will represent your brand at its best.

No matter how you choose to train and support your seasonal staff, At Your Service Consulting is available to share additional best practices and suggestions specifically for your business. Contact us today to schedule your personal Training System Evaluation.

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Employee Appreciation Ideas

oct-blogCustomer Service Week was recognized during the first week of October. If you missed it, not to worry. We’ve compiled a list of things you can still do to show your employees that you appreciate them. Taking time to show your employees that you are grateful for their service raises employee engagement, retention, and efficiency. Here are some fun ideas to include in your employee appreciation methods:

Craft style gifts can be created in advance. These are ideal for small tokens of appreciation and as group appreciation items.

  1. Food gifts with quirky tags, such as “You’re a lifesaver” (Lifesavers), “You deserve a break” (Kit Kat bar), or “Donut know what we’d do without you” (Dunkin’ Donuts).
  2. Design buttons or decorative knickknacks, with sayings like “My Boss Thinks I’m Kind of a Big Deal.”

Monetary gifts may be appropriate for individual employees who have shown promise, leadership, and the willingness to go above and beyond their job title. It can also be used as a gift after promotion, creating an incentive for all employees to go the extra mile.

  1. Gift cards to favored stores or online retailers, like Starbucks or
  2. Tickets to a movie theatre, local sporting event, or local attraction for them and their families.
  3. Create an internal reward system where employees can earn tickets, which can be redeemed for major prizes ranging from cash to extended vacation time.
  4. Provide employees gift certificates to a professional cleaning service for their home or vehicle.

Offer employees the chance to unwind and get away from the office, while increasing their professional experience.

  1. Send them on a business retreat that involves time for training and time for relaxation.
  2. Offer paid tuition to industry-related courses.
  3. Free passes to attend national or international conferences related to your industry.
  4. All expense paid trip to a regional lecture presented by well-regarded professionals or industry experts.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t assume that employees understand how much they are appreciated. Let them know regularly!

  1. Tell your employees that you appreciate them — in meetings, in the halls, at the end of the week, whenever!

Remember, you don’t need to wait for Employee Appreciation Day to recognize employees. Consistently showing employees they’re appreciated boosts morale and increases workplace effectiveness year round.

You can read more about Employee Appreciation on CultureIQ.

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Continuing Education: A Strong Path to Customer & Employee Retention

“Education is the premise of progress.”

~ Former Secretary General of the U.Nsept-blog., Kofi Annan

Continuing education is important no matter what field of business you are in. If you aren’t at the cutting edge of business, you can’t position yourself as the “first to know”. Both you and your employees are better service providers when you’re able to stay knowledgeable about trends, policies, emerging tech, and advancements. B2B companies especially will benefit from having knowledge of various systems, methods, and means of fulfilling a customer’s request. This “Jack-of-all-trades” approach lends itself to strong service and higher customer satisfaction. That is not to say that you have to employ enough individuals to supply every need. Strategic partnerships are a great method of providing customers with the services they request, while remaining an integral resource for them. Rather, empower your employees to bring new ideas and methodologies to the table, research them to ensure they are viable solutions and in line with your corporate identity and then implement the solutions through partnerships with appropriate vendors. The idea is to provide real-time, appropriate resolutions to customer needs. The more often you can offer your customers the answer or an accurate referral, the better.

There are several ways that businesses can institute ongoing education options:

  1. Pay for work-related training courses;
  2. Education assistance programs;
  3. Reward graduates with appropriate promotions or raises;
  4. Available on-site training; or
  5. Assist with student loan payments.

As with any recommendation, there are pros and cons that should be weighted to determine which course of action is best for your organizational structure and goals. The key to choosing an appropriate education incentive program is to identify the long-term growth potential within your organization and what key roles a well-educated employee could fill. With so many striving for work-life balance, employees undertake additional education as a means to increase pay potential. If advancement within your organization is limited, educated employees will look elsewhere once they have advanced degrees.

Business owners who compensate their employees for continuing education practices show a higher employee retention rate. Encouraging personal growth while providing a benefit during or after the education is complete will encourage employees to pursue advanced degrees and remain with your organization afterward. Improved employee retention rates provide stability to your organization and a strong foundation for future growth. Encouraging the ongoing education of your employees will not only bring progress to your organization, but it may also have positive tax implications for both you and your employees.

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Overcoming Indifferent B2B Clients

August BlogA recent Gallup poll estimates that approximately 71% of Business to Business (B2B) customers are indifferent or completely disengaged from their service providers. Among the 20% who experienced a problem with their product or provider, only 40% felt that the issue had been successfully resolved. These numbers pose a big problem for B2Bs that are struggling to grow.

As a B2B service provider your customers are your partners in business. Their contract sustains your business and your business supports their potential to grow and ability to interact with their direct customers. This means that their clients are your indirect clients. If your service causes your direct client to miss sales and experience revenue loss, your business will likely be replaced.

Even long-time clients have the potential to take their business elsewhere, particularly if the individual who initially contracted your organization is no longer a decision maker. As your clients’ companies grown and new managers are put into place you must work to develop relationships at each transition. Clients who are disengaged from who you are and why your business was selected are more likely to do business with another organization they feel connected to. Financial advisors will tell you that 80% of their business is lost upon the death of the primary account holder. Advisors spend as much time seeking new accounts as they do courting the beneficiaries of existing accounts. A similar phenomenon happens with B2B. Although the account has been with your company for 20 years, when a new manager is put into place it is highly likely that your business will also be replaced.

For indifferent customers, factors in who they do business with are things such as price, product availability, location of supplier, size of supplying organization, quality, etc. By working from a list of needs rather than a list of supplier relationships, B2B customers are likely to jump ship when a better price, product, or local supplier becomes available. To combat this behavior, AYSC offers the following recommendations:

Maintain a Distinct Brand Promise

This can be a difficult piece to implement as customers and agents have different views on what a brand’s promise should entail. Ultimately, your brand’s promise should align with your customer’s needs. This is not to suggest that you change your promise to suit the needs of your customers. Rather, your business should ensure that what it is promising is valuable to the market you have identified as your customer base.

To move from “vendor” to “partner” in the eyes of your customer, your products and services must be useful, valuable, and strategic. Your company must provide more than your customer can provide for themselves. Take time to learn about your customer’s business. Identify their needs and business owners. Bring your clients new and innovative ideas on how they can utilize your services to enhance their deliverables. Doing so will build trust and increase impact between you and your clients.

Effective Communication

What does your last marketing report say about how, where, and when you have the greatest response from your clients? Even if industry standard is to send out a newsletter, if you are receiving higher engagement levels through Social Media use that as a platform for sharing news and ideas. Are email opens higher when you offer a report or free download versus survey requests? All businesses desire greater customer engagement, but as a B2B service provider it is important to remember that your clients have their own businesses to run. Your communications with them should be timely and time valuable.

Consistent Delivery

In order to move from indifferent to engaged, your B2B company must be consistent in its delivery of service. Your brand must be identifiable from purchase to production. The delivery system, methods, timeframe, and associated cost must be maintained across platforms and customers. By developing reliable internal systems and processes your clients will receive the same service each and every time. Empower your team to work consistently at upholding the company image as a best effort to providing consistent client service during every contact.

For further insight on this topic check out Gallup’s Analytics for B2B Leaders.

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Millennials and Customer Service: 6 Things You Need to Know

MillennialsThe population of people born between 1980 and 2000 is currently the largest consumer group. For business owners, that means they are your target market. No matter what industry you’re in you will in some way market your products to millennial customers. So how do they want to be served? Is your company prepared to engage Generation Y, successfully sell them products, and manage their expectations?

Here’s a list of 6 things your customer service department should know about serving millennials:

1. Millennials are independent.

They have been taught to be self-sufficient, seeking answers on their own through technology. Growing up in the Internet Age, millennials are accustomed to accessing Google, Yahoo, or Bing to search indexed files of information. This group of consumers wants websites with a Frequently Asked Questions section, troubleshooting resources, and walkthroughs. If they run into a problem, they will first seek help on your website. Millennials want businesses to anticipate their problems and provide the answers in advance in a way that is simple to use and easy to understand.

2. Their time is valuable.

To be fair, everyone’s time is valuable. But while Baby Boomers grew up in an era of pots, pans, and postal mail; millennials grew up with microwaves and email on their smartphones. The level of patience is markedly different. Their time is valuable and they appreciate companies that respect that. Millennials want answers at the speed of their asking the question. They are apt to reach your company through Social Media or online Live Chat options. According to a survey, Facebook is the most used platform for customer service questions with 25% of millennials expecting a response within 10 minutes of reaching out for service via social media.

3. Millennials prefer technology.

Are you sensing the trend here? In general, millennials believe in the efficiency and superiority of technology over the possibility of human error. Millennials don’t want more customer service. They want different customer service options. This generation of consumers wants the perfection of hybrid streamlined, mobile-optimized online service support and nothing short of excellent human assistance when appropriate. Extending call center hours and adding more manpower is not a good exchange for improving the online support experience.

4. They’re customers, not numbers.

For all their love of technology, Generation Y wants to be known on an individual basis. Precisely because they spend so much time behind a screen, when your millennial customer does have to call in to customer service or come into a store instead of shopping online, they want to feel a sense of relationship with your employees. Meaningful, engaging conversation in the midst of solving their problem will endear them to your business and provoke a positive review on their social media feeds. Millennials want a two-way relationship with the companies they frequent, this is known as the reciprocity principle. In essence, what you give them they will give you. They have chosen to spend their money with your company and they expect a certain level of service in return.

5. They also want to know you.

Inasmuch as millennials want to be known, they also want to know you. Who is the face behind the name of the brand? What qualifies them to give advice? What sparked the idea behind this great invention or leap in technology? Generation Y asks questions that go beyond how the product will better their lives or keep them at the forefront of trendsetting. They want the story behind the brand. They read the About Us page of your website. They research how your mission and vision statement lines up with your social media feed and lifestyle. Millennials care about sustainability, going green, and equality. Share with them your story, your product sources, and manufacturing practices.

6. All millennials are not all alike.

Take your customer service experience out of the box. Your millennial customers refuse to be boxed in by stereotypes and clichés. They want the freedom to connect one way one day and another way the next day. Your customer service has to be just as fluid. Boston Consulting Group identified six different types of millennials. Knowing your segment of the market will help you cater your customer service content accurately.

While most companies tend to favor either the human service approach or the technology-based support models, the company of the future will create a well-balanced dual model. Investing in digital tools like mobile apps, text message service, a vibrant social media presence, and a full menu of online support tools will improve your customer service credibility with millennial customers. Technology is rapidly advancing, ensure your business embraces the change.

For more information on how your company can deliver out of the ordinary service to your millennial customers, contact At Your Service Consulting for a review of your customer service training options.

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What’s in a Name? Customer Service vs Customer Care

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote “what’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. While that may genuinely be true, if a rose is referred to as a dandelion it doesn’t hold the same value in our minds. The same is true for the name you give your client support team. A different name presents a different level of expectation. First to your team members and then to your customers.

The term customer service can evoke the sense of a “means to an end”. Customer service involves the internal process by which your customers are assisted. Patrons reach out to customer service specialists in order to complete transactions or for technical support. The specialist on the other end is contacted simply to fill a need and provide a service. There is a degree of separation between the two individuals.  A customer service interaction may not fill the gap that makes the difference between a one-time purchase and a new, loyal customer.

On the other hand, customer care is a new mental playing field. Your customer care team will be prone to going the extra mile as they “care” for their customers. They will seek to befriend your clients, even for just a few minutes. Caring for customers is a perspective that sees people, not dollars. They will see people like themselves who have questions or need support. Customer care is a position of interaction that goes beyond closing a sale and into developing a relationship. Your customer care team will seek to relate to the customer during a pleasant and memorable interaction. The end goal is customer satisfaction.

There are schools of thought that say it doesn’t matter what you name your team – the ultimate goal is to have satisfied customers and retain business. However, if the simple act of modifying the name of your customer relations team improves their performance, courtesy, and enjoyment of their job, it’s a step well worth taking. Satisfied employees will lead to satisfied customers and a strong bottom line.

Contact At Your Service Consulting today to learn more about taking your team from customer service to customer care and Delivering Out of the Ordinary Results!

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Balancing Humanity with Technology in Customer Service

Rosie the RobotAs we move deeper into the year 2016 and the 21st Century at-large, many of us have begun to wonder if the entertainment industry and dreamers of yesteryear were wrong. We’re not all in flying cars, the kids aren’t (safely) using hover boards, and the average home is not equipped with an internal computer system that asks you how your day was. Films like Back to the Future and television shows such as The Jetsons seem to have missed the mark on what life in “the future” would look like.

Although the dates may be off, the implementation is inevitable. Advanced technology is being tested and rolled out via large private organizations around the world. The goal of incorporating technology into the customer service experience has gone beyond automated answering services and computerized help systems. What does that mean for your company’s customer service protocols? Will live personnel at hotels and restaurants go the way of automated customer service lines – all technology, no humanistic approach? Can our customers of the future expect to be met with automation, androids, and kiosks? Quite the opposite, it would seem.

In a recent article by Micah Solomon published to, we discover that several international brands have been quietly mixing technology and human touch. The preferences of regular clients have been identified and stored in a computer system accessible to every branch and location enabling the same personal experience no matter where the client is in the world. This personal touch effect is handled on-site by a live person and becomes reminiscent of the one-on-one, concierge service of times past. Companies such as LDV Hospitality, a leader in the Food & Beverage industry, take great care in keeping these systems out of view of their clients. Customers are not directly asked what they prefer or given any forms to fill out. Rather, staff are encouraged to be observant toward regular customers and add their preferences into the background system. In this manner, clients are pleasantly surprised when they arrive at an LDV location and are met with their regular drink request.

You don’t have to own a multi-million dollar company to begin using technology to the advantage of your customer service experience. Ritz-Carlton started its customer service system by tracking just five preferences per guest and setting a goal of meeting at least three of those preferences on every subsequent visit. It can be as simple as noting the time of day a customer calls in or requests a call back; monitoring a shopper’s preference for paper, plastic, or reusable bags; jotting down how formal or informal your client keeps the interactions. Based on your business, your level of interaction, and your desire for personal touch service, business owners can create their own cheat sheets while empowering employees to add relevant information.

For more on adding a personal touch to your business, contact At Your Service Consulting. Let us help your business Deliver Out of the Ordinary Results.