Subject Matter Experts or Intimidating Puss Faces?

Sears has a long way to go to convince me that they’re the place to go for advice on home electronics. Quite franky the only thing I ever buy from them is a Craftsman screw driver or socket wrench every 5 years. So when I started seeing these “Blue Crew” ads, I really have to wonder why should I talk to intimidating looking puss face employees?

Shouldn’t they be warm and inviting and give me a sense of confidence? Shouldn’t they make me feel comfortable talking to an enthusiastic and knowledgeable floor staff who can demystify some of the techo-babble? Instead (in my opinion) they appear angry, condescending and don’t want to be bothered.

CrewFirst impressions count. Whether you’re the size of Sears or a solo-preneur, your business needs to make a good impression from the top all the way down to the front lines.

So when was the last time you observed how your customer facing employees present themselves to prospects and customers? Not lately? Then why not conduct some secret observations to check how your business comes across to those who want to do business with you? Make some some blind calls or inquires through the website. Evaluate common points:

  • Time to respond
  • Enthusiasm
  • Knowledgeable
  • Attentiveness
  • Was your problem solved to your satisfaction?

Document it. Share the results (and your expectations) with your staff. Then do it again next month.

What else would you suggest?

HSCS-004 – Give your customers what they really want (Pt4, Run your business like Gordon Ramsay)

Do you honestly know what your customers and prospects really want? In this episode we discuss a reality check for business success. Ask yourself some hard questions. Plus, checkout some free/inexpensive tools to help you find out what you need to know.

Topic #1 – Find a need, fill a need

Angry pirate - click to view source creditDo you honestly know what your customers and prospects really want? Perhaps your stubborn attitude is the reason why your sales are down.

Are they really happy? Ever survey them?

  • Use customer comment cards? (How was the experience? Would they recommend you?)
  • Go out on the streets and literally ask people in the neighborhood what they think? (Ever heard of you? How do you compare to the competition?)
  • Put a sample in their hand to see reactions.
  • Ask them to complete an online survey (or paper survey if necessary).
  • Invite them to your office for lunch.
  • Invite them to participate in an advisory board.

Be prepared for honest criticisms:

  • Functional (Overly complex? Too simplistic? Opportunities for improvement.)
  • Aesthetic (Butt ugly?)
  • Cost (Overpriced? Underpriced?)
  • Value / ROI (As compared to competition. Both factual and perceived.)
  • Quality (Have standards been slipping?)
  • Service (Too little? Too much?)
  • Lack of support

What are the right questions to ask? Well that’s a topic for another time. Just don’t overwhelm your customers. Ask straightforward, meaningful questions.

Topic #2 – Tools to find out what your customers really want

ChasingSome of my marketing research colleagues might be gagging on the simplicity of these suggestions. But reality is, most small+mid-size businesses cannot afford formal methodology based research. They need directional info quickly and cheaply.

Free polling software:

If you are already using an email marketing service, some have built-in survey applications:

Having difficulty with fielding customer support inquiries. Checkout popular paid services like:

Read more

Beware Consumers With a Grudge

What’s the old marketing adage? “Happy customers will tell two out of ten friends. Angry customers will tell eight out of ten friends.” Consumers have more opportunity than before to complain about your brand than ever before. Check out these examples: Read more

Details Are Necessary Before Claiming Something is Wrong With a Web Site

This really grinds my gears. Every 3-4 weeks, I’ll get an urgent email or call. The escalation chain goes something like this:

Consumer writes to Customer Service.
> Customer Service Rep forwards to Customer Service Supervisor.
>> Customer Service Supervisor forwards to Associate Marketing Manager.
>>> Associate Marketing Manager forwards to Marketing Manager.
>>>> Marketing Manager forwards to agency Account Manager.
>>>>> Agency Account Manager forwards to me.

Along the way, each person tacks on a message about how urgent this is, get back to me right away, yada yada yada.

By the time I see it, the email thread is fairly lengthy. When I scroll down to the original message, it typically says something like this:

“Your web site doesn’t work.”

[sigh…] I take application bugs seriously, but it never occurs to anyone that this is not enough information to make a guess as to what the problem was. So I’ll spend a half hour reviewing the site, testing functionality and forms, and looking at our Web Analytics to see if there were any traffic spikes or periods of no data that might indicate there was a problem with the Web hosting. 100% of the time I find nothing wrong. So I say nothing wrong could be identified by the information we have.

Of course clients want to hear that something was wrong because “the customer is always right.”

Then I have to reeducate everyone again that the user did not report any details that could help identify what the problem might be. It could be any number of things:

  • User didn’t say what he was tying to specifically do.
  • Maybe the user is not waiting for a Flash movie to play.
  • User may be on slow dial-up connection, not broadband. Or possibly sharing Internet connection on a network that is congested due to heavy use by other users.
  • User might be using outdated operating system and browser version we are not currently supporting. (e.g. Windows 98 and IE 5)
  • User may be using a computer that is very old/slow, loaded with many applications or malware that freezes from Flash, video or other functionality.
  • The user may be impatient and clicking everything and causing the browser/computer to freeze.
  • We don’t know if user only tried once. If user tries again, it might be fine.
  • Maybe the site is blocked by the military/school/company/organization that the user is accessing the Internet through.

Having someone say the Web site doesn’t work is too vague to confirm if it is a Web hosting issue, programming issue, database issue, hardware issue, software issue or user issue.

It is critical to try to educate the Customer Support team to ask more detailed questions when they get obscure comments. The following is the minimum amount of information we need to recreate and identify problems:

  • What type of computer being used: brand, processor specs, memory (e.g. Dell Latitude D610 Intel Pentium M processor 1.86GHz, 2 GB RAM)
  • What Operating System (e.g. Windows XP Professional)
  • What type of Internet connection (i.e. DSL, Cable, T1, Dial-up)
  • What Web browser and version (e.g. Apple Safari 2.0.4, Firefox, Internet Explorer 7)
  • Specifically what day and time (including time zone) did the user try to access the Web site?
  • What specifically did the user try to do?
  • What happened as a result of the user’s actions?

Also, design contact forms to capture useful information. Clients tend to ignore this, but as a result, we waste a lot of time down the road troubleshooting vague claims.

The user was kind enough to report a problem. But without details, it’s unlikely any problem can be identified.

Please let me know if you found this useful.

Article: Consumers Punishing Physical Stores for Sins of Online Counterparts

eWeek reports: Consumers Punishing Physical Stores for Sins of Online Counterparts

“Nordstrom, for example, has a reputation for delivering extremely personalized and attentive customer service for people visiting their stores. That high-touch attribute is quite difficult to replicate online, setting the company up to disappoint online visitors. Those disappointed online visitors could then potentially punish the brick-and-mortar locations.”

“Retailers have been very slow to understand that, to the consumer, it’s one brand.”

“The retail brand today transcends the channel. When [customers] have a poor Web experience, as in poor page loads [or] unsuccessful transactions, it’s taken out on the storefronts, too. Consumers don’t understand the complexity of delivering an optimal Web experience.”

Key take away: A company must work hard in both the physical and online worlds to deliver a consistent message and high user experience. Failing in one environment will discourage the consumer to interact with the brand in the other.


Listen to your client when collecting user requirements

This might seem obvious, but listening is key. This becomes painfully obvious when reviewing work with a client and discovering that she/he had something very different in mind. Are you sure your user requirements are really what the client truly wants? Or are you making assumptions based on what you think the client needs? Have you asked enough questions or the RIGHT questions to clearly define what the client has in mind? Most importantly of all, are you sure the client really knows what she/he wants?

Collecting user requirements right the first time is critical in terms of defining project scope, managing to budget, managing time invested and ultimately delivering a successful project. Needless to say, if you get it wrong, your client and team may loose confidence in you.

user-requirements-diagramI wish I knew who to credit for this original image, but I found it on this blog.

When the client first proposes a project, I like to ask for a project brief. If I can’t get that, I summarize the scope as I understand it and make the client review and confirm. Another kickoff exercise I like to use is to have the client fill out a Marketing Questionnaire and/or Technical Questionnaire with many questions about what the client wants to accomplish and how it will be measured. This homework assignment is good to get the client thinking about the project. Then I’ll follow-up with more probing questions.

In summary, take the time to do the due diligence and get the user requirements accurate the first time. Your project and reputation may count on it.

Good luck.

Bad Customer Experience? Complain about it!

Recently we took our kids to the restaurant Mars 2112 in NYC as a birthday treat. They were excited and looking forward to it for weeks.

We waited patiently for an hour to get in. We took their 5 minute “rocket ride” to Mars. Inside, the atmosphere is awesome. It looks like a futuristic restaurant inside a cavern (in the 2 story basement of a Manhattan office building). The kids loved it. The waitress who took our order and the roaming “aliens” were friendly. Everything was fine until a server with a nasty attitude dumped our food on the table. While the kids didn’t notice, the 3 adults at the table wouldn’t stop talking about it.

To leave the restaurant, customers get to “beam” back to the lobby using their teleporter. You enter a room, door closes behind you, lights flash as you are demolecularized and reassembled back on earth. Then another door opens and you exit to the lobby/gift shop. Unfortunately they choose to leave both doors open and the kids could see straight through from the restaurant to the gift shop, which ruined the illusion. The kids would not stop talking about how disappointed they were.

This week I ordered a dehumidifier from During the online order process, the Web site clearly promised me that I could pickup the product in store 2 hours after I received a confirmation email. The email arrived at 2:14pm. I arrived at the store at 5:45pm. They had 3.5 hours to pull the product and queue it for pickup. The store was not busy. The customer service rep immediately found my order in the computer. Yet it took 40 minutes for them to find the product and get me out of the store. There were a dozen employees in blue smocks standing around talking to each other. While the employees were friendly, my time was wasted.

What to do? COMPLAIN!

I filed complaints. I wasn’t nasty or angry, but I clearly explain that the company failed on a customer service promise.

Chances are you wont get anything more than an brief apology, but it is critical to bring things like this to the company’s attention. Otherwise, the company will blissfully go about business as usual.

How to complain:
1. Set your tone. Don’t be nasty or angry.

2. Do not nitpick about stupid things. Instead position them as suggestions for improvement.

3. Clearly explain the circumstances and why you think your expectations were not met.

4. Provide details (i.e. store info, product info, day/time, names of people you talked to, etc.) so the company can easily figure out what went wrong and who was responsible.

5. Post product reviews online to share your experience. But be fair and wait until after the company has had a reasonable chance to respond to your complaint. Then be sure to explain in your review what went wrong and how the company may or may not have tried to correct the problem for you.

Be sure to imagine yourself in their shoes. If you got an angry complaint with no details, how seriously would you take it? But if you get constructive criticism with details, then you can take meaningful action.

I hope this helps. Go get ’em!

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