Monday, May 30, 2005

Pop Quiz

Here are some questions every service provider should be able to answer about their community and nearby areas. The more information you can provide your visitors, the better the quality of service. How many can you answer?

- How did your town get its name?
- What famous people were born here?
- Where is the nearest:
Hospital, College, Post Office, Church, Gas Station,
ATM machine, Bank, Library, Museum, Bakery/Supermarket

- Where may I go fishing? Play golf? Scuba Dive? Camp..?
- What are some attractions I can see?
- What cultural events are taking place?
- Where can I go to eat native cuisine, seafood,italian...?

These are all simple questions, yet sometimes we have to think of a reply or ask a fellow employee because we don't have the answer. So study up on what's happening in your community and nearby areas, and always be prepared.


Friday, May 27, 2005

T.I.P.S. 101** Rewarding the Right Behavior

Rewarding the Right Behavior
By Gil C. Schmidt

Lest you think I’d forgotten my good friend, Carol, here’s another bit of wisdom from her extensive stockpile:

“I was "Executive Platinum" in the American Airlines frequent flier program—their highest tier. On many flights I watched as those around me received complimentary upgrades and I got... nothing. Not even a "Thanks for flying with us a WHOLE, WHOLE bunch."

One day returning from London, I decided to be the "Ugly American" and see what happened. I went through multiple American Airlines checkpoints as I made my way from one international flight to another. At each, I simply mentioned that I was an Executive Platinum flier and hoped that I could be upgraded that day. The response was always noncommittal.

When I got to the LAST point in the boarding lounge, I got a little more vocal. I watched as they upgraded other passengers, then DEMANDED to know why these people were being upgraded and I wasn't. I had flown over 100,000 miles on their airline that year, yet I had NEVER received EVEN ONE complimentary upgrade, and I wanted to know why. Right then. And I was going to sit there until I got an answer. What a wonder: about 5 minutes later they found room for me in Business Class.

I seethed the whole way home. Why had the airline chosen to ignore my numerous polite requests and only caved when I became more vocal? Was it worth it to become the "Ugly American" in order to get a better seat? For me, it wasn't, and I spent a lot of time on subsequent flights in cramped seats in Economy Class. But I slept better at night.”

Carol continues her example: “British Airways knows how to do it right. I also spent time in the top tier of BA's frequent flier program. On every flight, the purser came by my seat before take-off and noted that I was in their top tier of fliers. He or she always thanked me for flying their airline, and asked that I find them personally if I needed anything during the flight. BA also upgraded me about 25% of the time. I never asked for it. I never begged. I never pitched a fit. They simply handed me a boarding pass for a better seat. I flew them every chance I could.

Customers appreciate acknowledgement. They appreciate being known by name. (I was on a first-name basis with some of BA's flight attendants.) They appreciate being treated as more than just a source of revenue. It's worth it to go the extra mile to develop customer loyalty.”

Back to me now. Notice how American Airlines not only “punished” Carol despite her obvious high value as their customer and “rewarded” her uncharacteristic but understandable anger. It may be true that “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” but customers are not “squeaky wheels,” and if you wait for them to behave as such, you are going to need plenty of “grease.”

British Airways knows the “secret”: Reward your customers so that you always get their best. And if a company doesn’t give you their best and you don’t feel comfortable “misbehaving” to get it, that’s okay. Companies come and go and you can choose to change to a competitor, but as Carol said, you will sleep better at night knowing you are being true to yourself. Some things are simply too important to compromise.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

T.I.P.S. 101** Ferengi Rules

Ferengi Rules
By Gil C. Schmidt

I love “Star Trek,” in all its incarnations. One of the best aspects was the development of alien races that had a depth and personality all their own, such as the Vulcans, Klingons and the Ferengi.

Large-eared, almost rodent-like in features, the Ferengi are, well… acquisitive. Okay, they’re greedy. For the Ferengi, acquiring Latinum (their “gold”) is the end-all and be-all of their existence. (Uh, for the males only. But let’s not go there.) As a guide to their ambition in life, the Ferengi have “Rules of Acquisition,” many of which are geared to—fleecing—the “opposition” in the pursuit of profits.

Now what could a fictional race of greedy cheating thieves (Ferengi that display these traits are known as “wealthy leaders”) teach us real folk about Customer Service? Plenty. Of the mythical “285 Rules,” four of them stand out as wisdom for any race:

Rule 26: As the customers go, so goes the wise profiteer. Too many businesses fail because they forget that serving the customer—serving the right customers—is absolutely essential to success. You have to find the customers first and follow their lead. When they change, you must change with them.

Rule 51: Reward anyone who adds to your profits so they will continue to do so. It sounds so simple and yet, how often it is forgotten! The Ferengi state much the same in Rule 50: Gratitude can bring on generosity. It’s a point so important even greedy little profit-mongers state it twice!

Rule 57: Good customers are as rare as Latinum. Treasure them. Do you really need an alien to remind you of this?

Rule 119: Never judge a customer by the size of his wallet. (Sometimes, good things come in small packages.) It is a common mistake to look at the “small” customer as insignificant. Please don’t make it, and if you have, please don’t repeat it. Customers are never isolated “wallets”: they are connected to a network of other “wallets”—other customers—that can make or break your business. Treat them all well and your business will benefit all the time.

Take these Rules as “messages from beyond the galaxy” and make them your Earth-bound guides. But pay no attention whatsoever to Rule 65: Win or lose, there's always Huyperian beetle snuff.

Note: Thanks to my good friend Roberto Filomeno for the “Rules”!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Open Source Minds

This past Friday I was lucky enough to meet with some very creative people. All of which, like myself, think "outside of the box". Why go with the flow if you can pave an all new road?
So Open Source Minds is born, or as I like to think of us Open Minds. To learn more about OSM visit: gilthejenius.blogspot.com
Check out these other sites as well:


Friday, May 20, 2005

T.I.P.S. 101** Make it Their Problem

Make It Their Problem
By Gil C. Schmidt

The customer starts to complain. Suddenly, the person who’s receiving the complaint—cashier, clerk, waiter, technician—has their face turn to stone, a distant look glazes their eyes and you can almost feel their patience as they wait for the customer to stop talking in order to… pass the buck.

Uh-huh. Happens every day. Let’s look at the stress points in this tableau:

1) The customer: Something’s wrong, they’re upset and they want a solution.
2) The employee or rep: Something’s wrong, the customer’s upset and I can’t do anything about it.
3) The “buck receiver”” The customer’s upset, that person dealing with the customer isn’t handling it and I have to make something good happen… or else.

Some of you are way ahead of me. The problem is arising at stress point 2: I can’t do anything about it. In far too many companies, customer service personnel are not allowed to do very much to really help customers when things go awry. They quickly fall into a pattern of “It’s not my problem,” and instead of trying to help, they bail on the situation.

But if you think they are relieved by this, think again. No one wants to appear incompetent or weak in public. No one likes having their judgment summarily dismissed a priori, as if they could never make the right decision if left to their own devices. And certainly no one likes the feeling of being cast in a subservient role to everyone around them.

The answer is obvious: Make the customer’s problem their problem. Let the clerk, cashier, rep, technician or whoever be responsible for dealing with the matter to a successful conclusion. In the words of the Ritz Carlton’s Employee Mission Card, point #9: “Any employee who receives a guest complaint owns the complaint.” You don’t—you can’t—pass the buck when you have full responsibility.

Can you rely on people to do the right thing? One company is famous for an Employee Manual that consists of a mere two lines: "Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules." That company, Nordstrom, has been a consistent and outstanding leader in customer service for over 20 years.

It has been proven throughout history that if you expect the best from people, you often receive it and more. When you feel in control, or in the buzz word of the 90s, empowered, you know you can do so much more…and you do. All of a sudden, a customer complaint is no longer a moment of irritation to an employee eager to pass it away, but something serious: a chance to show just how much s/he can do to make it better. The change is profound and valuable, to the employee, the customer and ultimately, the company itself.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

T.I.P.S. 101**Service Begins at Work

Service Begins at Work
By Gil C. Schmidt

If you are a manager, supervisor or business owner, you might be in charge of people who are required to provide customer service. You expect your people to be courteous, attentive, respectful, friendly and supportive. You might even go so far as to demand these attributes from your people and to do so on a daily basis.

Now, they might be too shy, polite or afraid to tell you what I’m going to tell you: Walk the talk. If you say it, live it. Don’t ask others to do what you aren’t willing—or can’t—do. In other words, Service Begins At Work, not with the Customer.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a “manager” or business owner treat an employee harshly and then turn around and treat a customer like a king or queen, often in front of the berated or harassed employee. If you’re one of these “Do as I say, not as I do” people—and there’s a word for that, you know—you need to make a positive change. And the sooner the better.

If you can stand another saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto others.” Okay, I switched it up on you to make the point that your employees’ level of customer service will be directly related to your level of managerial service to those employees. It is simply human nature: people who feel good about themselves and their situation are much more capable of generosity, attention and hospitality, all basic elements of excellent service.

Some of you might feel that a heavy hand will keep employees in line and focused on the bottom line. Here’s a question: how much training are you doing? You’ll know it’s a problem if you feel stressed about the amount of time you (as manager or owner) spend training employees. If they are often new employees and your department or company isn’t growing, you have a major turnover problem. If they are experienced employees and you still find yourself training them, you are overdoing it or they are passively resisting you, a polite way of “saying” you aren’t making a difference for them.

Relax. Train your employees on the basics and then treat them like colleagues, for that is what they are. Notice how the more respect and support you give them, the better the service they provide. And on a possibly cynical note: Please don’t fake respect or support. If it isn’t sincere, it’ll do more harm than being hard-nosed would do.

You might want to print this up and pass it around. Let’s call it Schmidt’s Service Corollary to The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto others.”

I like that. And so will you.

Monday, May 16, 2005

T.I.P.S. 101** Give Service a Break

Give Service a Break
By Gil C. Schmidt

It was simply a matter of time. I walked into a store where there was only one checkout line in operation. The cashier, a young lady named Judith that I had known for some time, was dealing with paying customers, walk-ins asking for information and returns, a situation so absurd I thought it was a joke.

The discount store was normally a quiet place, but the buzz of angry customers was getting quite loud…most of it directed at Judith. Her quick, accurate motions were soon replaced by nervous, jerky gestures. She dropped change, rang up items with the wrong price and didn’t notice when a would-be wise guy tried to parlay his “question” into skipping to the head of the line. That was cut off by several people and the spam hit the fan (as they say in polite company.)

The line became a crowd and Judith was its target. She did the best she could, trying to regain a semblance of order, but it wasn’t until I stepped in and two other ladies spoke up for order that the situation was defused. It still led a handful of customers to abandon shopping carts or simply drop their items in any convenient spot and walk out of the store. Possibly never to return.

And where was the manager in all this? Sitting in his office. Until I knocked on the door and showed him what was happening. His response? “That’s her job.”

No, meathead, it isn’t. Her job, and that of anyone in service, is to help a reasonable number of people with a reasonable number of requests over a reasonable period of time. The problem stems when the word “reasonable” is left out of the equation or is stretched to ludicrous lengths. What happened to Judith was an extreme example, but more common ones occur every day.

The combination of reasonable number of people and a reasonable number of requests is usually handled well by businesses. We might complain that the bank is short one or two tellers, or that the supermarket is missing a cashier or two, but a business needs to operate on the basis of the most likely scenario and cost control, so having one or two people less than your optimum is not a bad thing (from the business’ point of view.)

The common problem is having these people try to provide service over an extended period of time. Studies have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that service quality decreases after a person has been working for over two hours and is at its worst when working more than four hours straight.

The solution is to rotate service providers into other tasks about every two hours. Many successful businesses already do this, but it takes managerial skill and consistency to make it work. Yes, it takes more planning and training time, but the payoff is almost always a better service team and more satisfied customers.

Give your service people a break from the pressure of delivering customer service and watch as their satisfaction level—and that of your customers—rises to new heights.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Tales From the Other Side

Customer Experience #1
By Diana Figueroa

Recently I had a little mishap with my cell phone. It seems I somehow blocked it, so I couldn't make any phone calls. After various visits to different company stores and employees, I finally arrived to the place where (I hoped) my problem would be solved.

While I was waiting for my phone to be fixed, I happened to overhear a technician speaking to a client and telling them that no matter how many customers remained, at 6 PM they were closing and whatever clients were still there would simply have to come back tomorrow. Why? Because they didn't get paid overtime. Did I mention it was full of customers and it was just 4:30?

As I left the building a bit later, I kept thinking about the statement the employee had made… Ironic, because it was from an employee whose company's slogan is "We NEVER stop working for you."

There are many wrong things with this scenario. The most obvious is the fact that the customers aren’t a part of a company’s inner workings, therefore, employees shouldn’t make that type of comment where customers can hear them. Instead of broadcasting a bad image, if the employee was aware that not all of the customers would be taken care of, he could’ve:

A: Checked to see what each individual situation was and fixed the minor problems he knew there was time for. And for the one’s that took longer, give them the option of returning the next morning and give them first priority at that time.
B: If the office was short-handed for more difficult or lengthy service, see if a co-worker can lend a hand with the easier situations, and tend to those clients quickly, maybe freeing up enough technical staff in time to lend proper customer service to tougher problems.

At the moment this situation occurred, what happened to the idea of customer service satisfaction? It was forgotten and the end result was a corporate black eye.

At T.I.P.S. we strive to promote the positive. I want to acknowledge and thank the technician who fixed my problem. I don't know his name, I don't recall a name tag. But I thank him, for not sending me to another office, employee or area, for not making me wait in line, for being courteous and attentive and for fixing my problem quickly. He made my ordeal a bit more bearable.

THANK YOU!! Can you hear me now?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Carol Award

The Carol Award
By Gil C. Schmidt

If you haven’t met Carol yet, please do so now. Scroll down to previous TIPS Columns and read all about a remarkable young lady who runs an Internet-based business with her husband, has a marvelous grasp of what customer service really needs and is pretty much the perfect customer as well.

Since that combination is so rare—customer service expertise united with being a thoughtful customer—T.I.P.S. Newsletter would like to institute The Carol Award, to be presented not only to examples of great customer service, but also to the customers who make our lives as business people a true joy.

To qualify someone for a Carol Award, simply tell us your experience of great service or that moment when a customer turned your whole day/week/month around.

Here are my two Carol Awards (one is for me!):

I was hired to do a Christmas Web Marketing campaign for VERNet, an educational software firm based in Puerto Rico. The company’s president, Manuel Figueroa, worked closely with me on the elements of the campaign and the coordination with the Internet Service Provider that would manage the Web portion of the campaign. Two days before the launch, the ISP told us that they had not done any of the work and that the campaign could not be done. Rather than skip paying me, Manuel stated that I had done my part and he would honor our agreement and pay the second half of my fee. That was almost 10 years ago and I still seek out ways to help Manuel and his company, for no money, but simply to honor his professionalism and integrity. A Carol Award to Manuel Figueroa!

Again, Christmas, this time a late afternoon Christmas Eve shopping trip with a couple of friends in Woolworth’s. (Yes, this was some time ago.) The cashier, a young lady in her mid-20s, was haggard, her whole body a slumping curve of exhaustion. The line behind me had 10-12 people in it when she started adding up my purchases. After a few seconds I said to her “It must be hard to work Christmas Eve.” She barely nodded. “Is your family waiting for you?” She nodded again, but this time she was looking at me. “Do you have a big family?” Her eyes brightened a little as she nodded. “It’ll be fun to see them all tonight, won’t it?” She said “Yes” and smiled. “And that’s only 2 hours away, right?” She laughed. “It seemed like 20 a minute ago!” Now I smiled. “Start celebrating now, with them,” I said, pointing at the people in line, “And then share all that Christmas spirit with your family.” The young lady smiled, straightened up and looked 10 years younger. As I left the store, one of my friends turned me around to see the young lady, now laughing and vibrant. For recognizing that someone just needed a little personal attention to get back in the groove of customer service, a Carol Award to me!

I’d like to thank Carol for her wonderful examples and Diana for putting together a resource that goes to the heart of business success. And unlike other awards that limit themselves for greater impact, the more Carol Awards we hand out, the better!

Monday, May 09, 2005

T.I.P.S. 101** Thanking Service II

Thanking Service, Part II
By Gil C. Schmidt

Actually, By Carol. I’ll just step aside and let her tell you her story:

“For me, American Airlines and British Airways epitomized two very different customer service approaches, one good and one bad. Two real-life examples illustrate.

American Airlines: I was going to Colombia via Miami. The plane had mechanical problems while in Dallas and things started heading south (not us, unfortunately). They mixed up the gates and sent us to three places (not even in the same terminal), told us conflicting stories, etc. By the time we finally got to Miami, people were IRATE and were taking it out on the Miami gate agents. When it was my turn, I told the gate agent that I was sorry things had gone badly in Dallas, and I was sorry that they were bearing the brunt of it. The guy behind me (with my same routing Dallas-Bogotá) pitched an ever-loving FIT. He cursed, he screamed. He reminded me of a toddler who wanted candy in the throes of a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store. After we boarded the plane, he made it a point to walk back and find me in the Economy section to let me know that AA had upgraded him to Business Class.

British Airways: I was flying to Switzerland via London, but the plane had major mechanical problems while in Dallas. They tried borrowing parts from American Airlines, but only had one plane to work with. (One plane flies London-Dallas and then returns later in the day.) I knew they were in trouble, because the crew had been on duty too long already and wouldn't have enough "legal" hours left for the flight to London. They had to wait for the gate staff to return to the airport, however, because we were the last flight of the day for BA and everyone had gone home. By the time we deboarded, still in Dallas, we had been on the plane for six hours.

People were very upset. When I got to the front of the line, I told the agent it was no problem, that all I needed was a taxi voucher to get home and I'd come back the next day. That night I baked cookies and took them to the gate agents. I told them I appreciated their hard work, and knew their job wasn't easy that day. BA planned to fly two planes back to London that day (the one from the day before, plus the regularly scheduled flight). I said I'd take the second flight. Unfortunately they had mechanical problems AGAIN with that plane, and they ended up crowding as many of us on the first flight as they could. When I got my revised boarding pass, I wasn't in Economy. I wasn't in Business. I had a seat in First Class. Pretty good for a $700 ticket!

Through their responses, the two airlines demonstrated to me which behavior they wanted to reinforce. And I then flew British Airways over American every chance I got.”

Okay, now you know some of the reasons why I admire Carol. She’s an excellent customer service provider and an excellent customer. I’m sure you appreciate and want to meet more people like her, or even to follow her example. Please do so. Things would be so much better, right?

Friday, May 06, 2005

T.I.P.S. 101** Thanking Service

Thanking Service, Part I
By Gil C. Schmidt

One of the great things about being a writer is that sometimes you get great ideas from the strangest sources in unbelievable ways. Then again, most of the time, you get your best ideas from the most obvious sources: great minds.

Allow me to reintroduce Carol, whose husband-and-wife Internet driving course business serves hundreds of concerned people a month. (You’d be concerned too if your license depended on passing the course.) Here’s another sample of Carol’s service abilities and wisdom:

“I got another e-mail last night that made me think about customer service.

I'd helped a woman earlier this week because she wasn't sure if she had updated her address, if she had ordered Express Delivery and other worries. Basically she just needed a little extra assurance and "hand-holding."

She e-mailed Customer Support last night around midnight and said: ‘Just a note to say THANK YOU for responding so quickly to my problem and taking care of me when I needed it and getting my certification out to me so quickly. Tell your boss he needs to give you a raise....thanks again...’

As consumers, we need to take opportunities to thank companies and individuals for a job well done. Too often we are quick to complain and criticize when something goes wrong, but very slow to acknowledge exceptional service. (Emphasis mine.)

We need to positively reinforce the behavior that we as a society WANT, not just criticize the behavior we don't want. If employees receive positive reinforcement for doing their job well, they are more likely to continue to do it well. Carrots are more tasty than sticks.”

Good service deserves at least a polite “Thank you,” but when you get great service, you as the customer should make the biggest noise about it that you can. Tell the person who did it, their supervisor, the manager and the world at large. If we continue to emphasize the bad, we’re only teaching each other how to do what we already know how to do: reject unsatisfactory service.

Stay tuned for more wisdom from Carol. And since she provides a great service to me: Thank you, Carol!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Smile Reaction

Smile reaction, is what happens when you see somebody smile. No matter what mood you're in, you can't help it. Someone smiles, you smile back. Smiles are the perfect accesory for service providers, they're very cost effective(FREE!)... and when used correctly can be extremely profitable. That's good business!
Smiles are the gifts that keep on giving. So give away as many smiles as possible, it'll make a world of difference to both the giver and the recipient.
Have an excellent day!!


 Posted by Hello

Monday, May 02, 2005

T.I.P.S. 101** Plan C

“Plan C”
By Gil C. Schmidt

We’ve all heard about “Plan B,” which is what we do when “Plan A” fails. Some cynics say we live our lives in “Plan B” and it’s hard to argue against that thought. It seems impossible to make all or even most of our “Plan A”s come together the way we want them to.

Many businesses lack a “Plan B.” Oh, they say they have a back-up plan for when things go wrong, but when the time comes to execute it, it’s more “improvisation” than “improvement.” When Plan A fails—and it does—you see blank looks, pursed lips, shoulder-shrugging, buck-passing and stuttering actions that let you know “we didn’t think this would happen so we didn’t prepare.”

Some businesses, the smarter ones, have a polished “Plan B” in place. When the inevitable error creeps up, the Plan springs into action a well-coordinated ballet begins. Your problem is tended to with the efficiency of a Swiss clock…and with about as much feeling. Although you are grateful for having the problem fixed, you are left with the feeling that it was too neat, too efficient, too easy to have been great service. Instead of feeling cared for, you feel used.

That’s where “Plan C” comes in. “Plan C” is all about Caring, of making sure that as your procedures and methods are improved, you never lose sight of the fact that Caring for your Customer is the heart of great service. Only the best businesses have a permanent “Plan C.”

In my teens, my eyesight was extremely weak. I was legally blind without glasses, and even with them, my vision was never better than 20/40. After years of sports, the worst finally happened: my glasses were broken. I ordered a new pair and the day I was supposed to pick them up, I was told the order had been mis-handled and I still had a ten day wait. (This was long before modern, “one-hour” optometry.)

I was given a discount, a voucher for a free eye exam and a case for my “ten days away” glasses. But what made me their customer for years was the care the attendant took to clean my broken glasses and make a better repair so they would last a little longer and not look so goofy. And when the glasses arrived, they were delivered to my home by the same attendant.

“Plan C” comes from the heart and aims at the heart. It takes into account that customers appreciate being taken care of as persons, not cogs in a service machine. “Plan C” is almost certainly “improvisation,” but one aimed at the true “improvement” that’s possible when things have gone wrong.