Tag Archives: customer service

The Best Way to Lose Business

how are you talking to your customers?

how are you talking to your customers?

Do your customers annoy you?

This is a picture from a cash register at a little coffee shop I go to in San Francisco when I’m up in the city for work. (I typically work remote at my home in Orange County and spend a couple weeks up in SF each month.) It’s a cute little corner store; but the food and coffee are unremarkable and the vibe in the store created like signs like the ones above makes me feel unwelcome at best and an annoyance at worst.  If they weren’t so damn convenient I’d want to stop patronizing them just for their attitude against their customers.

If it’s hard to read the signs say:

  • Sorry cash only
  • Cell phones = no coffee
  • Free Internet Wireless with food purchase ($5 minimum)

These are just three of a variety of other signs telling you what you can’t do, bathrooms for customers only, no cell phones inside, etc. All of it just create an environment that makes it feel like its me versus the coffee shop.  I don’t feel welcome – I feel like an adversary engaged in a battle over scarce resources where I might even have to bargain to get my coffee at a reasonable price.  This is the complete wrong vibe to create between a customer.

Update: Doc Searls riffs on a WSJ article about unfriendly coffee shops and says he hasn’t run into it yet. He should step into this one.

Your customer should not be your adversary

It got me thinking, how is our business thinking of customers?  How is your business (or you) thinking about customers?  Are they your adversaries? Are they annoyances? Are they irresponsible dimwits that need to be reminded of how to behave in your establishment?  Or are they your friends and guests?  Do you collaborate with them to create a welcome environment?  Do you build an experience that creates a welcome atmosphere based on mutual respect, admiration and appreciation?

How do you think of your customers?

If your business is like this coffee shop it’s time for a change

If you find that your business doesn’t trust your customers and treats them like irresponsible children that need to be beaten into submission its time to dig into why your relationship is the way it is and what can be done to change it to one of cooperation and trust.  Without customer trust and cooperation your business will never reach its potential. It will never be more than a service provider.  It will never create a reason for customers to go to bat for it.  It will never survive – because someone will come along and create that environment and wow your customers into forgetting all about you.

Change the way you think about and talk to your customers

This little coffee shop could create a far better experience by being more friendly, personable and open about its requests.  A small sign that says “To ensure a stress-free and quick order for everyone please refrain from using your cell phone in line.”   would be much better than the above.  A small sign at the entry that says “Our coffee shop strives to create a relaxed and welcoming environment for all guests.  Please step outside to use your cell phone.” would be even better.

The way you think about your customers informs how you talk to your customers which translates directly into how your customers perceive the relationship between you and them and how they think about (and more importantly feel about) your business.

If you make customers feel welcome, respected and treated well you will win.  If you think of them as people trying to take profit out of your till and irritate your staff you lose.

How can you improve the way you think about your customers and create a cooperative relationship instead of an adversarial one?

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The ‘receipt guarantee’ and the problem with marketing at the edges

Update: Lots of people responded here and on Facebook that the receipt deal is to keep the cashiers from skimming the till.  In one commenter’s words “using the customer as the cop.”  It makes a lot of sense.  But you know what?  I like it even less now.  Using customers to make up for your inability to hire and train good people and create an environment that is rewarding and beneficial enough to them to keep them from skimming $5.29 a plate off the register is untennable.  Don’t use me to make up for your culture vacuum.

It’s even worse this way.

In my mind it was just marketing tinkering where they could.  Now that I understand it, the whole practice is a “brand promise” that is really in place to keep the people that they trust enough to interact with you their customer, but that they don’t trust enough to interact with their money.  Nice to see where their priorities are.

The other day while dining at Panda Express I noticed a small sign near the cashier that read “If we don’t give you your receipt at check out your meal is on us,” (or something to that effect) and it got me thinking about all the ways companies hurt themselves with marketing. And I’m not talking about the epic failed product launches (New Coke anyone?) or spectacularly poor ad campaigns and PR debacles. No, I’m talking about a more subtle infliction. The one that comes with failing to deliver on small promises that are often unrequested by the customer prior to its introduction by the brand.

More simply, setting unnecessary expectations.

A look at the Panda example

Panda Express’s no receipt, free meal policy is the ultimate in setting unnecessary expectations. When I go to Panda Express it is for a variety of factors from reliable quality, convenience and unique menu. Nowhere in my consideration set is the value of receiving a receipt at the conclusion of the buying process. NOWHERE. My experience and expectation is centered on my above considerations, not on transactional minutiae incidental to the prime reasons I’m in the restaurant.

Panda Express unfortunately amplifies this meaningless transactional courtesy (getting your receipt without asking) into a key success factor for your visit. As you stand in line waiting for your turn to pay, you read the sign and the relevance of this ridiculous promise pops on to your radar. Suddenly getting your receipt takes on a great importance. Will I get my receipt? Will I get a free meal?

You start to root against the brand. You root for failure because the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of this service failure. Free meal vs a few minutes collecting on the customer service policy.

Marketers have unintentionally pitted the customer against the service provider over a mundane, unimportant portion of the transaction; changing the dynamic of the experience, the expectation set and attention of the cashier. Now the cashier is making sure that you get your receipt but is ignoring other, arguably more important, aspects of the transaction.

Why would marketers intentionally create this environment?

Marketers realize that the best marketing is word of mouth referrals from existing customers. That word of mouth is generated through the delivery of amazing service and experience in the buying process. Unfortunately in many companies this is the role of operations and is under minimal influence from the marketing department. So delivering the brand promise as architected by the upfront marketing is in operations hands and leaves little control of delivery to the folks who crafted the promise and set the expectation.

Now, in great companies these two work hand-in-hand to create a memorable experience and a loyal customer and advocate.

But back to the Panda example. Tasked with operationalizing the brand promise the ops team looks to create processes that fulill the promise across the organization. The complexity of rolling out these plans to thousands of outlets is difficult an ensuring consistency is critical. Therefore operations is often hesitant to change core aspects of the delivery if it meets brand standards, sales growth, customer satisfaction , etc. Because of this marketers are left to tinker on the edges of the delivery process rather than experiment with ways in which to improve the core experience.

And the receipt or free meal initiative is born of this reality. Marketers tasked with delivering a brand promise, unable to influence or change the core brand promise delivery mechanism, and tasked with delivering on that promise, focus on easy edges where they can exert influence and implement policies that arguably are in support of improving the experience.

It’s a dangerous reality which has real consequences on the overall impact of the brand perception by the customer. Suddenly getting my receipt is important, it’s become a KPI for the visit.

So the question becomes which unexpected expectations are you setting in your customer service processes or marketing promises? Are you unintentionally damaging your customer experience with guarantees outside of your core offering?

Look for ways to eliminate tangential promises that don’t help your brand (but still take real effort to fulfill) in favor of improving your core process. Stop focusing on the receipt or free meal and more on refining what’s really important.

There’s no need as a marketer to implement policies or procedures that are tangential to the core offering and that are lose-only propositions. In the case of Panda Express the receipt policy is lose only for them. I didn’t care about it until they told me about it, if they execute flawlessly it doesn’t improve my experience, and if they miss it costs them revenue and amplifies the service miss. That is the definition of a policy that needs to go.

What do you think? What are some of the policies that unintentionally damage brands? Do you have them in your business? Can you replace them with policies that improve your core offering instead?

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