Tag Archives: customer service

Handling Customer Complaints

We often find that training to help employees deal with customer complaints falls short of expectations.  The result is dissatisfied customers, discouraged staff members, loss of brand loyalty … and profitability.

We’ve expanded on these eight steps from Associated Bank as a tool to improve your business, your customer service, and strengthen customer loyalty:

  1. Train for the worst.  When your employees, associates, customer service associates or whatever you call them are prepared for the worst possible scenario, such as the potential for an active shooter, they are ready to handle those situations.  It makes handling the more simple problems much easier.Complainer
  2. Listen.  Customers are emotional when they complain.  They want to be heard and give you information that is, indeed, helpful for operating your business.  Provide your employees with the training they need to be able to listen and, most important, understand what is being said.
  3. Assume the truth.  You may get an occasional customer who tries to milk the system, but most are honest and should be assumed to be telling the truth.  By assuming it’s true, your employees can focus on fixing the problem, which should be the desired outcome.
  4. Apologize.  An apology is more sincere than saying “I’m sorry” for something that may or may not be the employee’s fault.  The apology is for the fact the customer had to experience the problem.  It should be sincere – and count – so it can diffuse a potentially tense situation with an irate customer.  Tread carefully for legalities so the apology doesn’t end up in court as a “Well, he said …”
  5. Act Immediately.  Staff should be trained to take care of the problem right away, and to keep the customer apprised of what’s been done.  We asked someone registering us for an event to correct a misspelled name and it was done immediately.  That instills confidence that the company does care about its customers.
  6. Ask what they want.  Be straight forward and ask what can resolve the problem to their satisfaction.  They may not actually want anything other than to apprise you of a problem or potential issue.  Use this as an opportunity to find a solution – for the client and for the prevention of future problems.
  7. Make it easy to complain.  Provide a phone number on invoices or your website.  Give out an E-mail address for customers to express their concerns.  A word of caution, however:  Avoid letting those concerns reside and linger in a voice mail message system or in box for days on end.  Take care of the complaints promptly.
  8. Follow-up.  If nothing else is accomplished, follow-up.  Make sure your customers are pleased with your service, your products and/or services, and your company/brand.

Brand Irons can provide your company with an in-service workshop on customer service.  You can find out more with a phone call to (920) 366-6334.

In our next blog, we’ll cover whether management may be the problem.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand

How Critical Is Consistency?

We all like to try different things.  In business, however, being consistent is important … unless you don’t care if customers come back.

Pizza DeliveryThink about a pizza joint as an example.  Assume you order your favorite toppings and crust for delivery.  When it shows up, within the promised time frame, it is hot and prepared to perfection.  Your expectation has been established for the next time.  The bar is set.

Two weeks later, you order the same pizza from the same establishment.  It shows up hot and on time, but the crust is a bit overdone and the taste is different somehow.  Maybe they forgot to spice it the same way.  Okay, you can tolerate that, but now your expectations have been altered, maybe even reduced.  You may even call the pizza parlor to ask the manager why there’s a difference.

The next few pizzas you order are tolerable but still not as good as the first.  The joint seems to be having a hard time with consistency but still within a tolerable range fro delivered food.  Then the bomb drops.

You order again and the person answering the phone is rude, asks you to hold, and rather than wait, you hang up and have someone else call it in.  Same thing happens to them, and it takes five minutes to get back to you. If you are emotionally tied to ordering from that pizza place, you wait and place your order.

Thirty minutes after your pizza should have arrived, you call to find out if the driver got lost or what’s going on with it.  No apology, just some line about being backed up and your pie is just coming out of the oven, so it should be there within a few minutes.

You expect a fresh, hot pizza that meets your standard for this pizza parlor.  You’re hungrier than ever since you were ready to eat when it was due to be delivered.  Instead, it arrives cold, the whole pie looks burnt – especially the crispy crust, and it tastes horrible.  This is unequivocally not acceptable.  Yet you’ve still paid good money for your dinner.

As the owner of this business, what would you anticipate the customer would do if you were them?  Shut up and eat the pizza without complaining?  Eat it but call to complain?  Bring it back and demand a refund?  Or the more likely scenario:  Never order pizza from you again and tell everyone they know how horrible your pizza was?

The lesson for any business owner:  What does it take to deliver a consistent product or service to your customers?  In this case, making a pizza should be relatively simple:  make a crust using your signature ingredients, put it in a cooking pan, add your signature sauce, top it with consistent ingredients and spices, and cook it in an oven set to the right temperature for the specified amount of time.  Then box it up and get it delivered within the promised time frame.

Walk through that exercise with whatever product or service you offer to consumers.  Assess what it takes to be consistent.  The steps should be relatively simple and easy to identify.  Those steps should be your normal and your staff should clearly understand that “normal” is the minimal standard to achieve.  Nothing less than that should be tolerated.

What goes along with delivering a consistent product or service is the customer service side of the process.  Back to the pizza example:  How difficult would it be for someone in the business, preferably a manager, to call a customer back, apologize, and let them know the pizza is going to be delivered later than previously stated?  Find the order slip, pick up the phone, and call the client.  The point is to retain customer loyalty if possible.  Unless you have enough business that you can afford to have only one-time customers.

For some business owners, it may be essential to have a business consultant come in and analyze what’s going on when it comes to processes and consistency.  The solutions are often simple but may involve changing a company’s existing culture.  There are firms, Brand Irons comes to mind, that can help assess those challenges and create options.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand


Where Is Your Business?

Where is your business?

Two reasons we bring this up:  1) It’s important for your customers and prospects to be able to find your business; and, 2) It’s important for you to know where your business is in the cycle of life for a business such as yours.  Make that three reasons:  3) It’s critical that you know how your business is doing from the consumer’s perspective, which ties in closely with customer service.  Are you doing the right things to take care of customers and bring them back frequently?

#1 refers to your location, whether it’s the physical plant or your place in cyberspace.  You need to make it easy for people to find you, either through optimizing your search engine position and social media or providing clarity as to your physical location.  If your business is at the corner of a major intersection in town, just off the highway, or conveniently located next to a city park, use your advertising to tell people that’s where you are.

The focus of this blog, though, is on #2 – where your business is in its life cycle.

A typical graphic of a business life cycle.

A typical graphic of a business life cycle.

At left is one of hundreds of diagrams that try to explain the cycles a business typically goes through during its existence.

This example may seem foreign if you’re unfamiliar with Smith-Corona, which was one of the top brand names for typewriters in the days before computers.  When you think about a company that had a dominant role in the typewriter business and look at the life cycle diagram in that context, it is rather obvious why Smith-Corona disappeared from sight.  The company had grown and expanded to a position of maturity in the typewriter marketplace, but failed to make the transition when the new technology of computers entered the picture.  Transitions can be brutal, especially when most people and a majority of companies tend to resist change.

Take the time to think about your business.  This is always a good exercise.  It forces you to work on your business by thinking about where you are instead of remaining immersed in the day-to-day ennui that can stifle the growth or expansion cycle.  Do you consider your business to be on an upswing, or have things stabilized and stayed fairly steady?  Do you enjoy a high percentage of repeat business from the same customers or do you have a steady influx of new customers?  Are you unsure where you are because you’ve only been in business a year or two?

Have you grown as much as you can and now sales and production seem to have stagnated?  The question you may ask if you’ve reached this cycle is “Now what do we do?”  This is an excellent position for bringing in an outside consultant to examine and explore options.  They might help you discover that a simple change in your existing product line or offering a similar but slightly different service can re-energize sales and bump up production for an additional boost.  They might also find that what you’ve been doing for x number of years is out of style and an entirely new direction is needed.

Take those recommendations, whatever they might be, with a modicum of caution.  Weigh the costs of re-tooling and re-branding your business to make sure the change makes sense.  Change for the sake of change is rarely worth it, since change is constant anyway.

Here’s a big question:  What are your plans for getting out of the business?  Do you have an exit strategy in place?  Are you like a great many dreamers who insist that their business is their retirement plan and when they’re ready to retire, they’ll sell the business and live off the profits?  Think about that for a minute … or longer and do something about it before it’s too late.

We counselled a client with that mindset and talked frankly about the potential for that strategy to do what they anticipated it would to let them retire.  A buyer would have little interest in their facility unless the new owner was looking to first enter the marketplace and had yet to establish a base of operations.  If the buyer did have a facility, the interest level would be less.  The same would hold true for the equipment, machines, and tools which become antiquated the longer they have been in use.  Even employees, unless they’re willing to move, may be written out of a purchase agreement.

What the potential buyer has the most interest in is the customer base!

Lots to think about as you continue through the process of evaluating your company’s position in its life cycle.  When you need an independent party to help you through the process, contact Brand Irons at 920.366.6334.


Is It An Interruption?

When I teach one of my Time Block Management classes, I ask participants what they view as the biggest time wasters in their lives.  Phone calls invariably tops the list of things they see as wasting their time at work.  They are in a productive frame of mind, working on an assignment, and their phone rings.  They have to stop what they’re doing and respond to the phone call without any knowledge of who’s calling and why or how long the interruption is going to keep them from their task.  The call is a source of irritation.

Until we take the time to determine who is calling and why.  When I ask participants about the calls and we dig deeper, more often than ever it is a customer calling to discuss some aspect of the company’s products or services that they’re concerned about.  Think about this in terms of your own business, however large it might be and however many employees you might have.  Who’s calling?  Usually, it’s a customer who believes in you and your company and wants to re-order, expand services, or get questions answered.

So, is it an interruption?  Or is it what most business owners consider customer service to take care of your customer’s needs?

When participants realize the true nature of the “interruption,” the call is less of a distraction than a function of their responsibilities in business.

Far too often, we have seen this problem crop up in customer service situations across the board … beyond the annoying phone call.  Your business is about your customers, and customers should be the primary focus of what everyone (including you if you’re the owner) in the company does.  What do you have without customers?

Wait staff should be focused on the customer and avoid any time spent chatting with friends (via text, phone call, or face-to-face) when customers are expecting to be served.  Customers are more patient with servers if they realize they’re taking care of other customers than standing around waiting for orders.  Customer service representatives should be calling clients if there’s a lull and they are waiting for clients to call them.  Sales representatives should be taking care of customers, offering suggestions on how to improve their business and get a greater return on their investment instead of bitching about the economy or poor business conditions.  How many sales people have you seen griping about a customer’s phone call when they’re trying to generate their weekly sales report?  Interruption?

Can you count how many times you’ve been at a retail cashier’s station waiting to pay for your purchase while they’re talking to someone on the phone?  Management needs to help those cashiers understand that cash in the register is more important than trying to offer directions to an impatient caller … or consoling a friend who’s had a bad date.  And how often have you gotten the evil eye or a disgruntled look from the cashier who believes your request to be taken care of is interrupting their life?  How could you be so rude?

Etiquette is still important in business!

What about when you’re meeting with a prospective client, or existing customer, and you receive a text message or a phone call?  Do you glance at the text to decide if you need to respond?  Do you take the phone call and interrupt your meeting, at the possible expense of losing the client or prospect you’re meeting with for being rude?  Those are choices you have to make with the understanding of the potential impact on the relationship.

An easy solution is to leave your smart phone in your vehicle or office when you’re in a meeting, even if you use it to schedule appointments.  Your memory should be good enough to enter the information after the meeting.  Think, too, about the perception people have of you when you take a phone call or text during a meeting or conference.  You may believe it’s an important call, but it’s an interruption to those around you and they will think you must feel important because you took the call when, in reality, they wonder why you even came to the meeting or conference if the phone call or text was that important to you.

What interruptions also do is tell the third party observer tons about your business and the brand you exhibit.  Ignoring your phone and concentrating on your customer or your prospect’s needs instead of interrupting the moment speaks volumes about your concern for your customers.  Having someone who can answer phones in person instead of shifting a caller into an automated system where they may become even more disgruntled or, even worse, look elsewhere for products and/or services makes a lot of sense.  Think about how you and your employees manage your time and take care of your customers.

If you’re interested in a brief introduction to Time Block Management or how Brand Irons can help resolve these potential problems, contact us for an initial consultation.




Game Plan

A good friend left one professional football team and ended up playing for a different one for a couple of years before he retired.  The one he left had a consistent record of making the playoffs, winning championships, and having a waiting list for season tickets.

When he signed on with his new team, he found a locker room full of players more concerned about their paychecks than winning.  The team rarely made the playoffs, usually had a losing record, and had a hard time filling the stands on game days.  He had come from a totally different environment; a positive, winning environment he wanted to create with his new team, so he needed a game plan.

His approach involved helping his teammates understand that if they put forth the effort to be the best players they could be and concentrate on winning football games, they would fill the stands and generate the revenue necessary to more than compensate them for their efforts.  He worked hard on conditioning, talked about the right fuel for the machine, and studied the playbook to perfection.  His teammates started to understand, especially that with the right attitude they might even make the playoffs and win a championship, like he had done with his former team.  He showed them his championship ring.  Donald's Super Bowl Ring

While his impact on the team was a small part of their success, they now contend for the division title every year and have made the playoffs consistently for four or five years.  He had helped the players think things through, adjust their attitude, and play with a different winning mindset.

What’s the game plan for your business?

You can easily do the least possible and get by.  That’s simple.  You will own a business and take an occasional paycheck.  Your company may be remembered one day for providing a product or service that people enjoyed while it lasted.  You may even have an impact on some people’s lives.  Is that your legacy and game strategy?  Is that why you are in business?  Is it enough for you to accomplish?

Or …

Do you want to create, develop, and sustain a comprehensive strategy that builds your brand to have top-of-mind awareness among consumers and own the market for your product or service?  You can work your brand to the point where it has phenomenal impact on whatever plane you wish to dominate, including net profit, market share, employee relations, customer service, and public perception.  It can be done.

Your strategy starts with your attitude.  Answer the question:  Why are you in business?  Then build on that response by surrounding yourself with the right coaches (consultants such as Brand Irons) and players (employees and vendors).  Understand what you’re selling and who your target audience is so they’re willing to buy tickets (purchase your products or services) and come to the games (become repeat customers).

You choose whether your business is mediocre or exceptional.

I go to a certain grocery store for a reason; it’s my favorite.  I could buy food at a store where the prices are cheaper, but I go where I do because the owner/manager will stop and talk to me whenever and wherever I am in the store.  He and his staff understand the relationship with the customer is more important than stocking the shelves.  It makes a difference.

A game plan is a fun way to look at your company’s business plan and market strategy.  Contact Brand Irons to get help putting yours together.