Customers

CustServ: How Big O Tires Convinces Its Customers Never to Come Back

Unless I'm paying compliments, I usually don't include the actual names of the people or companies I'm writing about. However, in this case, it's necessary.

The company involved is Big O Tires.

I was visiting a friend of mine recently when her son, while borrowing her car, got a flat front tire. AAA came out immediately (props to AAA) and changed the flat for the so-called 'donut' (I remember when spare tires were real) - so my friend knew that she was going to have to do a quick turnaround in getting either the flat repaired or a new tire purchased. She also knew she'd probably replace the other front tire at the same time as it was showing enough wear to warrant replacement.

We went early in the morning to her local Big O Tire store. Now, to be frank, I didn't want her to go there. I wanted her to go to Costco - because I trust Costco.  In earlier years, I had used Big O - as well as other tire dealers - but once changing to Costco, consistently found that my tire experiences were great, both during the process and in their after-care (so props to Costco, too).

My friend had used her local Big O's services over the years, so she figured they were convenient and she could trust them.

She was wrong. She couldn't.

I won't take your time by going into the long details (do write a comment if you're interested in hearing them - because I'll be happy to let loose), but the upshot was:
  • They gave her - and charged her for - services she specifically told them she didn't want.
  • They rotated her old and new tires such that both new ones were front and back on the same side of the car.
  • Upon going back and confronting them with the facts, the store manager as good as told her it was all her fault.
  • He then, upon giving her the refund for the services she didn't want, opted to pay her in cash (she had paid with her credit card) and shorted her on the amount he gave her (which, you'll notice, also means he was stealing from the company).
So, to cut to the chase, the Big O manager:
  • Provided bad service
  • Put her and anyone else in the car at personal risk and then, to top it off,
  • Stole her money.
You gotta love these guys. Or not. Definitely, not.

The 'after-care' was so bad that - even before she realized that the manager had stolen her refund money - my friend had opted not to have them touch her car to put the tires in the right place. She didn't trust them even to perform that service.

So, bye-bye Big O. As my friend told the store manager, "You don't want my business" - and she was right. He couldn't have cared less whether she - or any other customer - came back again. Otherwise he would have ensured that he and everyone on his staff was providing the best, most honest and trustworthy service possible.

All of which leads us to what you can learn from this. Ask yourself:

Are any of our products or services convincing our customers that they don't want to come back to us as their preferred provider?

If the answer is yes - even to the most infinitesimal degree - it's time to take action. Otherwise, not only will your business get the same decision my friend made - but you'll get me and others happy to tell everyone else about it.

Profiting from CustServ: Know Your Customer


This post is from Penni Wells, our Leadership Quantified Expert in internal and external Customer Service - and, particularly, how to profit from the big and little things that you can do...starting now.
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Today I forgot to bring lunch to the office, so I wandered over to the 7-Eleven convenience store on the corner. It was there I was reminded, once again, that effective customer service - which is even more profitable in the long run - is the result of people in tune with their jobs and with their customers. The rest just comes naturally. 

Purchasing my favorite tuna sandwich and a bottle of water from the gentlemen who I often see at the counter, I took my change and said “Thank you”.  As I was turning to leave he said “Thank you, mija.”* 

I couldn’t help but smile.

First, at fifty-mmfph years of age, I am nowhere near a mija, but I had been in the store with friends a few weeks earlier when the same man was at the counter. He had referred to me then as "mija." I had smiled, remarked how pleased I was that his eyesight was so poor and thanked him for making my day. We all laughed and left the store.

Although I'm quite sure I'm not the only one who receives such flattery there, it was clear today that he remembered the exchange and me. Even more compelling was that I saw actual children making purchases, yet he did not refer to any of them with any sort of label. 

I walked back to my office marveling at how smart this is! Adults like to feel younger and children like to feel older, no matter how old we are. But the respect shown in NOT referring to the kids as mija/mijo and the obvious flattery of a ‘mija’ tossed in my direction was not only fun for me, but good for business.

Here’s how I know –
Although early in the day and late in the afternoon the store can get crowded with kids from the nearby middle-school, it never seems overrun or out of control. People of all ages seem to be there and everyone gets helped.  
There are three other establishments within 50 feet that offer many of the same or similar items, and two of them are often empty when I walk by.
Our office is near a corner, but can be a little tricky to find. When providing directions we have a tendency to say “the third building over” or “next to the Café” (an establishment we all frequent as well). But I find myself saying, “Two doors down from the 7-Eleven.” True, it’s an obvious indicator, but I use it as a landmark because of the sense of connectedness I feel with this particular store.
So what does this mean to you, as a small business owner - or, for that matter, anyone who works with the public? Stores in this particular chain are franchise owned. Although they are identified with 7-Eleven, Inc. each has to make its own way to gain market share in their area. And even the busiest store can suffer losses (in merchandize, time, return customers) if the climate and the culture are not tuned in with its constituency. 

I have no idea what kind or extent of customer service training 7-Eleven, Inc. provides its franchise owners or their employees. I do know that in 2006 there was a shift in company culture to "Servant Leadership" with the “I C.A.R.E. About People and Teamwork” program - but I don’t know how much influence this had or has on our particular store on the corner.

What's more important - and is very clear - is that the behavior of the staff and the culture in this store are not the result of a corporate initiative, campaign or contest. The management and staff of this store understand their client base and manifest that understanding through engaging with customers, respectfully, exactly where they are. 
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* Slang of the Spanish phrase mi-hija or little daughter. Used as a term of endearment for young women. Mijo is the male equivalent.

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Reputation Management: Teaching Your Customers Why They Can't Trust You (or why the New York Times are liars)

Customers are an interesting bunch. You just never know what's going to make them think a certain way about your product or service.

Take the New York Times, for example.

Like every other media outlet, they've had their problems with content in the past, but it's pretty safe to say that they're one of the most trusted newspaper/media outlets. Possibly in the world.

But if their business practices are not as robust as their reporting, why should we trust them?

The short answer is: We shouldn't.

Why?

Because they, themselves, have given us reason not to.

Here's the little story that's the basis of this big lesson in reputation management.

At the beginning of this month, I decided to cancel my online subscription to nytimes.com.

They had taken my payment on a Saturday. I called two days later - first thing Monday morning - explained that I hadn't known that their offices were open on weekends until hearing their greeting message on that particular call, but hoped that they would give me the refund anyway.

I was assured by their Customer Service Representative that a refund would be paid to me. I was also told that it takes 10 to 15 business days for the payment to arrive.

Frankly, while I thought that was a horrible refund policy for customer service purposes, I didn't give it any further thought.

Very quickly I received an email confirming that my subscription was cancelled but never received any confirmation of a refund. Okay, I thought. That will come separately.

But it didn't. So I called again later that same week, spoke with a different Customer Service Representative, had them look at my account file, confirm that the subscription was cancelled and that a refund was on its way.

The very polite Representative told me that, yes, everything was in progress, the payment would be made and that I shouldn't expect an email regarding the refund as they wouldn't be generating one. The payment would simply land.

But it didn't. So, today, I called again (because it had become a hobby) - but this time was told that I wouldn't be given a refund and that, in fact, it was never requested nor processed.

Which makes the New York Times liars.

The thing that executives and managers rarely put together - even though any sentient, thinking beings would - is that what happens in one part of an organization directly impacts the way the rest of the organization is viewed.

We're talking about $15. That's it. Fifteen dollars.

What's important about that number is that, clearly, it's not the amount of money that makes the difference. It's that TWO of their representatives told me the same lie - and that makes lying their policy.

Which makes the New York Times liars.

I've been assured that I'll be contacted by a Supervisor to further discuss my "issue" (their word).

We'll see. They're probably lying about that, too.

Customer Service: Increase Profitability by Evaluating Your Customers

I'm a great fan of Penni Wells, our Leadership Quantified Expert specializing in customer service - both internal and external. No matter what industry or sector your organization is in - or how old or what size, for that matter - her insight is always on target and directly applies as much to customer contact through your call centers and front line staff as to your dealings with suppliers and all your internal relationships. 

I'm happy to announce that Penni will be contributing posts to the blog every other week - starting now. Enjoy!
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Have you ever wondered why your customers are visiting your place of business? It's safe to assume that you have something they need or your presentation - b2b or b2c - was so compelling that you garnered their interest enough to find out more.

The question then becomes: How do you turn that initial level of interest into a sale?

That's the secret of really good customer service. It's what makes customer service a profit generator rather than ill-defined, passive and reactionary.

It's all about evaluating and knowing your customers' needs - before they ever walk in the door - then training and deploying your staff to fulfill those needs in a way that fits your customers' needs and preferences.

The easiest way to explain is to use a retail example - but this works for any sales opportunity.

Case Study - Customer Demographics and the Christmas Gifts

Last Christmas, I was shopping for one last gift for each of my two adult sons in a clothing store they both particularly like that caters to men in their 20's. I hadn't shopped in the store before and although I had the basic parameters (i.e., their sizes and color preferences), past that I was clueless.

What really perplexed me was the merchandizing. I love to shop and am all about displays and presentation, but on entering the store, I was flying blind! The "looks" were displayed in ways I couldn't make any sense of.

I gave up trying to find something for one son and began searching for an item for the other. Finally - success! A baseball-sleeve type shirt to match his blue eyes! Perfect!!

Then I realized the "M" didn't look so "M."

Upon closer inspection I saw the tag read: "Medium - Women." I had stumbled into the Ladies Section - which was really strange because looking at the store as I walked in, I would have sworn there was no Ladies Section at all!

I hastily put the shirt back, looking around sheepishly as if someone might have seen my error. It was then I noticed a few other parent-types who looked as confused as I, wandering among the perfectly happy, younger shoppers the store was designed for.

By this time I was curious to see how long it would take for someone to offer to help me. A few moments later a woman, who seemed far more frustrated than I at that point, was noticed by a sales associate who came to help her. Within a few seconds I was approached by an extremely kind young man who offered to help me – which took me by surprise at first because he was dressed like the shoppers in the store and had no name tag or store identifier of any kind. Thankfully, he understood what I was looking for, was quick to help me and I was able to make my purchases and leave with a sense of success.

So what’s the point of all this? Is it that:
  • Stores should merchandize differently so that older relatives can find stuff?
  • Women's sections should be easily identified?
  • Sales folks should wear name tags?
No. It’s actually none of these. It’s about maximizing productivity and customer satisfaction by training and deploying sales staff to achieve the greatest, most profitable results.

So, to go back to our example, here’s how management could have evaluated the customer base along with the actions/deployment they could have assigned their staff:

The Primary Market: Men my sons’ ages. They know what they want or they’ve already bought it on-line and are there to pick it up.
  • Action/Deployment: None. They don’t want or need help.
The Secondary Market: Women in the same age group. They also know where they’re going because they’ve visited the store before or are there with a friend.
  • Action/Deployment: If they need help, they’ll ask. Otherwise, if they’re there simply to browse or hang out, leave them to it. No action necessary.
Anyone Not Within Those Groups:  Anyone who looks like a parent, comes in with a parent or has small kids in tow is part of this group. Trust me. We’re there to buy something, exchange something or return something. We can tell you what we need in 30 seconds and be out in 10 minutes - but we need your help. 
  • Action/Deployment: Train staff to acknowledge people as they come in the store. This DOES NOT mean saying the same rote greeting to everyone who enters. It DOES mean acknowledging each customer as they enter – because then staff can do that quick assessment and will know what to do next: i.e. smile and nod; say a friendly ‘Hello’; or immediately approach the customer and offer help.
Make sure staff who are re-stocking or otherwise on the floor are on the lookout for this group and that all employees have name tags - because otherwise, the staff look like customers and the real customers don’t know who to ask for help unless the employees are standing at the counter.

This kind of evaluation and management action results in:
  1. Customers served in ways that best suit their needs,
  2. Employees increasing and improving their own experience and skill-sets in serving different customer types, and
  3. Increased morale and motivation for employees based on job satisfaction and, where applicable, increased commission.
Simultaneously, the company gains:
  1. Happy customers relating their positive experiences to others
  2. Successful salespeople who get better at their jobs with each customer interaction
  3. Staff who have the skill and energy to repeat great service time after time...
...all of which leads to higher productivity, sales per employee and profitability.

After all, you’re using the same number of sales staff but ensuring their time is well-spent targeting those customers who will generate sales as a result of the interaction.

This store is part of a successful chain with over 20 stores. They carry quality merchandise, their prices match those of their competitors - and it was Christmas, when the competition is particularly fierce. Had the staff known how to evaluate those of us in the store and interacted with us accordingly, faster sales and more cheerful customers would have been the result.

I expect that a number of sales that they lost wouldn’t have walked out the door either.

It’s worth taking the time to do the kind of evaluation described here - and to train your staff to look at who your customer groups are, why they most likely came into your establishment and how best to fulfill their needs. That way, the minute they walk in the door, they’ll be met with a customer experience they won’t expect - and will never find from your competitors.
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With Apologies to Google: I Didn't Understand

Long ago, in the dark ages before the days of immediate internet access anywhere...in fact, before the days of the internet, in general...I was a graduate student known, among other things, for my expertise in research.

In fact, I had such an impressive reputation in article search - because I could and did find anything that needed to be found - I was constantly being approached by other students and faculty members asking for my help in search logic.

I was, to put it mildly, excellent.

Well, the day came that I decided to stop collecting degrees (because that's what it had come to feel like) and go do what I enjoyed most - which was working full-time for pay in organizations, rather than on graduate internships. (Lots of good learning. No cash.)

The years passed and the technological capabilities grew. And then there was Google - which confused me no end. What was this thing? How did it work? Was it trustworthy? Who was deciding what information I was going to be able to find?

So, one day I had a conversation with my friend, Nadine (you can call her "Haute Everything," as I do - or just "Haute" for short) and I asked her: Is Google just a newer version of ERIC?

Now, for those of you who don't know what ERIC is, it was the breakthrough technology for academic research. It stands for Education Research Information Center and it was the Google of its day. Sort of. At least to start.

Nadine, who, in her Haute-ness, is very tolerant, explained patiently that it was sort of like ERIC but it was much, much more. She also told me that what I was seeing was just the beginning of what Google would be.

More years passed and I watched as Google grew to become a verb. And out of that verb have come some of the most amazing achievements and greatest technology minds the industry has ever seen - including those not working for Google any longer.

Today, I was reminded of all of this when I was introduced to yet another facet of the ubiquity of Google: the Google Trusted Stores program.

I had made an online purchase from a site having nothing, as far as I knew, to do with Google (which it doesn't). I didn't use Google to find it. There was no searching or browsing involved that took me anywhere near Google.

Yet at the end of the transaction, I was suddenly taken to a page informing me that the company I had just done business with is a "Google Trusted Store" and was given the option of participating in the Google Trusted Stores program. For free.

Now I'm used to Amazon's excellent service - both when purchasing through them or the protections they provide when dealing with their vendors - and I knew that you could purchase online using any number of Google entry points...but I didn't know that Google had decided to have my and others' backs by providing a consumer protection service.

Or at least a place to go when things go wrong.

Which makes this one of the most amazing of the amazing steps Google has taken - because Google is morphing more and more into a company that understands that, technology-based as it is, as a service provider it still and always works for and with humans.

And humans have a need for a trusted ally - especially when they're dealing with the blank face and low-grade hum of technology.

Haute was right, all those years ago - only it's not just that it was only the beginning. It's that Google always seems to find new ways to create new beginnings...even in arenas that have nothing to do with them. Like my purchase.

From what I read, it takes a lot to become a Google Trusted Store - which makes me think that, once you've achieved that status, you're going to do everything you can to keep it. Which means that, other than finding the stores that qualify, Google probably doesn't have to do much of anything - because they only get involved when something goes wrong and the vendor doesn't provide a satisfactory answer to the customer.

But, from the customer's perspective, Google has their back - and that's really nice to know.

What does this have to do with you?

Well, at its most basic, bricks and mortar or in the ether, it shows just how important and profitable a differentiator customer service is - because if it wasn't Google wouldn't bother. (Neither would Amazon for that matter.)

It also shows you that you want to find out what the criteria are to become part of the Google Trusted Stores program and then go for it. Whether you qualify for their consideration as an online vendor or you're bricks and mortar, you'll have a clear, measurable target for excellence on which to focus.

And, finally, it shows you the value of surprises to your customers on the upside. Every time you wow your customers with a new idea, a new service, a new way of doing business, a new way of showing respect to and thoughtfulness for them, the more they'll want you to be their verb. Or, at least, a regular destination.