Thursday, 30 July 2009

Mac the Knife

Trust is an amazing thing, as children we tend to trust people immediately but as we grow older and more cynical trust has to be earned - it takes time but when it exists it is a powerful connection between management and employees, companies and customers.

When thinking about great customer service we might say "We can trust them to deliver". The Net Promoter Score is so powerful because we have to trust the company we are recommending not to let down our friend or colleague if they act on our advice. That is a big leap from being satisfied! But what about trust in the other direction? What about companies trusting their customers?

I was walking through my home town this week and met the parents of a very good friend of mine - the sort of parents whose kitchen floor I had sat on eating toast at 2.a.m in the morning after a night on the beer as a teenager. I knew they had just come back from a holiday of a lifetime in South Africa so stopped to find out how they had got on.

After the initial hellos I tried to ask about the holiday but Mrs. H was having none of it. She wanted to tell me about going to the butchers - she's lost it I thought! But she hadn't lost it - she was just amazed by a simple example of trust that just doesn't happen these days. Earlier in the morning she had been to see Mac Burnham who has recently opened his butchers shop. When she came to pay she realised she had forgotten her purse.
"No problem - give it me next time" said Mac.
Now Mrs. H isn't a regular - Mac's shop hadn't been open long enough to have regulars but he trusted her to come back. No doubt he made an assessment of the type of person she was but he was also confident enough in the quality of his product and the service he provides to know she would return.

We can spend a lot of time and effort trying to develop customer loyalty but what happens if they decide to shop somewhere else for one reason or another - are they being disloyal; should we feel hurt? No - we should trust our customers to make the right decision. From time to time they should have a look around and see what is on offer elsewhere. Just as we should be having a look around to see if we are still ahead of the game.

Like Mac we need to trust our customers - if we are truly great at what we do not only will they come back but they will tell their friends and colleagues why they are coming back. And so our business grows!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Fat Face smile makes all the difference

Sometimes you just know you are in a business that has thought deeper than the glossy exterior. That was certainly the case on Saturday in Fat Face. Normally I hate shopping but in Fat Face for some reason I feel inclined to have a look around and try things on. Maybe its the clothes, maybe its the decor. It's probably a combination of many things - one of the most important being its people.

On Saturday afternoon following my wife we entered the store near Covent Garden. We went our separate ways and I tried a few things on. Rejoining Karen as she was looking at something near the counter I heard the guy behind the till say to her "Nice top!" She turned around and gave him a smile - it was a Fat Face top she had bought the week before.

Eventually she got her fix and found something to buy - a belt in the sale. We went to pay, handed over the belt and also a 10% off voucher.

"Nice choice" he said. Looking at the voucher he apologised explaining that as the belt was already discounted we couldn't use the voucher but rather than leaving it there he continued "....but keep hold of it. We've got a fantastic new range coming in next week so come back in and use it then"

He then asked us where we had been and what we were doing next. We were off for a meal.
"Any idea where you are going? What sort of things do you like?"
A few minutes later we were on our way delighted with our shopping experience and with 4 different choices of restaurant - complete with directions.

Now we can put this down to some great customer service training. Finding a way to make a connection with the customer, dealing with disappointment, up-selling and going the extra mile. But I suspect it starts much earlier - at the recruitment stage.

When I think about other experiences I have had in Fat Face the people have always been great and this can't be down to chance. I suspect there is a fantastic recruitment process somewhere that ensures that they "Hire the Smile".

If you know please tell!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Opportunity Missed

Sometimes Service Excellence is not about doing things right but how you react when things go wrong. I was reminded of this at the weekend when a lot of hard work was wasted for something as simple as a smile.

We were on our to London to watch a fantastic stage production of Dirty Dancing (more on that to follow). We went in from St Albans by bus - the Green Line 757 service to be precise: 35 minutes into Marble Arch, two buses an hour for £10 return - a great service and we will certainly use it again.

We got on at a request stop at the side of a dual carriage way - not the easiest place to make yourself known to the approaching driver as there is a huge road sign just 50 yards away blocking the view. Fortunately the route means that the bus has to go past you on the other side of the carriage way before doing a U-turn at the roundabout and come to collect you so you have time to get yourself ready and wave your arms around.

We arrived at the stop just after the bus had gone past in the other direction - brilliant timing and so no wait in drizzle of an English summer. As the bus approached I stepped out and waved expecting the driver to indicate left and slow down - to my surprise he did the opposite, moved into the other lane and kept going. Jumping up and down like a mad man now the driver eventually saw me but it was too late for him to pull in safely so he carried on past and made a gesture that I eventually understood meant he would come back round. And that he did. He drove back down to the motorway, around the roundabout, back up the other side of the dual carriage way, around the next roundabout and back to us and get us on board just as the drizzle turned into monsoon - phew!

So where is the problem? Simply in the driver's attitude. Don't get me wrong he wasn't rude, he was courteous and polite but he was also clearly miffed that he had had to go around twice and add 4 or 5 minutes to his journey time. (Note to self - carry high-vis jacket)

This was such a shame - we weren't annoyed or upset at the delay or the fact that he probably should have been much more prepared to stop. We were on a nice day out, looking for fun and watching the bus go past 3 times before finally getting to us certainly made us smile - but the smile faded because the driver missed an opportunity to join in.

He made a mistake - so what? Nobody died! He took a good decision to safely go round again and collect us. Another driver might have just carried on down the road and pretended not to see us.

So he did the hard work but failed to capitalise on it. He failed to use it as an opportunity to get away from the mundane and create a memorable moment. He had a fantastic opportunity to engage with us about "nearly missing you", a simple "ooops" or "sorry" would have started a conversation that would have moved the experience from being transactional to emotional - creating a connection that would have added to our journey. Instead he said "Where to?" and "£20 please".

So often people will put a huge effort into doing "their job" but because they let you know it was a huge effort we end up feeling let down or guilty. (I have enough of that feeling at home juggling work with family, friends, sport....... I don't need to pay someone to give me an extra helping.)

If they added a smile or a joke or even just eye contact they might well get a much happier customer and as a result their job might be more rewarding.

Our driver quite literally "went the extra mile" so it is such a shame that neither he, nor the customer, benefited from it.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Don't go the extra mile!

Keys, wallet, sunglasses..... this time it was my mobile phone that I lost. According to my wife it's a regular thing but I am sure I haven't done it since leaving it in a sports shop... and that was last year!

This time it was on coach K on the 18.10 from Newcastle to Durham.... I realised as soon as I got off when I tried to call my lift - Doh! My lift arrived and I called my phone... Mikela the guard answered and said she had picked it up - I breathed a huge sigh of relief - as it turned out much too soon.

Mikela was lovely - said she would drop off the phone at Darlington for me and I could pick it up on my way past when returning home by car the next day. Later that night I got a text (on my friends phone) saying the phone was in York - not ideal but at least I was kept informed. That's where the fun started!

Next day I rang York to see when I could pick the phone up.... or at least I tried to. First of all I had to deal with the fact that no one wants you to call York... just National Rail Enquiries. I tried all sorts on the internet to find a number - eventually I found a number hidden in the bowles of the National Express website... I rang the number "The office is open from 10am until 3pm Monday to Friday" - God help anyone who has a 9-5 job then.

I'll try Customer Services. I found another number and pushed the appropriate buttons to try and get me connected with a person and sat on hold... eventually a person... I explained that I was trying to get through to the station...."The numbers aren't listed" I was told.... very helpful. "How can I get hold of someone at the station?"
"You can't - the numbers aren't listed"

I'd seen a listing for National Express head office - I'll try them. Office closed at 5pm... it was 5.25pm Ticket sales.... I will not be beaten......

After duly pushing more buttons I found another happy soul at ticket sales.... You should try this number - they will help - they are open until 6pm. So I rang and was greated with "we are sorry the office is now closed" - it was 5.32pm. So I packed up and set off home - no chance of picking up my phone on the way.

Next day I tried again - I had my cup of tea and prepared for battle. After ringing customer services (now open) I was given an 01904 number.... great I can call it for free! It rang for about 5 mintues then cut off. I tried again - same response. I was reminded of an old Two Ronnies sketch with a skeleton ringing for directory enquiries...

After trying now and again for a couple of hours I rang customer services again. This time a nice chap greated me and really tried to help. After trying the number himself he did a little digging and found the old number had been replaced (but not forwarded) to a new 0845 number... one I would have to pay for.

Finally I was going to speak to a person in York lost property- Sarah infact - who had absolutley no idea where my phone was - Aaagghhhh! She took some details and said she would look into its whereabouts... well Lance her colleaugue would as she was off on a break - so much for owning the problem then. Surprisingly enough she didn't call me back so this moring I rang again. I got Lance - who knew nothing about it. When I suggested he probably should know something about it he said,

"Oh yes - I remember - there's been a weekend since Friday. Nokia?"
"Sony Ericsson"
"Trans-Pennine train?"
"Nope - Newcastle to Durham"

Instilled with confidence I told the story again. Lance promised to call me back but pointed out that really the guard handing in the phone should have followed the procedure.... and just left the phone on the train instead of trying to help me!

Lance did ring back - progress! But he had no trace of the phone. The guard was on her rest day. I asked who was on duty to receive it. He didn't know. At this point I suggested that if it had been stolen it was either the guard (harsh of me I know) or the person receiving it and so it would be pretty easy for the police see who was the likeliest cuplrit. Lance perked into life.

20 mintues later Lance had found my phone... in Darlington. I spoke to them and they told me I could pick up the phone any time of the day - 24hrs... just go to the office on Platform 1 - Magic!

Now I was an idiot - I left my phone - my fault. I was delighted that someone in a position of responsibility had found it. More than that she was happy to try and help - to go the extra mile. Somewhere on the way a spanner got thrown in the works and York came into the picture. What happened next can only be described as "Do everything possible to avoid helping the customer".

Don't help them find the numbers because then they might call us and we would have to employ someone to answer the phone.

Only use 0845 number - to annoy all those people who have free calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers.

Don't let our people try and help the customer.... make them follow a procedure that sends lost property to London and back to arrive one week later - we surely can't trust our staff enough to just do the right thing.

Never own the problem... pass it on.... or blame someone else

2 minutes after losing my phone I was really impressed with National Express Rail. 5 days later I am much less of a fan. They clearly have some good people but as an old boss once said to me,

"Its difficult to soar like an eagle when all around you are Dodos!"

Monday, 18 May 2009

Better give it a try

Today's the first one... I had the story in mind I thought I would use but its such a good one I decided to save it. "Keep them wanting more" is what they say isn't it... I'm not sure who the "them" is but we'll make them wait anyway.

Like many things I think it is just best to give it a go.... stop worrying about getting it perfect and make some progress - today!

Tomorrow we'll have learnt and we'll take another step forward.