Seven Simple Ways to Improve Your Customer Focus

Coins can be a mini customer service hassle.

Think about the last time you bought something with cash and needed to collect change. There's an awkward exchange as the cashier hands you the bills and then dumps the coins on top of it. It's tricky to hang on to everything.

A drive thru line is the worst place for this to happen. I've sometimes found myself too close to the wall of the building to open my car door and retrieve the lost change. There's an awkward dance that follows as you pull forward while gesturing to the driver behind you to stay put for a moment so you can collect your missing 17 cents.

There's a way to avoid this.

The cashier can put the coins in your palm first and then place the bills on top. It's much easier to control the coins that way.

That's just one example of a simple way to focus your service on your customer. Here are six more you can easily implement.

 A cashier counting change out of a cash till.

Make the Effort to Follow-up

Some customer service situations require a follow-up contact. The big question is who should take responsibility?

Let's say a customer calls to check the status of an item she ordered. The customer service rep verifies the order is in production and is scheduled to ship the following day for a Friday delivery.

A transactional customer service rep might say, "Give me a call if it doesn't arrive by Friday and I'll track it down for you."

A customer-focused rep might say, "I'll monitor the status of your order and follow-up with you on Friday to make sure it arrived in good condition."


Use Clear Language

It's easy to fall into the trap of using unclear language. 

Imagine a customer is anxious to get a billing problem resolved. You want to keep him happy, so you tell him, "Don't worry, I'll take care of it right away!"

The problem with this word choice is "right away" might mean within one day to you, while the customer interprets "right away" as within the hour.

A more customer-focused is to use clear language to describe exactly when the error should be corrected. "You should see the correct amount on your account by 5pm tomorrow."


Do the Time Zone Math

Serving customers across multiple time zones can be tricky. 

For instance, if you're in Phoenix, should you say good morning when it's 9:30am your time but your customer is calling from Atlanta? (Trick question, it depends on the time of year since Phoenix does not participate in daylight savings time.)

Many of us become adept at time zone conversions after awhile. We can make things easier for our customers by working out the math so they don't have to. So if I'm in Phoenix and my customer is in Atlanta, I can tell her I'll call her at 11:30am her time without her having to worry what time that is where I am.


Anticipate Hidden Needs

My wife and I checked into a small inn not long ago and were about to head out to dinner. The front desk associate had recommended a restaurant just a few blocks away, so we decided to walk.

She handed us a pair of flashlights as we were about to leave. "Use these while you are walking," she said. "The road is dark and there is no sidewalk, so the flashlights will make it easier for cars to see you. You can never be too careful!"

That small act of kindness not only kept us safe, it made us feel as though the associate genuinely cared. 

You can create a similar feeling for your customers by anticipating needs your customers aren't yet aware of. Use your knowledge and experience to be on the lookout for opportunities to share proactive service.


Use the Pre-Emptive Acknowledgement

You can often defuse a customer's anger by acknowledging their frustration before they reach a boiling point.

It's probably happened to you. Let's say you go out to eat on a busy Friday night. You place your order and enjoy a nice conversation with friends or family. After awhile, you start feeling hungry and notice it's taken a long time for your food to arrive.

Just then, your serve arrives at your table, apologizes for the delay, assures you that your order is coming right out, and offers to refill your drinks.

That's the pre-emptive acknowledgement. You might have grown much more frustrated if your server had disappeared completely until your food arrived. But by showing up at your table to apologize for the wait, it becomes a non-event.

Look for opportunities to do the same thing for your customers. The trick is you have to spot situations where a customer is likely to get angry before their anger comes on too strong!


Take the Thank You Letter Challenge

This one is the ultimate customer focus exercise.

Start by writing a thank you letter to yourself that you would hope to receive from a customer. The letter should describe how you helped the customer in some way.

Next, read the letter each day for 21 days and try to receive that same feedback from a real customer. I've created this daily email reminder to help you with this challenge.


Take Action!

Customer-focus is a powerful skill.

It helps you better understand your customers, which in turn makes it easier to meet and often exceed their expectations. I encourage you to try at least one of these exercises right now and see how they can make a difference!

Why You Should Stop Surveying Your Customers

What if you discovered your business was doing something that more than 25 percent of your customers disliked?

That should get your attention, though some businesses engage in unfriendly practices that bring in significant revenue. Think of airline baggage fees, hotel resort fees, and cable equipment rental fees. 

Okay, but what if you learned an activity that more than 25 percent of your customers disliked delivered absolutely no value to your business?

You'd probably stop it immediately.

The customer service survey falls into that category for many companies. Customers don't like it and it delivers absolutely no value. Smart customer service leaders should either fix their broken surveys or stop doing them altogether. 

Read on to learn which path you should take.

 A team of professionals analyzes a customer service survey.

Customer Service Survey Drawbacks

A 2017 study from Customer Thermometer asked 1,000 customers to give their opinions on surveys by, you guessed it, surveying them.

  • 25 percent dislike being surveyed after a purchase
  • 47 percent dislike being prompted for feedback on a website
  • 43 percent dislike being surveyed in exchange for a contest entry

The caveat is an inherent bias in the results. The chances of you filling out a survey about surveys when you really don't like surveys is pretty low. So we could reasonably expect the positive results to be inflated.

In fact, 45 percent of respondents reported they routinely ignored survey requests.

Okay, so far the data shows that surveys annoy a lot of customers and nearly half of customers don't complete surveys, so they aren't representative of your customer population.

It gets worse.

A 2016 study from Interaction Metrics concluded that 68 percent of surveys from leading retailers were "total garbage," meaning the surveys yielded no useful information.

The kicker is a 2017 study from Capgemini Consulting revealed that companies improperly used Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys saw no difference in customer perception compared to companies that did not track NPS or customer experience data.

The big question is whether it's worth the risk of annoying so many customers if your business is getting zero value out of your surveys.


How to Tell if Your Survey Generates Value

Think about the intention behind a customer service survey. This is what a survey plan should look like:

  • Generate meaningful insights
  • Use those insights to take action
  • Measurably improve the business through those actions

So you can start assessing the value by starting at the beginning. Does your survey generate any meaningful insights?

Here are just a few questions it might answer:

  • What makes your customers happy or unhappy?
  • What products, services, or locations are performing the best or worst?
  • What generates the most complaints?

Insight alone isn't enough. You'll need to actually take action. Examples include:

  • Fixing customer pain points
  • Reducing customer service waste (ex: repeat complaints)
  • Strengthening areas where customers are happy

Finally, you'll need to make sure those actions are generating measurable business results in some one. For instance:

  • Can you improve customer retention?
  • Can you serve customers more efficiently?
  • Can grow revenue through more word-of-mouth advertising?

These are all examples and by no means an exhaustive list. The bottom line is your survey needs to be a conduit to improving the business or else it's a waste of time.


Take Action

I've assembled a customer service survey resource page to help you learn more about what makes a great survey. You'll find blog posts and helpful videos.

Take time to evaluate your survey. If it's not driving value you'll have a big decision to make. Should you scrap it or fix it?

How Fast Should a Business Respond to an Email?

Email is a critical customer service channel.

A 2017 study from inContact revealed that just 43 percent of customers were highly satisfied with their most recent email customer service interaction. Those who were happy cited speed as a top delighter.

The average company takes 12 hours and 10 minutes to respond to an email, according to a 2018 study from SuperOffice. That's certainly better than the old one business day standard, but is it fast enough?

In April 2018, I surveyed more than 1,200 consumers to learn exactly how fast they expect businesses to respond to emails. The survey also examined response time expectations for Twitter and Facebook messages.

 Customer typing an email message to a company.

Study Overview

This is the first time I've done this study since 2015, when those results revealed the new email response time standard was just one hour.

The 2018 study surveyed more than 1,200 consumers to see if this has changed.

Participants were asked how quickly they expected a response when contacting a business via email. Response time expectations for Twitter and Facebook messages were also assessed.

Finally, the study examined whether response time expectations varied by age group. For instance, do Millennials expect a faster response than Baby Boomers?

The age groups were defined using definitions from the Pew Research Center. One note, too few members of Generation Z (ages 21 and under) and the Silent Generation (ages 73 and over) participated to include their perspective in the age group portion of the study.

Get Help!

Attend a special webinar on Thursday, May 3 at 11am Pacific to get even more insight from this study and learn how you can meet your customers' response time demands.


Email Response Time Expectations

Businesses should target a response time standard of one hour, with 15 minutes representing world-class service..

 Email response time expectations

This conclusion comes from looking at the response time that will meet the expectations of at least 80 percent of customers

This can be a little confusing at first because the top choice was one day, with 43 percent selecting it. But one day only meets the expectations of those who selected one day or 2+ days, which is a total of 56 percent. You pick up 14 percent of customers if you can respond to email within four hours, though that's still just 70 percent of the total.

A one hour email response time will meet the expectations of 89 percent of your customers. Companies aiming for world-class customer service should respond within 15 minutes or less.

The study looked at response time expectations by age. The responses were fairly close together, but there was a mild surprise. Baby Boomers want the fastest response.

 Email response time expectations by generation

A smaller group of 206 respondents was asked an additional question: How quickly do you expect a response when emailing a coworker?

 Chart of email response time expectations for coworkers.

Response time expectations for this group are very high and arguably unreasonable, with 41 percent of people expecting coworkers to respond to email within one hour. 

The pressure to respond quickly causes many people skim and scan emails from colleagues. They then send partial responses which generates a lot fo unnecessary back and forth. One study found that the average email conversation at work includes 4.5 messages.

Which generation has the highest expectations for coworkers? Generation X leads the pack on this one.

 Chart showing how quickly each generation expects coworkers to respond to email.

Twitter Direct Message Response Expectations

Businesses should target a response time standard of 15 minutes.

 Twitter response time expectations.

Anything slower that 15 minutes risks disappointing a large portion of customers. This can present a challenge for businesses as Twitter is not as popular as more traditional service channels such as email, phone, or even chat. There may not be enough volume to justify staffing for a 15 minute response time. 

Once again, Baby Boomers have the highest response time expectations:

 Twitter response time expectations by generation

One note from the study is only 40 percent of participants message businesses via Twitter. That percentage is only slightly lower for Baby Boomers, with 35 percent saying they use Twitter for customer service.


Facebook Message Response Time Expectations

Businesses should target a response time standard of 1 hour, with 15 minutes representing world-class service.

 Chart showing Facebook message response time expectations.

A one hour response time may be adequate for most customers, but 17 percent still want to hear back more quickly. For Facebook, it's Millennials who want the fastest response.

 Chart showing Facebook message response time expectations by generation.

Only 50 percent of participants message businesses via Facebook. Millennial Facebook usage is slightly higher than the group average, with 55 percent saying they have contacted a business via a Facebook message.

Special Webinar

Get even more insight from the study and learn how to meet your customers' response time expectations in this interactive webinar.

  • Do response time expectations vary by region in the United States?
  • How can I keep my customers happy if I can't response fast enough?
  • What can small businesses do when resources are limited?

The webinar will be on Thursday, May 3 at 11am Pacific. 

Study: Executives Are Delusional About Customer-Centricity

There's a famous statistic that 80 percent of executives believed their organization delivered a superior customer experience, but only 8 percent of customers agreed.

This comes from this 2005 report from Bain, so it's a little out of date.

A 2017 study by Capgemini Consulting sought to provide updated insight into the so-called executive disconnect. A total of 450 executives and 3,300 consumers were surveyed, though this study focused specifically on the digital experience. This includes searching for product information online, using a company's app, or searching for technical support information on a website.

The results?

Executives still believe they are doing well, with 75 percent saying their organization is customer-centric. Just 30 percent of customers agree. On the bright side, it has improved since 2005! 

That's still a pretty big disconnect. Here's are three key insights from the report.

 A chess pawn looking in the mirror and seeing a queen.

Insight #1: Experience is a Differentiator

Let's say a customer is trying to choose between two products, your's and a competitor's. 

The customer visits each website to learn more about the product, watch some tutorials, and see which one best fits her needs. That aspect of the digital experience is a key part of the customer journey, so it's important to get it right.

Capgemini discovered that 81 percent of consumers will pay a premium for a better experience.

Last fall, I purchased an ecobee smart thermostat for a vacation rental property I own even though my initial choice was a more well-known competitor. The reason was ecobee's website was intuitively laid out and the company's helpful support gave me far greater confidence that their product would work as intended.


Insight #2: Better Experience Boosts NPS

This may be obvious, but it's great to have data to back it up.

Net Promoter Score, or NPS, tracks how likely a customer is to recommend your product or business to someone else. Many businesses grow revenue through word-of-mouth referrals, so this can be an essential metric.

The study found that companies that used NPS results to regularly make adjustments to business operations enjoyed an NPS score that averaged 14 points higher than companies that did not closely link NPS and operations.

This is an epidemic in the business world. It seems like nearly every company surveys its customers, whether its NPS or another model. Yet much of that data goes completely unused.

The lesson here is your survey can be really valuable, if you actually use it. Here's an online course on how to design and implement an effective survey.


Insight #3: Poor Experiences Hurt Business

Losing a customer is a big concern when someone experiences a service failure. Similar to other reports, the Capgemini study found that 20 percent of customers stopped doing business with a company after a poor experience.

This should leave two important questions:

  1. What about other 80 percent?
  2. What are your customers doing?

A study by Dr. Venessa Funches shed some light on what angry customers do when they continue doing business with a company:

  • 35 percent do less business
  • 70 percent spread negative word-of-mouth about the company

It's up to you to find out the answer to the second question, what are your customers doing after a poor experience.

One tactic that will help is to make sure customers can opt-in to a follow-up contact when they complete one of your surveys. This allows you to potentially save their business and gain valuable insight into what went wrong.


Take Action

Studies like the Capgemini report are fascinating because they provide general insight into the world of customer experience and customer service.

My advice to customer service leaders is to use this data as a prompt to check your own organization. 

  • How do your customers feel about their experience?
  • Is a poor customer experience costing your company revenue?
  • What can you do to improve?

How Malaysia's HappyFresh Created a Customer Service Vision

I recently received an email from Timothy Chan, Regional Fleet Acquisition and Retention Specialist at HappyFresh.

While I get a lot of similar emails, this one stood out for both his enthusiasm and the fact that my book had somehow made it all the way to Malaysia.

"Tim from Malaysia here. I work for an online grocery shopping company. I have just finished reading your book, The Service Culture Handbook, and I must say I enjoyed it immensely. 

"I have just recently been put in charge of managing the customer service team at my company (after being transferred from the logistics department). Just last week I took your advice and held a meeting to decide on a customer service vision—it was a lot of fun and I am very happy with the vision my team ultimately decided upon. Now begins my more difficult task of really embedding the vision into our culture."

I was curious to learn more about how Chan and his team used the concepts from the book, so we corresponded via email and he graciously shared his story.

 The HappyFresh customer service team.

The HappyFresh customer service team.

Q: Tell me a little about what your team does and the customers it serves.

"As Malaysia’s leading online grocery shopping company, our team is hard at work every day assisting and serving both our customers as well as our fleet of around 100 shoppers and deliverymen."


Q: What was the process to develop the customer service vision?

"I helped the team develop this vision by following the step-by-step guide provided in The Service Culture Handbook. Started by giving a presentation about Customer Service Vision which included a lot of stories from companies that have thrived by staying true to their visions (with particular emphasis on Zappos).

"The presentation was attended by representatives from the customer service and logistic team as well as the heads of Field Operations and HR. After the presentation, everyone was divided into 2 groups to draft their visions. By comparing the visions, we then decided on certain words that we felt simply could not be left out from the finalized vision and from these words our vision was born:

"Your professional, personal pal throughout our journey together."


Q: What does the vision mean to you?

"To me, the vision means that we should always strive to be a true friend—someone who truly cares and genuinely wants to help. However, we need to remember that we are also professionals and should always behave as such.

"The ‘journey’ part of the vision carries 2 meanings:

"Firstly, it is a reminder that we are on a never-ending journey of constantly striving to be as true to the vision as possible. Secondly, it reminds us that there are different parts to every journey (beginning, middle and end) and we should always act accordingly.

"What I love about the vision is that it can be applied equally well to the way we treat customers, our fleet of shoppers and drivers and also to the way we treat one another as colleagues."


Q: What are you doing to make sure everyone on your team knows the vision?

"I conduct regular 1 to 1 check-in sessions with each member of our small CS team. As we discuss how we can improve performance during these sessions, I try to refer to the vision as much as possible. Furthermore, one of our talented CS representatives, A.K., created stickers to stick on everyone’s laptops/desktops so that we can always clearly see our vision."


Q: What unexpected challenges or obstacles did you encounter throughout this process?

"It is not easy ingraining the vision into the psyche of a team. It takes a lot of effort to persistently champion the vision and to make other people start championing it as well. It is important to ‘walk the talk’, be willing to be vulnerable and be open to scrutiny."


Q: How has having a customer service vision been helpful?

"With so many KPIs, goals, frustrations and issues, having a customer service vision has been like having a guiding star to turn to whenever we felt unsure or overwhelmed."