Sunday, January 20, 2013

Saying “NO” to Bamboozled Hoodwinks and “Yes” to Straight Up Service

Customer facing service agents are the front line of every business no matter if you are a soloentrepreneur who wears all the hats in your business, a small emerging business to the big corporation or anything in between that have a customer service department.  The way your front line interacts with your existing and inquiring customers affects your reputation, customer retention and bottom line profits. 

You invest a lot of time and energy in your front end systems of marketing, public relations, selling, and on-boarding clients by an online store or you do it through a human sales force that you continuously develop while paying high end commissions to nurture relationships and to close new business. When profits are flowing everybody’s happy. Everyone is making MONEY.   The customer on-boarding process is easy, the customer/consumer feels welcome until some customer or potential reaches out picks up the phone to work out a dilemma with a live person and one of two scenarios is about to play out  -  either that customer service agent enhances the relationship or exacerbates a fast deterioration.  I will elaborate more on that in a moment.

Let’s take a step back and review the past 10 years. The last decade expansive advances in technology on the rise have diminished even more the distance barriers to allow an extended marketing reach, more flexible work dynamics than we experienced last century and more innovative ways to deliver products and services. It is more common that businesses work with a clientele from various demographic regions today. 

Technology has allowed for process automation of both internal and external systems with the intent of increasing time efficiency and lowering monetary costs of having human labor.  Streamlining and cutting out the fat in a business is one thing; to cut out lean muscle on the back end system of “Straight Up” genuine Service is a big no-no costly mistake. To cut costs, so many businesses employ under skilled folks to be the problem solvers, relationship menders,  and preserve a positive image in how they  care for their customers. 

For example if you are a business selling high end product/experience/service that requires an investment from your customer, why would you have a unskilled low paid hourly worker answering the phone when someone inquires/needs clarity/ has a discrepancy  about the experience or have only a website that is difficult to navigate and makes it difficult to talk with a live person who can really nurture, care, solve, have empathy and buildup to develop a long term relationship of repeat business and promotes to others a positive experience integrated internally on the back-end of the business?  

What I am talking about is Straight-Up Service.

I have seen this scenario play out heavily in the hospitality, tourism, telecommunications, technology, retail, shopping, advertising, marketing, health/wellness, and the personal development space.  
 This is what I call a “Bamboozled- Hoodwink” approach where the business has invested a lot in the front end experience to hook the prospect, convert prospect into customer and even provides a lot of value in the product / service / experience and then something happens. A psychological disconnect in the mind of the customer has occurred. They need to talk with a person in your organization that can solve their disconnect and be of service.  This is where the customer walks away feeling better about doing business with you instead of resenting you. 

When resentment is contained early on it can easily be corrected.  When a business faces resentment that has built up over time erupting below the surface it can spread over night like weeds choking a beautiful harvest.

Here are some common mistakes of businesses that take the Bamboozled- Hoodwink approach:

·        Over promising and under delivering.  I am a big supporter and endorse a business who creates service level packages ASKing their customer to commit.  It is better to under promise and over deliver.  Psychologically this builds you up in the mind of your customer instead tearing you apart and out of litigation. 

·        Forcing customers to stay in a committed agreement with you when you are the one is not holding up your end of the agreement.  If your outer appearance offers an easy build up for the client and the inside of your business is mess that creates of chaotic stressful burden for your customer and their business -- this ends up being an unhealthy relationship.  You cannot expect someone to stay committed to you and pay you when you are not holding up your end.  This is great way to create resentment and have a poor reputation that ends up being a bigger mess to clean up that you ever anticipated leading to high turnover in both staff and in clients.     These businesses usually have a lot of negative hype written about them on the internet from resentful customers.

·        Your working approach is adding negative stress to the customer because you have rigid processes and a mechanical way of connecting with your customer instead having a human-friendly approach that allows ease, flexibility within the structure and efficiency.  This means you are to navigate between the company rules and being Human so your customer feels satisfied.

·        Asking the customer for constant referrals or testimonials when you and your customer just started working together. You are in the courting stages of the relationship and the customer has no measurable result to share.  This clearly illustrates a relationship that is more about you than your client.  Psychologically what you are doing is you are adding stress to the relationship with your client, leaving your client beginning to question working with you and never fully gaining the trust that is needed to accelerate results.  You suppress fruits of the relationship. Once the client receives measurable results – YES by all means Ask for referrals and a testimonial.     At this point the customer feels good about the relationship and you will receive a better testimonial. And your customer will want-to not have-to.

·        Bait and Switch.  Promising some innovative terms during the onboarding contract signing that the customer is expecting to have.  These terms really made entering into the contract attractive.  And then when the customer does not receive those terms and inquires, the customer facing agent communicates they were never authorized, misspoke, apologizes and offers a gift to the customer that has little or no valued meaning to building up the relationship.  It psychologically plants a dormant seed of mistrust that out of nowhere erupts and the customer is vigilant.

·        Signing customers on and hiding terms of the agreement.  No one likes to be blindsided and deceived.  Many online stores have very attractive services that allow the consumer to sign up for a low price to receive an item.  The law states the terms need to be sited on the sight.  It does not mean in BIG BOLD letter flashing at you.  So these Hoodwinks bank on people NOT paying attention and start automatically dipping into the consumers credit card month after month.    I have seen these businesses written up on Ripoff forums on the internet.  By the time the consumer pays attention to their credit card these “Hoodwinks” end up with a range of $20,000 - $500,000 per month because people do not pay attention.  By the time the consumer contacts the company to receive a refund they end up with some Bamboozled- Hoodwink hip answer of mechanical standard operating practices.  You the consumer have just donated a range of $59.95 -- $795.00 of your money for what in return.    An easy solution for Bamboozled- Hoodwinks after consumer makes initial purchase sent consumer email to confirm membership to XXXX and allow consumer to confirm with all the valued benefits to encourage usage.  At least if the consumer uses the services 1 x and forgets it their responsibility – they did not get forced or deceived by terms they were unaware of.
·        Marketing/ Advertising a high end experience that when inquired upon the consumer talks with a low paid unskilled agent who does not match up with the experience and cannot speak the language of the people who can afford such a luxury.

·        Having either only a Voice mail for me to call or having too many computerized prompts with such a long wait time of annoying music.  People want to communicate with live people.  People want to be acknowledged and heard. They want to be able to reach out to have their situation solved or their question DIRECTLY Answered.

Straight UP service enhances and nurtures the buildup of the relationship. It works hand in hand with the front end systems and sales force.  The customer feels valued even when “shit-hits-the-fan”  

People can feel the energy you put out – it is better to serve the best interest of the relationship instead of having  a Bamboozled- Hoodwink approach?

Straight-UP Service is about looking out for your customer’s interest not just your own.    Hiring a bunch of low paid low skilled folks to field, avoid, dodge and bamboozle complaints is missing a bigger picture and I recommend an adjustment in how you see your customers.    A customer facing agent that has a loving supportive direct approach can often melt grumpy people and solve the issue to retain an ongoing relationship.   More often than not people just want clarification to gain understanding not to beat you up.  Guess what that customer has every right to ASK you questions about the process, their billing or anything else that pertains to the business relationship.  

If you are avoiding direct communication with your customers you are NOT serving them. If you give FLUFF answers and only communicate by email YOU are NOT serving the needs of your Customers.  You are serving your needs only.   

 How you operate your business on the inside and back end with customers will directly affect your retention and profits.  It’s up to you.  

As both as a consumer and a business owner I say YES to Straight Up Service and NO to Bamboozled-Hoodwinks!