It was a Wednesday afternoon in September, 2009, and I was at the doctor’s office to have a chest infection checked out. While reading an article on leadership in the Small Business Magazine, I witnessed an event that disturbed me. At the reception window a woman in her 30’s was checking in for her doctor’s appointment. They pulled her details up on the computer and pointed out to her that she had a balance overdue of $20.29, and told her that she would need to pay that today. The patient was soft spoken, and explained that she could not pay the deductible today or the outstanding amount on her account due to her financial circumstances. The receptionist said that she would have to check with the doctor to see if he would still see her today, considering the inability to pay.
The receptionist came back and stated that the doctor would see her, but she would have to provide a specific date for full payment of all payments due. She also said that in the event of non-payment by that date, there would be an additional $15 penalty. The patient explained again that she was in financial difficulty, and could not give a specific date for payment. The receptionist then asked the woman if she would like to set up a payment plan. The woman nodded, and she was then brought away from the reception area through a door to an inside office.
What disturbed me was that the receptionist had conducted the conversation in such a loud manner that everyone in the reception area was able to hear what was going on. I imagined how embarrassed I would be if I had been in the young woman’s position. She maintained her composure, but my instinct told me that she had been publicly humiliated. Nobody deserves that kind of treatment, and I began to wonder if I wanted to remain a patient of this doctor. I, like many people, have been challenged financially at periods of my life, and can relate to being in a difficult position. It was great that the doctor had a system to work out a financial plan; however, it would seem to me that the doctor’s office could easily have a system which also maintains human dignity. The patient could easily have been directed to go to the more private back room at the first indication of financial difficulties.
If you were this woman, would you come back to this doctor in the future? Would you recommend this doctor to your friends? Is there an opportunity for customer service improvement? – Absolutely.
Now let me take you to one of my favorite customer service locations- the beer- brewing supply store. The Texas temperature has dropped below 90 F, and I get ready for one of my favorite hobbies- brewing beer. I started this hobby over 20 years ago using simple techniques. However, with annual investments and upgrades to equipment, I now own overly complicated high-tech equipment. I get the ingredients from a supply store in Dallas, Texas. As someone who only visits the store a few times a year, here is how I get treated:
I open the door, and nearly immediately my name is shouted out “Daaaaaave!”, making me feel as good as Norm from the TV series Cheers. Immediately I am asked how I can be helped, and I am pointed to where all the different ingredients for my recipe are located. They help me adjust the weighing scales to take into consideration the weight of the container, even though they have showed me how to do it 30+ times over the years. They do this every time I visit without complaint (I can never remember the sequence of pressing the scale reset buttons).
Once I have the malted barley ingredients weighed out, I typically find that one of the store employees is there without prompt, offering to put the grain through the grinder mill for me and package it so I do not get my clothes dusty. They then go down my list to make sure I have all the ingredients I needed and then they question me on any other things I may have forgotten so I do not have a repeat trip. On one particular occasion as I was paying for my ingredients, another customer came in with a bottle of his home-brew beer and asks the store owner to taste it for quality. The owner takes a drink, asks me to taste it, and then comments “this is so good, I would pay money for it”. I could see the customers face light up with pride.
Before I left the store, the owner made small-talk and jokes with me, and also reminded me that the club was having a party soon and to make sure I turned up. I left the store feeling good.
Since I have been brewing so long, I now regularly receive catalogues for supplies. The online purchase of ingrediants is sometimes slightly cheaper than the store, but I would not think of going that direction. I feel loyal and I want them to succeed.
TEN THINGS YOU CAN DO TO KEEP YOUR CUSTOMERS LOYAL
1) Train your employees on the importance of customer service and the expectations
2) Get feedback from your customers – what do we do well, what can we do better – have a competition to encourage feedback
3) Keep the contact with the customer positive, start by smiling and ask “how can I help you today”
4) Embrace respect, trust, and levity in the workplace, get employees talking positively about the workplace away from the office
5) Teach your employees name memorizing skills – remembering names makes customers feel important
6) Promote an office with a culture of helpfulness and teamwork. This shine will come across to customers
7) Make sure everyone knows what the customer wants and what their role is in helping the customer
8) Make notes in the file on previous customer discussions so that you have small talk ready
9) Go out of your way to help customers – do something extraordinary that they will communicate to friends
10) Listen to your customers needs, do not interrupt. Use listening skills
SOME RECENT CUSTOMER SERVICE OBSERVATIONS
1) I have seen a waiting room where most of the reading materials incorporated light hearted, fun reading material instead of the usual doom and gloom of the newspapers and magazines
2) My financial planner has a big screen TV where he would normally have the channel set to a station which showed the daily stock price trend. During my semi-annual visit to his office while the recession was at its worst, he had me laughing because he had chosen to play cartoons on the TV instead. He told me and my wife that the financial news was too depressing for his customers and so he was taking action.
3) When I recently went to get a new pair of glasses, the store manager set the stage for fun. He immediately started toying with my wife and me and pointed out glasses that he did not want me to choose. “If you are John Lennon you can choose these round glasses, if not, don’t even think about it!!” Catching onto his playful demeanor, I responded “so it looks like I need to choose frames that are somewhere between a John Lennon and a Sarah Palin style!!” We spent over half an hour in this play mode, and the glasses buying experience was totally enjoyable. Price was good, quality was good, and the customer service experience was exceptional.
4) I am at the airport security at the stage where you hold up your boarding pass for security to look at just before you enter the metal detector frame. I held my boarding pass rigidly, and the security girl smiled at me and stated, “You do that so well, I bet you practice!” Catching onto her smile and her playfulness, I replied “Some people try to wing it; I practice in front of the mirror until it is beyond perfect”. She laughed and waved me through. Security screening was an energizing process for me that day.
5) I am at the dentist, and he has taken the time to make some notes on a conversation we had at my previous visit. “How did your vacation to Ireland go”? “Your daughter has just started high school, how is that going”. His small talk is personalized, and makes me feel validated.