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  • Aspire » Customer Service

    15 Dec
    photo by Axel Buhrmann via Flickr

    photo by Axel Buhrmann via Flickr

    I suspect I’m not alone in this, but I hate car shopping – in my experience the stereotype of a used car salesman generally runs true, overly slick hard core salesman who is pushing you to buy something that may or may not work out for you. It’s kind of like gambling but with people you don’t like or trust…and there’s no upside. The best you can hope for is that you don’t get screwed too badly.

    And the experience is usually pretty painful – from the ineffective but still annoying ‘negotiations techniques’ to lots of waiting and painful paperwork. We actually had one dealership hold our current car hostage when we took a test drive – they were trying to force us to keep their car overnight…and didn’t want to give us our car back! And unfortunately that’s just one example of many over the years of bad car shopping trips.

    With that background, it was a pleasant surprise this weekend when we had a positive shopping (and buying) experience with King’s Auto in Overland Park. We were in the unfortunate situation of having to replace a car that we’d only had about 6 weeks – our kids got rear-ended leaving school…luckily everyone will be alright (some hobbling and soreness for a while) but the car was totaled – leaving us in need of another shopping trip. Thankfully this one went about as well as you could hope for – we don’t pick up the car until next week, but I’m optimistic that we ended up with a car that will work out well for us.

    What drives a positive car shopping experience?

    There were several things that Kings Auto did to make it a positive experience – and many of those things would apply to most businesses – as you read through this, are there things here you could apply to your business?

    1. Positive Reviews online

    We started our shopping process the way most people do these days – we went online to see what we could find. I ended up on Cars.com and came across several vehicles that fit our criteria that were nearby at Kings Auto – and then I checked out the Cars.com reviews of the dealership which were overwhelmingly positive – which made me comfortable with the idea of checking them out in person.  *Note – I later found some negative reviews on Yelp for their service and repair business but that didn’t really impact what I was looking for, which was to buy a car.

    When people find your business online, what kind of opinions do they see? How does that information impact you?


    2. Friendly and Positive Greeting

    King’s Auto is family owned and in our case, the owner (and his son) were the only ones there on a Saturday morning. Although it’s a fairly small lot, there were 2 or 3 other groups shopping at the same time…so reasonably busy for just 2 people to handle. Despite that, the owner greeted us warmly and asked us how he could help. His style was friendly and not pushy – he gave us plenty of room to just wander around and check things out first.

    What’s the first impression (in person) that people have of your operation? Is it warm? Cold? Friendly? Rude? Have you made any efforts to purposely create a consistent impression?


    3. Educational but not Directive

    Since this was a car for our kids – we weren’t looking for anything fancy and we had a definite price point that we wanted to stick to. Since we had done some research online, we were aware of a few options but the owner asked us what we were looking for and suggested some additional options. Most of them were above our price point, but it didn’t feel like he was pushing us…it was more making us aware of what else he had that was close to our criteria (on a small lot there wasn’t a lot that was under our price point).

    What’s your sales style? Do you focus on helping or on selling? Which do you prefer when you’re shopping?


    4. Make it Easy

    After driving a few different cars (he just gave us the keys and let us go – no paperwork at all) we ended up with one that was a good fit. The price had recently been reduced and it was in good shape. We had seen the Carfax report but they confirmed all the information without us asking (where the car came from, what kind of maintenance history it had, # of drivers, etc.). From there is was a fairly painless 20 minutes or so of filling out the required paperwork and paying (they even took Discover – which made it very easy). All in all it was quick and easy – they clearly knew what they were doing and had it down to a simple process.

    Do you focus on the customer’s experience? Have you done the work to make it easy for them?


    Customer Experience matters…a lot!

    There are a lot of elements to worry about in a growing business, but the top of that list should be the customer’s experience. In today’s connected world, a bad experience is easily shared and nothing will impact a business more than a bad (or great) reputation. In fact, engineering a great, consistent customer experience is probably the best marketing you can do – and yet it’s generally not done very well.

    When’s the last time you thought about your customer experience? Do you agree that it’s critical? What else could King’s Auto have done to make it a better experience? (In my opinion there are some small things, but they got the big stuff right). We’d love to hear your thoughts – let us know what you think.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    28 Jul
    photo by David Goehring via Flickr

    photo by David Goehring via Flickr

    Business owners are drawn to marketing ideas like a moth to a flame. It feels like the one piece they need that will finally complete the puzzle of their business.

    Great marketing is the holy grail to hungry, struggling businesses.  Most business owners have said something along the lines of: “If I just had some great marketing that would drive a ton of new customers my way, then I’d be set!”

    It’s the dream of easy living, you turn on the switch for the marketing machine and new revenue just starts flowing in and everything is golden.

    But if you’re an existing business that already has customers…and your focus is strictly on getting new customers, then you’re marketing in the wrong place. Your first priority should be to market to your existing customers.

    Why would that possibly make any sense?  Great question…I’m glad you asked.  Consider these statistics from Scott McKain’s book “What Customers Really Want

    • A Loyal customer is worth 10 times more than a new customer
    • 91% of dissatisfied customers will never purchase anything from your company again
    • Most companies spend 6 times as much money trying to attract new customers as they do trying to keep existing customers happy

    And check out some of these additional statistics from some other noteworthy sources:

    • Increasing customer retention from 10% to 15% can double revenue (Harvard Business Revenue)
    • A change in customer retention of just 5% can produce a change of 125% in profit – Frederick Reichheld author of ‘The Loyalty Effect

    Bottom line – if you’ve been in business for any length of time, the real gold mine is your existing client base. Unless you have a strictly transactional kind of business, they’re more likely to buy from you again (if they had a good experience) and they are the source of positive word of mouth (free and effective marketing).

    Quick Quiz Question

    When was the last time you thought about ways that you could ‘wow’ your existing customers and show them the appreciation they deserve?

    If it’s been more than a few months…or if your answer was ‘Never’…then it’s probably time to do just that.

    Try these 10 steps as a way to build consistent, meaningful customer service:

    1. Remember a customer is for life: You’re not processing a transaction, you’re starting a new relationship and you and your staff need to treat it that way.
    2. Little things make a big difference:  Details matter and people will notice if you smile, if you’re dressed professionally, if your business is clean, if your emails have typos. Get the little things right.
    3. First impressions count: Along the lines of getting the little things right, whatever a new customer sees first is going to set the tone, so find a way to make a great first impression.
    4. Make it a system: What ever you end up doing, it needs to be repeatable and you need to be able to hire in normal people to make it work.  Consistency is key.
    5. Train every team member: Having a system won’t help if you don’t train your team and continually work with them to improve. This should be an ongoing, evergreen effort.
    6. Hold regular staff meetings and review: Only the people talking to customers on a regular basis will be able to tell you what’s going on. Meet with the team to get regular feedback and ideas.
    7. Genuinely thank customers and invite them back:  If you really value someone, you thank them for what they did and you encourage them to come back…and you mean it!  The whole team needs to feel this way.
    8. Do the unexpected extra!: Find a way to surprise customers with great service. Go the extra mile where it will be appreciated.  It shouldn’t be a big thing (in terms of expensive) but meaningful.
    9. Deliver a Critical Non-Essential every time: Find something that your best clients value that you can give away for free. The car service that washes the car with an oil change, the restaurant that includes a surprise sample appetizer or dessert with the meal…be creative.
    10. Follow up: Make sure you have a consistent way to follow up with your customers – and the focus isn’t on selling more, the focus is on adding value (which may lead them to buy more).

    Having great customer service isn’t easy and it will cost you time and money, but that’s an investment that will pay off quickly and as noted by the statistics above, have a much bigger pay off than marketing for new clients.

    Are you doing most of the things on the list above?  Some of them?  What would it take to start doing more?

    We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    14 Oct
    photo from State Library of New South Wales via Flickr

    photo from the State Library of New South Wales via Flickr

    Great customer service isn’t as simple as just being nice to everyone (although that’s not a bad start).

    Commerce Bancorp (not the one here in Kansas City, the one founded out in New Jersey) was established by Vernon Hill in 1973 and went from 1 branch to 470 branches by 2008.  Even more importantly, they had a deposit base that grew 30% per year between 1996 and 2001 (vs. an industry average of 5% growth).  They were extremely successful…and they broke almost all of the rules in terms of how ‘conventional banking’ was done.

    Hill’s strategy was to flip the banking model on its head.  Be great at service and convenience and choose to be bad at more traditional banking things like offering the lowest rates on deposits and fewer products overall.  He believed (correctly as it turned out) that there were a lot of banking customers who were fed up with short hours, bad service and rude tellers…if you could get those right, people would talk and you would grow.

    But in order to deliver that great service and those convenient hours, you can’t also do what the other banks do.  You can’t pay for highly experienced financial professionals as tellers – they’re too expensive and they often don’t like working with the public.  You can’t afford to pay out the best rates of deposit and maintain longer hours.

    That’s where the first truth of Uncommon Service comes into play as documented by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss in their recent book Uncommon Service. They wrote the book after working with lots of companies around the world and observing that despite the need and the value for great customer service; very few companies actually get it right.

    Truth #1- You can’t be good at everything

    Just as we saw with Commerce Bancorp, if you really want to stand out, if you want to be great, then you also have to choose where you want to be great…and just as importantly where you don’t want to be great. The real magic comes in knowing what your customers value most and value least when you make those choices.

    If you try to be great at everything, you will either be crazy expensive or you will end up being mediocre across the board (much more likely outcome).

    Question: What are you choosing to be bad at in your company?

    Truth #2 – Someone has to pay for it

    Excellent service comes with a price – as we learned in Truth #1, part of that price is choosing what to be excellent in (and what not to be excellent in)…there’s an opportunity cost.  Beyond that, you will drive more expense as you offer more/better services – and there has to be a way to pay for that if your model is going to be sustainable.

    The good news is that payment can come from several places – you can charge extra for it, you can offer service in a way that reduces costs (think online FAQ or ordering vs. phone calls) or you can develop self-service options that customers love (think ATMs at banks, online boarding pass printing, etc.).

    Question: Where are you spending the most on customer service? What could you do to reduce that cost?

    Truth #3 – It’s not your employees’ fault

    Are there times when your customer service is great…but it’s not consistent?  Do you have some employees who get it and do a fantastic job…but for some reason others can’t seem to pull it off?  In either case – whether it’s occasional greatness or excellence from a few ‘super hero’ employees, it’s your customer service model that’s that’s the problem, not your employees.

    If you ever find yourself thinking “well they just need to try harder” after a service failure, then you’re on the wrong path. When you build in the right system and training that enables every employee to get it right, then you’re onto something.

    Question: What’s the most complex part of your service? How could you streamline or simplify that so it reduces issues and can be more repeatable?

    Truth #4 – You must manage your customers

    Customers play a huge role in the overall outcome of the service.  It only takes one really indecisive customer to hold up a line for a long time at McDonald’s.  To make it even more challenging, your customers can have just as much impact on your service capabilities as your employees, but you have no direct control over them.

    The customer isn’t always right – especially if they aren’t the right customer for you. Figure out who you work best with, design your service around those customers, educate them on how things work and then incent the right kind of customer behavior.

    Question: When’s the last time you heard directly from customers on what they don’t like about your service? Go to the source to figure out the real issues.

    It’s all about the design

    Great customer service is critical to long term success…and it doesn’t happen by accident and you can’t just rely on a handful of superstar employees to take care of it for you.  Consistent excellent service happens when you design a service model that meets your customer’s most important priorities, is affordable and can be run by all of your employees. Add in a great culture and you’ve got a lot of people talking about you…in a great way!

    How do you stack up against the 4 Truths of Uncommon Service? We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    17 Oct


    Long term business success requires a lot of things done right, but one of the most critical things you can do and fully within your control is to live and breathe great customer service.

    Why do some companies become an Amazon?

    Hopefully the following will cause you to reflect. Maybe it will spark an opportunity for empowerment in your business.

    A tale of two businesses….What company is your business modeling?


    This past week I placed an order on Amazon and it was supposed to have Free Shipping. Somehow, I selected the wrong box during checkout and the order was processed with 2 day Shipping Charges. The shipping was almost as much as the order!

    However, the Amazon solution was painless, simple, and efficient. I simply went to their website, connected to a live chat person and had two short posts explaining the situation. The reply was simple. “Mr. Steinlage your credit card will be credited the charges. Is there anything else we can help you with today?”

    I didn’t have to explain my position over and over. The customer service representative didn’t have to check with a supervisor. It was over. Just like that; two simple posts and it was resolved.

    Did Amazon gain a raving fan? Am I likely to be a return customer?  Would I recommend them to someone else?

    Amazon has created a culture of customer service.

    Local Restaurant Chain…

    One of my brothers was in town recently and our families went out for dinner. One of the teenagers with my brother’s family ordered an item that was supposed to be for “kids only”, simply because that is what looked good on the menu. However, the restaurant employee was adamant that this teenager could not order this because she over the age limit. There was no reasoning, no option to pay extra, no logic, simply a policy that was drilled into this employee. The employee’s stern position even created commotion among other dining customers. It was truly bewildering to witness! In the end, we let it go and did not get the “kids only” food item.

    Did this local restaurant gain a raving fan? Am I likely to be a return customer?  Will my brother (or anyone else that saw this happen) every return or recommend them to someone?

    I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to make sure your team, your employees, your staff, and you keep common sense in your business. You need to trust and empower your employees to make simple decisions when the opportunities present themselves.  Create a simple checklist or set of rules for what they’re allowed to manage and when they need to bring in someone else.  Hire the right people and give them room to shine.

    Trust me, your employees want to make decisions that are in the best interest of your company. They want You to be pleased with their performance and more importantly, they want the customer to be happy. If you honestly don’t think they do, they shouldn’t be part of your team.

    Amazon ‘Gets It’. Do you?

    We would love to hear how you address this in your business. Feel free to share in the comments below.

    Chris Steinlage    Kansas City Business Coach

    13 May

    customerservice  photo by Phil Dowsing

    Customer service is critical to long term success…everyone says so, which is why you have great customer service – right?

    Think about it though…what company doesn’t think they don’t have good customer service? Go into any establishment and there’s at least one sign in every business promoting customer service, even if it is only a sign the says “Customer Service”. I am sure the owners of the businesses send out at memos, hold a meeting, or maybe even dedicated an entire section in their employee manual to “Customer Service”.  If you ask anyone if customer service is a priority – they’re going to tell you that it is.

    Clearly Customer Service is important…but what is it really?

    Read More…