You got into the customer service training business almost by accident. What’s your backstory?
Nancy Friedman – I had a terrible customer service experience with an insurance company so I called the agent and cancelled all my policies. He wanted details. I told him, “his people stink” and told him how I was treated. He asked me to come to the office and tell his staff what happened and how they could improve their service.
I went to their office and spent about 30 minutes explaining how I should have been handled. What they should have said and done. And that was the start. I realized there was an opportunity and business in advising companies how to improve their communications with customers.
At one of my later meetings, a newspaper editor, in Davenport Iowa, who took part in the program complimented me and said he was going to call me the “Telephone Doctor”. I ran home to my husband and said, ‘what’ll we do’? He said, “Let’s go get it registered; we’re going to have some fun”. The Telephone Doctor name has helped us brand our business.
Since then, I travel the country delivering keynote programs and training sessions at franchise, corporation and association meetings and conferences and was voted a Favorite Speaker in a national poll for Meetings & Conventions Magazine. In a nutshell, I help companies communicate better with their customers and co-workers.
Why should companies be concerned about training their managers and employees in improving customer service?
Companies spend thousands of marketing dollars trying to convince us to buy their products, but if customer contact is not handled just right in a store, at a call center company or on the web by customer service representative, all that money is wasted. You have one chance to make a first impression and gain a repeat customer. Poor customer service can stop a purchase, create negative social media reaction and ruin a brand.
Retailers are under siege from the Internet and online shopping. Can improving customer service make a difference?
The rise of the Internet, mobile and e-commerce over the past two decades has chipped away at the market share of brick and mortar retailers. Shoppers have made it clear they want to do more of their buying online and on their smartphones. So, what can retailers do? One tried and true business tactic – customer service – is becoming even more important in attracting buyers and keeping them as repeat shoppers. While there’s no silver bullet that can stave off online shopping, retailers would be smart to pay new attention to how they provide customer service.
The “Amazon Effect”, the popularity and ease of online shopping and the related changes in consumer behavior and preferences, is forcing store owners from huge shopping malls to Main Street storefronts to get serious about providing outstanding customer service. Stepping up customer service not only attract consumers into your store but keeps them coming back.
So, what can store owners and managers do to up their customer service game?
Train your employees! Consider hiring a professional trainer to come to your store and train your workers how to treat the customer right. Hold classes to follow-up. Poor customers service is almost always lack of proper training. Smart retailers that truly care about dealing with the public and providing quality customer service, invest in training programs.
The best way brick and mortar retailers can counter the online threat is to provide excellent customer service by training your employees and give the consumer a reason to turn off technology and shop, buy and return to your store.
How’s the best way to handle social media complaints?
If at all possible handle the situation/compliant via phone. If there is absolutely no way to do this; then you’re at a big disadvantage. A customer representative to customer phone call answer is always preferable so there’s no misinterpretation and the consumer knows the issue or problem is being handled to their satisfaction.
If the person posting is a repeat customer, chances are you have data on that person. Use that data to show that you’re familiar with them and their past purchases. Let them know you are grateful for their past business and you will help them resolve the problem or issue.
Never say you’re sorry to the customer. It sounds trite. Tell them you apologize. They don’t care if you’re sorry. An apology and a resolution are what they want to hear.
A typical interaction might go like this: First, we apologize for the situation and your inconvenience. What’s most important is that we make you happy and resolve your problem/issue. We have your email and phone number; which would you prefer we reach you at? Again, our apologies, and we aim to make it right. Count on that. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
Personally, I do not believe in bashing companies online. You don’t need to out them online. Spank them with your wallet.
What’s the connection between customer service and customer retention?
Poor customer service can have a huge impact on customer retention.
Whether it’s trapped in a company’s phone automation system, frustrated by a salesperson’s lack of knowledge about a product, or a website inadvertently giving away your personal information, customer relation fails, sadly, happen daily. It’s crucial that companies are cognizant and caring about their customer service. Failures not only impact sales but can also forever impact customer retention.
What do you love about being an entrepreneur?
I love the fact that the family business is ours and that I can make decisions and turn on a dime without getting approval from someone else. I love the freedom to not only make my own decisions, but to run the business and succeed on my own. The company’s success is directly linked to my success. And I also love that we’re making a positive impact on our clients and by training their employees we can help those businesses interact better with their customers. I love being an entrepreneur!
How do you maintain your creativity? How do you bring ideas to life?
My creativity comes from the different and various people I get to meet during my customer service training sessions and presentations, especially when I’m asked back to a company or association I’ve met with before. The late great actor Yul Brynner was interviewed many years ago about the hundreds of his performances in The King and I. He was asked: you say the same words, you sing the same songs, to the same actors every night with eight or nine performances a week. How do you keep your creativity and enthusiasm up? His answer without missing a beat was ‘it’s always a different audience.’ My answer is the same. I get my creativity from the different audiences I meet with all over the country.
What keeps you going and motivated?
Some folks are motivated by money, some by power, and some by title to gain success. None of those has ever motivated me personally. The experiences I found that motivated me personally to the success I have been blessed with is when I hear my audiences laugh during a presentation. Laughter has been my drug of choice for years…and motivates me to do better each time. The success I have been lucky enough to have – has come, in my view, from the laughter I’ve been provided my audiences. Laughter and the customer and employee relations lessons I teach my audiences make my presentations memorable, fuels references and more training bookings.
What’s the biggest challenge your business faces?
Our biggest Challenge: Apathy. Those companies who feel they don’t need customer service training. Our techniques the best defense against the big guys for the small to mid-sized business. You only need to have one poor customer service experience and you’ll agree, we’re needed all over! When we lose a customer, they don’t go up to the company in the sky; they go to the competition; that makes the competition a little stronger and us a little weaker.
The top challenge facing customer service teams comes from the very top: getting senior management to buy into training programs. I often hear from customer service reps that they want and seek better training, but it’s too often put aside for other company ‘priorities.’ Seriously, what’s more important than servicing your customers!
Customer service teams need and want training and yet it is often over looked by top management for other initiatives that will never help the customers. There’s a direct correlation between poor service and no training… and great service with great training. So, there’s no question that getting upper management to buy into training programs is the No. 1 challenge facing the industry.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned that has helped me become a very successful entrepreneur: never ever stop learning. Those that think they know it all when starting-up, are in real trouble. Whether it’s from books, audio tapes, or attending meetings/conferences, each provides an opportunity to expand your own knowledge and learn more about your field. Reading sales books and audio tapes had a huge impact on my early years and shaped me into the successful entrepreneur I am today.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an entrepreneur?
I would recommend keeping your sense of humor. You will need it to start up a business and succeed. As my mother taught me: It’s not the problem. It’s how you handle it. Keeping positive and is good humor is an important asset to have and essential as an entrepreneur.
Also, keep our eye on the ball and don’t stray from your business mission. We’re a customer service, communications company and we only provide services that address that. We’ve had opportunities to go in different directions, but we’ve stayed the course and it’s served us well. By sticking to our core beliefs, we have flourished. Businesses that try to be all things to all people will find it difficult to achieve success.
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