Two More Customer Service Lessons From A Customer Experience Fail

Enhancing Customer Experiences and Improving Customer Satisfaction

Over the past two weeks we have been sharing some important customer service lessons from our personal customer experience fail with Flagship Cruises & Events while on a family holiday in San Diego last month.

Here are our final two lessons in improving the customer experience and increase the satisfaction of your customers from this incident. You may need to read these three blog posts to get a full background on these lessons:

San Diego Cruise Line Fails to Understand Customer Needs

Customer Service Lessons From A Customer Experience Fail

More Customer Service Lessons From A Customer Experience Fail

 

Lesson #5: Learn From Industry Best Practitioners

As I have written before, every customer interaction is an opportunity to build long-term loyaltyThe best organizations in every industry know and understand this.

For instance, Disneyland has Disney characters roaming their theme parks offering to take photos of customers with the customer’s own cameras. There are even photo stations around each park where Disney characters are scheduled to appear.

Yes, Disneyland has employees also taking photos for families in the hopes of selling these later. But they are also willing to assist in having photos taken with their guests’ own phones and cameras.

The last thing a Disneyland theme park employee would ever do is attempt to physically block a customer from taking a photo with their own phone or camera (as the Flagship Cruise’s staff member did to us).

The same is true at the famed San Diego Zoo and their sister location Safari Park. At both venues employees were gracious and more than willing to take photos of us using our own equipment.

The key lesson here is that customer expectations are set not only by the communications and policies of your organization, but also by the actions and policies of other suppliers in your industry (and other industries as well quite frankly).

Lesson #6: Be Proactive In Handling Customer Complaints

In our Keeping Good Customers Blog last year we explained why Customer Complaints Are Good.

Of course, they are only good if you act upon them! Properly. Service recovery starts with how you react to a customer complaint.

In this case, the only reaction to date from Flagship Cruises to my publicly announced complaint on their facebook page was a reply from “trongley@flagshipsd.com” saying:

Thanks for reaching out Steven. We’d like to hear more about what happened.
Could you please reach out to me directly at trongley@flagshipsd.com?”

Apparently this staff member of Flagship Cruises believes that I need to proactively seek him or her out to further explain my dissatisfaction with their service. And here I was thinking that I am the customer!

When I bought our tickets for their whale watching cruise, I supplied both by email address and my mobile phone number. In fact, I get a weekly marketing email from Flagship Cruises attempting to solicit further business from me.

So there is no excuse for their failure to contact me to “hear more about what happened.” Passivity in reacting to a customer complaint, particularly one shared through social media, is unacceptable in today’s world.

It has now been over a month since our unfortunate and unacceptable customer experience with Flagship Cruises, and yet no one has contacted us. Not even after others replied to my post on their Facebook page. And not even after three weeks of using this customer experience fail as a customer service lesson for all.

The customer should not have to write you or call you after having voiced a public complaint. Organizations that excel at customer service know the importance of Making It Easy For Customers To Complain. Handling customer complaints properly impacts all current and future customers ─ and starts with processes, procedures, and systems that make it easy for such complaints to be communicated to your organization.

So, there you have it. Six important customer service lessons from one single customer experience fail. I hope these lessons will help you and your organization enhance the customer experiences you are providing and increase your customer satisfaction levels.

 

San Diego Cruise Line Fails To Understand Customer Needs

Flagship Cruises Customer Experience Fail

I have written many times about the stupid rules and regulations organizations have that prevent superior customer service. I have also written frequently about the need for commercial operations to truly understand customer needs and for these needs to be fully understood by all staff.

Now I have a new customer experience fail to cite in future writing and speeches, courtesy of Flagship Cruises & Events in San Diego.

Last month we took our daughter to San Diego to celebrate her 9th birthday. A highlight of the 5-day trip was supposed to be a whale watching excursion. Good idea. Bad choice of excursion providers.

After booking the cruise I called the Flagship Cruises customer service line a few days before our trip to enquire if there was any opportunity to do something special for my daughter since we would be going on the cruise on the actual day of her birthday. I was politely told that doing anything extraordinary was too difficult on a public cruise. Oh well, nice try but “too difficult.”

We arrived early on the day of the cruise and spotted a beautiful life preserver ring with the Flagship logo and date of the cruise on it. What a wonderful photo opportunity we thought. But the two Flagship Cruise employees would not allow us beyond their entry rope to take a photo of our daughter with the life preserver.

Instead, as we entered the boarding area a half hour later we were asked to pose next to the life preserver so that they could take a photo of us with their camera! We told our daughter to do so as it was her special day. But when mom and dad tried to take our own photos we were shouted at loudly that such actions were prohibited. And one staff member (Leslie) actually knocked my arm tried to physically block me from taking a photo.

Upon querying her actions we were told the two staff members (Julia was the other young adult staff member) were merely following their boss’s orders. Even after explaining the significance of the date to our daughter, they still refused to make an exception to the rules.

All of which, unfortunately, caused our 9-year old daughter to burst into tears on her birthday!

So, for causing a 9-year old to cry on the morning of her birthday, Leslie and Julia of Flagship Cruises are now enshrined in my Customer Experience Hall of Shame.

Flagship Cruises claims to be a family owned and operated company. But it appears they don’t have a clue about what is important to families and customers celebrating an important life milestone.

Even worse, they promise on their website to “treat you and everyone aboard like family.” They certainly don’t live up to this claim with rigidly enforced rules on photo taking. What kind of a family prevents other family members from taking photos?

After the cruise, I posted a short complaint about our treatment on the Flagship Cruise Facebook page. Here’s the reply I got: “Thanks for reaching out Steven. We’d like to hear more about what happened. Could you please reach out to me directly at trongley@flagshipsd.com?”

I guess “trongley@flagshipsd.com” thinks that I need to proactively seek him or her out to further explain my dissatisfaction with their service. And here I was thinking that I am the customer! Well, this Monday Morning Marketing Memo is my further explanation.

At the end of the cruise, the photograph of my daughter taken by the Flagship Cruise staff member was available for purchase at $10. That is not a significant price, especially since it was a lovely photo. But I could not bring myself to buy it for the photo would only serve as a lasting memory of an unfortunate and dissatisfying customer experience.

Interestingly, I have noticed that when my daughter or I talk to others about our San Diego trip we mention the famed San Diego Zoo, the Birch Aquarium, Sonny Jim’s Cave, and the Safari Park. Neither of us speaks of the whale watching excursion and neither of us is recommending this cruise to others.

It just goes to show how a bad customer experience results in the lost opportunity for positive word-of-mouth advertising and social media publicity.

Ironically, the company also states on its website that they are “the best in the business providing San Diego visitors and tourists with experiences they will remember for a lifetime.” Well, I’ll certainly remember my experience with Flagship Cruises for a lifetime, but perhaps not in the way they hope.

There are many customer service lessons to be learned from this experience with Flagship Cruises, which I will discuss in next week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo.

 

Customer ENTHUSIASM

Fire Up the Enthusiasm of Your Staff for Your Customers

While doing research a few years ago for one of my marketing books, I came across a note I had written to myself on creating enthusiasm for customers within an organization.

In the note, I turned the word enthusiasm into an acronym:

Enjoy your work. When you enjoy your work, customers enjoy you.

Never say “no.” Find ways to say “yes” to customers.

Take the time needed to fully satisfy the customer. The best gift to offer customers is your attention and time.

Hustle. Time is valuable, help customers save it by serving them efficiently and fast.

Understand before trying to be understood. You cannot satisfy customer needs until you listen.

Smile. Your smile tells the customer he or she has come to the right person.

Insist on astonishing. Merely satisfying customers is not enough. Astonish.

Ask if the customer is completely satisfied. Ensure customer satisfaction by asking if there is anything else you can do and if what you have done is enough to have them return to you again in the future.

Suggestive sell. Suggest related items that make the customer’s purchase better.

Meaningful “thank you.” A sincere thank you builds loyalty that brings back customers.

Legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi is quoted as saying “If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.”

We are not suggesting that you need to start enthusiastically firing your staff. But we do hope that the ENTHUSIASM acronym might be useful to you in firing up the enthusiasm of your staff for your customers.

Otherwise, it may be your customers who fire you with enthusiasm.

KEY POINT:  never say “no” to a customer; find ways of saying “yes” instead.

TAKING ACTION: are your frontline staff and customer contact personnel only measured on quantitative scores such as how many customers per work shift they handle? Why?

How can you institute some qualitative scoring measures tracking how their handling of customers impacts your customer retention results?

Train your staff to take the time necessary to fully understand the needs, wants, desires, likes, and dislikes of your customers. Time spent with customers is rarely wasted.

Teach your staff not to be afraid to ask customers if they are fully satisfied. Without asking, you will never know their true feelings. Asking shows that the organization cares and wants these customers to return again and again.

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

 

A World of Customer Experiences

Every customer interaction is an opportunity to build long-term loyalty.

Customers buy experiences.

That is the premise behind the book Building Great Customer Experiences which I had the pleasure of reading several years ago.

The authors, Colin Shaw and John Ivens, have seven philosophies for building a great customer experience, including:

  • Great customer experiences are a source of long-term competitive advantage.
  • Great customer experiences are both revenue generating and cost reducing.
  • Great customer experiences are an embodiment of the brand.

In a world of product parity and commoditization of both products and services, their arguments make a great deal of sense. And even when customers buy products or services, they repeat buy based on their previous experiences.

It is interesting to observe how many organizations focus only on the customer experience at the beginning of the sales cycle, rather than at all points of interaction.

For instance, how many large retail stores have a greeter who welcomes people as they enter the store, but have no one to say “thank you” as the customers leave with their purchases?

Even worse, there are the stores that have people at the exits checking everyone’s shopping bags to make sure nothing is being stolen. How many thieves are caught or prevented by this? A few a week? That is not necessarily a good trade-off for making hundreds of people a day feel like their privacy is being violated or, worse, that they are being falsely considered as shoplifters.

People often cite the phrase that first impressions matter most. From a marketing perspective, I disagree. I often write that it is the last impression that matters most.

For instance, you may have a wonderful check-in experience and an enjoyable in-flight experience, but if your bags are not on the carousel promptly (or at all) at your final destination that will be the thing you remember most about your flight and the airline you flew.

Or, you may have wonderful help in the aisles of a store, but if you encounter a rude and surly cashier at the check-out counter that will be what you remember most of that particular visit to that store.

The entire shopping experience at Amazon is a delightful experience. This company understands the mentality of people who want to buy books, videos, CDs, and other merchandise from an online outlet. Likewise, Borders understands the mentality of people who want to buy books, videos, CDs, and other merchandise in a “bricks and mortar” retail outlet. Both are sellers of books. But, more important, both are sellers (and deliverers) of unique customer experiences.

The success of Starbucks comes not just from the taste of their coffee, but from the customer experiences they deliver to their sit-down and chat, take-away, and even drive-through customers. Buying and drinking a coffee from Starbucks is an experience, one that an increasing number of customers around the world appear to enjoy and repeat.

One of the secrets to increasing customer loyalty is to fully understand all the experiences customers have with your organization when they investigate, evaluate, purchase, use, and dispose of your products and services. Each point of interaction is an opportunity to build long-term customer loyalty. Each point of interaction is an opportunity for your organization to better understand your customers.

Your competitors can copy your products, replicate your services, and match your pricing strategies.

This means that the customer experience you deliver is one of the few marketing advantages remaining to keep your customers loyal and to convert occasional buyers into long-term and loyal customers.

In a world of customer experiences, sustainable growth will come to those who monitor and improve the experiences of customers at each and every point of interaction.

KEY POINT:  every point of interaction is an opportunity to build long-term customer loyalty.

TAKING ACTION:   walk through every location that your customers visit or see. What needs cleaning, fixing, brightening, toning down? Who are the staff talking with:  themselves or customers?  What do customers see in your environment ─ a company in control or one so cluttered it appears to be in control of nothing?

Touch everything your customers will touch. What feels good? What does not? What is warm?  What is cold? Is it nice to feel?  How do you react to this? How do your customers react to this?

Close your eyes and listen to the environment. What do you hear? Is the music too loud or not appropriate for your target customers? Are the staff talking about themselves or about customers and their needs?

Examine all forms.  Fill them out as if you were a customer. How can these be improved?

Call your call center with a complaint. How is this handled?

Call your call center with a query. How is this handled?

Review your website. How easy is it to contact your organization via the website? What information is lacking or missing (from a customer’s perspective)?

This article is mostly excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

Customer Points of Interaction

Gaining a Competitive Edge at the Point of Interaction

A critical aspect of customer retention are the key touch points where customers see, hear, feel, taste, touch, and experience your products, services, people, environment, processes, procedures, policies, and attitudes.

This is extremely true in many of today’s markets, where intense competition and commodity functions and features of competing product offers lead to price-driven and promotion-driven marketing tactics.

As I have written numerous times, the experiences customers receive through their interactions with your organization will make or break your ability to develop a long-term relationship with them. The experiences customers receive will also impact your immediate sales and short-term relationships, as well as any hope you have of turning casual customers into loyal ones.

Competitive advantages are eroding faster than ever in today’s world.

Great products, top-notch technologies, and superb customer service are merely the cost of entry into today’s markets. How do you get a sustainable edge when all of these supposedly competitive advantages are easily replicated?

One route to a sustainable competitive edge is how your organization interacts with customers.

According to the authors of the article Beyond Better Products: Capturing Value in Customer Interactions (MIT Sloan Management Review), “customers often value how they interact with their suppliers as much or more than what they actually buy.” Their conclusions were based on data collected from more than 1,500 senior executives in interviews and discussion groups on the topic “why do your customers choose to buy from you rather than your competitors?”

I believe the authors are correct, especially when it comes to services and non-tangible purchases (creative services from an agency, legal advice from a law firm, recommendations and therapies from a health care provider, etc.).

Taking this further, authors Jeffrey F. Rayport and Bernard J. Jaworski argue in their book Best Face Forward: Why Companies Must Improve Their Service Interfaces With Customers that overwhelmingly intense competition and markets where products and services become commodities overnight have combined to make superior interface capabilities the only lasting competitive advantage.

According to them, companies must create more effective (yield a better quality customer interaction) and more efficient (incent a better interaction at a lower cost per interaction) interfaces with customers to create and sustain true competitive advantages. Other than their overuse of the word interfaces (I much prefer interactions, as it is more consumer friendly and less of a technical lingo), these authors are on the right track.

If you are interested in learning more about their views, there is an excellent CMO Magazine audio interview with former Harvard Business School Professor Rayport. It is well worth listening to this 30-minute interview as Rayport explores why the points of interactions that determine how customers view a company has become the new frontier of competitive advantage.

At the end of the day, the customer experiences at every point of interaction with your organization create the brand experience. To keep customers returning, these unique brand experiences must be customer-focused and virtually imitation proof.

Doing so not only creates a unique corporate brand that cannot be copied, but simultaneously creates strong emotional and rational reasons for your good customers to continuing doing business with you.

Your points of interaction with customers may be the only competitive advantage you have. They may also be your weakest points. The old proverb about a chain being only as strong as its weakest link applies readily to the strength of your customer relationships and the points of interaction upon which these relationships are built.

The bottom line is: if you are not delivering the right kinds of customer experiences at every point of interaction, all your other relationship building efforts will be for naught.

KEY POINT:  one route to a sustainable competitive edge is how your organization interacts with customers.

TAKING ACTION:  have your senior managers brainstorm and develop a list of answers to the question “why are your customers buying from you and not from your competitors?” Analyze these responses in terms of product features/functions and the ways customers interact with your organization.

Which of your customer interfaces are machine driven? Which are people driven? Which are a combination of the two? Survey your key customers to ascertain if these interfaces are delivering the quality of interactions they want and, if not, how would they like to see changes made?

Give us a call or an email to discuss your customer interactions strategy. We can help you analyze your needs and work with you to create better interactions that cannot be copied or replicated. You may also benefit from our two-day workshop on Innovative Strategies for Reaching (and Keeping) Good Customers or from our half-day interactive program Customer Retention: Creating Value for Customers in the Service Sector.

 

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in paperback ($13.88) and Kindle formats ($3.88).