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Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

“No Problem”

Friday, October 5th, 2012

I don’t know what is going on with customer service lately.   The next time you purchase something, or ask a question, or request a service, listen for the response.  

 Me:  “I’d like to purchase that television.”  Clerk:  “No problem.”

 Me:  “Would you give me directions to the shoe department?”  Clerk:  “No problem.”

 Me:  “I believe you gave me the wrong bag.” Clerk: “No problem.”

 Me:   “I’d like to order the lobster with that fine (expensive) bottle of wine.”  Clerk: “No problem.”

 Me:  “Thank you.” (after purchasing $182 of groceries, handing over cash and receiving change).   Clerk:  “No problem.” 

 How did the words “no problem” become the go-to response from service providers?  How did it get to this point that the service provider uses words that make me feel like I, the customer, have done something wrong, created a “problem” and they are graciously telling me “not to worry about it”?

After interviewing Service Technicians from gases and welding distributorships across the country (See article in September’s Welding & Gases Today), my faith in customer service has been restored.  These guys often deal with customers in crisis, as an equipment breakdown has a domino effect, usually ending at the sales numbers. 

So when a customer needs it fixed, they need it fixed right now.   Service Techs get this. And they do everything they can to get the customer up and running, as fast as they can.  Most of them will say they gravitate toward the broken equipment no one else can fix.  They like figuring things out, working on complex challenges. Hearing the words “nN problem” from a gases and welding service technician is met with relief. 

Independent distributors are quick to say that their customer service sets them apart from the competition. Listen to how your employees respond to customers.  They’re saying words like “Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” “Can I help you” rather than “No problem.”  Why?  Because they know that customer service does set the company apart.

So as I fork over a thousand dollars and change to the clerk at the electronics store for a new TV, and he responds with, “No problem,”  I will sigh and hope that this fad goes away like other words (remember the overuse of “paradigm,” “buzzword” and “sea change”).  

Perhaps I’ll ask him, “Why would it be a problem for you to accept my money, answer a question, or provide customer service?” and hope he can explain it to me.

Putting The “Service” In “Service Technician”

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

A service tech—be it a welding equipment repair technician or cryogenic installation technician—must be many things. A technician must be skilled, of course. But skill can be gained through training. Perhaps as much as anything, a technician must be able to interact and communicate with customers. It’s right there in the name—service technician. And great service is not an attribute that is easily taught.

One distributor manager noted recently that service techs are not like salespeople, who are used to being singled out and praised for meeting their goals. Well, all of that is about to end. With Service Technicians Month in our midst, Welding & Gases Today is doing everything it can to recognize the industry’s technicians. And because this aspect of customer service is so important, we want to reward the best example of customer service from a service tech.

During the month of September, W&GT is holding its first ever Customer Service Technician Contest. The concept is simple: share your stories of service techs delivering great customer service. Then it’s up to members to vote on which technician tale is most deserving. Deserving of what? I’m glad you asked.

GAWDA’s supplier members have kicked in to help us honor the industry’s best purveyor of service. The winner will receive more than $500 in prizes provided by industry suppliers. We’ll reveal details of the prize throughout the month of September.

So what do you have to do to take part? It’s simple. Head on over to the Welding & Gases Today group on LinkedIn and look for the discussion called “Customer Service Technician Challenge.” Add your story to the discussion any time during the month of September. Here’s a tip: the earlier you add your entry, the more time people will have to vote for your story.

Finally, it’s up to industry members to cast their votes. To vote, visit the discussion on LinkedIn and simply click the “Like” link under your favorite story. Voting will continue throughout the month of September and run until October 15. You can vote for more than one, so you don’t have to worry about a “better” entry popping up later on. Just be sure to check back every few days for new entries.

So show us your customer service in the spirit of Service Technicians Month—and win some great prizes in the meantime. Visit the main contest page for full details and the latest updates.

UPDATE: When we set out to create this contest, we had a goal of at least $500 in mind. Since the writing of this blog, I found out that Abicor Binzel has generously contributed $500 in cash for the contest winner. I can’t reveal any other prizes just yet, but needless to say, there’s much more to come. The winner will receive more than $1,000 in prizes.

Where Do You Rank Among Your Competitors?

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Plastic tape measurePicking up on my blog last week about being accountable for good service (“How Do You Know If You Have Bad Customer Service”), it’s important to look at service through the customer’s eyes. When it’s products—be it a welding machine, a cylinder of gas, etc—it’s easy to know if you’re meeting your customer’s needs. But service can be more elusive and difficult to measure in a customer’s eyes.

Arguably worse than bad service is spending time and resources to provide unwanted or unnecessary resources. This is just another reason why it is so important to know and weigh the ways your customers are measuring you as a distributor…So how exactly are they measuring you?

According to Bill Moore, senior vice president with bearings manufacturer SKF, “Top-tier distributors can bring into play engineering assistance from their manufacturer suppliers to optimize the performance of components.” That service, Moore goes on to tell Industry Week, can help address problems like recurring equipment failure.

Another thing manufacturers like SKF look for is how prepared a distributor is to react to an emergency situation. Within the gases and welding industry, distributors have been tested over the last year and a half by numerous challenges ranging from supply shortages like helium and acetylene to weather catastrophes (tornadoes, blizzards, etc). Moore says an emergency response plan is a sign of a top-notch distributor.

There are countless ways to measure a distributor, and perhaps the best way to know what your customers care about is to ask. Whether you use formal survey, a personal conversation or even social media, your customer will appreciate the fact that you care what he thinks.

How do your customers measure you as a distributor? Share by leaving a comment.

How Do You Know If You Have Bad Customer Service?

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Customer ServiceLast month, I pondered where the industry may be headed, and I received an interesting comment from a distributor sales manager in response. Along with some really insightful remarks about automation and energy markets, I was really struck by his comment about customer service:

We are becoming a nation of complacency when it comes to customer service. We expect no service, therefore we get little in the customer service department. Our industry is not immune to this dilemma. As a matter of fact we may be just as guilty. Most of us think our companies have excellent customer service, when in fact, we don’t.

Keeping our eye on the “ball” when it comes to customers will be key to sustainable growth today and in the future.

GAWDA members take great pride in their service. Particularly with the lively discussions about industry consolidation that are taking place at Welding & Gases Today Online, the issue of service is brought up time and time again as the one thing that differentiates smaller distributors.

But how do you know if you have really good service? You can promise your customers top-notch service, but if even one employee within your organization does not buy into your service mentality, it can compromise the entire culture. So how do you make employees accountable for service?

I put the question out to the Welding & Gases Today group on LinkedIn and received some great responses. Here are a few of them:

Scott Smith says, “The best solution I’ve seen is to make service issues incentivized. Customer Service comes in many forms: shipping papers, billing, timely deliveries, not backordering product, etc. It’s a lot easier to define and track performance than people realize.”

Jacob Marion responds, “Financial incentives do play a part in encouraging good customer service among employees, but it is easy to over emphasize financial incentives. More than we want money, we want something to believe in. Good employees, who care about their work and their customers, believe in something.”

Tom Farley says, “What we in management do is more important than what we say. Your people will follow your lead.”

Now I extend the question to you: How do you hold yourself and your employees accountable for delivering on your customer service promise?

How To Become Irreplaceable To Your Customers

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

In asking GAWDA members about the best business books they’ve ever read, Jim Collins’ book Good To Great is one that comes up time and time again. Perhaps there’s something alluring about being “great” to companies that pride themselves in service. If you ask Jim Collins, very few businesses can be called “great,” and many business owners aren’t even interested in getting to great. This sentiment, touched on in the video above, is echoed in Collins’ recent interview with Inc. Magazine.

Good To GreatSo what does it mean to be great? In the interview, Collins distinguishes between inputs and outputs. For example, some companies have very strong culture, but Collins says culture is a contributor to greatness and not the end result. Great service, the pride of GAWDA members, would also fall under the inputs category.

In determining if your company is great or not, Collins poses the question, “If your company disappeared, would it leave a gaping hole that could not easily be filled by any other enterprise on the planet?”

Think about it for a second: Is your company replaceable? Would your customers’ business be worse off if you weren’t around? It follows that becoming a great company (and a great leader) means becoming irreplaceable to your customers.

Reading the interview with Collins jogged my memory back to the First Quarter issue of this year, when we took a page from Collins and asked GAWDA distributors what they would have to do to become great in 2012. Members offered some great answers, like “Help customers figure out a better way to do their jobs” and “Train employees in the time-honored art of fundamental problem solving.” These certainly have the makings of irreplaceable companies. You can read the responses of 43 different distributors in the 2012 Business Forecast.

Assuming your company has room to improve, what can you do to become irreplaceable? Collins offers 12 questions a business owner must reflect on if he or she is truly committed to becoming great. Do we have the right people on the bus and in the key seats? What are the core values and core purpose on which we want to build this enterprise for 100 years? “The challenge is not just to build a company that can endure, but to build one that is worthy of enduring,” says Collins. These questions are certainly a good start to becoming irreplaceable. The full list of questions appear on page 4 of the article.

On his website, Collins also offers some other tools to help businesses on their way to greatness, including the Good To Great Diagnostic Tool and the Vision Framework, which helps leaders articulate their organization’s vision. Access these tools here.

Do you agree with Collins’ definition of what makes a company great? In what ways do you (or can you) differentiate your business to become irreplaceable to your customers?

Word Of Mouse: Online Reviews Matter

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

In a competitive field like gases and welding, who doesn’t appreciate a referral every once in a while? Word of mouth is consistently cited by distributors as one of their best forms of marketing. And customers, too, place a lot of trust in word of mouth to make their buying decisions. With that in mind, I wonder to what extent distributors are paying attention to online reviews of their business, if at all.

Online reviews of a business are a form of word of mouth. And believe it or not, people put a lot of trust in online reviews. As far back as April 2009, Nielsen reported that 70% of people trust opinions posted online. While this was focused on consumers rather than B-to-B, anything posted about you online can affect your business. As one distributor recently told me, “Word of mouth can kill your business or it can help your business.”

Just like referrals, sometimes garnering online reviews can take some encouragement. I came across an interesting idea from a discussion on Small Business Trends—setting up an online review kiosk in your own store. Google has even condoned the practice of setting up a station for Google Places reviews, as long as you don’t offer incentives that might sway the review process. Setting up a kiosk in your store is a great way to bring it to the forefront of your customer’s mind, and to boost your visibility in local Web searches.

My guess (and I have no statistics to back me up) is that the biggest effect of online reviews in a distributor environment would be on walk-in customers. But then again, even B-to-B customers do their research, and a lot of them probably do it online.

I know when I’m looking for a particular type of business, I take into account the number and quality of reviews that a place has on its listing. Also, there’s been talk that a new wave of smartphone apps like Siri and Iris could potentially shift some weight from business websites and place it on company listings on sources such as Google Places. All the more reason to get on board and encourage your customers to review you.

How are you asking customers for referrals and online reviews?

Black Friday’s Not Just For Big Box Stores

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Black Friday evokes images of swarming crowds, trampling each other for “doorbuster” deals, an experience typically reserved for the “big box” type stores moreso than, say, an independent gases and welding distributor. But there’s good news. Distributors that are more concerned about offering great service than slashing prices can take advantage of the Black Friday frenzy too.

I came across a great article on inc.com called “Your Last-Minute Black Friday Plan,” in which author Geoffrey James explains precisely how to deliver doorbuster style service on Black Friday. Distributors don’t expect—and may not even want—throngs of customers bursting through their doors at 4 a.m. this Friday. Instead, James says to host an invitation-only event, rife with top-notch service and amenities (free coffee, anyone?). Give customers the VIP treatment, and don’t focus on making a sale—instead, socialize and get to know your customers better.

The best part of James’ Black Friday plan is that it can be done in two days. So gather up your customer email list and let the preparations begin! If there’s one thing I know about GAWDA members, it’s that they pride themselves in their service. An invitation-only Black Friday event is the perfect way to showcase that service and see a little boost in sales while you’re at it.

What’s your experience running special events or promotions on Black Friday? Got an idea that works? Share it by leaving a comment.

What Does Service Really Mean?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Customer service can be an overused buzzword, or it can also be the reason customers do business with you. Ask most GAWDA members what they are known for, and the answer is service. “Sales success in this industry is all about differentiating your company and yourself through outstanding service,” says Bryan Keen, president at Keen Compressed Gas, in “Seven Things Every Salesperson Should Know.” When it comes to service, what makes the difference between simply waving the flag of customer service and creating customer loyalty?

My quest into customer service started when I read an article in Inc. Magazine called, “How To Turn Disaster Into Gold,” written by Jason Fried, co-founder of 37signals, a Chicago-based software firm, which explains how the company came out of a potentially disastrous situation with a great reputation for service. There are some great lessons in Fried’s tale, most important of which is the fact that customer service should be personal.

Lessons From The MouseWhile discussing the article with my co-workers, I was turned onto a book called “Lessons From The Mouse.” The book, written by former Disney employee Dennis Snow, breaks down the Disney philosophy for customer service into 10 lessons. Snow’s lessons can be applied to any company and any job. Afterall, he explains, everyone has a customer (That’s lesson 8). Given the service-oriented nature of GAWDA distributors, I think the book has particular relevance for the gases and welding industry.

I found some of Snow’s lessons particularly valuable in getting a better grasp on customer service. One lesson, “Figure Out What Ticks Off Your Customer—And Then Do Something About It,” illustrates how eliminating customers’ frustrations can create loyalty. At Disney, where long lines were a constant problem, the park listened and developed answers like FastPass—where customers could bypass waiting in line—or engaging riders by making the line part of the ride, like the Tower of Terror, where waiters hear about the Twilight Zone back story. In effect, customers would end-up missing part of the ride if they missed the line. Now that’s a good problem to have.

These creative solutions have helped to boost customer satisfaction at Disney, and it’s the same mentality that helped Fried and his 37signals team. All 10 of Snow’s “Lessons From The Mouse” are interesting and insightful, and the book is a fairly quick read.

What are some examples of customer frustrations that you’ve addressed to create a positive customer experience?

Also, fresh off of Valentine’s Day, check out “Show Your Customers Some Love,” where Ross Shafer—who spoke at GAWDA’s 2010 Annual Convention in Maui—explains how developing a human connection is instrumental to creating customer loyalty.

What Really Makes A GAWDA Member

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Over the past two weeks, I’ve spoken with almost 30 GAWDA distributors about their outlooks for 2011 as we put together our much-anticipated industry forecast issue at Welding & Gases Today. In talking with distributors, I’ve been learning a lot about the industry, the challenges distributors face and especially how unique each distributor is. When I started working on GAWDA Media, I knew there was a range, but I had no idea how diverse GAWDA members are.

There are a variety of reasons for the diversity, and a lot of it, from what I’m learning, is customer-oriented. The fingerprint of each market is uniquely defined by the different industries in each respective region. The result is that some GAWDA members put greater emphasis on gases, some on welding, and many on other product areas. Sometimes it’s medical equipment, safety products, propane, even swimming pool equipment.

Tommy Hagan, president of Logan Hagan Welding (Statesboro, GA) says, “If you go back far enough, we were a Southeast Georgia representative for Campbell’s Soup.” Logan Hagan’s diversity, he says, is due to the size of the market. “There’s not enough business strictly selling welding equipment and gases.” He adds that they are no longer in the soup business.

When members tell me that they don’t fit the typical mold of a welding and gases distributor, I’m finding more and more that such a mold does not exist. Especially during a tough economy, some distributors are considering customer requests for products beyond the scope of what they typically carry. It all comes down to going a little farther for customers. This kind of service is the one thing that is consistent across the board with everyone I’ve spoken to, and it’s the one thing that truly defines GAWDA members.

And because I’d hate to deprive you of your casual Friday video, here’s a video consistent with the theme of breaking the mold. Behold: a man lifting two gas cylinders with his moustache.

Is Customer Service Dead?

Monday, August 16th, 2010

By now, most of you have heard about Steven Slater, the flight attendant who lost his temper and cursed at passengers before making a dramatic exit through the plane’s emergency exit. Since his tirade, Slater is being heralded by many as a hero for standing up to uncooperative passengers and speaking his mind. What does the popularity of Slater say about customer service? Is it dead?

I think the positive attention Slater receives is because people relate to Slater as the service provider—they empathize with disrespectful customers. The age-old adage of business says the customer is always right. We would like to think customers would always be respectful, but every now and then, there is a customer or prospective customer who is less than polite.

While it may be tempting to return the favor, I think it’s important to stop and consider the consequences. Even if they may never do business with you, word travels fast. They are sure to tell people how rude they were treated. Not only will you lose their business, but possibly the business of many others as well. In Slater’s case, he may be a hero to some, but he was also arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and criminal mischief.

So many GAWDA distributors pride themselves on their service. So I’m curious to hear what you have to say about Slater. Was he justified in speaking his mind? Where do you draw the line? And how do you deal with disrespectful customers? Is there any recourse at all, or is it best to bite your tongue?

Got a horror story of your own? I’d love to hear it.