Category Archives: Customer Service

customer service skills, case studies, how to keep customers and clients happy.

Are You the Director of First Impressions?

“Director of First Impressions”

I snapped this picture a few weeks ago while i was visiting my local Scotiabank branch here in Toronto.  I’m not sure how widely used this new labelling is – maybe it’s a national or even international initiative – but it’s eye-catching to say the least.  For me I immediately responded to it because as you know I’m a big fan of interpersonal skills, and I run a coaching program and a workshop entitled “The Art of Small Talk & Winning First Impressions.”  The focus of the training, which has been running since 2007, has always been to help those with technical skills or social shyness to improve their business or social interactions, and leave a lasting positive impression.  This is important to build and enhance relationships in our network or social circle.

What I find interesting is that a bank has chosen to change the typical ‘Help Desk‘ label to this new title, since banks provide a large portion of my clientele.  🙂  Yes, I’ve trained many accountants, financial advisors and planners, wealth management managers, auditors, consultants and the list goes on.  Not only are soft skills extremely important for client engagement in the banking industry, but also for team cohesion.

I love this new sign as to me it signifies the bank wants to be more approachable and communicative with it’s customers, and also – that it is aware that the first person we speak to is indeed the Director of First Impressions.  🙂

Are you the Director of First Impressions at your place of business?  Are you good at it?  Or is there a better fit for this role in the office somewhere?  These are some questions I’d like you to ask yourself and your team while examining who speaks to customers first and how do they interact with the typical customer.

Dealing with “Fishy” Customer Service

gone-fishingMy friend recently received some strange customer service while dealing with a mid-sized company located in the USA.  He had purchased some sport fishing products about a year ago and, to his surprise, when he reached for the pole a couple of weeks ago, it broke in two.  He is very familiar with and loyal to this particular brand, and was shocked with the pole snap because it has a good name in the market.  Therefore he was convinced this breakage was not normal and must be faulty, and so took pictures to send to the company via email.  He also included a photo of the original receipt.

He emailed the company with the 3 pictures, and their response was so short and to the point it gave him the feeling of rudeness.  It read basically “Please send us the pictures in a standard format, like JPEG.”  Now I’m a big fan of making emails short and to the point, but that is ridiculous.  Where’s the sugar?  Where’s the concern, empathy or reassurance that they will look into this matter?

This is the point when my friend contacted me as apparently I’m a bit more tech-savvy than he, and so I helped covert the 3 original photos to .jpg and we emailed the company again, referencing the new file number they had also provided him.

He got an email the next day basically saying the same thing – that they could not see the pictures and to please send them in standard format.  I double-checked our email and assured him that we did indeed send the photos as jpeg, but also suggested we send a new, fresh email with the jpegs attached, so that they do not get them confused with the old pictures that are sure to be on the thread.  That is what I assume might have happened.

The response to that email was basically “Send us a picture showing the date of purchase.”  What?  We wondered who was on the other end of this computer.
Regardless we took a new picture of the receipt that showed the date of purchase and jpeg’d it and emailed it to them with the reference file number.  Their response the next day was “Please pay a processing fee of $9.95.”  I kid you not.

This morning my friend had reached his limit in patience and wrote an email complaining about the time wasted in these emails, noting his confusion over the mysterious processing fee, and swearing that he would never use nor recommend their products again.  He luckily called me before he pressed SEND.

He read it to me over the phone and asked for feedback.  I asked him “What is your goal?”  He replied to tell them how he feels.  I suggested that the chance of resolving the original issue is very low if you share your feelings and then sever ties.  I advised him to use the 1-800 number and call the company and speak to someone about this issue instead of firing off the ‘burning-bridges’ letter.  I told him we both understand that the person on the other end of the computer is customer-service handicapped, so more emails, including the letter, will get no response or at best a one-liner.  I told him to keep calm and call them, and just ‘follow up’ on the previous emails, and ‘inquire’ about the processing fee.  He agreed.
He called me back swiftly and told me that the company will be sending him a new fishing pole – but they just require a small processing fee.  My friend should receive the new product in a week. 🙂

By keeping his cool and not resorting to threats and ultimatums, and by not allowing the truly terrible customer service emails to interfere with his right to seek answers and possibly get reparation for his broken pole, my friend was able to find the true meaning behind the cryptic and stunted emails.  By ‘upgrading’ the communication from computer to phone, he found out the company’s true intentions to replace his product, and will now get it in short order.

The main lessons here I think are:
1 – don’t lose your cool not matter how frustrating the communication is
2 – if you don’t understand emails, pick up the phone
3 – never close the door on a brand you actually like and want to keep using
4 – don’t assume you know what the other party is thinking.  Get a clear answer.
5 – Jpegs are a common format for sharing photos
6 – It’s okay to use friends who are tech-savvy and/or knowledgeable about professional communication strategies. ☺

Your Communication Coach,

Books I Read and Recommend for Improving Communications

I love to share information and recommend resources to my friends and clients, and love hearing about books and authors that have made a difference in their life too.  Like many I have an Amazon page that lists the books I use in my coaching and training to help clients and teams improve their skills.  The skills we may focus on include effective interpersonal skills, reading body language, small talk and rapport-building skills, leadership development skills, professional communication strategies, presentations, conflict management, ESL (English as a second language) improvement including grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, etc.  There are even a couple martial arts books in there too!  🙂   If you’d like to know what books I read and recommend, please check out:

“Ric’s Recommended Communication Skills Training Bookstore”

Happy Reading!

The Old Bait and Switch? – Not the Best Idea for Good Customer Service

Pacific_oystersMy wife and I went to a restaurant recently and experienced something that I think is all too common, at least in Toronto. If you are not familiar with the expression from the title, a ‘bait and switch’ is when you hook someone’s interest with something that is very enticing, and then switch it to something of lesser interest or value once the potential customer has already committed. Here is our story of mediocre customer service:

We knew this restaurant in our area and had been there a couple times before. It is a mid-to-high range restaurant that serves great seafood. When we checked online their website was advertising a ‘happy hour’ menu with ‘buck a shuck’ oysters and cheaper draft beer. We were ‘hooked’ and visited the place.

When we sat down we asked about the happy hour menu and the waitress confirmed the oyster special – but not the beer one. I asked about the cheaper draft special and she said that they are ‘not doing that right now’ and that ‘probably next week’ they will start that.

Interesting that a company can advertise online a special but not honor it when guests arrive! Bait and switch tactic! I was not impressed…

We ordered beer anyway and had a dozen oysters, and a couple more items that we were sharing.   Later we ordered another beer each and another round of oysters. My wife and I decided that to finish off we would split an order of fish and chips. The menu clearly states an order of fish and chips is $14, but if you want 2 pieces, it’s $19. We only wanted a single order to share so I told the waitress we’d like an order of fish and chips.

Guess what came to our table? A lovely order with two pieces of fish on it. I soured. I told my wife that I’m sure they will charge us for the upgrade that I did not ask for, and I was not happy. A server must clarify if you want the second piece of fish, even if there are two people sharing food, in my opinion. The server should not be allowed to think for me or guess what is best. I specifically asked for ‘an order’ of fish and chips.

Anyway, time to go. I had had enough of this place for now. It’s too bad really because there was a male server who sometimes helped us and he seemed really good, and I wondered if he would have made the same automatic upgrade of our dish as she did. My guess is no.

When the bill came I asked my wife to check it to see if we were charged the extra $5 and sure enough – we were! But just as I sat there thinking about if and how I would deal with this extra charge, my wife said “but they forgot to charge us for the second round of oysters!” I smiled and knew that the restaurant gods were on my side that day! Normally I am happy to let a server know if they have missed something, but today that was not going to happen.

I paid for the bill, and we left, and on the way home I laughed and smiled so much! My sour mood was replaced with a feeling of justice and equality in the world. The waitress had charged us an extra $5, but missed $12, so we were up $7! It may have been a small victory, but it was a sweet one for me.

The lesson for servers out there is to understand if you are going to increase the price of anything on any order, clarify first that the customer is okay with it.

The lesson I learned actually is something I already knew, which is that I can’t take anything for granted and must be clear to the staff of what I’m ordering, especially in a case where an item has two choices, like a small and a large portion. I shouldn’t have assumed that the server would know ‘an order’ does not mean ‘feel free to upgrade our order without my permission just because there are two of us here and you want to make an extra $5.’

VIA Rail Employee Made My Mother Smile

Hello fellow customer service advocates of Toronto!
Today’s post is a little late, but as the saying goes, it’s better late than never!  (By the way, isn’t it sad how people often don’t post about good service, but quickly will post about bad service?  Why can’t we be balanced in our online reviews?  LOL)

My mother visited us Torontonians on the weekend after the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, as she couldn’t come to Toronto on the actual holiday.  No matter, her family here in T-Dot including myself made sure she had a good time, as always, and took her to the new Ripley’s Aquarium.  It was very cool, but that’s another post.  Anyway the family members up here had Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday and on Sunday my mom was booked to leave on a later VIA train.  This would be Sunday October 19th that I am referring to, around 6 pm.

When we arrived at Union station, even though we were early, there was already a long line-up for her train.  The electronic departure sign indicated that the train was already boarding, but our line was not moving.  I told my mom to stand put and I went to inquire because, well, ya never know right?  🙂
So I spoke with a friendly VIA RAIL gentleman at the front of the line, where the business lounge is, and I asked about the train departure time.  He asked to see my ticket and I then told him I was inquiring on behalf on my mom.  He then asked “Oh, how old is your mom…like over 60?”  I said “Yes, she is” and he said “Bring her here.”  I noticed some elderly folks and a pregnant woman sitting in the lounge, and then felt a bit guilty and stated “but my mom’s very healthy!” and he said “it’s okay.”  So I retrieved my mom, and told her not to walk ‘too fast’ and to follow me.  When we arrived the VIA gentleman expressed his surprise at my mother’s youthful looks (always a great thing to say to a lady!)  and she smiled and said she would be turning 63 soon!  He invited her to sit down and we all chatted about the little things in life while we waited for the official boarding, which was a little behind.  I was so happy she didn’t have to stand in the very long line-up, and I was not aware of the “over 60 lounge” policy.  I didn’t catch the name of the VIA gentleman, although I did scan for a name tag, but he was a healthy-looking 57 year old French-Canadian with a warm smile and hearty laugh, who was able to reduce stress and discomfort for those around him.

When boarding was finally announced, the VIA gentleman turned to my mother, the pregnant lady and those others in the lounge and waved them forward.  My mother, always the polite one, wasn’t sure if she deserved this special first-class treatment.  But he urged her on and I could tell from the look in his eye that there was a brief window of time he was trying to get her through, before the line started moving.  I ushered her on, and she said thank you and good bye to the gentleman.  She gave me a quick kiss and hug and I pushed her on.  She was one of the first to board.  As she went up the escalator out of sight, I turned to leave, but wanted to thank the kind gentleman first.  I could see now he was quickly in the midst of a sea of travellers, checking tickets and answering questions.  A handshake was impossible, but I did catch eyes and bow my head to him, and smile.  He bowed and smiled back.

I then left, and as I did, went past an incredibly long line-up.  I was so thankful my mom, though healthy, didn’t have to stand in it.  After all, she may look 50, but she is almost 63!  🙂

I truly appreciate what this VIA RAIL employee did for us, and others in need.  Thank you!

WestJet Christmas Miracle! Real-Time Giving

This is a very heart-warming example of marketing done right, i.e. the company gets great exposure, but the customer also gets something great in return!  Just watch and see, and then ask yourself if you’ve ever seen something similar done by another company.  This is great!  And it was partly filmed at Toronto’s Pearson Airport.  🙂

Ikea Has Good Karma For One Lucky Customer

A short while ago I was on Facebook scanning the news feed and I saw that my cousin’s wife had posted a sad experience about having their van broken into, and of all things, HALF of an Ikea table, still in the brown non-descript box, was taken.  Did the thieves know what they were taking?  Probably not.  They probably just grabbed something they could carry, as it would have taken two of them to carry the heavy awkward box, just to ‘be cool’ or ‘be wannabe thugs’ or whatever ‘street cred’ they were after.  So my poor cousin and his wife were not only feeling violated by being the victims of a break and enter on their van, but they were then left with one of two boxes of an Ikea table, that incidentally wasn’t even something they were purchasing for their own use!  What to do?  What would you do?

I read this post on Facebook by my cousin’s wife yesterday:
So I went to Ikea to see if they could refund me half my table back or let me just buy box 1 of 2… I know, long shot right?! Well not only did they do just that, they did one better, they gave me a gift card for the full amount so I could purchase another table!!! Ikea, you rock!!! Great customer service is still out there, as well as good people…. Karma;)”

I was thrilled to read this positive result from such an ugly event.  Now I don’t know if the Ikea employees were following a standard protocol, or felt sorry for her and empathized with her sad story, or succumbed to her charismatic story-telling, but whatever the reason, Ikea not only made her and her family happy, but got some great word-of-mouth advertising on the world’s largest social media platform (and now here too!).   This goes to show you that truly great customer service is about listening, empathy, genuine care for your customer, and two-way trust and loyalty.
Ikea – Swedish for Good Karma!  

Airline Security Spoof – But How Much of it is True?

This is a funny video spoofing U.S. airline security personnel and the hoops passengers (i.e. customers) need to go through to board an airplane these days.  Even though it seems an exaggeration to me, I wonder if people out there have encountered something similar?  Feel free to leave a comment if you have!  Enjoy!

TTC Gets an A for Effort on ‘Personal Car’ April 1st Video

Many companies and celebrities had fun with this year’s April Fool’s Day, including the TTC – Toronto Transit Commission.  I watched the above video, knowing it was a gag, and felt smug knowing I don’t break any social rules while in transit.  I see plenty of people who do.  I hate their actions.  I don’t hate them as a person, but I hate what they seemingly represent – a nameless member of a crowd who can do anything they want to and they know no one will call them on it – at least in Toronto (because ‘everyone is weird here anyway’, right?)

I give the TTC an A for effort with this video, but a B at best for performance.  No worries – it wasn’t supposed to be an expensive training video – just a gag with a point.  And I love their point.

We as riders love to complain about the TTC staff (drivers and operators) and sometimes they deserve it, but I love the fact that this video illustrates the more pervasive issue on the transit, and that is customer behaviour.   I almost wish (almost…) that TTC employed ‘social police’ that would come around the trains and give out warnings and tickets for fines to the people who listen loudly to their music on their phones (with no head phones), who put their bags all over the floor or in the seat next to them, who stand broadly in front of the doors that people need to exit and board from, who pig out loudly and messily, and those that have inappropriate loud conversations with friends in person or over the phone.  I’ve heard hard-core cursing, racism, sexism and general craziness during my rides over the years!  I’ve seen a dude roll a joint in a busy car at rush hour without a care in the world.  I’ve seen scam artists try to persuade others to give them money.

I’ve also seen kindness, tolerance, patience and happiness, and that is what I mostly see every day.

I am glad to know that I am one of the many positive contributors to a better way on the TTC.  I hope this video helps to create more.  Good job TTC!

Been to Starbucks Lately?

My wife is a big fan of Starbucks. When asked, she says she has no problem paying a little extra (compared to other leading coffee shops in Toronto) for the better tasting coffee (in her opinion) and the proper customer service. I found this video of Starbucks Customer Service online. No it’s not in Toronto and yes it seems like a Starbucks PR vid, but anyway, take a look and a listen to how the manager explains his version of customer service.  What do you think?