Why Target Starts Liquidation in Canada – Where Did Customer Service Go So Wrong?

I had to investigate what went wrong with Target’s launch into Canada. I had been so excited when they were arriving here, delighted that there would be no more line ups at the U.S. border for me. I really enjoyed shopping at Target in the States — in fact, I even looked up the closest location whenever I traveled there, knowing I would find a deal and some things I could not always find in Canada.

So what happened? Customer Service is so much more than smiling and friendly staff. Customer Service is understanding your customers, and executing on that promise. Target may have broken some basic rules of customer satisfaction.

Top 5 Rules for Customer Satisfaction

  1. Identify customers’ needs (from psycho demographics to demographics). Canadians did not want American flag bathing suits on Canada Day long weekend. Also Canada is multi-cultural and not only a fairly tolerant nation, but if you check out large grocery chains here, you will see they try to deliver and stock items for all different cultures, traditions and religions. Rule of thumb: “Know thy Customer”.
  2. Anticipate those needs (think supply chain and software or systems to manage those needs). If your shelves are empty, you lose money. Keep your order entry and transaction process running smoothly and look at the multiple options that YOUR customers want. Try to make sure you’ve got a system and appropriate software to track and fulfill this. If you go International, watch what holidays are different from your and their potential tastes? Also, shipping can be a nightmare when it gets delayed because you forgot certain holidays: for example, BC Day is every February on a particular Monday (it is only a provincial holiday but can wreak havoc on supply chain processes).
  3. Remember the WOW factor. It is always about creating “buzz” and then keeping that “buzz” going. In a matter of months, you become boring unless you can think of something new to introduce. The coffee industry has it right: introducing Candy Cane Frappuccino’s to “Flat White Espresso”.
  4. Don’t expand too fast and manage risks. Test market products, promotions, pricing. Learn and adjust. Plan for dollar fluctuations, snowstorms, blackouts, think “what could happen” and what is our backup plan.
  5. Create a “Culture of Care” starting with the leadership. Leaders have to have high emotional intelligence along with competence. They are sincere, transparent and have the capacity to understand others. They look for resolve. They track, investigate, ask questions, brainstorm and facilitate others to help fix problems from back end supply issues to front line customer service complaints. And by the way, if something is breaking down internally (you can easily identify the issues by going to any meeting and hear your staff complain), I guarantee your customer is getting “whapped in the face” with the problem – and they will go elsewhere. The top companies admit their problems and work on fixing them month by month, year by year.

It is with sadness that I see Target leave Canada, the job loss that this creates, and the impact to our economy when a business goes out of business. I went into developing customer service programs globally because I know if we can keep our customers happy, they keep coming back, and if they keep coming back we can keep more people employed. If we can get and keep more people employed, more money gets re-distributed and a town, city or country gets lifted into a decent or higher standard of living. Money is a current (currency) and it has to flow; poor service internally and externally stops the flow. I hope you care about your customers today, inside and out.

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Customer Service During an Emergency and How to “Keep Calm and Carry On”

The day I arrived for a speaking engagement, Ottawa was rocked by tragic events at and around our Canadian Parliament Buildings. One of our unarmed Canadian soldiers, Officer Cirrillo, was shot in front of the War Memorial that he was guarding. This was followed by more gunshots in the halls of Parliament, and eventually ended with the fatality of the gunman. Before and during my flight to Ottawa, everyone in the airport lounges and on the flight was discussing how our country had changed forever. In fact, I realized it truly had changed as I walked through the Ottawa airport, drove in a taxi and entered my hotel where access had just been reopened. I watched in amazement how everyone dealt with the situation personally and how staff dealt with customers. Most Canadians in my age group or younger have not lived with this kind of tension or unrest.

Not knowing whether the conference was going to commence in the morning, I proceeded to check in. When I got to my room on the 8th floor, my door was unexpectedly ajar. My first thought was that the housekeeping staff had simply left the suite without clicking the door behind them. I almost knocked on the door, but hesitated, considering the events of the day: “What if one of the perpetrators was hiding in the room?” I had not heard any updates on the media yet or how many people may have been involved, only that the lock-down situation had been lifted.

I wondered how many minor incidents like this on that same day became exaggerated incidents as customers and staff operated on High Alert. I wondered whether I should go to the front desk or just enter the room. I asked myself: “How did the hotel staff, airport staff, taxi drivers, waiters, the conference organizers, and anyone else I had met that day deal with the situation and customers in a calm and organized fashion, even if they themselves were afraid?”

As some of my readers know, I worked at an all-male maximum security correctional facility at the age of 19. The situations I encountered were unpredictable and at times frightening; I had no idea that some of those situations would provide me with skills and ideas to keep not only myself safe, but others as well during emergencies. Our training covered firefighting, first-aid, hostage taking and evacuations in contained environments. Our primary role was the safety, security and supervision of 500 incarcerated inmates. We were there for the safety of everyone – guards, inmates and the public. It was not a hotel, but the infrastructure was actually similar. There were rooms, linens, shampoos and meals to be served and people to be checked in and checked out. There were the occasional fires and burst pipes and security breaches and even lock-downs during emergencies or unsafe conditions.

After I spoke with the Front Desk, Security checked my hotel room before I entered, including the bathtub and the patio lock. However, as I went to sleep, I realized we had not checked under the bed (so, yes, I checked). As I observed everyone in Ottawa dealing with customers during those two dramatic days, I was pleased to sense an attitude of “Keep Calm and Carry On”. My client had confirmed they were proceeding with the conference and trade show in the morning as planned (despite being locked in rooms for most of the day). The hotel staff stayed neutral on commenting or giving opinions about the events, despite the newscast blaring in the lobby with all kinds of assumptions. And on my way out of town, the airport staff from security to airline employees continued on in a safe and reasonable manner. The taxi driver explained the areas and streets that were impacted that day and reassured me things were slowly getting back to normal.

Over the years, I’ve followed reports about how staff stayed on board or fled during cruise ship disasters, how hotel staff held their posts and helped guests during hurricanes or floods or even outbreaks of illness. I have also been a flight attendant, and when you are 30,000 feet in the air, you can’t choose to leave because you can’t escape the contained area and customers look to you for guidance and direction during emergencies. When there is a lack of calm, reasonable direction, customers will follow any leader or even another customer who takes charge of the situation (which could have a devastating outcome if they don’t know the surroundings, the safest alternate evacuation routes or the best procedures to follow).

So how does a company prepare staff for unexpected or emergency events?

The goal is to look after both staff safety and customers’ safety.

Here is how to prepare before an emergency:

  1. Assess the risks and do a “what if” analysis (cover the most likely scenarios: earthquakes, power outages, floods, fires, security breaches, illness outbreaks).
  2. Determine what you know and what you don’t know (list them on a whiteboard).
  3. Uncover procedures that are not documented or defined, and update outdated ones.
  4. Develop training modules or have meetings to cover these procedures on a regular basis.
  5. Analyze where staff need additional training or survey staff to determine their skill gaps.
  6. Train staff on the psychological impact that emergency situations have (both during and after) so that when staff experience them, they recognize them and know how to react.
  7. Plan to debrief staff after en emergency event to provide comfort and support, and also to assess what went well and where improvements could be made. (Use a qualified company or train your management). Often, a group discussion guided toward moving forward can offer the immediate support and discussions necessary.

Safety is a big part of customer service. Occasions when things don’t go as planned are when the customer really remembers. I encourage organizations to make the necessary preparations so that both staff and customers feel safe during these times.

On this Remembrance Day, it is a special year to commemorate and honour those who have allowed us to stay “strong, proud and free”. As the saying goes, let’s “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

Elaine Allison

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How Hard is it to Keep Customers Happy When Companies Make Changes to Their Products?

Things change fast and it can be disruptive to the customers’ experience. Technology and automation change, demographics change, trends and tastes change, and even regulation or laws change that impact a business. For example, on July 1st Canada’s “Implied Consent” for internet communications change. I believe I have followed all the rules in that you signed up for my newsletter – and you can always unsubscribe.

A company’s big changes create a lot of little effects (and irritations) for us customers. For example, in the past month my credit card company recently switched to another banking institution and I was issued a new card, and my “points” or level seems to be changing so fast I can’t keep up with what I have or don’t have! My vacation property listing company is also making sweeping changes to their web portal in just a few days; this leaves me with quite a bit of work to update new photos and match items. Even my long-time favorite brands of face makeup and hair gel have changed their product formulas; I can’t replace them with the same quality and am now forced to look at their competitors.

On a grander physical scale, when airports get new terminals and sometimes even new “rail service” (such as in Toronto and Honolulu), these, too, cause changes that affect hurried travellers on a deadline to make their next flight.

How does a company keep up and keep customers happy? I’ve called the call centres, I’ve written emails to the company to check what they could recommend, and even went into the retail store to compare and find something suitable. It can be an exercise in futility for both the service representative and the customer. Often the customer will walk out if they don’t feel they’ve been guided or directed to a possible solution or option.

So what are some simple steps to aid in the transition of a product change? It comes down to training both your customer and staff. In other words, have a change management training program in place.

1. Identify and clearly communicate to staff what the changes are.
2. Gather a list from your staff of the fears they have around these changes. They may be able to anticipate a customer’s complaint and you can be prepared.
3. Use these challenges to identify best possible solutions so your company is “armed” with appropriate answers, suggestions and recommendations. In fact, the company should have identified and implemented the changes or have the “work-around” in place before the new product launch.
4. Determine a communications plan on how you will arm your staff with the information, such as “job aids”, cheat sheets, possible scenarios.
5. Determine a communications plan on how you will “teach” your customers what the differences are. Know how you will use website, emails, newsletters, ads, letters, and phone calls to ensure you are pointing out the “benefits” to the customer (even though the company may be doing the change for its own benefit). Ensure your staff are equipped with the “why” the change and “how” it helps the customer.
6. Ensure that staff members are equipped with a list of possible options (products or solutions) to the expected problems, and that they are clearly matched to a customer’s particular challenge that the change will impact.

Example: Hair gel product discontinued.
Customer Problem – New product does not give same lift
Possible Solutions
• Put all product lines with descriptions on website and guide customer to a selection (This will provide a resource for call centres as well as in-store retail staff to guide customers to)

Example: New Terminal for Departing Airlines
Customer Problem – Traveller gets lost; the taxi or person dropping them off is unaware of the new location. Someone may miss their flight.
Possible Solution
• Airport and airline use social media and internet to get word out.
• When tickets are issued online, an announcement about the changes is highlighted in RED.
• Staff are encouraged to announce the change and suggest ideas pre-emptively
• Provide maps or QR codes with map, or a mobile “app”.
• All ground transportation and local taxi companies are notified.
• Maps are distributed and requested they be put on all websites for related companies.
• Post signage for a period of time both before and after the changes

These are just a few examples to highlight the challenge of keeping customers happy during change. For each change your company will go through, use the power of the whiteboard with a group of leaders and front-line staff to prepare and develop communications and training programs to help everyone including your customers through the transition.

Change is hard on your employees, leaders and customers. Your strategic plan for the change should always have your customer in mind.

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Is “Gluten Free” a New Element of Customer Service?

At first I thought there would be only a special few in certain industries who might need to pay attention to the rising interest in “gluten free”. However, I’ve now realized first hand that this gluten-free fad might not be going away and a lot of industries should pay attention.

It all started after someone told me to try going gluten free to see if I felt better. I said, “No way – I love my bread too much.” Although I felt I had no need, I thought, “Okay, everyone is doing it.” And with seeing the book “Wheat Belly” in every airport, I thought, there must be something to this; I’d tried most every other fad diet – why not this one?

Lo and behold: three days of going with no gluten and my stomach went flat. I was not considered “overweight” either, but in six weeks of gluten-free eating, I lost seven pounds without really trying.

I do work out about three times a week and thought I was pretty healthy – just trying to ward off bone loss and the enjoy some other benefits – but all of sudden I increased my weights and could really pump it on the elliptical without much effort. In addition, I felt no more 3:00 PM need to reach for something (usually coffee). My head was clear, my stomach was flat, and I’d lost weight. Then someone said, “You should not be feeling this good – you should go get tested for celiac.” I replied, “I have no symptoms, I don’t have that!!”

The next time I waited for a prescription, I asked my doctor what I needed to do to get tested for celiac. He said, “Oh that is simple: it is just a simple blood test; it is only around $50 now versus a $5,000 endoscopy (the test where you swallow the camera). We send everyone now. We only used to send the worst cases as a last resort.” Four days later my test came back: I was celiac! That meant no gluten for the REST OF MY LIFE! All the way home in my car, I grieved the thought of never having a Yorkshire pudding or sausage roll again.

I looked everything up online; I bought books, and started cooking a whole new way. I feel amazing, weight has stayed off, and found it “kind of easy” to do this….except going out to eat, and when traveling through airports (especially international routes where you are not allowed to take food with you). As I continued studying and living gluten free, I realized I also had to change my cosmetics, creams, lotions, shampoo, prescriptions and even some pharmaceutical products— even my prescriptions were now making me sick.

Gluten seemed to be in everything and everywhere. In most restaurants (even top end hotels) both chefs and wait staff ignored or didn’t really understand the concept of “gluten free” and avoiding cross-contamination (and the consequence of “…if that happens, I can’t come here again, nor will my family and friends if I’m with them”). That’s potentially a lot of business they would be losing out on — especially if this is not a trend. Unfortunately, the staff brought whatever they usually served as I looked down in horror at the croutons on my salad, or I found out later by looking online that their sauce did indeed have “modified” corn starch.

Believe it or not, it seems corn starch is okay, but “modified” corn starch is not. What an education process this is going to take in any business with their staff that uses gluten in or near their other products. Will the world split in half with those business offering gluten free and (advertising it) and those who don’t?

The awareness of gluten intolerance is getting better, but I ask any of you who produce or provide a product with gluten: are you getting more requests to go gluten free?

I realized it is not just me who chooses not to go to your store, brand, hotel or pick up your product; it is my entire household, so that is up to five of us no longer purchasing.

Most grocery stores in North America now have an aisle or section dedicated to gluten free. Is it a trend that will fade, or is it here to stay?

For me to keep feeling well, the only treatment is to live 100% gluten free without cross-contamination. That means that the food you eat, the cosmetics you use, or the prescriptions you take must not contain gluten, nor be manufactured in warehouses where wheat products are used. Once I started to remove it completely, I now feel the effects of gluten within 10 minutes: I get a sharp pain at the top of my stomach and then brain fog sets in. I have to be really careful and I now travel with my own food. Airports could get much better at offering readily available gluten free food. Lays “regular” potato chips are gluten-free and have become my best friend in an airport (their sales may be up if the gluten-free trend continues!). As I searched, I found several progressive restaurants with gluten-free menus, so of course I take all the family there now and avoid the other establishments.

Last August, I spent a week on the island of Grand Cayman, known as one of the culinary capitals of the world. I was amazed how most restaurants and hotels there have got on board with delicious appetizers, breads/toasts, entrees, and a variety of desserts that all met my new dietary needs. My waiter and the chef from the Westin 7 Mile Beach hotel took such good care of me during my stay. From the time I entered, they stated “No problem, our chef will accommodate your needs.” It was exquisite dining, and they even made up four sample desserts “all gluten-free” just for me. Thank you for taking care of me.

Will gluten-free and other dietary requests become the new customer service norm in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical services industries? We will have to wait and see. I will continue to mystery shop and keep my eye on this trend – mostly because I have to.

Is this a new customer service trend? If it is it will take some staff training and probably you could combine your menus with nut free, dairy free as well. For your staff send them for more information about celiac and those who are adversely affected by gluten, visit: http://www.celiac.ca/

For more information about our training or keynotes on customer service visit: www.elaineallison.com “Transforming Teams into Customer Care Crusaders”.

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Why Suppliers Need to Work Together to Deliver Better Customer Service

Do you work in an interdependent environment, where suppliers can sink each other and you are often left with the customer screaming at you? The customer acquisition cost for everyone is just too high. On the other hand when the supply chain is working beautifully everyone wins. It is shown that satisfied customers add 15% to 20% to a bottom line, because acquisition costs lower dramatically, let alone the costs of correcting service breakdowns. In addition, employees love working for companies that pride themselves on service and the recruitment costs go down significantly as well. Destinations, airports, resorts, malls are all examples of highly interdependent environments. They absolutely count on each other and they can’t work in silos. They really need each other to deliver service well for all of it to work.

Have you ever thought of training or putting on an event where you could all learn together? As you are typically serving the same demographics, so it makes sense to align things. Interactive topics where attendees get engaged could include: trends, competitive analysis, service level standards, packaged pricing or cross-marketing opportunities. The list is endless and I love it when I get to do a needs analysis to develop the program to make it all happen. The results are fabulous and enable business growth for all.

As we all know the internet and social media – can pretty much connect us. Suppliers and clients, and even sometimes friendly competitors, often known as “co-opetition” can use this to their advantage. In the last several months, I’ve been fortunate to either be developing programs, delivering or attending an event for groups of suppliers who all work in an integrated, interdependent environment. The mystery shop results are amazing.

An Example of How Suppliers Can Learn & Work Together – Grand Cayman Aug. 15 2013
If you are a hotel sales & catering manager, tourism association, meeting planner, destination management company, airport, airline, incentive company or even a supplier at a world renowned destination, you may want to attend the SITE Florida/Caribbean Educational Workshop entitled “Destination Meets Incentive Travel 101” on August 15th, 2013 in Grand Cayman. This is in partnership with Cayman Islands Tourism. The attendees will be a cross-section of suppliers and the interactive content it directly focused on how attendees can explore ways to more synergistically work together to bring acquisition costs down and how to attract and retain more customers. For more information click here: http://siteflorida.tixclix.com/266?eid=22e2e15f2a79fa3b51179fda88d61dea

If your organization or association needs assistance in this area, send us an email to find out how we can help. info@elaineallison.com

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Why Every “Touch Point” Counts in Customer Service

What is a “touch point”? A touch point is every occasion when your customer sees or hears your name, logo or ad, visits you on-line or in person, or any point during the transaction from beginning to end.

The two reasons you must understand touch points are:

  1. A Service breakdown can happen at any touch point, resulting in loss of customers; and
  2. Analyzing touch points will help you recognize where you “add value”; delighting customers results in attracting and keeping more customers.

Exploring both of these issues and how to manage every touch point can improve your company tenfold. Having long periods of sustained competitive advantage no longer applies in our technological era, and with fewer and fewer touch points where a human being is involved, service better be great! We as humans are still analog – not digital beings – and we want great service. However, training budgets have been cut to the bare bones, and although companies “build” things to improve a touch point, they often don’t train their employees how and why they did it or even how to implement it. A new menu and remodeled storefront may look great, and “re-branding” with new logos and website may revitalize things to a degree, but if employees don’t understand “why” in context of each touch point, they will continue to do the same thing, or ignore the way the new item was meant to interact with the customer. Exploring touch points is where “things” meet “people”.

Examples of touch points for an airline:

  1. Choosing the carrier (usually on-line these days): finding the route, date, convenient time/connection and pricing. Then looking at reviews or just past experience.
  2. Check In counter: Easy to find and clearly marked, with efficient queue management and seat selection. Now with on-line check-in and no checked bags, customers can miss this touch point altogether, so there is no room to delight or add value here.
  3. Security: Airline has notified customers about liquids/gels and other restrictions as well as time allowances to clear security.
  4. Retail options in their selected airports: since many flights no longer provide reading material, beverages and food, conveniently located retail outlets are actually another touch point (if a customer chooses to take that route) -they avoid bad airports.
  5. Boarding lounge (efficient and organized) or Business class lounges.
  6. Boarding process: Friendly announcements about organizing times to board and who may board first, second, third.
  7. In-flight services from seating to food and beverage service, etc.

I could list many other touch points, but I recommend every department or division in a company do this:

  • get a whiteboard and define all the touch points with their senior executive team
  • note possible service breakdowns
  • list reasonable solutions for items that could be proactively corrected, and
  • list solutions for those service breakdowns that are out of your control (what I call “one-offs”) and work with suppliers to see if they can or will provide a fix.

Also look at touch points for “value add” opportunities; they are often very cost-effective. For example, WestJet simply tells jokes at the point of boarding, which often brings a chuckle or a smile (value-add) – and they typically bring along a repeat customer.

The goals in every customer touch point are to:

  1. Exceed expectations
  2. Delight
  3. Minimize disappointment

What used to delight becomes the norm very quickly. So be on the lookout to “Create New Value Add or Wow Moments” and keep your brand promise.

If your company needs a one-day facilitated session on analyzing touch points, send us an email today. info@elaineallison.com

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The Real Cost of Losing a Customer

They Now Tell 500+ Friends Before They Get to the Parking Lot

One of the most fascinating things that I witness from time to time is when a company can’t handle the discerning customer. This is someone who provides feedback and complains and if the substance of the feedback was actually listened to— it can dramatically help a business improve. Often with just a few tweaks, suggested by the customer, a business can actually save the company time, money and keep their brand promise intact.

Tragically, the feedback of a discerning customer can backfire if the company tries to defend vs. fixing the problem. The business “fires” the customer inadvertently. I think of a recent instance of a dissatisfied customer making some appropriate (and factual) comments to another customer. The owner of the business learned of it defended their position, and terminated the relationship without giving any credit to the substance of the feedback, which pertained to broken equipment and lack of cleanliness. Unfortunately for the business owner, the cost of firing this customer resulted in the loss of 9 other customers also. Someone with over 500+ friends will have told everyone about the interaction before they got to the parking lot.

When a business gets a customer complaint, it’s likely that there are a hundred more with the same opinion, so best to do something about it. The hundred customers that you have not heard from – talk behind your back and now online to hundreds more at a time. Have you ever heard the saying “The Customer is Always Right”? In most cases, they are. I do have a Caveat: If there is an act of violence or someone’s safety is in jeopardy, get immediate assistance; you are probably justified in firing (losing) the customer.

Let’s look at the cost losing a customer by contrasting it to the “life time value” of a customer. The following formula does not include the cost of acquiring a new customer. Here is the sample cost breakdown of losing a customer from the scenario I described above.

    Lifetime Value of a Customer

Scenario: a fitness club, at which equipment maintenance and cleanliness have deteriorated. Membership revenue is generated monthly (/mo).

LOSSES: 1 customer leaves and convinces 8 friends to leave.
9 memberships x $35 /mo = $315 /mo x 12 months = $3,780
5 years (expected length of a typical membership) = $18,900

Firing “one customer” cost that business almost $19,000 in revenue. Do you think it will fix equipment and improve cleaning to retain other customers? How long do you think a company will be in business with these kinds of losses?

Lesson: If you own or help run a business, you better pay close attention to how your customers feel. Failure to do this will be the loss to your business in (1) revenue when the customer walks and (2) potential revenue when they then tell the world. (3) Not to mention potential loss of the entire business and personal loss of income for the owner, all the employees (jobs), and all your suppliers! Ouch!

Granted, sometimes a customer is not your correct demographic. For example, someone who normally travels First Class will have a tough time traveling on a discount carrier, and you’ll never please them no matter what you do. In cases like this, there is a way to “inform” or teach customers about the different aspects of your business so they understand why something is happening. Refer to my other blogs for the “Knock it Off Nicely” technique where you have no choice but to deal with a situation without causing hard feelings.

This blog addresses the feedback that a customer provides to a business that is “right” and could dramatically help identify vulnerabilities and opportunities to improve. It’s always best to REALLY listen. This is where training staff becomes vitally important; it is no longer optional for companies if they don’t have the skill to handle difficult or unhappy customers. Unfortunately, I often see an employee or even a business owner trying to defend “their” company because they are personally vested. They take any slight or negative criticism personally and may get angry back at the customer. As you know, this just ends up in ill will for both parties. The company always loses, the customer just goes elsewhere. Meanwhile the customer is telling 500+ friends on Facebook what just happened and if the story is “juicy” enough it goes viral. Your business loses in the end.

To avoid the costly scenario of firing a customer, put better customer service practices into your business plan for daily implementation. Every business should look at how to effectively handle customer feedback, whether received face-to-face (often with frustration and anger), or through e-mail, letters, and every form of social media. Remember, it’s not just “1” complaining customer; they are simply the voice of others who are also sharing their “horror stories”. If you don’t listen and go looking for the feedback in the first place, you won’t get a chance to fix it. There is no way to stop the consequences that an unhappy customer can cause to your business these days if you are not dealing with the problems.

Go looking for feedback: create a Google alert to see what others are saying about you. This is often the BEST form of feedback for a company to follow how they could improve. It used to cost tens of thousands of dollars for focus groups and mystery shoppers; now, the feedback is at every business owner’s fingertips.

How you treat the customer effects our entire economy as well as job loss and employment rates directly within our communities and nationally. The world is now competing for our customers. If you feel it is time to bring a new or improved culture of care to get your business to the next level, don’t hesitate to contact me at: info@elaineallison.com

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It’s Easy to Provide Customer Service When There Are No Disabilities – But Are Your Staff Comfortable When There Are?

It is easy for staff to provide customer service to those who are fully “abled”, but are your staff comfortable and do they understand how to help (or sometimes not) when someone with a disability does show up?

I’ve worked on airplanes and restaurants and had to deal with various disabilities from complete mobility loss to hearing loss and everything in between. As a flight crew, we needed to learn how to assist someone in a wheelchair getting to the plane as well as use “Skychairs” to bring guests down the narrow aisle to their seat. I’ve worked extensively with airports and the public train system in preparing staff to assist customers with a variety of different situations they could face. This training includes preparing 5,000 staff to “Welcome the World” for the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

As we deal with an aging population (and it is coming fast), a lot of the typical disabilities begin to appear and your staff and establishment better get prepared. The primary disabilities with which staff should be familiar are:

• Hearing loss
• Vision loss
• Mobility loss
• Cognitive challenges

Employees should be able to define the different types of disabilities and how best to assist:
• Understand the differences between a disability caused by a physical impairment and a disability caused by aging.
• Discover methods of communication that work best for those with disabilities of hearing loss, visibility loss, or cognitive challenges.
• Uncover more appropriate language to use when discussing disabilities.
• Assist with transitions from one department or supplier to the other (think transfers).

Facing the reality of an aging population and the fact that one-third of the population in North America are now baby boomers, businesses are going to have to look at barrier-free initiatives; how will their counters, stores, front entrances, signage and so forth be newly arranged to accommodate? Are your counters — or parts of them — low enough for those in mobility devices, and are your aisles wide enough? What about the curb leading up to your entrance? I’ve seen staff get frustrated because they did not anticipate the effects of aging and how to respond to customers who are experiencing them. Would you like your parent treated like that because they are becoming a little more forgetful or frustrated or because they can’t stand and wait that long or walk too far? How does your after-sales service look for those with disabilities?

If you feel your company needs assistance, we can assess how you serve customers with disabilities and develop customized training programs for your staff. Email us today: info@elaineallison.com

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Are You Serving Broccoli and Chocolate?


Give Customers What they Need So They Stay for What They Want.

If you were to ask your child what they wanted for dinner, would they say broccoli or chocolate? Chances are it would not be the broccoli, although as parents we know they need it. Most businesses get lost in trying to deliver the “chocolate” when delivering customer service, and get distracted from their customers’ core needs (the “broccoli”) – the needs that made a customer decide to come to you in the first place.

Take travel for instance. When a customer buys a ticket for a flight or a train ride, they need to move – to be transported! You can give all sorts of bells and whistles along the way, but that train or plane better get a customer to where they’re going. If they’re not moving, the next thing they absolutely need is to be informed. Just look down the aisle of any airplane at 9:02 when it should have left at 9:00. The entire plane is looking around at the flight crew wondering what is going on. They are thankful when the staff make an announcement with an update and they all go back to their reading. Keeping customers moving and informed is what I call the “broccoli” of providing customer needs in this industry. A business must know their essential service and not lose sight of it.

Think also of fast food restaurants. As customers, we need efficient, affordable and clean places to eat with working and “clean” bathrooms. Miss these fundamentals (the “broccoli”) and the customer will probably go elsewhere. Businesses should understand their absolute musts (the “broccoli bits”) of their business to meet customer needs so they and their teams can make decisions and prioritize – especially when things don’t go as planned.

The “chocolate”, on the other hand, are your extras, often known as the things that set you apart or the cool stuff. The whip cream or swirl on top of your coffee; the sleeve so you don’t burn your hand from a hot cup; the pickles; the type of dishes; the decor; a pillow or blanket on a flight. The options are endless, and every business knows what they need to constantly update their “chocolate” to stand out in the crowd. However, those companies who have longevity don’t lose their focus on the “broccoli bits” that their customers need before dishing up the “chocolate” to keep them coming back for more.

If you need a customer service keynote, customer service training, or assistance defining or being reminded of the “broccoli” and the “chocolate” of your business, send us an email to find out how we can help. info@elaineallison.com

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“How Low Can You Go” in Airline Customer Service?

TouchdownIs a “deal” really a deal when you book a flight on a “discount carrier”?

Are the days of customer service really gone in the airline industry? Are they all competing to be cheapest? We all know that “cheapest” means barely meeting the customer’s needs as one cuts cost so low.

I don’t normally rant, but my experience with airlines comes from the days of Wardair with its Royal Doulton China, hot towels, filet mignon, dessert trolleys and so much more. After my recent family holidays, I am sad to say that airline service has come to an all-time low. I ask: Do we need to revert to better days where the flight was part of the journey, not the inconvenience?

Under a bit of protest, I decided it was best to save a few dollars on the flights. So off to the Internet we went to shop for a “deal”. The family found one!! Wow, really the price was shocking. Unfortunately, what I’ll call “à la carte services” were more shocking!!! And I just heard Ryan Air is making about $35 million extra dollars on the “extras”. Good model. Maybe, for now. But let’s look at those “services”.

A La Carte Services
Here’s how additional “services” added to the price and took away from our travel experience!
• $35 each way for checked bag (add $70)
• $35 each way if the carry-on has wheels (add another $70)
• $50 for each bag over 40 lbs (add $100)
Since checked luggage for most of us coming home from holidays was a few pounds over at check-in, we all repacked our bags, (which prolonged check-in to almost 2 hours). And even though we’d checked in online and printed boarding cards, there was no separate line or kiosk for those who had checked in online.
• $14 per seat so our family of four could sit together in the back rows. (Seats closer to the middle or front were priced higher.)
• Additional fee for pre-boarding; we declined

To further reduce the airline’s costs, in-flight amenities were reduced or removed:
• Seats didn’t recline
• The seat pocket had been removed to allow 1/8- inch more leg room (leaving no room for papers, magazines, snacks or garbage).
• No air vents
• Reading light flickered (so I turned it off).
• No in-flight entertainment of any kind (not even for purchase).
• Leather on my seat was peeling back on the seat portion, so the plastic edge poked into me the entire flight.
• No pillows or blankets available to pad the seat from the aforementioned plastic poking me (let alone add warmth or comfort)! I used my own coat to avoid the misery.
• No warm drinks (i.e. no coffee or tea) even on 7:00 a.m. flights!
• Toilets smelled like baby diapers and air freshener.
• The final straw: no free water! You have to buy it with your credit card for $2. (They did give me a glass of ice that melted. Yay for the wonderful flight attendant who thought of that solution when I needed to take an aspirin.)

And, to top it all off, our flights were delayed both ways: outbound for one hour for de-icing as one of only two airplanes leaving the airport; and on the return for 40 minutes because they miscalculated fuel for the flight. Good thing they took care of that, but very frustrating as we were fully boarded and ready to go on time! This put us on an airplane for 7 hours in a seat that did not recline and lacking all the comforts listed above. The one saving grace in the entire experience – for which I will give full credit – crew were exceptionally friendly (see my other blogs for the difference this does make).

Please. I understand the appeal of low cost and getting a “deal”. But is the product now so eroded, and are the extra hidden costs that make it more expensive in the long run really worth it?

I ask my readers: Would you use this company again? I ask the airline: How long do you think the passenger will continue? I think it’s time we swing back the other way.

Kudos to American Airlines for its efforts: http://www.aa.com/newamerican

Kudos to Air Canada for putting some fun back into the wonderful job of being a crew member. As I’ve written in other blogs, happy employees help make happier customers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=go33Roh28BE

If you are looking for a keynote speaker, breakout session or training, email: info@elaineallison.com

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