By: Scott Papich, Outside Intelligence LLC
CONSUMER ATTITUDES & BEHAVIOR is a phrase often interpreted to convey how customers (and potential customers) emotionally feel about, and respond to, a brand’s messaging and reputation, or to a brand’s products and customer service. Brands want to know what factors will influence consumers to actually spend their money, hopefully over and over, on particular brands' products and services?
This has become a specialized area of research within the overall Economics discipline, focused on the more irrational aspects of consumer thinking and behavior. Without going into a lot of theory, it needs to be emphasized that in the outdoor industry, your customers make decisions to buy (or not buy) – and to tell their friends, either way – based on any number of un-talked-about, emotional factors, triggered by how their overall customer experience makes them feel, and not necessarily based on facts. And that customer experience, specifically with your brand and your team, starts long before they ever join you on a trip.
Steve Jobs conceptualized the Customer Experience with Apple LONG ago, and he explained it concisely:
“You start with the Customer Experience and work backward, not the other way around.”
Sounds simple. And we all think we have this dialed, but not all outfitters design their service for customer outcomes. Let’s rephrase and think about that: most outfitters design what they sell -- trip management, programs, processes, procedures -- but they don’t design specifically for customer experience outcomes.
Steve Jobs was right. And let’s be clear -- customers do want to be transported, fed and guided; but, more abstractly, they want to feel so taken care of (meaning, valued and respected) as clients, that they will go tell all their friends about it. Customers want that, and strong Customer Service can do that.
Let’s talk about who in your organization makes good customer service happen. Turns out, it’s just about everyone: business owners, directors, guides and field staff, and of course your dedicated Customer Service team. If you work at HQ (or in a field office, or in retail), for an outdoor industry team, and you have either phone or face-to-face contact with customers, then you set the tone for the crucial thing we are calling the “Customer Experience.”
Customer Service Best Practices
Let’s look at a few professional best practices that all Customer Service people can take advantage of to (a) make your team stronger, (b) make your customers more loyal, and (c) sharpen your own career skills.
Communicate with a professional purpose
Speak clearly and calmly- This sounds obvious, but phone conversations can be difficult when customers are on mobile devices, and they are always on mobile devices. Be clear, be calm, be a pro.
Be concise (but friendly) with answers and remarks- Do not launch into long disclaimers over the phone, because almost no customer wants to hear that. Just be concise with answers & guidance (and save the long policy statements for email).
If you make a promise, keep it (and do it ASAP)- When you tell a customer that you will do something, you make a “Promise” (to confirm dates, to call them back, to talk with a decision-maker). Please know that customer is WAITING FOR YOU, so don’t leave them hanging. Yes, you are very busy; but you will always be very busy, and that customer is a live person who needs to be taken care of. What would you want if you were them?
Don’t interrupt the customer (even when they are irrational)- You might not be a therapist, but your company spends lots of Marketing $$$’s to get that customer to talk with you. And nothing good comes from interrupting someone who needs to feel heard. So when a customer is working your patience, maybe try to be the adult in the conversation. The better you are at that, the better career you will build.
Resist ever saying to a customer, “My system will not allow me to do that”
In short, your computer system limitations are not your customer’s problem. They are talking with you because they understand your job is to help them. So, avoid talking about your “system” when your customer needs something that is at all unusual. Say something else and do something to assist.
Important note: the best Customer Service teams can routinely over-ride roadblocks in systems, and your customers know that. Plus, software (and policies) are written by people, and your customers know that too. And so, your organization probably has the capability to modify systems and policies (or at least reset existing programs), so that you can take care of customers the way we all want to be taken care of. And that’s better than not helping a customer who is trying to do business with you.
Business owners and IT directors, take note. This first point belongs to you as much as to your Customer Service teams. Great teams have the ability to override routine system limitations.
If, on the other hand, your “system is down” (actually not working), then take the contact info, and call that customer back promptly with answers, help and follow-up
When a system really is down, then YOU become the system until it is back up. Write down the customer’s info, and don’t leave them hanging; just do what needs doing, and then get back to that person ASAP. It’s old school, but it’s professional, and honestly, it’s what your team and your customer want from you. Plus, it has always worked.
Do not say to a customer, “You have to do that online”
Please stop yourself from using those words. Just log into the customer’s account, and solve a problem for them, preferably while talking with them on the phone. You will make their day, and they will probably love you for it. And if this situation happens every day, you should make your bosses aware, and they should perhaps make it easier for the customer to find things and understand things on the company website. It could be that your website is the real issue.
BONUS, for staff who work with Customers, face-to-face: “Professional-Grade” Eye Contact
Not everyone is great at eye contact, or even conscious of it. But think about good bartenders, waiters, professors, even actors – the best are masters of quality eye contact.
So, every now and then, pull the sunglasses off your face, and patiently make calm, uninterrupted eye contact when a customer is telling you something important or you are speaking to someone for more than a few seconds
If you do it reasonably well, customers will know you are hearing them, and they appreciate that, even if they don’t consciously realize it. Practice with a colleague, and you can get good at this.
Okay. Some of this advice may feel like 101. But every one of us, as consumers, still runs into sub-standard Customer Service even in our own industry. You know, the best athletes in the world still practice fielding grounders and shooting free throws. It’s how they stay the best. And I promise, if you are diligent in these best practices, you can be a Customer Service pro that others point to and want to emulate.
Now, let’s wrap with some strong insights from a favorite author and organizational performance consultant, Seth Godin:
Customer Service is a Profit Center (for four reasons):
Because the customer who calls you, or shows up, is already paying attention to you. Everything you do here, unlike with most Sales or Marketing interactions, really is for the win.
Because your competitors have decided to treat customer service as a cost, so the odds that you can out-perform them are good. You cannot make a widget that’s ten times better, but you can produce customer service that’s ten times better than the competition’s.
Because people tell stories about service, and the word spreads. What will they say about you?
And it’s been demonstrated again and again that the most valuable customers are the loyal ones. While your Marketing is making noise to get you new customers, your Customer Service is turning existing customers into repeat customers & ambassadors. Good Customer Service can do that.
So, in the end, what you put into quality Customer Service isn’t really a cost. It’s just a smart investment.
About the Author
Outside Intelligence offers consultation and coaching for outdoor industry exec's, guides and customer service professionals. Contact Scott: firstname.lastname@example.org.