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Customer Service MUST start right at the top!

OK – I’ll try and keep a L-O-N-G story nice and short.

Last year was not my best effort in terms of keeping well and, sure enough, I ended up having surgery to remove my gall bladder. But I’m well on the road to recovery and, not wanting to dwell on things medical, let’s talk about this in terms of Customer Service – or, in this case, Patient Service!

Allow me to clear right from the start here – I have always believed that nurses are simply angels waiting to go to their greater rewards in the hereafter. I have NO idea where they come from; how they get to be so good at what they do or how much they get paid – I only know that it’s NOT enough!

But, of course, hospital service and patient care depends on a whole team of people – not just the nurses.

So my “experience” began on Monday morning at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, when I arrived, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and appropriately starved.

And there’s musicians playing a variety of instruments all around the reception and coffee areas! The area I was booking into had a saxophonist playing gentle jazz while people joined a queue to start their way on I’m sure a variety of gruesome but essential treatments. Did the music help them to feel calmer and less distressed? I can’t speak for them all – but for me it certainly did!

The reception staff were efficient and more smiley than you find in the average 4-star Hotel. I asked mine if the music bothered her whilst she was trying to do her job and she told me that with only one or two exceptions it was as delightful for them as it was for patients. She was particularly impressed and pleased when she saw the harpist who, apparently, has almost rock-star status with everyone who hears him play!

Up to the Day Surgical ward and into “the system”. And at NO point did it feel like a system. I was treated with care, patience and, despite wearing some of the most bizarre clothing known to humankind, with considerable dignity.
And EVERY nurse I came into contact with told me his / her name and what their purpose was in my treatment. Even if they were only filling in one form!

Michael and Susan were the two (?) anaesthetists who would be in the operating room – didn’t ask but I assume that one was to knock me out and the other to wake me up again…???

When I regained consciousness I was “introduced” to another group of nurses in the post-op care unit – all very efficient, friendly and offering their best level of patient care.

Spot anything missing? Any reasonable cause for me to be anything other than totally impressed?

Back to the title of this missive…

At NO point did the person who was going to cut me open in, it turned out, four places; insert several gadgets and instruments into my body and subsequently remove the offending gall bladder think it was even vaguely necessary to show his/her face and say “Hello Alan. My name is XXXX and your life is in my hands this afternoon!”

Would have been nice! Not to say reassuring!

And yes I do know that they’re very important people and that their time is quite precious and that, therefore, I can’t expect them to meet all the poor sods that are coming their way!


I really believe that is no upper threshold to the delivery of Customer Service. It’s great that Directors / Partners / Owners / Senior Managers of your companies “walk the talk” by truly believing in great service. That they support what you’re doing and provide all the resources necessary for it to happen is fabulous. But how many of them can actually come out of their corner offices and help you to DELIVER that same great service.

If they can’t / won’t or don’t walk a mile in your shoes, then how the hell can they claim to know what’s actually involved in you consistently being the best you can be for customers or clients or, in my recent case, patients?

Come on BOSSES – get down and dirty with the team and let them SHOW YOU what great service looks and feels like. I promise – It is a marvellous use of your expensive time!!!

PS – OK, you will have noticed a “trend” in my postings. I’m heavily into Customer Service! I make NO apology for that – but it’s probably enough already! The next blog will be about staff engagement – but I’m not saying there isn’t a Customer Service element to that… 🙂

EOFY 2016/17 –>NFY 2017/18 – Time for some Customer Service Res(v)olutions…!!!

Yes, it’s that time of year again when we start thinking about the NEW Financial Year and as, we don’t seem to make many (any!) New Year’s resolutions, maybe we should at least THINK about making some NFY resolutions.
Although it’s not as common an occurrence here in Australia as it is in other parts of the world. I’ve asked lots of people why we don’t make New Year’s resolutions and the general consensus seems to be variations on the theme of “Why set yourself up to fail? You know you’re not going to keep them – so why bother making them in the first place?”
Whilst I fully understand the logic, it’s seems a little depressing and defeatist to me – but I also acknowledge that keeping ALL of your resolutions is a challenge that most will fail.

So here’s a “menu” for you to choose from – why not pick just THREE that you can and WILL keep?

1. Finding, Getting and Keeping customers is what EVERY business is all about. Marketing and Sales takes care of the Finding and Getting – but how much time, effort and money do we really invest in the Customer Service that is the Keeping part? In 2016 commit to investing (and it IS an investment – NOT a cost) x% of the total revenue generation of your business in EFFECTIVE Customer Service strategies. “x” can be as large as small as you think is necessary – I would recommend 10%, but even if it’s only 2% it’s a start and you will see results almost immediately!

2. Look closely at the mathematics of your customers. What is your customer churn? What are the main causes and effects of losing customers to your business? How hard is it for you to find new customers to replace those you lose? Translate those figures into hard $$$s and then look again at the first item in this menu and think again about that percentage!

3. Make 2016 the year when you REALLY work harder to engage your teams in your business. If they aren’t actively engaged with you, what are the chances that there are actively engaged with customers? Limited to non-existent I would say! Engagement doesn’t have to be expensive – but it does require clarity and transparency of mission; a commitment to listen; and management whose mission is to help people to achieve their potential.

4. Recruit with Customer Service skills front and centre. It is NOT a skill that should be bolted on to the side of their “technical” skills. You would be amazed at the number of people I talk to in retail who will openly admit that they don’t like people very much! And that’s pretty much their 9-5 isn’t it? You really don’t want a “pulse-optional” person to be anywhere near a customer (external OR internal!

5. Speaking of recruitment – make better use of EQ (Emotional Intelligence) monitoring tools (DISC / Myers Briggs et al) and use them to make sure you don’t have square pegs in round holes. And don’t limit that to new recruits – use them on your existing staff as well and follow up with training / coaching where necessary.

6. You already know my views on Customer Service in this wonderful country – it’s falling and some might say plummeting! Don’t settle for mediocrity in Customer Service – you really don’t have to do so much to look BRILLIANT in a market that’s as low as this. But set that bar higher and strive to be seen and acknowledged as the VERY BEST in your industry – the results of that investment will show you what you’ve been missing all these years.

7. Take EVERYTHING you know about Customer Service and link it all together into a coherent, achievable STRATEGY. Important though they are, it’s not just about smiling and answering the phone in three rings etc. It’s about everything you and your teams do that interacts with Customers. And it needs to be strategic!!!

So choose any three from seven and COMMIT to them (resources/people/systems/$$$s) and I guarantee that 2016 will be a better year than 2015.

I wish you all an embarrassingly prosperous NFY 2017/18 and look forward to blogging again soon…


“The Customer is Always Right”, right? NO they are NOT!!!

Now I fully accept that the customer being right is a really good place to start – but, to be honest, sometimes they’re just WRONG.

But it’s not just about whether they are right or wrong – it’s mostly about how you are going to respond and what, if anything, are you going to do to remedy the situation.

Let me share with you a true story…

I number of years ago, when I was CEO of a company back in the UK, we had a mid-sized customer who we never seemed to please. There was always something wrong. Either the order arrived 30 minutes late or we missed one item out of a hundred from the order because we were out of stock and didn’t tell them beforehand or one of said one hundred items was priced incorrectly.

You know – the kind of stuff we all strive to get right every time but, because we’re human, we don’t always succeed.

And this customer always went ballistic and my team were scared witless every time we made a delivery – wondering who was the unlucky soul who was going to get “the call” this week

One Wednesday afternoon, Carol, one of my very best team members came to me in tears and after a few minutes to compose herself told me that she was that unlucky one this week. And that the complaint had been even more trivial than usual.

To say I was furious would be the biggest understatement since Noah said, “It looks like rain” – I tried counting to ten and some deep breathing. Then I tried a hundred…

Then I had something of an epiphany and did something I had, up to that point, never done before – I picked up the phone and called George, the now infamous “customer”.

The conversation went something like this: –

“Hi George, its Alan Slater at XXXX. George, as I hope you know, we’ve always valued your business but it appears that we’re not living up to your high expectations. We do try our very best and still we’re falling short. And, to be honest, I really do not appreciate my team having to put up with verbal abuse from you virtually every week. So I thank you for all the business we have done together but I would appreciate it if you would take your business elsewhere”

Predictably there was a spluttering sound from the other end followed by lots of “You can’t…”s and “But I…”s and when he left a gap of more than one nanosecond I interrupted and closed the conversation with, “The damage is done George and there’s no going back. Good bye”

I turned to Carol, who had witnessed the whole conversation, and told her that I hoped that would resolve the situation. She gave me a stunned look, whispered thank you and left my office.

I had never sacked a customer before and I wasn’t at all sure that “Thank you” was what I could expect from the Board at their meeting the following week…

But when I left my office about half an hour later I was greeted by a huge cheer from ALL the staff, who thanked me for removing a very significant thorn from their sides. And, as an unexpected bonus, staff morale went through the roof and our overall customer service improved significantly over the following weeks and months.

I don’t advocate sacking customers willy nilly – but there does come a point (and you’ll know it when you see it!) when you know that you’re NEVER going to be able to keep this customer happy. And if you can’t keep them happy and they are intent on sharing their misery with your team (who deal well with every other customer!) – then why would you keep them at all…???…!!!

“The Customer is Always Right” is, as I said earlier, a good place to start – but when they are wrong (consistently) you cannot and should not expend energy trying to keep them at the expense of staff morale.

This same customer is likely to take their business elsewhere to save 0.1% or three nanoseconds on delivery at some point. And your team will be there, dealing with ALL your customers – every day!

Maybe we should introduce a national “Sack a Customer Day”…???

They may be colleagues – but they’re still customers!

A number of years ago I was running a series of customer focused workshops for the Head Office staff at a national company that provided professional services to a wide range of customers.

This particular morning I was concentrating on “Internal Customer Service”. The session was going well…until we got to the morning coffee break and this group’s Senior Managers came up to me for a “chat”. He’d been quiet during the session and I thought he was absorbing rather than contributing, but hey that’s OK.

He looked me in the eye and asked me, with some obvious incredulity, “So are you really saying that how I treat my staff has a direct impact on how they treat customers?”

As this had the main point of the morning session, I said, “Absolutely and…” that was as far as I got as he interrupted me with “Bollocks!” and walked off.

He never returned after the break and I never saw him again during any of our sessions! Thank God!!!

Now I accept that this was an extreme, idiosyncratic and downright ignorant point of view – and, I hope and pray, an equally isolated one – but a more pervasive form of internal customer non-care is visible in more workplaces than you can shake a stick at.
I define Internal Customer Service as effectively serving other departments or individuals within your organisation. How well are you providing other departments and individuals with service, products or information to help them do their jobs? How well are you listening to and understanding their concerns? How well are you solving problems for each other to help your organisation succeed?

Generally, the answer appears to be “Not very well!”

Let’s look at this simply…

Can an employee who is overworked, underpaid, and not respected day in and day out, provide great customer service? Talk about “fake it ‘til you make it.”

According to the Gallup Organization:

• 19% of employees are very negative about their work. These employees are considered actively disengaged – also known as “out to lunch.”

• 55% of employees are apathetic or uninterested

• 70% of employees feel no obligation to stay with their current employer

• 90% of voluntary resignations are due to feeling under appreciated

We’ve seen statistics similar to these before. In fact, they haven’t changed much in the past 10 years, despite all the ups and downs in our economy – but what changes you do see are NOT for the better!

I believe that the only way to change that is by focusing on real engagement – and that’s not about providing gourmet café lunches, slippery dips instead of staircases and pool tables on site (I know these work for Google – but not in isolation!)

I’m a fan (not huge, but…) of Sir Richard Branson, but one of my favourite quotes of his was, “The secret to Virgin’s success was that I hired the best people I could afford and then got out of their way and let them do the job I’d hired them to do”

How many Managers could say the same and keep a straight face?

If you ask ANYONE what they associate with the US retailer NORDSTROM, the chances are they will say CUSTOMER SERVICE…

Nordstrom’s exceptional customer service comes primarily as a result of two main components, firstly their attention to DETAIL when it comes to the customer experience and secondly, the level to which they EMPOWER their employees.

These two factors in tandem create an unstoppable customer service engine that continues to create stories that turn into legends…

One of the most wide-spread facts known about Nordstrom is the effectiveness of its Employee Handbook given to staff when they first join the company. It goes something like the following:

“Welcome to Nordstrom
We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager ANY question at ANY time.”
Compare that to the handbooks of other companies that can run several manuals long and you come to realise just how much Nordstrom empowers its employees to use their “good judgement.”

I will be writing more about the role of “engagement” in good customer service in more blogs soon – but for now let me end with a quote from the ex-CEO of the SAS Group. I want you to read this three times: –

“If you’re not serving the customer, your job is to be serving someone who is.” Jan Carlzon.

How far have we lowered the Bar?

I had the great pleasure of working with a group of Management Trainees in the People’s Republic of Adelaide last week and, by pure coincidence, we were covering Customer Service Strategies.

And, as I usually do, I try to set the scene by asking a simple question: “When was the last time your service expectations were exceeded?”

Not, you will notice, the more obvious question of “When was the last time you had poor service?” That’s WAY too easy and usually gets the comment of “What time is it now?”

I really like to start off with a positive so we can focus on what DOES work and try to do more of that…
One guy puts his hand straight up and tells me “Yesterday!” I’m thinking this is as fabulous as it is unusual and beg him to continue.

“I eat a lot of junk food as I’m single, hate cooking and I’m always short of time” (He certainly didn’t look like a junk food fan – maybe he has a very fast metabolism?)

Anyway…back to the plot…

“Yesterday I was at Hungry Jacks and asked, as I always do, for my burger to come without ketchup, mayo or gherkin. When it arrived, I opened it and there was no ketchup, no mayo and no gherkin”

Slightly bemused, I asked, “And this this exceeded your expectations because…?”

“Because they always leave it in and I have to scrape it off before I eat it!” he said with a big cheesy (not gherkin!) grin!

Basically, what this happy chappie was telling me was that actually getting what he ordered, what he paid for was exceeding his expectations. Stunning isn’t it…???…!!!

Only two or three people from that group of 12 could come up with anything that exceeded expectations sufficiently to be memorable. And those, whilst not as painfully low as the first guy, were still basically providing the service we pay for – a fridge that was delivered upstairs, plugged in and levelled before the guys left…you know the sort of thing…

So exactly HOW low has the bar reached when this type of thing is considered “exceeding expectations”?

Answer: I think a cockroach would struggle to limbo dance under that bar now!!!

BUT – this is GREAT news for those of you who do “get” what good customer service is all about because, and please forgive the vernacular here, it doesn’t take much to shine in a bucket of s**t – apparently simply providing what people ask and pay for will delight quite a few of your customers!

For those who are more discerning maybe add a smile, a thank you and a “free” biscuit with their coffee and they’ll be customers for life!

For example – for cheap and cheerful “stuff” in department stores in Australia we have a choice, basically, of three. You know who I mean…

So I was in the largest one’s Indooroopilly branch on Saturday with my little girl looking for Easter goodies and, as we were walking is, I was expecting the usual “Hi. How are you today?”

What we got was the BIGGEST smile I’ve ever seen and “Good Morning. Welcome to Kmart. Love your outfit sweetie!” (Directed at Emma, not me – just in case you were wondering!)

And this wasn’t the first time I’d noticed this young lady and her enthusiasm – she’s ALWAYS the same. I don’t know about you, but I would struggle to be that bright, that enthusiastic even for 20-30 minutes sessions. I complimented her on her cheeriness and she accepted the compliment and gave me another BIG smile.

Now that’s simply a matter of ATTITUDE isn’t it? You can choose to enjoy what you do and let it show or, to use that great Aussie phrase, you can walk around with a face like a slapped arse!

I respond way better to the former than the latter and I expect you do to!

So can we PLEASE try and raise that bar? Just a wee bit? SMILEY PLEASE!!!


Telling a blatant lie is NOT the best way to keep a customers respect!

I’ll keep this blog shorter than the phone call that it’s about…

My phone rings with a number I don’t recognise, but I’m between two meetings with managers at my biggest client, so I take the call.

“Good morning Mr Slater. My name is Susan from xxx and I’m calling on behalf of the xxx Bank (my bank). Could you spare one or two minutes for a survey we’re conducting on behalf of the bank?”

ME: “Provided it IS only a couple of minutes, yes”

“Absolutely and I’ll talk faster and make sure it’s less!”

And off we go…and go…and…go…

According to my phone, I finally said good bye to Susan SEVEN minutes and 46 seconds later!

All of this palaver was because I had used their automatic deposit machine to deposit a cheque from a client. (I know – who uses cheques anymore? But, hey, it’s still legal currency and I’m not about to complain!)

I resolved to answer the questions as quickly, honestly and without query as I could.

Most involved me answering on a scale of 1-10 – you know the drill, right? And some asked for specific answers.

Such as “Which branch’s auto-teller did you visit?” “Did you deposit cash or cheques?” and “Was this the first time you had used an auto-teller at the xxx Bank?”

ALL of which I would have thought, the bank would already know – so why waste my time asking?

A significant number of the questions, whilst not identical, were so similar as to make no differential sense whatsoever and, to be honest, by the end, I was just giving numbers without thinking (or caring!)
Which begs the obvious question – what, exactly, is the value or the validity of the answers they get? I would suggest not very much!

Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to ask Susan these questions because, after almost eight minutes on the phone, my next meeting was waiting for me.

A five minute call that stretches to seven+ is forgivable. But “one or two” minutes that makes it to almost eight – that’s just a lie!

Now I fully accept that if Susan had asked me for eight minutes of my time then I, and I suspect an awful lot of people, would have said “no”. And I also accept that this in turn would make the researcher’s job much harder. But that is THEIR problem – not mine!

Either be honest about how long this will take OR reduce the number of questions so that you can get at least close to the agreed time.

Then, and ONLY then, will the answers you get be both valid and valuable!

Keeping it honest!


I LOVE technology…BUT… (Part 2)

I mean it – I REALLY do!!!

I love that I can shop online for all my favourite stuff.

I love that I can speak “face-to-face” with friends anywhere in the world on Skype (and it’s FREE!).

And I love that phone calls with people, companies and organisations various can now be “fun”…

Except… when they’re NOT!!!

My interesting, if more than a little frustrating, saga begins with a letter from a Federal Government Department, dated the 1st of the month telling me I need to amend some details within 14 days or the Hounds of Hell would descend on me.

Slight problem was that the letter didn’t arrive until the 9th so I was already 8 days into my allocated 14 days. The weekend arrived within hours and, of course, these departments don’t work when we’re free to answer their officious demands…hey ho – nobody said life was easy…

Read moreI LOVE technology…BUT… (Part 2)

Gone With the Wind – the Rhett Butler guide to Customer Service…

Yes it’s time to rant – again, and you will understand me when I say it started when I was dealing with a phone provider….

The failure to resolve the issue, the failure to keep me in the loop as to the progress and the failure frankly to give a rats and make me just wait.    And wait.      And wait just a little more leading my sense of almost homicidal frustration. (Thankfully I have over my years of working behind the Iron Curtain in Russia acquired the skill of patience to soften those homicidal tendencies!)

Of course this is the exact moment of me to regale you with a story from Mother Russia a number of years ago…

In the old days of Russia, when almost every necessity was in short supply, there is a tale of a man who waited 5 years to rise to the top of the list of those entitled to buy a car – yes back then Russians were ‘chosen’ for car ownership…weird I know…

Well this man fills out the required 20 forms, makes his deposit at the Dept. of Transport and is told “Your car will be delivered in 3 years’ time’

Being the polite Russian he is he asks “Will that be in the morning of the afternoon?”

The officious Transport employee bluntly asks ‘What possible difference could that make?”

The concerned Russian quietly replies “Well the plumber is coming in the morning”

Read moreGone With the Wind – the Rhett Butler guide to Customer Service…

I LOVE technology…BUT… (Part 1)

As a fairly slow adopter of “new technologies” in the early nineties in the last 20 years I have embraced it fully – even if some of it still seems like “magic” to me.

About 3-4 years ago my IT guy took my phone, loaded an app and then tapped our phones together and a photo from his phone was suddenly on MY phone. I’m like WOW!!!

And the vast majority of said technology improves efficiency and (should) add to the customer service experience.

BUT…sometimes all it does is create WHAT…???…!!! moments…

So, to todays rant…

I took my little girl last week to see the new movie “Sing” (recommended by the way – much better than the reviews I saw!) and booked and paid for the tickets on line. Basically I do all the work, saving the cinema time and, presumably, wages in the process. I don’t mind – it means I don’t have to wait in a queue.

BUT…having saved the company money I REALLY object to having to pay a “Booking fee”!!!

I checked some other cinemas and the booking fee isn’t even a standard amount – it ranges from 30c ticket to 90c per ticket. At the higher end that means, effectively, a “tax” on me doing all the work of 5%.

Read moreI LOVE technology…BUT… (Part 1)

Saying NO is more important than you think…

You finally get around to organising that weekend away with the family – you know, the one you’ve been promising for the last 100 weekends – when your boss comes to you on Thursday afternoon and says: “We’ve just found out that we’ve won that new contract! But we must have all the logistics in place by next Friday. You’re the only one here that can do that, Jack, but I’m afraid it’s going to mean you working this weekend”.

You start off on the right track… “I’ve got some family commitments this weekend…”, but then you pause…and the boss doesn’t fill the crucial silence…so you do…”but, I suppose I could re-arrange those…” and the deal is sealed with, “Thanks Jack – I knew I could rely on you!”

So why didn’t you say “no”? Was it because the whole team is depending on you? Maybe it’s because the annual reviews are due in the next couple of weeks and you really don’t want a black mark against your name at this time of year? Or do you just lack the assertiveness to spit it out? It could be something as simple as the fact that your family are easier to negotiate with than your boss – BUT, ask yourself who you would miss more if they weren’t around…???…!!!

I’m sure you could add your own examples here…but the main issue is very simple…

Saying, “Yes” when we really mean (and want to say!), “NO” is one of the biggest causes of extra work and associated stress.

Read moreSaying NO is more important than you think…