positive customer experience

How Just 1 Negative First Impression Can Leave a Lasting Impression

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What kind of first impression is your team making?

More than 10 years ago, I worked at the front desk of a storage and distribution warehouse. It was a very small satellite of a Canadian company with about 10 employees. One day, I received a call from a large postage meter company. Since part of my job was to thoroughly filter incoming calls and only put through a very limited number to my manager, I had to prevent him from having to take any unnecessary calls.

I allowed the salesperson to make his initial spiel, but being a small company and mailing very little, we didn’t have a need for such a service and I informed of that. He continued to try to sell me on the idea, and I continued to let him know we only mailed maybe a dozen items a month. I’m not a pushy person and probably much more polite than I should be, especially since that was one of my first desk jobs. The salesperson was not pleased with my answer, so he hung up on me.

Yes, the salesperson hung up on me.

To this day, every time I hear that company name – and it’s a big company – I think of that incident and the horrible first impression I have of that company. And even though he was just one person there (who hopefully didn’t work there much longer after that incident), he was a representative of the company providing a very negative lasting impression. So lasting that I saw a competitor’s product at work yesterday and told that story to my coworker, and this is more than 10 years later!

Maybe some don’t think this is a big deal, but what if down the road, I decided to give them a second chance? And what if I had an issue with my account or their product which is bound to happen? Would they be willing to help me or would they hang up on me?

Conversely, had the salesperson been understanding and helpful, perhaps providing his contact information for me to have on hand if perhaps some day our needs changed, I would have remembered that. And if I had needed their services, I would remember that and probably would be much more forgiving if any account or product issues arose. I would also be much more likely to pass that information on to those I knew as a recommendation.

That wasn’t the only time I have been hung up on, but another experience goes to show how a negative situation can be turned around. I took a sales job at my next company selling uniforms to law enforcement. I received a call one day from a police chief and although I was being as helpful as possible (and polite), he hung up on me. That’s fine, I get people have bad days, especially in the law enforcement field. But what turned the situation around was that he called me back moments later and apologized. Yes, he was having a bad day, and no, I hadn’t done or said anything wrong.

While it’s important to provide everyone with excellent customer service, it is imperative to provide a good first impression because as my example shows, bad first impressions can last for decades. And negative experiences spread like wildfire, especially with social media and review sites. Too many negative reviews about a business can quickly kill future business or even put a company out of business.

So make sure if you talk to customers, you are always as helpful and polite as possible and instill this in your team members who talk to customers, because just one negative impression can leave a lasting impression and lose a potential customer, possibly forever. If a negative situation does arise, be sure to quickly respond to try to mend the situation. People can be very understanding and forgiving if you’re sincere. In fact, reaching out to a customer and repairing a negative situation can change their impression and make them a customer for life.

Building positive relationships in and outside of your company will make it a much more pleasant place,  and will also grow your business.

Tell me about your good, bad or redeeming first impressions of a company in the comments – I’d love to hear your experiences!

7 Things on Your Website That Annoy People

With nearly 80% of the North American population being internet users, it is vital for companies, groups and organizations to have an online domain. However, making the below mistakes with your domain can significantly negatively affect your success.

Your website is often the first impression a potential customer has of you and if your site looks like it was made in 1997, there’s a good chance that will be the only impression that customer has of you.

So take a good, long look through your website and if it contains any of these annoyances, you may want to have a re-design meeting with your webmaster.

  1. Pop-up ads: Back in 2002, I interviewed with a company that created pop-up ads. I didn’t get the job, but wished I had for several years, as the company had grown from 5 to 300 employees in a short time and had an awesome office in a swanky location. The company went bankrupt 7 years later because guess what? NO ONE LIKES POP-UP ADS! Okay, that’s not the only reason they went bankrupt, but they helped solidify the general population’s hatred and distrust of pop-up ads because they are annoying and raise the concern of spyware. Bottom line is if you must have ads, keep them simple and embedded on the page; never opt for pop-ups.
  2. Confusing navigation: Have you ever been to a restaurant that labels the bathrooms in a clever way, rather than “men” or “women?”  When you need to use the restroom, the last thing you want to do is have to figure out which door to go through.  This is what it’s like visiting a website and couldn’t figure out where to go or how to get back to the home page.  It seems like common sense, but oftentimes, websites can be incredibly difficult to navigate.  Make sure you have a navigation menu on every page with a clear link to the home page and that your navigation menu is clearly labeled.  Clever can be fun, but when viewers have trouble navigating your site, chances are they won’t come back.
  3. Music: Unless you are a musician or work in a music-related field, it’s not really necessary to have music on your website.  It’s even less necessary to have the music automatically play when the page is opened.  What goes hand in hand with auto-play music is a player that is difficult or impossible to find.  These are both a serious no-no.  Maybe the visitor is already listening to music so your auto-play music will scramble with theirs or perhaps they are in a quiet room or at work and the auto-play music will frighten them.  Either way, auto-play music is usually unappreciated and disliked.
  4. Obnoxious graphics & design: I was recently researching fast pitch clubs and came upon a wealth of sites using some of the most obnoxious graphics known to man.  The sites reminded me of my first website back in 1997 in which I demonstrated every cool HTML and java script skill I had all on one page.  The page was loaded with brightly colored backgrounds, colored text of several different fonts and flashing graphics that could not be stopped.  While I am excited to see my skills have greatly improved over the past 15 years, the sad thing is that pages like my first one still exist.  And they are extremely obnoxious.  People don’t want to be subjected to seizure-inducing flashing graphics or strain their eyes trying to read your funky looking text.  Look at some popular sites such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, or Wikipedia.  What do they all have in common?  They are simple, clean and in the top 10 most popular websites.  Follow their lead and yours will be more popular as well.
  5. Flash-heavy content: So maybe you’ve advanced past the obnoxious graphics phase and gotten a very impressive Flash section on your site.  That’s great, but what if your visitor does not have Flash installed or is browsing on a device that does not support Flash?  You’ve immediately alienated a potential customer or viewer.  In addition, search engines cannot read Flash content so if you are relying heavily on flash to display your content, your site will not get indexed.  If your site relies on Flash for navigation, users may be required to reload and start from the beginning if they click on the wrong link.  When used correctly, Flash can be a great addition to your site, but don’t rely too heavily on it for anything or you will lose viewers.
  6. Lack of content: Websites should evolve, but they should also have some content before going live.  Have you ever navigated through a site only to find that several of the pages you visited were “under construction?”  As a rule of thumb, do not publish a page unless it contains content.  I would rather take the time to contact someone through the site for more information than view page after page of unfinished pages.  If this is your company site, by publishing unfinished pages, potential customers may start to wonder what else you can’t finish.  Leave your best impression by filling pages with pertinent content before publishing any pages.
  7. No contact information: You may not feel there is always a need for a website viewer to contact you, however you should always have a way for them to contact you.  If you have a business site, you most certainly need a contact page so customers can find a way to contact you.  It is also important to provide multiple ways for customers to contact you through business sites.  The easier you make it for customers to contact your business, the more likely you are to get business from them.  Simple as that.

Best Practices

  • Keep it simple.  If users of your site cannot find what they are looking for within a few seconds, they will generally go elsewhere.  Make it as easy as possible for them to navigate.
  • Use Google Analytics to analyze viewer behavior.  If you notice viewers leave your site after a few seconds, find out why and fix it.
  • Keep it up-to-date.  Review your site frequently to ensure content is fresh and current.
  • Test your site.  Have a variety of people test usability and report on what they liked and didn’t like about your site.  Ask everyone from your tech-savvy cousin to your grandmother to check it out.

5 Steps to Overcoming Disasters in Business

No matter how much planning goes into a project, sooner or later, something can go wrong and a minor disaster can occur.  We’ve all been there and you’ve probably noticed that different people handle these disasters very differently.

The way the disaster is handled can result in a very positive or negative way for the customer.  If you let yourself slip too far into what I call the “panic zone,” you become unfocused and unable to make rational decisions.  The panic zone causes stress and confusion and allowing it to take over will cause you to create a negative experience.

Here’s how you can make it a positive experience:

  1. Stay calm. Staying calm can be very difficult, but it is very important.  You’ve planned and expected your process to follow the plan so when it doesn’t, your whole mental process is thrown off, which is confusing and upsetting.  However, staying calm will allow you to make wiser, better decisions.
  2. Don’t focus on blame.  You may have noticed that for some, pointing blame is the initial reaction.  This is natural, but completely counterproductive for a positive outcome.  If you are wasting resources on blaming others, you aren’t solving the problem at hand which should be the top priority.  Also, if your team members are worried about being blamed, they are less able to focus on problem resolution.
  3. Focus on the end result.   Focusing your concentration on the end result will help guide your thinking to resolving the problem at hand.  If you can use tunnel vision thinking to block out distractions, you can better focus on problem solving and get to a solution a lot faster.  For example, if a shipment is late, focusing on how you can get it there on time will help you get it there on time faster than finding out whose fault it is for making it late.  That can be discussed once you are out of the panic zone and the problem is solved.
  4. Make it happen. If you have invested in resolving this problem, you must stay focused to ensure the solution happens.  Don’t rely on others to make it happen for you—this is your project so you need to stay on top of it.  Nothing is worse in problem solving than getting close to a positive solution then dropping the ball.
  5. Follow through. This goes hand in hand with making it happen.  Ideally, we want our customers to think that we never make mistakes and are always on top of things, but the reality is that we can’t always control situations 100 percent.  Customers generally are understanding and if you make the effort to fix a problem to create a successful outcome for your customer, they generally appreciate it.  Communication is key and it can make you look even better if you let your customer know that your focus is on making sure you’ve gone above and beyond to make sure they get what they want.

Reflection: It is important to acknowledge that problems can’t always be resolved to the customer’s satisfaction.  Perhaps they ordered a custom product that got destroyed in a fire and replacements just cannot be produced in time or maybe the customer is not satisfied with how their order was handled, even with a positive result.

There are situations that are out of your control, but as long as you have done everything you can to reach a positive result, sometimes you have to settle with having an unhappy customer or losing a customer.  It is not an ideal situation, but it is a reality.  The best case scenario for that situation is that your customer is caught in their own panic zone so there’s always the chance they will realize your efforts and come back.

Just remember that the reason you are in business is because of your customers so they and their happiness need to be your immediate focus.  Any internal factors causing these disasters should be evaluated once the problem is resolved to prevent repeating them in the future.

The Power of a Positive Customer Experience: The Quick & Easy Shopping Experience

We’ve all heard the adage of “receive good service and you’ll tell one person, but receive bad service and you’ll tell ten,” but do companies heed this advice?  Not all.  If you’ve ever visited yelp.com, you’ll see loads of exactly what customers think about businesses.  Granted, everyone and every business can have a bad day, but if there are repeated negative comments about a product or service, it may be wise to fix the problem lest you risk losing your customers to another business.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that customers don’t want to be bogged down by excess information and aren’t concerned with what will make things run more smoothly for your company; they are interested in a fast, easy transaction, satisfying product/service and minimal disruption to their daily life.  If you want happy customers and repeat business, you must cater to their needs.  The easier and more positive you make their experience, the better results you will yield.

Take for example two grocery store chains.  One is a super mega store with additional household products and generally lower prices, the other is a regular grocery store with a savings club card.

Mega store is appealing because you can find just about whatever you’re looking for there and the prices really can’t be beat.  Sure, the store isn’t as clean and the employees don’t necessarily help you very efficiently, but you can usually find your way around the store easily and the savings mean you can buy more for less.

Then consider regular store.  The store is clean, well-stocked, the employees are friendly and helpful and there are often great deals on products you need.  The prices are a bit higher, but you get that extra bit of service and the confidence of a clean store which increases the value of your experience.

Now flash forward to the end of your shopping trip: you’ve loaded everything you need into your cart, spent a good hour at the store, are hungry, maybe you spent all day at work and you’ve got a ton of things to do at home.  In other words, it’s time to get out and move on with your busy day.

Now mega store has 30 check stands, which looks promising, but only 3 of them are open and each has at least 10 people waiting.  If each transaction takes 3 minutes, that means you’ll be waiting in line for 30 minutes!  What about your frozen and refrigerated foods?  They’ve already been in your cart for at least 15 minutes and will be in your car on the ride home for another 15 minutes (because most mega stores aren’t right in your neighborhood) so your cold food will have been out for at least an hour by the time you get it home.  Maybe it’s not a big deal, but knowing that, if your milk tastes a little funny in the next day or two, it will surely cross your mind that perhaps your food could have gotten out of the “safe” temperature range while waiting at the grocery store.  You spite the fact that you spent so much time at this store but tell yourself it was worth it because you saved some money.

Regular store has about a dozen check stands and at least half are attended.  The lines have maybe two or three people in each and occasionally, you are the lucky one who gets called to go to a newly opened register to expedite your checkout process.  You spend maybe 5 minutes in the checkout and another 5 minutes driving home because regular grocery stores are usually much closer to neighborhoods.  Your cold food has been out of the cold for approximately 25 minutes and you arrive home 35 minutes faster than you would have, had you gone to mega store, plus you don’t feel rushed due to being forced to wait to pay for your purchase.  You realize you may have spent a bit more money than you would have at mega store, but you saved time and frustration so you don’t mind spending a little more.

These two scenarios are very real customer experiences existing today.  One of a customer’s final impressions of a shopping experience is checking out, when they are paying a company so it can stay in business.  How do you want to than your customer for keeping you in business?  By providing sub-par customer service then making them wait in line half an hour so they can pay you for it?

Eventually, this kind of treatment starts to grate on customers and they decide it’s not worth the savings to put up with the hassle involved.  This is when the regular stores can step in and win over these frustrated customers with exceptional customer service and quick check out.

But it’s not limited to just grocery stores or even retail stores for that matter; this situation goes for any business with customers.  While it can be tempting to undercut the competition in price, it’s important to focus on making the customer experience as positive as possible, even if it costs a little more.

Another example is an auto insurance company that takes an hour-long phone call during business hours and multiple call transfers to handle a policy change that another company lets its customers manage online at any time of day in minutes.  Or how about a cable service provider who arrives at the end of a 4 hour window, causing you to miss a day of work versus another company that can schedule a 2 hour window on a weekend?

It is the ease of transaction, the satisfying product and/or service and the minimal disruption of daily life that create positive customer experiences and can land you life-long customers.

What examples of positive or negative customer experiences have you encountered?

Ocean Marketing: A Public Relations Nightmare and How to Avoid it

If I’ve learned anything in my career, it’s the importance of getting things in writing as well as being courteous to your customers—the lifeblood of any business. Getting things in writing not only serves as a helpful reminder of what needs to be done, it can also help trace the cause and lead-up to both successes and failures to help you succeed in the future.

Email chains serve as a timeline between multiple parties and since everything is in writing, there’s no confusion about what details were spelled out, unlike remembering chicken scratch notes from a meeting. Have you ever been in a long meeting and left remembering only a few vital points and some humorous commentary that didn’t have anything to do with the main topic? This is a time when getting things in writing can help you succeed.

Now, imagine that same meeting with a written agenda with room for note taking then receiving a summary of what was discussed with a plan of action laid out? This way of thinking follows the basic presentation training of “I’m going to tell you what I’m going to talk about, I’m going to talk about it, then I’m going to tell you what I talked about.” Three chances to get the information in your head.

Another great reason for emailing information is it enables you to search for it at a later time in the event you need to obtain information or follow-up. I’ve made a point of including order or model numbers in emails so if I want to trace the lead-up to an order or follow-up on a particular order, all I have to do is search for the order number.

There are times, however, when getting things in writing can be negative. As with anything digital, it is important to understand how easily information, photos, videos or even sound clips can be spread. While the intent may not always be malicious, it can quickly turn that way, especially if emotions get involved.

Take for example, the recent case of Paul Chrisoforo from Ocean Marketing. If you haven’t heard of him yet, he is a public relations professional who forgot his manners and how easy it is to forward an email. What started out as a simple inquiry from a customer regarding the delivery date of a pre-ordered a video game controller, quickly turned into a career train wreck for Paul. Instead of just giving the customer a straight answer, he was vague, got irritated with the customer, then completely insulted and spoke inappropriately to the customer.

In his tirade of insulting the customer, he, in return, let the customer know just how important he was, how many powerful people he knew, and how many gaming expos his company would be attending. When he mentioned PAX, the Penny Arcade Expo, the customer decided that it was time to inform Mike Krahulik, creator of popular comic and blog Penny Arcade, as well as head of the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX).

When Mike read the disastrous email chain, he let Paul know he wouldn’t be getting a booth at the expo. Rather than calm down or even look into who this Mr. Krahulik was, Paul continued the insults, power trip and name dropping. By that point, Mike decided he’d had enough of the drama, and informed Paul that he would be featured on his blog Penny Arcade the next day. Paul was still excited for the feature and PR until he realized who he was dealing with. Now he’s begging for the publicity to stop and has written an apology to both the customer and to Mike, but at this point, he’s completely damaged his reputation as a PR professional.

Although this put Paul and his company in a very negative light, I would say that this could actually help his career, similarly to the way the E. coli scare at Jack-In-The-Box helped their sales.  At the time, no one wanted to eat there, but shortly thereafter, it was regarded as one of the safest places to eat because the restaurant chain was taking extra precautions to ensure no one else got sick from their food.

Could this be the same case with Mr. Christoforo? Could he really be a brilliant enough PR professional to swing his career into a successful one or has he ruined his career in public relations forever?

I’m sure there are times when it might feel good to really let a customer know what you think, but in the long run, it’s not good for anyone. And worse, as Paul Christoforo so clearly demonstrated, giving a customer that kind of ammunition can be extremely damaging, not just for the person who sent it, but for the reputation of the company as well. Even if you aren’t intending to be insulting or short with someone, because it is in writing and not spoken, it can sometimes come off that way.

So keep your customers happy and your reputation safe with a few tips:

  • Write every correspondence with the knowledge that it only takes one click to forward your message. If you wouldn’t want someone else reading it, you probably shouldn’t write it.
  • If the person you’re communicating seems unclear about what you have written or seems to be getting frustrated, call the person or allow them to “please call” you so you can ensure you are on the same page. If you want to keep that record in writing, it is perfectly acceptable to write a follow-up email “per our conversation” to reiterate your points.
  • Always be courteous and polite, opting to close the email with “thank you” or “best regards” rather than “thanks…” or just your email signature. Make them feel special.
  • If you’re not sure how your email will be taken, have someone else read it. Don’t read it to them because they need to read it as your customer would—without your tone of voice.

The customer may not always be right, but no one likes to be told they are wrong and if someone is paying for a product or service, they want the respect they deserve from that company. Treat them well and you will prosper. Treat them poorly and you will damage your and your company’s reputations.

Penny Arcade Blog Post: http://penny-arcade.com/resources/just-wow1.html

Mastering PowerPoint with a Slide Master

If you haven’t used a slide master in PowerPoint yet, you are missing out on one of the greatest points of efficiency in the program!

Now, PowerPoint has defaults and I’m sure you’ve become familiar with the various color themes and defaults.  However, to create the most streamlined presentation using fonts designs and colors you choose, you can save loads of time by creating a slide master.

So what is a slide master?  Depending on which version you have, you can usually click on view and select View then Slide Master.  This will take you to a setup section of your presentation where you can choose how you want your presentation to look.

Generally, you would start with the top slide which then dictates the balance of your slides.  Normally, you have somewhat of an idea of what your presentation will look like and the general layout of the slide.  For instance, I can’t stand Times New Roman font, so the first thing I do is change the font to something more appealing, such as Calibri or Verdana.

For most of the presentations I am currently working on, I have a section with bullet points and an image of the product on each slide.  On some slides, I will have two sections of bullet points and images.  So in the slide master view, I set up these slides how I want the final presentation to appear so when I am creating those slides, all I have to do is right click on a new slide and select the pre-made layout I have created for that design.

In most cases, presentations are created to display to a customer or in a learning environment–either way, you want to impress and leave your audience with a great impression of your product or service.  The best way to accomplish that goal is to keep some simple ideas in mind:

  • Keep it clean and simple – don’t overload on graphics, colors or multiple fonts.  Never use more than three fonts and stick to clean, simple colors that blend well together.
  • Go easy on text – provide summary bullet points that are made to supplement your presentation.  Never read a presentation word for word unless you want to bore your audience.  Give them brief reference points as a summary of the overall message you give verbally.
  • Keep images relevant – nothing says newbie like an overload of clip art.  Make sure all images you use are clean, backgrounds removed, and large enough to see sufficiently.  Remember that cartoons can be insulting to others’ intelligence so be wary whenever using cartoons unless it is relevant.
Using a slide master is the most efficient way to keep a streamlined presentation so you can focus on your content, rather than making sure each slide is laid out correctly.  With minimal planning during initial planning, you can save loads of time in formatting later down the road.

NOTE: If you are sending a presentation to a client, keep in mind that different versions of PowerPoint appear very differently.  The features that make presentations appear so attractive in PP 2007 are not all present in earlier versions, so you could potentially send an otherwise incredible presentation to someone who cannot see the features that make it so attractive.  Take some precautions to preserve your presentation:

  • Confirm the version of PowerPoint your recipient has
  • Opt to create  a PDF version of the presentation to preserve the exact look of it (CutePDF offers an excellent free PDF creating program)
  • Print a hi-res version of your presentation and snail mail it to your client
PowerPoint is an incredibly powerful sales and marketing tool and with simple tips like this, you can easily create incredible presentations.