Following Up Turns the Tables

Turning the Tables

A friend of mine recently catered a home party for a regular client and received a gratuity that was not as generous as in the past. As part of his regular practice he  placed a follow up call to the client the next day. When asked about the service and food quality the client replied ” I didn’t want to say anything, but one of your employees was not very professional in the way he interacted with my guests. ” “He spent too much time in causal conversation and not enough time clearing dishes.”

My friend thanked the client for making him aware of the issue. He apologized and said he would pay closer attention to supervising his staff and speak to the employee about the incident to ensure it would not happen again.

A few days later in the mail my friend received a check from the client to compensate for the gratuity and a request to cater an upcoming party. The same client made recommendations to her friends regarding his catering service and he was awarded several future catering jobs.

Following up is an opportunity to turn around a bad experiences,  strengthen relationships and turn customers into evangelists.

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I Didn’t Want to Say Anything But…

Ever talk to a customer and at the end of your conversation they say those words “I didn’t want to say anything, but…”

The customer feels hesitant about relaying information and it’s your job to extrapolate it.  It’s so easy to brush it off and sweep it under the carpet, instead keep positive and look at this as an opportunity to turn a bad experience into a positive one. Information obtained from customers can be used to improve processes, service and relationships with customers.

It starts with customer engagement:

  • Listening – Carefully listen to what the customer is saying without interruptions.
  • Documenting – Take detailed notes so the customer does not have to the repeat information.
  • Expressing Empathy – Be empathetic to help prevent further frustration.
  • Apologizing – Say your sorry and be genuine. Focus on restoring the relationship. Let the customer know how the issue will be resolved and what will be done to ensure it does not happen again.
  • Following Up – Take ownership of the issue and keep in contact with the customer on the status and when it will be resolved.

The most important part of this phrase is what comes after the but. Instead of just letting it go by the wayside, take time to stop and listen for an opportunity to learn.

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Giving to Customers Throughout a Lifetime


I can reflect back to a book that was read to me as a child called ” The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. To this day I think of the value it has brought to me throughout my life and am thankful for the message it has instilled upon me.

We often forget about how customers thank us everyday without saying the words thank you. So I thought to myself when interacting with customers what can be done to give the best service and experience?

  • Focus your undivided attention to the customer.
  • Greet customers with a smile. Whether in person or on the phone a smile can be both seen and heard.
  • Recognize customers and address them by name.
  • Listen to customers needs.
  • Anticipate customer preferences.
  • Be knowledgeable about products and services and if you don’t know an answer be diligent in finding the answer.
  • Have patience. Don’t make customers feel rushed. Rushing customers can make them feel unappreciated.
  • Be empowered to do what is required to satisfy a customer.
  • Summarize service issues and explain how and when they will be resolved.
  • Tell customers you appreciate their business.

Rewards for providing the best service may not be expressed in words such as thank you, but by simply having customers come back for more.

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I’ll Return Your Call as Soon as Possible

That’s the phrase I run across frequently when calling a business and getting someones voice mail. What exactly does it mean? When is soon as possible? Is it an hour? The end of the business day, within 24 hours?  That’s right,  if you ask enough people you get a different answer each time.

Don’t let customers make their own assumptions and risk the chance that a customers expectations will not be met.

Instead, consider phrasing a voice mail greeting in this manner ” I’m sorry I missed your call, I’m in the office today and will return your call by 5:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time.”

Remember the more direct and precise in communicating to customers the less chance customers will be disappointed.  Projecting a clear message takes the guess work out of the picture and ensures customer expectations are met.

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ESP or Successfully Anticipating Customer Preferences?

Each time I visit the Fifth Third Bank I would get the eerie feeling that my favorite bank representative Rossana had ESP. Wikipedia says that ESP involves reception of information not gained through the recognized physical senses, but sensed with the mind.

My experience starts by pulling up to the drive-thru window and Rossana greeting me with a smile and before I can say anything she says “Good morning Mr. Sorensen what can I do for you today?”  She notices I’m listening to the radio and asks me what I am listening to. I replied some classic 80’s music. I’m depositing a check and based on passed visits she remembers my preferences of needing a copy of the check along with an account balance. She smiles and asks me if there is anything else that she can help me with today.

My next visit a week later, I’m greeted again with a smile, good morning and by name.  With my radio on Rossana asks “Are you listening to some classic 80’s music?”  Rossana remembered that I liked the 80’s sound which made me feel connected and sincerely interested on a personal level. I gave her a check to be deposited and Rossana mentions that Fifth Third Bank has a new type of savings account with a higher interest rate and asked if I was interested and I said yes I am, but I don’t have time today to sign up.  Rossana replied “I already switched your account over their is no paperwork that needs to be completed.”  She quickly gives me my deposit receipt, copy of the check, my balance and information on the new savings account all in a matter of a few minutes via the drive-thru.

Rossana not only anticipated my personal preferences of getting an account balance and copy of the check each time I visited, but also recognized that I was in a hurry and did all the paperwork in getting me a better yielding savings account.  I realize now that Rossana doesn’t have ESP, but has mastered the skill of successfully anticipating customer preferences and by doing so she takes the hassle out of banking and makes it easy to do business.

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Investing in Customer Service Starts with Employees

Investing in employees is key to consistently deliver exceptional customer service. Improving service quality and productivity can be achieved by improving employee morale and motivation.

Here are some ways to help achieve this:

  • Hire the right people – Focus on personality, those who show interest, enthusiasm and have a passion with working with people.  Ask the candidate to describe a time when a situation did not go as planned and how they communicated the negative news to the customer.
  • Survey customers on a regular basis – Find out what your customers think your employees are doing well and what they are lacking. The most effective way is to call customers directly and ask open ended questions for the best qualitative answers.  Analyze existing records or reports of customer complaints for trends. Survey results are an excellent motivational tool for employees.
  • Training – Employees require continuous training in order to be fully educated to deliver the best solutions to customers.  Consider lunch and learn training sessions.  The company flips the bill for lunch and trains employee’s on new products, services or procedures. Create a role playing workshop with real-life situations and discuss how situations could be diffused or handled differently. Employees that are continually trained helps build confidence when interacting with customers.
  • Meetings – Schedule regular meetings with your customer service team and ask employees prior to the meeting if their are issues that they would like to be included.  In the meeting , don’t limit time to just talk about business related issues, but take time to talk to your team on a personal level like finding out how they spent their weekend. This helps employees feel valued and cared about. The more you learn about employees personally can best help in relating and understanding fellow co-workers which in turn creates a well connected team.
  • Empowering employees – Don’t let employees get shoved into a corner without options when working with customers in delicate customer service situations.  Give employees a list of scenarios or tips on how to best handle customer interactions that pertain to the business allowing them to make informed decisions and provide exceptional service,  but ultimately let employees do what is required to satisfy a customer even if it does mean bending the rules from time to time.
  • Design an incentive program – Incentive programs can help employees enjoy their jobs more and happy employees tend to be more productive and work well with each other and customers.  Incentives must be significant and of perceived value to the employee. Have employees compose a list of rewards and vote on a rewards they would like to receive. Most importantly set goals based on performance objectives of the company that are both measurable and obtainable. 

When companies invest in their employees it shows that they care.  Invest in employees and employees will reinvest in their jobs.

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Memorable customer service experience at hospital

My aunt recently required outpatient surgery at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge when my aunt and I arrived we were greeted by a receptionist with a smile, met with the insurance coordinator who thoroughly explained the insurance coverage spoke with the nurse that took extra time to make sure my aunt was comfortable and finally the doctor whom she has grown to trust over the years.

After the surgery, when I arrived to pick up my aunt a volunteer from the hospital was waiting in front with my aunt and graciously helped her into my car.  We stopped by a local restaurant for lunch and my aunt showed me her discharge paperwork along with a card that read “I hope your visit today was excellent.”  I thought to myself that’s nice gesture,  but a big surprise awaited us when my aunt opened the card and found it was hand signed by people she was in contact with that day.

What a great example of how the health-care system is utilizing unique ways of reaching out to their patients by showing compassion and delivering a memorable experience.

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