Richard R. Shapiro is Founder and President of The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR) and a leading authority in the area of customer satisfaction and loyalty. For 28 years, Richard has spearheaded the research conducted with thousands of customers from Fortune 100 and 500 companies amassing the ingredients of customer loyalty and what drives repeat business. His first book wasThe Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business and The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business, was released February, 2016.
You can order a copy of The Endangered Customer, a Next Caller favorite, here.
NC: What inspired your interest in customer service, and ultimately, to write this book?
Richard: In the book, and this is true, it came from my dad, working in his store. Age 10,11,12. My father was the ultimate salesperson and he clearly believed in relationships and treating people as people first. I was in retail until after college, every summer through high school and college I worked in a retail store, and I think retail is the best way to learn about customer service. Retail can be hospitality or working at a department store. Both of my sons worked in the local pizza parlor starting at age 14 and both are very, very passionate about service. If I’m hiring somebody I love to see that they worked in a pizza parlor or a gas station or anywhere where they talked to consumers one-on-one.
NC: What do you see as the largest challenges facing businesses attempting to provide outstanding customer service in this day and age?
Richard: Budgets are very tight. In any business there’s always money for some things and not money for others, so it’s a challenge to work within a budget. They’re penny wise and pound foolish – to me, the strongest loyalty is to a person – not to a company and not to a brand. Under that basic premise you need to hire good people and treat them well and keep them because these days, products and services are very complicated and if you don’t keep the people who really are knowledgeable- that’s a tremendous asset that you’re losing. As a company, look at where you’re spending money and continually invest in hiring the right people, training the right people, and making sure that they’re customer friendly. That’s one of the ingredients of generating repeat business. Coupled with that, companies think they can save money by having customers shop online, but unless they’ve set up their site to be people to people instead of people to computer they’re turning their products into a commodity. My eight steps are really good for call centers, brick and mortar or eCommerce. That’s the exact same thing for a call center. Unfortunately in the call center, most of the time companies are paying their employees very low wages and many times they’ll leave for another dollar an hour – it just doesn’t make sense to have them go for another dollar an hour.
NC: In your opinion, what differentiates "great" from "outstanding" customer service?
Richard: The great are kind of like my first five steps – the customer really feels that they had a really good customer experience. Their rep was friendly and knowledgeable and engaging, all those things make it a really good customer experience. I’m going to say that makes it great. Where it goes outstanding are my last three steps – getting them to return, showing them they matter, and surprising them in good ways. The customer experience continues. It should not be "one and done." That experience can be great, but if you want it to be outstanding and you want to generate repeat business you have to continue the customer experience. Tell them you want to see them again, call them again, let them know that they matter. Especially in a call center environment, the company many not know them before, but now they reach out to the company so you can collect that information, once you have that customer in your database, you can show them that they’re a loyal customer and they count. That’s what makes the call center so important, after you solve the problem how you continue to communicate with that customer – through email or promotions or letters – is really critical. That way you can continue to build upon that database.
NC: How can companies use enhanced customer information to improve their customer service?
Richard: Number one, if they do the first step which is make them feel welcome, which is why I love Next Caller’s information. It’s really hard, even for the best rep, to enter all that information while also having a personal conversation. The more that the fields are populated with information, then I think that it does allow psychologically, physically, and mentally for the rep to establish some kind of personal relationship at the outset of and during the call. Then three or six months later reach out to the customer again – we know you had an issue, we wanted to let you know that we appreciated your business and care about you, things like that really help. In addition, so many companies that keep good track of their consumers and have it categorized. Sometimes a product is discontinued, and knowing who those consumers that would care about that to reach out to them is important.
NC: Any parting advice for call centers regarding customer service?
Richard: Yes! So many times in a call center environment somebody will say "Thanks for you help!" and the rep will say “No problem” – and they should never be saying that – they should always be saying “No, my pleasure.”
Like what Richard has to say about customer service, call centers, and knowing your customer? Check out his book here.