Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Customer Service - can it be delivered in public service?

Sure can:-))

In Germany, probably like in most other countries, one is obliged to register at the place of living. 

So normally that is just a thing you HAVE to do. The agents in the city council office treat you as you would be just a mere "case" for them. More work on the desk.

Not so in Dresden, where I had my most enjoyable memories getting my passport some 12 years ago during the carneval time and it was a whole lot of laughter and joy over there.

Yesterday I was heading towards the same place to register and make myself a "Citizen of Dresden". As it is the time between Xmas and New Year's Eve I wondered whether the place would be open and phoned the general city information. Got through (in Leipzig that line was either taken or you waited for ages, by the way I lived in Leipzig for the last four years, not feeling like a "Leipziger".

Alright I got off the tram in front of the town hall (all the Dresden suburbs used to independant cities and therefor had their own town hall from the late 19th century). All lights shut off in the building - almost;-) I wondered ("Didn't they tell you there would be service until 6 PM? Now it is 5 PM. Almost all dark. Strange."), stepped up the staircase and -surprise- the main door was open.

So I went in, looked around and found my way to the ticket machine (to make the queuing easier). Pulled my number, and expected to wait (saw dozens of people in Leipzig earlier that day when I was over there). No way, a few seconds later I was invited to next free service agent and waived in.

..and off we went, quickly she got the data into the computer, checked name and signed the piece a paper (on a WACOM tablet - so the electronic signatur is right in the computer, without copying and scanning the paper - great lean stuff:-)). We had a nice short chat and told her about my previous visit and how much I enjoyed it.

Five minutes later I was out of the office again and thought:

"Whow. that was customer service I would like to see not only in a city council but also at companies who have paying customers, like car manufacturers, railway companies and any other business type company"

A great example how easily the customer can be appreciated and takes his experience into the world (sure will post the City of Dresden about that story:-)).

Best regards and let's see where there are other fine examples around the world. Feel free to comment and write your story.

Ralf

Monday, December 22, 2008

Memorable Rail Journey - anything changed?

Dear readers of that customer orientated blog,

Have you ever felt the emptiness of your words when talking to a service employee at -any- railway corporation? You feel like a piece of luggage and nobody -from the official body- is appreciating that you are actually paying their monthy salary. I guess I am not the only one around with such memories (and to be honest as I travel quite a lot on the railway tracks, due to my green attitude;-), I happen so see regularly events that are not driving potential customers into the trains but rather drive them out in their car-pooling, using their own car, or just abandon the railways (and talking bad mouth about their experience:-().

It doesn't have to be that way:-))

The only thing it needs is the willingness and courage to see things, talk about them in open public (why not publish in the papers?) and make officials aware that the CUSTOMER is an asset!

Thalys Journey says more on what happened during an almost 10-hour-trainride (could have gone to Boston in the same time almost - not quite as the qeues at the airport in Boston could take another two hours:-().

Toyota, the world leader in corporate learning and empowering people to their strengths, sees in problems always to become better in the future. Am I wrong when I have a different feeling concerning the service problems at railways around the world? Especially the ones in Europe that are talking like they would be THE FIRST customer orientated corporations in the country don't play to REAL CUSTOMER SATISFACTION.


What was good?

Concerning that specific journey the connections between trains (in Frankfurt/Main and Cologne) was about the only thing that was good. Besides that I had to chance to have some rest and could read an interesting book (wouldn't have had the chance in a car;-()

What was bad?

Mis- and Non-Communication was the main driver to dissatisfaction and constant negative rememberance about the journey that started so well.

What have I learned?

Hm, difficult to say. Seems to be that every such event is like closed silo of information (nothing is leaking into the bigger organization and so nothing is changed, as far as customers can sense - you would surely run into similar difficulties again in the future. It is like my former boss always, "We have tackled the problem now, why find out what has been the root cause? Everything is fine now!")

Taking the initiative writing proposal letters to the railway officials seems useless and yet I can tell from own experience after some none-reaction efforts and letters you get to the RIGHT PERSON somewhere in the corporation dschungle:-) And things can change, if the pressure is really too hard and you are not the only one who is making noise. 

Getting papers involved in the issue is quite useful as an event showed during the flooding in Dresden in 2002. In official press bulletin of the German Railway it was that helpers who would help in the aftermath in Dresden would be transported free of charge by German Railway. Turned out -after a call to the press officer- that this offer was just valid to the Red Cross, THW, and other "official" bodies. As soon as I got -while I was in charge of the help organization- the first helper on the phone I told him the story and advised him to get in contact with either a newspaper or a radio station telling them about it.

Guess what? Only a few hours later we got a phone call by the office of the CEO asking what would be the problem about the issue. I told him and had -as we worked officially with the City Council of Dresden together- a few possible solutions to make sure that people wouldn't use the offer for free travels around the republic.

Everything worked out fine and I was surprised what is possible in terms of change and attitude towards customer needs:-))

Wonder how this could work out this time?

What is the next action out of this journey?

Interesting question and I would say, let go and see which intervention would be most useful to get the most for customers (potential, present and future) and the Thalys (by the way, German Railways, are also in need for some change towards customer orientation -but that is another story to be posted soon;-))

Please feel free to tell your stories (let me know and I will add you as contributor and writer on the blog).

Best regards and save and joyful travels around whereever you may be

Ralf

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Customers voice - sometimes difficult to understand

Ten minutes ago I have arrived by taxi from Leipzig Main Station. On my way I asked the driver about the model we were going in. It was a Volkswagen Sharan (pretty nice actually and solid quality so it seems).

I ask the driver, "Nice car. Anything you would like to be better or more appropriate?"

His answer, "It is o.k."

My insisting 2nd question, "Hm, there is probably something that could be better or is already perfect?"

Driver, "Could use less gas or diesel."

Me, "Anything else, as I would like to make the "perfect" car?"

Driver, "No, and this will never work! Nothing will be perfect!"

Me, "Hm, there is a company in India that is willing to design the perfect car and actually produce it in Germany. That is the reason, I am asking you as a customer."

Driver, "...."

....and the talk died:-(

Strange, how can we deliver customer value if the customer isn't willing to articulate what he really wishes? Are we doomed to produce guessing what customers really want? Do we have to get into other media to hear customer's voice?

A strange experience and I wonder how other have experienced similar things.

Best regards,

Ralf

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Transparency and quick customer reply

@safttante has mentioned and brought into the open, what has happened to one of their customers who had bought hot spiced wine earlier.

Walther's, a great producer of fruit juices based in Arnsdorf/Sachsen about half an hour east of Dresden sells flexible 3-l containers that don't have to be refrigerated due to the innovative clip.


Unfortunately this clip is different on the 10-l box and this one has to be finished in one gulp;-)

Real customer service orientated this "error" has been directly communicated with the customer who has complained, put on the Saftblog and -probably- is already well under way to be changed in the near future.

A great example for what LEAN THINKING is: CUSTOMER SERVICE OF ITS BEST.

Looking for more examples of that in Saxony, Germany and the World.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Memorable Journey (2/2)

As promised, back on the writing deck;-)

The train is still waiting at Aachen Central Station which is -generally speaking- quite normal (for some time;-)) and then the unnormal events take place.

  • First of all one of the conductors is leaving the train (it is the German one), even though the passengers don't change much in number (there is not coming a second one).
  • A slight delay as everybody could sense and see (comparing scheduled time to actual time
  • Suddenly - would have been nice at night- the lights in the Thalys go out, and one has the feeling that someone is trying to restart the engine (surely not a car's one;-)); this goes on for a quarter of an hour, shutting off lights, trying to restart - no info yet:-((
Then the inevitable happens: it is announced that the train can't go on towards Paris (passing Brussels where my interview partner is going to pick me up at 14:35h, the scheduled arrival time). It was like a flooding - only this time people are flooding the railway office downstairs to check whether and how to reach the connection trains (from Brussels there is starting an Eurostar towards London via the Channel). Nobody of the staff has a clue how to handle that, no general information for these passengers - I wonder which courses the staff has undertaken to cope with such situations in general? Nothing serious really and yet something with great impact on customer satisfaction (there will be stories like mine being told after the journey is over and the memories of a bad and unpleasant railway journey will drive people again on the roads - with negative impact on climate change:-().

After about 10 minutes standing in line, translating for some English, there is a rumour heard (nothing clearly said via loudspeaker, just word-of-mouth and yet we all get it):

THE TRAIN CAN CONTINUE ITS JOURNEY TOWARDS PARIS (with some slight delay of about 80 minutes by this time;-() and -I can't believe that!- a FULL REFUND for the travel (to be refunded at a Thalys office - which is something of a constraint as we will see later)

Everybody who has not left Aachen Central Station via other means of transport is jumping back on the Thalys and off we go - a good feeling and yet I phone to Brussels to announce my late coming - my interview partner is driving into Brussels from the country side to pick me up).

The green hills of Belgium pass alongside, we enjoy the ride and think of our destinations (some of us are seeing their families in Paris, others are travelling further up to Scotland via the Eurostar connection, and I will have a job interview in Brussels, which I am really looking forward to). So we have all our day dreams and everything seems fine.

...until Liége.

Entering the Central Station I think by myself, "Good that I am heading further to Brussels, as this looks rather grey and unwelcoming!". Reality should take hold of that thought quicker than I can imagine.

It is when we are leaving the station up a rather small hill and a signal makes us stop on the tracks. Probably we have messed up the schedules of other trains by our late coming? Ok, some waiting will be necessary.

Suddenly I feel like beamed into Aachen again, as the engine is shut off, lights go of and the previously experienced procedure comes into life again. 

"What is going on?"

"Didn't the conductor say in Aachen, everything would be ok? Where, by the way is he anyway? Haven't seen anybody of the personal coming along in our coach."

So, while all other passengers (around 300 I guess in 6-7 coaches) stay seated I take a walk to fulfill my natural curiousity, to find out what is really going on. Wandering through every coach everywhere the same picture, people talking and waiting for the inevitable (Do I see action? Where are the people of today who take personal responsibility of the reality they are in? Anybody thinking the same as me, finding out about the root-causes (yeah, here my lean thinking passion comes through - especially as I am a customer, a rather small one in terms of cash I bring Thalys (merely 42 € for the distance between Aachen and Brussels) and yet a CUSTOMER that brings money in today and will in the future (eventually;-)).

Another hour waiting just a few meters from Liége Central Station and soon we hear that the train has been running with 60% of its power due to engine problems and now that small hill is being a BIG PROBLEM to overcome.

Alright, what to do? Phoning my interview partner again, as he would be still too early at Brussels Central Station waiting for nothing and wait for what will come.

Soon we travel back into Liége Central Station and new miscommunication happens, as nobody knows which train to catch (there is standing an IC on the opposite track), some people stay on the Thalys until after some more minutes the conductor is telling everybody, that THIS THALYS is going to nowhere!

What to do? Jumping on the IC? Is it the right one? Reading the schedules on the track to find out whether this is the correct one to Brussels is not easy (French, different layout where you have to know which is the destination and then you can check which trains are running in that direction). 

Chaos! Chaos! Chaos!

Finally, just before moving the IC opens up the doors again (thanks to a service guy who was phoning the folks on this train) and loads of Thalys passengers flow into this IC which again is delayed with about 20-30 min to its initial departure.

A hell lot of experiences you really don't like to have yourself and yet this is the STARTING POINT to deliver better service in the future (NOT ONLY AT THALYS but everywhere in the service world).

What was good?
What was bad?
What have I learned?
What is the next action out this journey?

(four simple questions, which I have learned from my dear friends from Monkey Business)

I will answer them in a follow up and the personell (up and down the ladder) of service institutions such as railway companies shall practice these as well.

Together we can co-create a profitable and yet sustainable future of public transport and rail travels (which I really prefer pretty much:-))

Friday, October 31, 2008

Memorable Journey (1/2)

Late summer 2008, a fun weekend of Ultimate Frisbee in Amsterdam is laying ahead and before that I arranged a job interview with a dear friend in Brussels. It has taken us about four months since our first -coincidental and driven by syncronicity- meeting far down at the Indian Ocean in Oman, during the 3rd SoL Global Forum to make that happen.

As I always do, being fond of public and rail transport, I take the train for such travels - much more relaxed travelling with time to sleep, read and talk. Getting the ticket for the distance from the German-Belgian border to Brussels (I own a German Railway Pass for unlimited travels) was rather time consuming and couldn't be done via internet (strange in times of globalization and web 2.0 solutions - I wondered;-().  I leave Leipzig early in the morning with an ICE (just recently the ones running between Leipzig and Frankfurt - where I was heading to catch the next connection - are not running due to problems with axles;-() with an approximate arrival time in Brussels around 2:35pm in the afternoon.

Even though we are a bit delayed on the route to Frankfurt everything works fine and the super-highspeed (compared to French TGV, that is rather slow travelling with a speed of around 300 km/h) to Cologne could be caught. Everything seems working flawlessly - like it should and probably most of time does. It is only the single events that come into the public and nobody talks about what is going like it should.

Cologne - second connection on the way - changing to the Thalys which is starting its way from Cologne to Paris via Brussels. Like the last time (it had been to a Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Brussels two years earlier) people are rushing, coaches are packed and litte space for luggage and the interior somehow looks worn (must be the heavy use of rail travellers;-)).

I enjoy the ride with the other folks on the train, which is a real multi-lingual, and multi-cultural conglomorate (English, French, Arabs, Turkish, German, you name it) and it was fun listening to all the different voices. Besides I was going to an interview, looking forward to two days of excellent Frisbee at ADAM (actually the most choice HAT Tournament I know Breakfast on Sunday is a MUST:-)).

Always curious about service and how customers are treated (everywhere I am a customer I play two roles: customer, observer (=mirror to service personal) I scan the overall situation and especially what could be made better to achieve an excetional service (which will attract future -presently potential- customers).

Due to the multi-lingual passengers the announcements have been in three languages (French, German, English) and there have two (?) conductors on board of the Thalys (German, French).

I am reading my books and let the landscape pass and then we arrive in Aachen - the border town before we move into Belgium. As the non rail traveller must know the electricity system changes from German Railway to Belgium Railway (the Thalys is multi-system capable which makes a great positive impact on the travelling time as locomotion changes are not necessary).

That shall be the first part of the story which will continue in part 2 following over the weekend and Aachen is where the troubles started (which eventually made it an unforgettable journey).

See you

Ralf

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Coffee - it can make a real difference

Have you challenged the café of your choice asking for permission eating some cake bought elsewhere and enjoying their coffee?

What would be the answer in most cases (if we would ask;-))?

"No, sorry that is not allowed. My boss could come back and I have no power to allow that."

What would be the harm for their business? There must be some hidden assumptions, as I can't see any bad impact (especially if it is a café focusing mainly on the coffee and not so much on the muffins, cakes, and such).

Meeting with a friend -coming back from a business trip- at Leipzig Central Station she bought some special cake ("Baumkuchen") at a bakery and then we looked for a nice place to have a coffee, a chat and eating the cake in the meanwhile. First choice on our search reacted like the one just mentioned:-(

Then couraged by this we asked at another one, The Coffee Culture (just opposite track 17), and guess what happened?

"Yes, sure. We don't mind on the contrary, you are very welcome. Come on in:-)"

So we did, enjoyed two hours talk, great coffee and atmosphere and one or the other great idea for the future (besides writing this short lines).

Small things will surely stick in your head and you talk about, tell others and so generate indirectly new customers for the place that has hosted you so generously.

Cheers,

Ralf

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Welcome to the Mac Family

And that is what they said to me. I didn't just buy a computer, I was invited into a community. From the minute I walked through the door, I could see that this was going to be a very different experience to all the other computer buying expeditions that I have been on.

I walked through the doors armed with all my "research" tucked under my arm, looking like I meant business. But I wasn't attacked by sales staff, just welcomed with smiles and greetings. They left me alone with their stuff, they didn't hassle me and they didn't try to intimidate me with their infinite technical knowledge. The store and customer service delivery was designed as if they wanted me to stay and play.

Now I'm not going to do the Mac Vs PC thing in this blog, it's Apple's customer service style that I want to draw attention to. The key winning features are:

1. Making the customer feel welcomed, not like a potential thief
2. Assume that the customer already knows what they want
3. Well trained staff that love as well as understand their products
4. Stores designed to welcome customers to touch, feel and experiment with what they are about to buy (yes, humans are basically curious, sensuous, tactile creatures)
5. Understand that if the customer doesn't buy today, they will come back and buy tomorrow if the exploratory experience was positive
6. Create a sense of community and belonging; that this is not a once-off purchase, but a relationship that will go on for years.

This was the best customer service experience I have had in years. And this is not a model that is difficult to replicate. So I think to myself, all those businesses offering crappy customer services, do they really want, or deserve, to be in business at all?

Cheers
Marigo

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Customers - are they relevant for CEOs?

Twitter is a cool tool:-))

So I got notice of the following article at HBR:

How CEOs Should Work With Customers

...there surely is way to more success and it leads to the customer and with the customer.

Cheers,

Ralf

Customer stakeholder No. 1

Two days ago, while on the web chatting with somebody via Skype, the following flew into my mailbox:

... in the new edition of Business Insight"

edited by MIT Sloan Management Review (if you don't know it yet - check it out!).

The authors of the study bring the CUSTOMER into the focus.

To quote just the first three lines (link provided further down):

"NOBODY'S PERFECT. That's a fact, not an excuse.

Which is why it is crucial for companies to realize that the way they handle customer complaints is every bit as important as trying to provide great service in the first place. Because things happen. ...."

Have you with your customer/client "hat on" been valued in the past? What was missing?

Cheers,

Ralf

PS.: The above mentioned article can be read at 
http://sloanreview.mit.edu/wsj/insight/brand/2008/09/22/

Sunday, September 21, 2008

HR Electronic Information - over and over again:-(

Haven't you faced the same problem: applying for a new job via the web you ought to input your personal information into a HR portal!

Just imagine you have applyed for 10 such job. How much time has gone by and how much better could you have used it otherwise?

Lost time equivalent = 9 x 1 Hour x 100 €/hour/person x Persons applying online (for 10 applications you have initially put up one full completion) = 900 €/Person * Persons applying online (?)

Imagine there would be 5 Mio persons around the planet applying online in one given year. Then the lost time equivalent (LTE) would be 900 € * 5.000.000 = 4.5 Billion € per year!

Sounds a bit crazy, or? Just boil the 100 €/hour/person down to 20 €/hour/person and it still would be an LTE of 9 Billion € per year.

Enough for a business, don't you think?

Why do we have to give the information over and over again?

Shouldn't we rather see the following:

1. You provide the information once (as most employers use similar or even the same software for that)

2. Either the information is stored on your computer or a neutral clearing place from where your information can be transfered to the employers's HR programs

3. Updates possible - automatic notice to already transfered info

4. Providing a worldwide standard

What is lacking?

1. No knowledge exchange amongst providers of software, employers using it and its customers (US!)

2. Lacking trust on sharing information in the present communication ways

3. No connected software solution yet

4. Diverse single efforts around the world -perhaps!

So who is joining the new collaboration project?

Crazy ideas always start somewhere, and that is here!

Ralf

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Recognizing your face:-)

Yesterday, it happened at Leipzig Main Station, I was on the way with my Finish guest from Team Academy to buy a ticket from Leipzig to Berlin-Tegel.

As I am owner of a Bahncard 100 (unlimited free travelling on German Railway Network) I have the privilege to be served on a special counter. Normally you have to show your Bahncard 100 to prove that you are allowed to use this special counter.

To my surprise the lady smiled and said, "That's not necessary, I know you from past events. You have bought several special travel arrangements in the past, haven't you?"

That was the moment when I felt well treated:-)

...and so the conversation around the buying of the ticket was a real pleasure.

Service could be so easy and doesn't cost a cent extra (on the contrary it gives more €€€ for the companies if its employees treat the customers in a welcoming way).

Quite inspired by what is possible I am looking forward to a enjoyable coming week -to all of us:-)

Cheers, 

Ralf

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Customer service shake up

The revolution in customer service is underway and this has been largely driven by the growth of social media, networking and collaboration that have been enabled by Web 2.0 technology. Yes, customers are doing it for themselves and standing up to shabby treatment and a lack of imagination in product development and service delivery. And businesses, service providers and governments are finally listening...really listening. Those that are not listening will hasten their ride to the graveyard of legacy business models.

My collaborator in this blog, Ralf, asked the question, is service valuable and accountable? Let's keep this simple and round it off to three types of service providers:

1. The Good
These are providers that love what they do and care about their customers. They continuously train their staff and maintain a high quality product and service. This can range from small operators like my favorite cafe who know my name and how I like my coffee to large operators like Amazon who knows what books I bought yesterday and what I may like tomorrow.

2. The Bad
These are providers that have established a formula that may have worked once upon a time, but have not bothered to update or improve their products and service. Where flexibility or customisation are required, customers are forced to pay a penalty or put up with a sub-optimal product or service. These providers are usually a throw back to the Henry Ford business proposition: you can have any color as long as its black...These providers choose cost efficiency over customer effectiveness.

3. The Ugly
These guys promise you the world and usher you into customer lock in. Once you're in they throw away the key. A prime example here: I have a Blackberry from Optus here in Australia on a two year contract. Earlier this year the device developed a fault and needed to be fixed. To cut a long story short, Optus had to send it to a specialist in Sydney to get fixed. It took 10 weeks and they could not offer me another device as a replacement or while I waited. I have been a customer of Optus for 15 years and I effectively run my business off my Blackberry. Did Optus care? NO! No prizes for guessing what I am going to do when the contract is finished. Hasta la vista Optus.

For my own business I work very hard to keep it in the GOOD category. It must be working as I have a happy, growing and profitable customer base.

Which business are you?

Marigo.

Is service valuable and accountable?

Good morning everybody!

Isn't that happening that you feel not appreciated as a customer sometimes? Standing in a 50 m queue at a check-in counter at the airport? Waiting to be served in a Restaurant (perhaps even with a Michelin star)?

Of course it should be like:

1. Online-chat hotline at Yugma (a small and free of charge communication software tool to share your desktop with somebody on the other side of the planet to discuss a matter), where you get instant help by a real person - awesome:-))

2. Metro (a small freeware - doesn't cost a nickel- to find your way around in foreign cities, especially on buses, trams and trains), where you can send your personal improvement ideas and up-to-date data to the programmers in order to get it directly in the data

3. Danish Railway Company, where have leaflets at every seat which explain how to get out the window (in case of an -hopefully never to become true- emergency) - I felt save like on a plane. Still you can do more when you moving not 10.000 m above the earth.

....and there are numerous examples -bad and good- around the world. Let us share the stories and find out what could be done better for us -the customers- and give the companies perhaps some hints on how they could provide a better service (without spending more extra money).

See you and your stories right here;-))

Best regards

Ralf