If you've never hired secret shoppers for yourself, here are some common messages they have to communicate to their clients. Are these same issues persuading your own customers to walk away without leaving clues?
Message #1: Don't lay off Ben to save $10 -- and lose $100,000 in the process.
About once a month, I stop by a major supermarket chain for a handful of items I've forgotten at my regular grocery store. As I approach the checkout lanes, I see the same scene of frustration: one lane open (ironically, the express check-Out!) with three to 10 shoppers standing there, rolling their eyes at the slow process. Each time, I vow never to come back. Management reduces staff during the "slow" periods to save a few dollars in salary -- but drives away long-term customers because of the wait.
Message #2: Teach people skills to your frontline influencers.
The most common phrase at customer service counters seems to be "next." Customers feel as though they're being processed like sausage. That face-to-face or phone interaction creates the first either favorable or unfavorable connection. It either opens or closes the gate for your organization to influence the buyer to walk through and look around, to investigate how you might meet their needs.
If that interaction is online, the email has to be even warmer and friendlier than face to face. If service agents or technical staff can't write an email without sounding like a robot, don't let them near your customers.
Message #3: Don't play loop-da-loop.
Just last month, I spent more than five hours over a period of a couple of weeks with my phone company trying to get them to resolve what they claimed was an "unpaid bill." (They had, in fact, sent the bill in error for an old fax line that had been disconnected three months earlier.) They kept routing me from department to department (billing, receiving, research) and asking for documentation to be scanned and emailed -- all to clear up their error.
Some large companies actually hide from their customers. Don't believe me? Go to a few websites and see how difficult it is to find a phone number or email to contact them.
Message #4: Order and see what garbage you get.
Pray that you do not ever receive wrong or damaged merchandise. As a gift, my husband ordered four additional place settings of our flatware by calling a 1-800 number. The tint on all four settings matched, but the package contained four spoons of a completely stray pattern. A call-back to the number generated this response: "Oh, just keep them. That happens sometimes."
When I ordered pottery from a different online retailer last Christmas and I called about the broken butter dish, the agent's response was, "Oh, yeah, those get broken all the time. The factory doesn't pack them very well."
Even if corrected, such responses and errors make customers feel as if they "got lucky" this time, but next time -- if there is a next time -- they'll likely be the victim of such service.
Message #5: Don't patronize.
As a frequent flyer with more than four million miles on one airline alone, I'm pronouncing the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) the winner here. As airline passengers wind their way up to the checkpoints, start to empty their valuables into whatever buckets they can find and lug their bags onto the conveyor belts, the agents bark orders, roll eyes and give them patronizing looks like, "Why can't you people get these rules right?"
What the agents lack, of course, is perspective. They don't realize that different airports have their own subset of rules -- rules that may or may not follow the national guidelines. Take your shoes off here. Don't take your shoes off there. Take your tablet out of the computer bag. Don't take it out. Retina check. No retina check. Need to see your ID again. Don't need to see your ID again.
What frequent-flying customers are NOT saying (because they would be prevented from boarding their plane on time!) is that TSA enforces the rules inconsistently rules at the various airports. Obviously, customers must deal with TSA -- but they don't have to deal with other organizations that communicate in a patronizing way.
Don't panic. Just listen to what's not being said and fix the problem while there's still time.