Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Customer First

(1:10) The definition of Customer Service is putting the customer first. It's not about what makes your job easier, it's about making the customer's experience easier and better.

(1:05) A recent experience brought that home to me and not in a good way. It occurred when I attempted to have the battery changed on my MacBook Air.

(1:02) I worked for Apple in the late 80's/early 90's. I love Apple and I love their products, but in this case, they totally missed the customer service experience. Here's what happened.

(0:57) While in the Bahamas, the battery on my MacBook Air began losing its charge and taking longer to recharge. The classic symptoms of a battery gone bad. I waited until we were in the US and had a car, and called the local Apple Store to arrange to have the battery replaced. Simple enough.

(0:47) I explained my somewhat unusual situation of living on a boat with limited access to transportation. My goal was to ensure I could bring it in and have it done while I waited.

(0:43) I was told I would have to leave it and pick it up 3-4 days later. "Not possible," I told them, and then asked why a battery couldn't be ordered and waiting. "We need to make sure that is the problem, first," I was told.

(0:36) I won't bore you with the long back and forth. Eventually what came out was that no repairs are done at the Apple store, even the most minor things like changing a battery. All units are sent to a central location. In fact, I was told I could probably get my computer back faster if I just mailed it in myself. "Then it'll only take 2-3 days."

(0:25) This break down in basic customer service was occurring because a centralize repair facility made things easier, and most likely cheaper, for Apple. However, it made my experience intolerable.

(0:20) 2-3 days without my computer, my lifeline to my business, is unthinkable. It is like a boatyard waiting 2-3 days for their travel lift or a marina who can't access their docks.

(0:15) Apple has created a product I have come to depend upon yet can't create a customer service experience that supports that dependence. They have forgotten to put the customer experience first.

(0:10) Make sure that you are not making the same mistakes. Think about your policies and procedures. Are you shifting the burden to the boater or taking it on yourself? Make it easy for boaters to do business with you and you will be rewarded.

(0:02) And that's the marina minute.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Less is More

(1:05) When I decided to develop a weekly newsletter for marinas, the goal was for each one to only take about a minute of your time. I knew you were busy and doubted I could reliably expect more.

(0:59) I was right. The response has been overwhelming and I thank you for that.

(0:57) I often coach new Partners on the importance of keeping their promotional messages short and to the point. Unfortunately, I too often see messages that are long and unfocused. They give me the feeling that the author is trying desperately to win me over. Instead, they fail to gain my attention.

(0:47) Did you know that the Gettysburg Address, considered to be one of the most powerful speeches of all time, was only 272 words long? That's shorter than this Minute.

(0:42) The reality is that the longer your message, the less likely you will be to get through to your customer. You are far better off with a brief, killer message. So how can you accomplish that?

(0:36) 1. Less is more. Keep your message brief and to the point. One technique recommends that you treat every word as if it costs you $100. You will not only quickly eliminate the unnecessary ones, you will more carefully selected the ones you do use.

(0:29) 2. Focus. Don't try to convey every amenity or advantage you have. Select one, or maybe two points you want to get across and develop a strong message around that. Long lists of the amenities you offer or paragraphs and paragraphs about your marina will typically be ignored.

(0:19) 3. Speak to your audience. Read your communication from the perspective of the recipient. Are you offering them something new? Interesting? Valuable? If not, eliminate it.

(0:14) 4. Edit. Set your message aside for a few hours and then read it again. Be critical and look for words, or even paragraphs, that can be eliminated.

(0:09) I am able to get my messages through because you only have to give me a minute. You're likely to get even less time from a boater.

(0:05) Become skilled at presenting a brief, relevant, and appealing message and you will see more business.

(0:02) And that's the marina minute.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

First, Understand

(1:04) I had the pleasure of spending several days last week with Steve Zimmerman, owner of four boatyards along the US east coast and a business owner I greatly admire. Every interaction tells me that he truly gets customer service.

(0:58) We were actually chatting about my Minutes when he told me about a philosophy that he has used for years and has instilled in his staff. Whenever you encounter a dissatisfied customer, the first thing you must do is fully understand their perspective by actively listening to them.

(0:51) This can be difficult if you feel the customer is being unfair, unreasonable, or even unscrupulous. It is a natural reaction to become defensive, particularly if you feel your facility has done nothing wrong. But I think switching that reaction to one of empathy can accomplish some amazing things.

(0:43) In the best of scenarios, it will allow you to more quickly determine the problem and find a solution. You can't do that unless you fully understand the problem. It also helps when the customer knows that they've been heard.

(0:37) Often a business will focus in on the problem they have an answer for rather than solving the customer's actual problem. This happened to me recently at a rental car office until after several go-arounds I stated rather forcefully, "You are not listening to what I am saying. Please listen to me."

(0:28) Listening can reveal problems you are not able to see from your perspective. Sometimes you have to see things through the eyes of the customer to understand an issue you didn't know existed.

(0:23) Projecting empathy for the customer can also go a long way to calming a bad situation. Meeting a customer's frustration or anger with kindness and understanding can change the dynamic.

(0:19) At the core, most unhappy customers simply want to be heard and understood. If I feel you have made an effort to understand my point of view, I will be more satisfied, even if my situation does not change.

(0:14) What I liked most about my conversation with Steve was that he doesn't leave this important skill to chance. He periodically does customer service training where the staff role-plays this sometimes difficult skill. That's brilliant.

(0:08) The next time you or your staff encounters a customer complaint, stop, listen, and repeat the customer's concern back to him. Do this until you get it right. Only then are you in a position to decide how to react.

(0:02) And that's the marina minute.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

VHF Etiquette

(1:15) In my youth, I worked a variety of low level jobs. Often, one of my tasks was answering the phone - I was trained to do it properly as, even back then, good communications was important for customer service.

(1:10) The same is true for marinas and the VHF today but with one huge difference. If I handled a phone conversation poorly, I may have turned off a single customer. On the VHF, you are speaking to every boater within a 25 mile radius!

(1:04) Over the years, I have heard a lot of VHF traffic - some good, some not so good. Here are the things that I think are important to give the right image of your marina when using the VHF.

(0:59) 1. Always answer the VHF
By always, I mean every single solitary time, no exceptions. Hearing a boater hailing and hailing on the VHF with no response sends a bad message about your facility. The VHF is a boater's primary means of communication. Don't make them call you on a mobile phone after 5 failed attempts at the VHF.

(0:48) If you accept transient boaters you must have someone monitoring the VHF during all business hours. If someone can't be in the marina office, use handhelds. Quality handheld VHF radios have become very affordable. You will loose more than the price in one missed transient night or fuel purchase. Always answer the VHF. And answer it quickly.

(0:39) 2. Use low power
I mentioned a 25 mile radius. That is often the range of a large VHF radio on high power. If you are typically communicating with a boater nearby, the low power setting is more than sufficient. Blasting away on high power is irritating, at best, and could interfere with other critical communications, at worst. Make sure you are on the lowest power needed to communicate before keying the microphone.

(0:28) 3. Be professional and welcoming
For most transient boaters, coming into your marina will be the most stressful part of their day. There is no better way to put them at ease than by projecting confidence and making them feel welcome.

(0:24) 4. Speak clearly & be clear
When using the VHF, speak clearly and slowly. Be concise, making any instructions brief and clear. Often, radios have issues with static, cross talk, and communications strength. In addition, a boater's helm can be a busy place with many distractions. Don't make it more complicated with poor VHF communications.

(0:15) 5. Practice your VHF skills
The best way to ensure that every VHF interaction is great is to practice with your staff. Get the staff together and practice using the VHF. Talk about how to handle a variety of situations, throw in a curve ball or two. Make sure everyone is comfortable and knows what to say.

(0:07) That initial interaction on the VHF will set the tone for the boater's entire stay. Don't leave it to chance. Make sure everyone on your staff knows how to make VHF communications a positive experience.

(0:02) And that's the marina minute.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Flip the Script

(1:00) I saw the above phrase in an article on the Forbes website discussing how to handle a negative customer review. It concisely describes what a truly masterful marina manager does when responding to a negative review. He flips the negative to a positive.

(0:53) Negative reviews are a time for contemplation. Never make an immediate response. It's understandable you may be upset when someone criticizes your hard work. Especially, if you think it is unfair or unreasonable.

(0:46) So step back and calm yourself. Think about your goals. Use this opportunity to highlight the positive qualities of your marina. And always consider how your response will appear to all boaters and not just the reviewer.

(0:42) The typical boater will not be put off by one negative review. But will be interested in how you respond. After all, we tend to reveal much about ourselves when we are under stress.

(0:38) How can you turn a complaint into a positive? Acknowledge the reviewer's unhappiness. We all want to be heard. Let boaters know what you are doing to fix the issue, if needed. Correct any misinformation. Then point out the positives of your marina. And never forget that what may be a negative to one boater, could be a positive to most boaters.

(0:29) I saw this done beautifully by a marina manager in the Bahamas. The marina was full with a waiting list. A boater was unable to secure a slip so chose to anchor out. He wrote a review complaining about dinghy access and that the marina would not allow them to use the laundry.

(0:22) The marina manager wrote what I considered the perfect response. He apologized that they were unhappy and assured them that the marina welcomed anchored boaters. He detailed the several places a dinghy could come in. He reminded them of the services they offered to anchored boaters (free of charge). He explained why some services could only be offered to paying slip holders. And finally he urged them to make reservations for future stays as the marina is often full. Wow!

(0:09) As a boater I felt the concern for customer service, was reminded of the many services the marina offers, appreciated that key limited services were being kept available for paying boaters (me), and was prompted to make my reservation now for next year. Not bad for a "negative review."

(0:02) And that's the marina minute.