Monday, June 6, 2011

The Awesome, The Good, the Bad, The Ugly: Customer Service 101

Saturday night, right before we were putting the boys to bed, I happened to see a Tweet by
Ted Rubin:    
When a shopper refers 2 "my store," she means a merchant who knows her tastes & suggests products she loves.

As I was laying there trying to get the boys to fall asleep, it kept coming back through my head, as Ted hit the nail on the head with this one...

True not only for stores, but also for restaurants, salons, and anything that really involved customer service. So I tweeted back to Ted, mentioning that this is true for not only stores but for salons, restaurants, etc. and that people like to feel special. Ted agreed, tweeting back "Yes"!

Well, it really got me thinking about how earlier on Saturday, I had driven twenty-five minutes to have my hair done at an Aveda-affiliated salon by my favorite hair stylist at Sage Salon & Spa...
Stacy does a fab job with cutting my hair, but also, she makes the visit fun and makes her customers feel special...she remembers her clients when they come in, asking them how things are going with them. Stacy remembers minute details from previous visits. She also keeps track of the color(s) and cut(s) she has done for me in the past. Could go to loads of salons that are closer, but I choose to go to her, as just like the "my store" idea, this is "my salon"...

Then, thought about where I go for coffee several times a week. There are four Starbucks that are reasonably close to my home but generally, I choose to go to a particular one that is inside of our Super Target store: Target #1382 / Starbucks #72660. The workers there are awesome! Some of them know my name, my boys' names, what we generally order, and so on. Ashley, one of the baristas, even asks the boys about what they are studying in our homeschool! She is friendly and really gives customers the sense that she cares how you are doing and how your day is going.
All of the baristas at the Starbucks inside the Super Target store are polite, kind, and make you feel happy that you chose to come to them for your cup o' Joe.
I asked them who trains them and was told by Allyson, one of the nice people that works at this Starbucks, that they get training both by Target and Starbucks.
Kathy who is the manager there also indicated that they get a great deal of training and mentioned Vincent Cook from Starbucks and Richard Jablonski from Target.
Not sure exactly how the combination of training works, but boy, is it effective!
Let me tell you, it is a winning combination of training.
A real role model for others!
What makes it interesting to go there is that you see people that are pleasantly surprised at first that these baristas remember their customers like they do...they say hello and in many cases, get your drink started as you wait in line. I happened to get to speak with the two baristas and the manager there, but they are all fabulous and truly seem to enjoy their work.

Then, enter the realm of the homeschool market. There is a huge spread of how companies treat homeschool families.
Some companies really cater to homeschool families. They get that a family does not need 12 or 16 of something. They get that a family does not need to hear why children should be in a real school for the purposes of socialization. They get that families do not want a lecture about leaving certain such things to professionals. These stellar companies also get that there are many, many reasons for homeschooling children.
Some awesome companies take business from the homeschool market just as seriously as if it was a school system purchasing these items. They get to know their base of homeschool customers on a much more personal basis.
One that is awesome at getting homeschoolers and making them feel special:
Karen at A Montessori Marketplace. Karen does all that she can to practically bend over backwards to be helpful to their customers. She is so personable, professional, and kind. Much, although not all, of her business is from homeschoolers.
If you are on Twitter or Facebook, be sure to follow @yiayiamama (Karen Tyler on FB).
She treats you like family when you call, is extraordinarily helpful, and goes out of her way to help you with getting the materials your family needs at a very reasonable price.
Karen returns phone calls and emails, and in general, she make the experience of dealing with them a nice one.
Cannot say enough positive things about Karen!
She attended the #montecamp Twitter party, even though Karen's hometown was under a tornado warning. Karen still attended all that she could before and after the warning.

How's that for dedication??? 

She added to the fun feel of the #montecamp Twitter party. They helped to welcome everyone like greeters do when you go to church. Really was nice of her to do that...
If she had an actual storefront, A Montessori Marketplace would be on "my store" list...but even though she doesn't  have actual storefronts, I still feel that she is "my store", albeit online.

It is Karen's birthday today, so if you pop by her website or check her out on Twitter, be sure to wish her a happy birthday!!!

Then, there are some wonderful companies that do not specifically cater to the homeschool market, but totally get homeschool families and have tons of super products that work great within the framework of homeschooling.
There are two standouts that would also be on "my store"or "my company" list...
These companies are truly top notch with their customer service and their product lines, namely:
Melissa & Doug and Safari Ltd.
Our family has purchased many products from both of these awesome companies.
Generally, we purchase their products through local stores that carry their products, but since it is such a pleasure to deal with these companies, for future purchases, I would consider buying straight from them instead of through local stores that carry their products. Either way, I feel like they are "my companies"...I will always have brand loyalty to them for how both how personal and how personable they are.
We love their product lines but we also love how they treat their customers!
What has really made these two companies leap off the pages is getting to know them via Twitter and Facebook.
If you are on Twitter or are on Facebook, and sign to follow or like these companies, you will start to see messages that they direct to you. You feel like they know you and get you. They are very personable on Twitter and Facebook. It is no wonder that MelissaAndDoug has a FB giveaway going on set up to celebrate each time they reach a new milestone of 1,000 more customers, along with a prize for everyone when they reach 100,000. Melissa & Doug give out prizes for these milestones, but really, they care about each and every one of their followers along the way to their goal of 100,000. If you decide to follow them, please tell them that I sent you if readin this made you go check out them on FB.
It is not just one or two people at Melissa & Doug, it is the whole company's ethos / mantra / etc. to treat people in such a personable way. I have interacted with Melissa, Christine, MJ, Chris, and Doris and literally every single one of these people are as nice as the next person at Melissa & Doug! They all seem to actually enjoy their jobs and are committed  to helping those who connect with their company.

Have no doubt whatsoever that Melissa & Doug will reach their 100,000 followers goal, because anyone who has children or anyone who likes to buy presents for children would want to follow Melissa & Doug if they would know what I know about their they are so genuine, so hard working, so caring, so passionate about providing quality products for little ones, the list goes on and on...but then, the icing on the cake is that they call you by name and take the time to get to know you personally when you get to know them on Twitter and Facebook.

Melissa & Doug and Safari Ltd. truly get the concept of social media and see the value in making connections with people through social media. Both companies get a great deal of business from homeschool families, as in many cases, both Melissa & Doug and Safari Ltd have excellent quality items that are more affordable than some of their competitors' products, plus then, phenomenal customer service on top of well-priced items just makes them shine.

Had the pleasure of working with both of these companies in the course of doing the #montecamp giveaway. They returned phone calls and emails, they agreed to ship out prize packs to the winners, and then, they sent Tweets of support before, during, and after the Twitter party.

If someone wants to see how to do social media right so that their followers feel special, follow Melissa & Doug and Safari Ltd., as they not only get it...they are setting the bar for others to get it...
Not-so-social companies should take note of how to be personable on Twitter, Facebook, but also via phone and email from these two leaders... 

Whatever these Melissa & Doug and Safari Ltd.  are doing in terms of customer service and social media, it is working very well...

When I was so nervous about doing my first Twitter party, Wendy and Norma @SafariLtd sent some very kind reassuring DM tweets and emails to me and then, did public replies saying how excited they were about the party.

Both Safari Ltd. and Melissa & Doug knew that we were going out of town and so lo and behold, Safari Ltd. mailed their package of beautiful figures and great lesson plans for our family out right before we left for our trip and Melissa & Doug actually sent something fun and fab to us while we were at our hotel.

How's that for awesome???

During the Twitter party, right when I was super focused on keeping track of my Tweets so as to not end up in "Twitter jail" as well as the order of the trivia questions I had prepared with a list of winners as they answered the trivia questions, along pops up @MelissaAndDoug, interjecting some fun questions about kids jokes and folks' plans for the weekend. @Melissa & Doug had a wonderful #montecamp Twitter party presence.

It totally made the #montecamp Twitter party relaxed and happy! 

Am starting to get to know Larry from Shiller Math and Leanne from My Personalized Print.
Am also getting to know Luke and the crew from Sonlight.

These three seem to care for their customer base as well, and seem to get the homeschool market too...
Larry and Leanne both were very quick to ship out lovely materials to our family.

Similar to Melissa & Doug, Safari Ltd., A Montessori Marketplace, and Montessori Print Shop, the items that Shiller Math and My Personalized Print sent us were of high quality and design.
On a follow-up call with Leanne from My Personalized Print about the giveaway and #montecamp Twitter party prize winners, we got into talking about education as a whole, about how her mom is a teacher and how I used to be a classroom teacher...things that might not directly relate with place mats but that do relate to building rapport with a customer and product reviewer.
My Personalized Print plans to come out with a whole line of personalized products, so if I need an item that I would like to have personalized either for my boys or for friends or family, they will be "my company" for these items.

Not all companies give off the sentiment that they want to be your go-to company, believe me, especially when you are a homeschool family. 

Whether it is how they treat you via Facebook, Twitter, via email, phone,  or in person, when you are in their store or at their booth at a conference, some companies do not care for homeschoolers.

They are the antithesis of the "my store" concept that Ted Tweeted about...they don't make you feel special, they instead make you feel awkward and try to out you for homeschooling or that you are a charity case, that you are not truly "a paying customer"...

I have worked with companies in the capacity of doing reviews and giveaways, as well as in the capacity of being their actual customer. Mostly the experiences have been quite positive, but some...Well, it has been a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly...

A few years back, I attended a conference that was not directed at homeschoolers but that was education related and actually brought the boys to the vendors hall to see the products for sale, as we were just getting into homeschooling.
We paid for the conference and paid to use the facilities at the hotel. We came as a family so it was not a small undertaking. I turned out to be the only homeschool mom at this entire conference, even though it had been publicized that homeschool families were most welcome. Unlike the majority of people at the conference, we paid for the conference ourselves. It was not a cost picked up for us like the majority of the education-related folks who were there.
Dear Hubby and I wanted the boys to help select some of the wonderful materials that were on display from this conference, as we value their input about their learning. So we had decided, in advance, that we would spend several hundreds of dollars to buy materials at the conference from these vendors, as long as we felt that they were items we would love to have in our homeschool...

The Good
One company at this conference who stood out as being kind and personable was Laughing Star Montessori. Susan, who owns the company, asked my children how they enjoyed their work, and then, as we were perusing the materials, she showed us some of her materials and actually showed them directly to my sons and to me, as she gets that we intentionally had brought our sons in to be a part of the selection process. We ordered several materials from Susan that day.
Our purchases from her on that day have been extraordinarily useful to the boys throughout the last two years of homeschooling.
What also was super nice is that Susan heard the boys talk about how we were going to go on a Carribean cruise shortly thereafter...she sent us away with a fabulous free gift, an awesome set of cards all about Sea Life in the Carribean!
We bought several of her products but that day was also the start of forming a great relationship with Susan and subsequently her son, Will, from Laughing Star Montessori.
Susan has yet to dive into social media but she has a great family run company, truly connects with her customers, and is a wonderful person with fantastic resources for homeschoolers.
Some of her items include: woodworking books, a whole unit study on Antarctica, complete with a handcrafted knobbed puzzle of Antarctica, and really unique copywork type books to have a child work on his or her handwriting.

The Bad
On the flip side of our great connection with Susan at this conference, there was a company there who had just nice things, but such lousy interpersonal skills, that it was a total turnoff...
This company's representative also happened to be the owner. This person initially was happy to see that my sons were engaged in looking at the company's wares.
This business owner showed the boys different items but this was all the while this person assumed that my children attended a "real school". As soon as this person realized that my sons were homeschooled, the tune changed and comments started about how this or that item was designed specifically for in-class use, by trained professionals...(never mind that I am a trained professional and that if things were different, I had fully planned to open my own private Montessori-inspired preschool back when we lived in Virginia. Never mind that we have very strong reasons for homechooling and that at the moment, it is really our only viable option...)
This business owner went from wanting to feature my sons in their advertising (yes, my little boys are quite cute) to this person suggesting that I look elsewhere, as these items were intended for classroom use...

If anyone has ever seen the movie, Pretty Woman, there is a scene where the lead character of the movie, Julia Roberts, walks into a very high-end boutique sort of store. She is completely looked down upon by the store owners and treated very poorly, to say the least.

Well, unfortunately, sometimes, when you homeschool your children, people give you that same sort of disgusted look, the look that makes it clear that they do not want you to even consider purchasing their items or perusing their store...or even ordering from them online...

The Ugly
Have had several very notable reactions that fall under this category...the one at the conference to start, plus a few others...
One was stands out as the most "ugly" of interactions...
Occurred a couple years ago at a home party where a person had made up and was selling their own line of organic cleaning products. Had been invited by an acquaintance to attend this home party.
Mind you, this acquaintance knew we homeschooled our sons and she actually was contemplating homeschooling hers as well...
I had fully intended to not only purchase several of the organic cleaning products, and was actually all set to provide free word of mouth and actual advertising on my blog for this person, as I thought it was neat that she was a start-up business and made her own product line. The creator of the organic products line was reasonably friendly but when she found out that my family homeschooled our sons, she turned into a completely different person, and went off on a tirade about how it is just horrible that a family would homeschool their children, and extra awful that I would do it, considering that I was a former classroom teacher. She said it was akin to a doctor operating on themselves or their family. This woman said  something along the lines of
In absolutely no circumstances would a doctor ever, ever operate on themselves nor on family members, and to boot, that a doctor would never be okay with having others who claim to be in the field who assist with such a thing...that to do such a thing, even in the most dire of circumstances, would be in violation of the Hippocratic Oath.
What made all of this so incredibly ironic was that it was right around the time when Dr. Jerri Nielson Fitzgerald had passed away. 

Dr. Jerri Nielson Fitzgerald had diagnosed herself (as having breast cancer) when she was the only doctor working at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott Station in 1999.
The station was cut off from the world due to severe weather, so Dr Nielson was forced to treat herself using a machinist and a welder, and anti-cancer drugs which were delivered to her in a dangerous US Air Force air drop.
She also trained a small group of non-medical colleagues to help with her treatment and followed the advice of doctors via satellite link. Source: ABC News. Here is a link to the full story.

Dr. Jerry Nielson Fitzgerald did not die because she had to do her own procedures or because she had to use non-medical colleagues to assist her. She lived for another ten years after the procedure had been completed. Dr. Jerry Nielson Fitzgerald did the best that she could with the circumstances she had been given.

In many respects, that is why some, including us, do homeschool: due to specific circumstances, it is the best we can do at a particular time. Our family does not homeschool to be different, we are doing it because it is the best we can do for our sons under our own particular circumstances. We might not be stranded in Antarctica, but we certainly have had hings thrown at us that make it the only viable option for an excellent education for our children.

Have not checked to see if this person's organic cleaning products business is still in existence, but would suspect that it is not, as there are many, many fine homeschooling families who would be totally turned off if they happened to be present at a home party where this woman would most likely again launch into her feelings of total resentment and hostility towards homeschoolers. 

Making connections is what people generally want from a business. People who are potential customers or potential partners for promotions, giveaways, and reviews want to feel like the company gets you, know you, and believes in you. 

With social media taking off like it is doing, some companies better start to take a BIG CLUE from the companies doing things right, or the ones who do not will inevitably fail.

People do not like doing business with companies who treat them in a less than stellar way.

Hope that someone reads this and will reflect upon how they treat their customers, how personal and personable they are, and how they make their customers feel welcome.

Well, that's it for today...

Was not asked to do this blog post, nor was I endorsed for it. I have been a customer of all of the companies I have mentioned, have reviewed some materials from some of the companies I have mentioned, and have worked in the capacity of Twitter party hostess and giveaway partner for some of them as well.
Wrote this blog post based upon my personal reflection of Ted Rubin's Tweet that subsequently got me to think about my own personal experiences with different companies and the ones that treat you special versus the ones who do not...
The opinions expressed herein are my own.


My Boys' Teacher said...

Well said.

Mommy Moment said...

Great post Colleen!
Great companies really do deserve shutouts!
P.S. I remember how friendly the staff was at the Starbucks in Target when we came to vacation with you!


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