Category Archives: Customer Centric Values

What happens when you don’t have a corporate culture obsessed with customers – Lessons from United

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A man is forcibly removed after not giving up is pre-paid seat on a United Flight

We witnessed one of the most extreme examples of what can go wrong in a business that has truly lost sight of its purpose.

As a former United Global Services member (United’s top tier for frequent fliers) I was appalled at how badly United handled a relative routine situation that probably happens multiple times a day in various cities across the US. What on first pass looked like the removal of a potential terrorist happened to be a paying passenger who was also practicing physician.

United sometimes over sells airline tickets in order to make sure they fill their flights and remain profitable. I am not against this practice, it makes business sense. However when this impacts customers, (and it inevitably will) this becomes a true test of an organization’s customer centric culture. Will it do what’s best for the customer? (A customer centric view) or will it protect a short term myopic view of its profits for that particular flight (a transactional view).

In this case United choose its policy and procedures over doing the right thing for its customers. Clearly there was an upper limit on what was available to be offered to make this situation right for their customers. United claims they offered $1000 to passengers to take another flight so that crew members for another flight could board to go to another plane – there were no takers. Instead of upping the compensation to a point that passengers felt like it was a fair deal, they decided to pick passengers based on their frequent flier status and other connecting flights. Three left peacefully although clearly unhappy and one refused resulting in the social media and traditional media storm that came after a video showed the passenger being forcefully removed.

Company Centric CEO Reaction – Oscar Munoz

Those of us that work in the culture space know that the CEO and top team set the tone and shape organizational culture.

Oscar’s initial response was to apologize for having to “re-accommodate these customers”. While externally he made attempts to diffuse the anger at the situation internally he sent a memo to employees that defended the crew’s actions, calling the passenger ‘disruptive and belligerent’ and praising his staff for going ‘above and beyond‘.

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I understand he wants to stand behind his employees, support them and not throw them under the bus for this incident but really he was trying to “protect” the company and the United Brand. This message also reinforces poorly thought out policies that do not get to the heart of what great companies do – they have a culture that puts the customer first.

Finally, two days later Mr Munoz has accepted responsibility for the disgraceful incident:

“I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight, and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard………. “No one should ever be mistreated this way.”

A colleague of mine recently relaid an experience he had in a very similar situation on an Emirates flight. He said they just kept increasing the enticement to get of the plane. Eventually enough people took up the offer. They ended up giving away 2 business class return tickets from Australia to Dubai  as well as accommodation plus $US600.

This price was small compared to what United will now go through…..

United takes a $255 million dollar bath.

The value of United has fallen by $255 million as a result of this one incident and the bad press and social media storm surrounding it. How much were they offering passengers to deplane again?

Eric Schiffer, CEO of Reputation Management Consultants, termed United’s handling of the incident “brand suicide.”

“When you go onto a United flight, you shouldn’t have to be concerned there will be blood or you will get slammed in the face,” Schiffer said. “I think you will see an effect on sales from those who are disgusted by the gruesome action. And it’s catastrophic for a brand’s trust.”

No doubt United will lose customers and it deserves to, what comes next is a question of leadership and culture.

If all employees have a customer centric mindset and are empowered to do what is right by the customer this would not have happened.

That’s what we do at MarketCulture. We help companies understand the importance of putting the customer at the centre of the organization – a mindset that establishes the idea that “What’s best for the customer is best for the business”

Why it’s time for the banks to shift their corporate cultures

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Image Source: htmvalerio

Big banks and investment houses around the world have been guilty of bad behavior stemming from unacceptable corporate cultures that have led to the disaster of the global financial crisis in 2007-2009. This was followed by the London foreign exchange scandal in May 2015 when six global players agreed to pay $US6.5 billion in fines for their misbehavior. On a smaller, but still significant scale, behavior of the big four Australian banks has come under scrutiny and evidence indicates that they have failed the culture test. A banking enquiry was instigated in Australia with several recommendations made, but not yet implemented.

A big part of the answer to poor corporate culture lies in the large banks developing a strong customer-centric culture. This is a culture where the well-being of their customers is a central philosophy and value that guides decision-making. It is a philosophy embodied in a bank’s vision and purpose that is well beyond making money. It is a mindset acted out at all levels that says “what’s best for the customer is best for the bank”. This doesn’t mean that the banks give their customers everything they want. It means that they understand the needs of their customers and deliver what they promise embodied in their strategy to deliver value and a good experience.

The leaders of big banks will tell you they are customer centric and do this. They point to improving customer satisfaction and net promoter scores. That may be evidence of improving customer centricity, but it does not give us the direct evidence of a strong customer culture. To show that evidence they have to measure it directly – not just some type of anecdotal absolute measure, but using a valid tool that compares their customer culture with the best in the world like Amazon, Virgin and Lego. These companies and others have a powerful purpose that aligns vision, values and strategy around serving their customers and communities that is embedded as a culture in everyone in the organization at all levels and all functions. It is led, role modeled and reinforced in their decision making by their senior leaders.

There is such a valid benchmarking tool available called the Market Responsiveness Index (MRI). This tool based on extensive research and validation testing now enables a bank to benchmark itself in a global database of more than 250 organizations on 8 decisive cultural capabilities. It points out cultural strengths and weaknesses and guidelines for fixing them. It provides credible evidence of a bank’s level of customer culture. This can provide the checks and balances that banking leaders need to be confident that their culture is as it should be – serving customers and the community (profitably).

The Customer Culture Imperative – an award winning book – provides the framework for measuring customer culture directly and the research that underpins the MRI benchmarking tool.

This can help bankers sleep at night as well as the rest of us in the community. And it can allay the fears held by regulators of potential ongoing problems that stem from poor cultures in large banks.

What do customer centric companies do? Create Advocates for Life.

corso281In my travels in recent weeks I have experienced two examples of how a customer-centric attitude and behavior produce memorable customer experiences. Both of these were in hotels in different countries.

In Rome my wife and I stayed at Hotel Corso 281. We planned to go south for a few days by train and wanted to leave a large case at the hotel and pick it up again on our way from the Amalfi coast via Rome to Venice. Even though there would only be a 45 minute time between our change of trains in Rome, Delia, the front office manager assured me that they would send a taxi with my bag to the station as soon as my train arrived in Rome. So we took the chance. When I nervously called the hotel on the morning of our journey and spoke to the hotel front desk a different person was fully aware of my situation. As we pulled into Rome station I called again and another front desk person was fully aware and organized a taxi to send the bag. When the taxi arrived at the station it had a large sign with my name in the side window and I gratefully took my bag. Soon after I received a call from Delia to tell me the taxi driver reported to her that the bag had been delivered. We made the train connection all because of a display of team collaboration embedded in the belief that the customer’s needs must be met. When next in Rome we are going back to stay at Corso 281.

In Dubai I checked in to the Rihab Rotana hotel after a 7 hour flight from London. The front office manager gave me his card and also the card of the other front office manager who was off duty. He assured me to call them any time if there was a problem or something they could do. This gentleman, Mazen, was gracious, attentive and carefully explained all hotel services. This manner of care could be seen from all staff in the hotel – from housekeeping to concierge to the gym and pool deck.. Soon after checking into my room a bowl of fruit was delivered. Each day in my week long stay I was greeted by the smile of Daryl, a young lady in the restaurant who seemed to be there for all seven days of my stay. She told me that their team of five often had to work long hours and 7 days because when the hotel was very busy they had to make sure all guests received a great experience. Sometimes at the end of the day even though she had already been there 12 hours her greeting and smile never diminished. I will go back and stay at Rotana in Dubai.

While these things are small for service people with the right attitude and attention to customer needs, they are huge for the customer.

Bottom line – I am an advocate of both these hotels, they stick in my mind, I will go back and I will recommend anyone that asks to try them as well.

Do you attract the right talent to your organization? People that focus on the reason their job exists? Does the leadership of your organization focus its attention on delivering a great experience?

You can learn more in our book the Customer Culture Imperative

Trust – An essential Ingredient for Customer-Centric Leadership

 

Trust it the Foundation for Customer Centricity

Trust is the Foundation for Customer Centricity

A strange dynamic is happening in the run-up to the US Presidential nominations and voting for the November Election. The two front-runners leading up to Super Tuesday were Bernie Sanders (Democrat) and Donald Trump (Republican), both unlikely candidates. Sanders is believed to be a left wing socialist and Trump is an irreverent, anti-establishment, “say it as he sees it” first time politician. Both are seen to be extreme in their views in relation to the ruling Washington establishment.

How has this happened? It’s happened because the existing establishment politicians on both sides of politics have lost the trust of the American people – their customers. You cannot lead without your customers’, employees’ and key stakeholders’ trust in your vision, your ability to carry it through, your authenticity and your commitment to the long haul for their and everyone’s benefit.

Stephen Covey (Speed of Trust, 2006, p.1) says:

“There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy and civilization throughout the world – one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love…….That one thing is trust.”

Today there is a strong movement in all types of organizations to improve their customers’ experience. This requires customer-centric leadership that takes the view that “what’s best for the customer is best for the business.” For that to occur these organizations must have a strong customer culture which can only be developed by leaders who are trusted by their employees. We see trusted leadership in companies like LEGO, Starbucks, P&G, IKEA and the Virgin Group of companies.

What is the level of trust in leaders in your organization?

It’s LEGO, not EGO – collaboration is central to LEGO’s customer-centric culture

The name LEGO is an abbreviation of two Danish words “leg godt” meaning “play well”. It was founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Kristiansen and remains a family owned company. It has incorporated a number of characteristics specific to the Danish culture, such as a non-hierarchical structure – which translates into a very flat organisation in LEGO. So they look for people who are going to embrace collaboration and have fun. Even in sales teams that are normally very competitive they look for people to be more collaborative to partner and work with their teams to build longer-term customer relationships and brand loyalty.

There is no room for “EGO” at LEGO where employees at every level are expected to challenge their boss as a means of coming up with the best ideas.

LEGO’s CEO, Jorgen Vig Knudstorp says “Blame is not for failure, it is for failing to help OR ask for help.” This is reinforced by the owners of LEGO, who promote collaborative family values.

David Gauntlett, in his contribution to the book LEGO Studies (Mark Wolf, 2014) sees LEGO bricks (the product made up of interconnecting parts) as a social tool, fostering connection and collaboration spurring the potential of children and adults and their natural imagination. New employees are already customers who use the LEGO system to create new products – in many cases part of the job interview is to design a new LEGO product from a bunch of bricks provided.

Collaboration – up, down and across the organization and with suppliers and customers – is a secret to LEGO’s spectacular growth over the last 10 years. It has given them the capability of customer foresight – a cultural ability to develop and deliver new products that excites their customers’ imaginations and creates incredible loyalty and advocacy.

To find out more about how you can create this culture in your business, read our book, “The Customer Culture Imperative“.

Lessons from REI: Aligning your People

We have just completed one of the busiest weeks in retail in the United States, with Black Friday for the physical stores and Cyber Monday for the online retailers. This week now blends together with doorbuster deals bombarding us constantly online and instore in the week leading up to Thanksgiving as well as weekend afterwards.

What is different this year is that some major stores have decided to stay closed during this period. In the land of the consumer this a really big deal!

One chain in particular stands out, REI, the outdoor recreation retailer with more than 12,000 employees and 140 stores around the US decided to close this past Black Friday. See below, their CEO, Jerry Stritzke’s 30 second announcement:

 

“We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.” – REI CEO, Jerry Stritzke

So what is behind this decision? I believe it is to better align REI’s core values with its actions in the market. REI’s core mission is “to inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.”

What better way to live that mission and align all of their people around it than closing on a day that allows their own people get outside and live the company’s mission.

Now that all sounds great but how does that help their customers? No doubt some customers may be inconvenienced by their physical stores being closed. However they will still have a small number of staff manning their website so they are not completely close for business.

REI are reacting to growing concerns by their customers and others that retail in general is overshadowing the core purpose of thanksgiving which is to celebrate with family and friends. They are betting that this decision will pay off over the longer term by aligning their people with their mission while also meeting the changing expectations of their customers.

Ultimately if you want your people and customers to really buy-in to what your company is about you must walk the talk, for me this is strategic alignment in action!

Interested in what it takes to be truly customer centric? Learn more here

How do you get employees to care about customers?

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This is a question I often hear from leaders of large companies that want to create customer centered organizations.

It is one of the key challenges of becoming customer centric.  Here are a couple of ideas that we have seen work well.

Recalling your own Personal Customer Experiences

Given we are all customers of someone, at some stage in our lives, we can all recall having a great customer experience or a really bad customer experience.

We run an exercise with leaders and employees of our clients that is a really effective way to build empathy which hopefully leads to compassion for customers.

We ask them to recall the best or worst experience that have had and to break down the elements that made up that experience, why did it stick with them?

More often than not this experience brings back strong emotions, participants get excited or even angry recalling their experiences.

At the end of the exercise we ask participants, has your organization created any of those really great or really poor experiences? Most people will admit yes so the question is why do we as an organization allow those poor experiences to happen when we know how powerful the positive experiences can be?

As you can imagine this fosters great discussion and engages people emotionally and intellectually in firstly understanding why it happens and then what to do about it.

How can we help you

Creating a Service Mindset

Ultimately everyone in an organization is there to help others get their jobs done as well as their own, it is this combination and collaboration of people that creates compelling value. Think about companies like Apple and Amazon where smart teams of people work incredibly hard together to bring their products and services to life for millions of customers.

Building a service mindset helps all employees think about how they can help other parts of the organization be successful so that they can all win in the marketplace. A service mindset requires all employees to think about the impact of their decisions and work not only on customers but other teams across the organization.

Hear from Customers Directly

A key challenge in large organizations is the distance many leaders and employees have between them and direct customer feedback. There is nothing more powerful than hearing directly from customers. It is simply not the same to hear something second hand as it is usually devoid of emotion and context.

As a result another exercise we encourage is having leaders and employees hear directly from customers in open forums or focus groups. The goal is to not just get information or new insights but to gain a sense of how customers really perceive the organization and their top of mind issues. More often than not participants gain valuable new insights into how customers really think about their organizations.

Give people permission to care about customers and then expect it

It sounds strange but in many organizations customers are an afterthought. People are not encouraged to really think about customers in their decision making processes. There are limited rewards or recognition for people that go the extra mile for customers and as a result there is limited upside or downside.

The result is a lack of real passion for customers outside of a small number of salespeople who live and breath customers as their personal livelihood. We know however that this is simply not enough. Customer passion must be pervasive across the organization for both the customer and the company to benefit.

Leaders can give people permission to care about customers by demonstrating that they care through their actions. Then over time they need to expect employees to care and simply not tolerate bad customer experiences.

A great story comes from the NRMA in Australia (similar to AAA in the US), the leadership gave their employees permission by suggesting they could:

“Break all the rules for the customer”

One of NRMA’s services is roadside assistance. They have many great stories of NRMA staff going the extra mile for customers when they are at their most vulnerable, i.e. stranded with their broken down car. One emergency roadside assistance employee even dropped a customer’s groceries to their home so they would not spoil!

What else can you do to ensure employees act in the best interests of customers as well as the business?