Category Archives: Empathy

You can’t fake customer-centric culture

Woman holding mask of her happy face

We hear a lot about fake news these days – what’s real and what’s fake is sometimes hard to know. That’s not the case when it comes to customers “reading” your culture.

Let me recount my experience with 3 upmarket restaurants in Sydney, Australia.

Sydney has many fine restaurants. I will compare my experience at two of these – Aria is at Circular Quay looking at the opera house and the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Jonah’s is on a cliffside on Sydney’s northern beaches overlooking Whale Beach and the Pacific Ocean. Both serve fine dining at expensive prices with excellent food.

I decided to book Jonah’s for my wife’s birthday and asked for a table next to the window overlooking the ocean. I was told this was not possible and when I asked why, I was told by the manager that there are many factors that they use to decide who have the window tables – when the booking was made, how many people are in the party, what the booking levels are for that particular day. I was making the booking more than a week in advance and on a weekday at the earliest lunchtime sitting, but still could not be told whether I would get a window table. Choices were 12 noon or 1.30pm. He said, “ we are very busy, we get tours and we decide on the day where people sit.” There was an arrogant tone in his voice so I decided to try Aria.

The call to Aria was a totally different experience. “Yes, we can give you a window table, would you like a surprise cake for your wife’s birthday?” You can choose your time of arrival – “12.30pm is fine and you can stay the whole afternoon.” Aria is just as busy as Jonah’s but you have a completely different mindset. At Jonah’s it is all about their convenience, their operational procedures, their rules for organizing tables. At Aria, it is about what the customer wants and how can they be satisfied. You cannot fake it. The customer mindset exists or it doesn’t. The customer knows this with a simple phone call.

Then there is the dining experience. My wife and I went to Pilu, a Sardinian specialty restaurant at Freshwater beach on Sydney’s northern beaches. This too is an upmarket restaurant. What impressed us about this restaurant was the staff. The sommelier knew every detail possible about the wines, the server knew exactly what was in each dish and could explain it. Both established a relationship with us by telling us about their hometown in Italy. They were not rushed, were patient with our questions, answered them fully and made suggestions. At the time of payment, the manager told us how much of a team effort was involved and how his team worked together to make a memorable experience for their guests. At the end of the evening, they asked if we would like to give them information on our birthdays and we would be offered a 5-course degustation meal free at that time. We happily signed up and provided the information they wanted.

A customer culture only exists when it is authentic and all employees are part of a happy, collaborative team, knowing that it is the customer that is the center of their world. It can’t be faked. It’s the difference between getting the business and creating advocates and not getting the business and getting bad reviews.

How do you get it? You will find many of the answers in our book: The Customer Culture Imperative.

Is there a customer-centric gene?

genetic technology concept, gene engineering, 3d rendering, abstract image visual

Recently I was talking with Dmitry Pukhov, co-founder and owner of a very successful event catering company in Moscow. When I asked him about customer-centric leadership he said the core characteristic is a desire to help people that comes from the heart. He said he believes that we all have a gene that can create a drive to provide service to others. But only some people have developed this gene – through their upbringing, experience, interaction with others who use it and mentoring from customer-centric role models.

There is some scientific evidence to support this. Research shows that people who are more caring and compassionate towards others share a common gene variation linked to the receptor for oxytocin (sometimes referred to as the “love” hormone) that plays a key role in the formation of social relationships and impacts our capacity for empathy. The science suggests that those with the “GG” variant of this gene are better with people and generally more caring.

But all is not lost for those of us that don’t have the “GG” genotype. There is also evidence to suggest that compassion and empathy can be developed through socialization with people that role model it and experiences that elevate it.

I asked Dmitry why his business is so successful – it has grown rapidly over the 12 years since he founded it – and he told me it is because being customer-centric and service focused has always been the driver in his business. He recruits people that exhibit the customer-centric gene and invests in the ongoing development of the gene in all his staff.

Are you using your customer-centric gene or is it dormant? If you want to know what to do to develop it, refer to our book: The Customer Culture Imperative.

This is how to become the answer to your customer’s prayers

Pope Francis at general audience

The simple answer is to make sure you know what they are praying for!

We call this customer insight. In other words, what are your customer’s needs? What are they trying to accomplish and how can you help them achieve it?

While you as the leader of your organization might have these answers, can everyone in your organization answer these questions? Really great organizations have clear answers to these questions and are aligned and empowered to deliver the experience customers value. Their leaders are what we call customer-centric leaders.

Is the Pope a customer-centric leader?

My co-author, Linden was surprised recently when he spoke with a CEO of a multinational business this month and asked him who came to mind as a customer-centric leader. He immediately answered: “the Pope”! Linden said: “Tell me more”.

He then went on to tell explain that a customer-centric leader must be prepared to take risks and he or she must go out and meet with customers and spend meaningful time with them questioning and listening. This type of leader must be prepared to be challenged and also to challenge the current status quo and visit customers in the most difficult markets. This person needs to be authentic with customers and employees through an ability to communicate personal experiences that are relevant and create belief in their followers. He said the current Pope does all these things. He travels widely across different national cultures, talks with his “customers”, takes risks particularly with personal safety and is prepared to question current dogma in the Catholic Church. He comes across as an authentic person with those he meets and how he communicates to the world at large. It got me thinking. Can we learn something from the Pope about customer-centric leadership?

This type of leader must be prepared to be challenged and also to challenge the current status quo and visit customers in the most difficult markets. This person needs to be authentic with customers and employees through an ability to communicate personal experiences that are relevant and create belief in their followers.

He said the current Pope does all these things. He travels widely across different national cultures, talks with his “customers”, takes risks particularly with personal safety and is prepared to question current dogma in the Catholic Church. He comes across as an authentic person with those he meets and how he communicates to the world at large.

It got us thinking. Can we learn something from the Pope about customer-centric leadership?

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

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?

helping_employees_care_about_customers

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?