Category Archives: Customer Communications

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

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

What does Customer Centric Leadership look like?

There is plenty of research and anecdotal evidence that tells us if customers believe “we care” about what we sell them, how we serve them and the relationships we create with them, they will remain loyal advocates of our company. This also applies to the “care” senior leaders show to their staff and partners.

This is no better illustrated than by Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks. In the immediate wake of the stock market turmoil around the world on 24th and 25th August, Schultz sent a letter to all his 190,000 staff and partners. As well as assuring them of Starbuck’s continued growth plans despite the stock market volatility and sending his appreciation of their efforts in making Starbucks the number one coffee company worldwide he urged them to think of how their customers might be feeling in relation to this immediate uncertainty He encouraged them to show special care to their customers as follows:

“Our customers are likely to experience an increased level of anxiety and concern. Please recognize this and–as you always have–remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to earn, every day. Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations.”

Source: http://www.inc.com/justin-bariso/starbucks-ceo-sent-an-extraordinary-email-to-employees-due-to-the-stock-market-c.html

By being attuned to customer concerns in their everyday lives Schultz was able to translate this stock market event into a communication to staff and on to Starbucks customers that he and they care.

This is a great example of customer-centric leadership. It costs you nothing, but adds to the customer experience in a way that connects emotionally and creates loyal customers as advocates.

How customer centric companies make service recovery a priority

In the below video, Chris Zane of Zane’s cycles, probably the most customer centric bike store on the planet, tells the story of how they got things wrong.

Not only did they gets things wrong but on Valentine’s Day of all days!

We all get things wrong from time to time, what matters is how we handle things when we make a mistake. People that work for customer centric companies take ownership, take charge and make things right for the customer.

Is this how your team operates?

How much is the Starbucks experience worth?

The starbucks premium customer experience

“Starbucks represents something beyond a cup of coffee”, says Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks. He’s right. Consumers are not quibbling about the new $7 cup of coffee. In fact, it seems to be a runaway success.

When consumers are connected with a brand emotionally, as many are with Starbucks, they are prepared to pay a premium, or in this case a super-premium, particularly if they believe that the product is scarce. The Costa Rica Finca Palmilera beans come from a relatively rare cherry of the Gesha tree. Scarcity is one thing, but the coffee also needs to be distinctively different. Reviewers say the fancy beans, are being dubbed the Sauternes or Sauvignon Blanc of coffee. They have described the taste as “crisply sweet, quietly but profoundly complex.” It sounds a bit like a wine review, doesn’t it? It won’t be long before we have consumers doing blind taste tests and entering coffee tasting competitions to see who has the best palate.

But, it’s even much more than that. Starbucks has created a bond with its loyal customers based on creating a superior experience from the connection with their personal barista in the shop to hanging out with friends over a Starbucks coffee and a snack. It is the consistency of this experience and the trust that goes with it that enables Starbucks to charge a super premium and for a segment of its market to happily pay it.

We see this in a broader perspective if we accept Howard Schultz’s view: “We help customers discover entertainment”.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Starbucks is pressing ahead to achieve leadership in the tea market with its intent to acquire Teavana. It acquired Evolution fresh in 2011 offering pure juices and natural foods with added nutrition, launching its first shop in California in October 2012. All of this along with massive growth in the number of shops led by expansion in North America and China.

Does your customer experience create an emotional connection with your brand and your company? Is it strong enough for you to be able to introduce premium price products that customers will happily pay for?

Is Wells Fargo regaining its customer culture?

customer focused banks

We all have a love-hate relationship with our banks. We see this in the annual customer satisfaction ratings that are far from stellar for all banks.

Wells Fargo slipped to second-place behind JPMorgan Chase in customer satisfaction among big banks in the American Customer Satisfaction Index released in December 2012. Wells Fargo received a score of 71 on a scale of 100, down three points from 2011. Chase scored a 74, gaining six points in 2012. Citi dropped four points for a score of 70. It marks the first time in a decade Wells or predecessor Wachovia has not been ranked No. 1. Charlotte-based Wachovia had long enjoyed the top spot in the rankings, and its momentum lifted Wells Fargo to that spot after the banks merged in 2008.

But Wells Fargo is trying to increase the “love” side of the equation by actively working to offer meaningful services that will help its cash-strapped customers.

Wells Fargo, like many banks have a large number of customers that are unable to meet their mortgage payments and are struggling to hold on to their houses. In this situation Wells Fargo could take the view that it is the customer’s problem if they can’t make the repayments. But a customer-centric view would be to fully understand the customer’s problem, then look for alternate ways to enable customers to meet their commitments and help them understand the options and advise on the most realistic and acceptable plan to meet the need.

Recently Wells Fargo started offering workshops for consumers that are having difficulty paying their mortgages and who are in danger of foreclosure. Customers can learn about options that may help them overcome payment challenges, understand how they may be able to avoid foreclosure and connect with resources like housing counselors and online tools.

Another initiative is helping small businesses understand alternative financing arrangements and develop a strong proposal for borrowing to finance their growth. “As America’s leading small business lender, we have an important responsibility to provide small business owners both access to capital, and access to the financial guidance they need before and after obtaining credit,” said Lisa Stevens, Wells Fargo lead executive for Small Business and West Coast Regional Banking president. “The new Business Credit Center is another way we support small business owners. It offers straightforward, relevant information business owners can use to better understand financing options for their businesses.”

Are these signs that Wells Fargo is acting to strengthen its customer focus by seeking to really understand customer needs and provide valuable services for cash strapped customers?

What are you doing for customers that have difficulty paying for your products or services? Do you regard it as the customer’s problem or your problem?

Has the word “customer” lost its impact?

the_customer

There is a lot of discussion these days on the importance of being “customer” focused, of having a “customer” mindset, of delivering a better “customer” experience. Sometimes there is so much reference to customers that the word is starting to lose its meaning. Now don’t get me wrong. I am an unwavering advocate of the imperative for organizations to create and maintain a strong “customer” culture which embodies – focus, mindset, experience and shared values and beliefs that what’s best for the customer is best for the business.

However, some organizations have developed their own unique twist to this. The way in which you talk about customers and describe them influences both the attitudes and behaviors of employees towards them.

Remember when Telcos referred to their customers as subscribers? This depersonalized their customers to the point where they were thought of as a number or a statistic.

Costco thinks and talks about its customers as “members”. This means that they see them as part of their business and all staff feel connected and act accordingly. A member is someone who belongs there. In particular, a member is special and is to be given special, personalized service and this is reflected in everything that happens at Costco, including the return of goods which are accepted back cheerfully even from the most unreasonable member.

Both Ritz-Carlton and Virgin Atlantic refer to their customers as “guests”. As an invited guest of the hotel or airline you are treated with radical hospitality. It promotes in the staff of these organizations a feeling that you treat these visiting guests in the same way as you would treat guests in your own home.

Professional services firms like CPAs and Law firms refer to their customers as “clients”. The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes a client as a person who is under the protection of another. This suggests the customer is in their care and they have a responsibility to do what’s best for the client. Also it seems that the word “client” elevates the customer to being someone who deserves special individual attention.

Doctors refer to their customers as “patients”. Part of their duty of care is to advise and help manage their personal well-being and maintain confidential records of their patients’ progress.

In the “age of the customer” it is important to rethink how we refer to that most important driver of our business success. Whatever word you use conveys a particular meaning that can support or dilute the mindset and behaviors of your employees towards customers.

Do you have a special term for customers? Does it support your drive towards customer centricity?