Category Archives: Customer Communications

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?

Are customers at the heart of your business? Here’s what that means to Virgin

Customers at the Heart of Business

Image Source: http://www.customerattheheart.co.uk/

In a recent British Parliamentary Enquiry into the awarding of rail franchises to private companies, Richard Branson said: “Our customers are at the heart of our business”.

What does this really mean from a practical point of view to the Virgin Group? Well, as an example Virgin Mobile recently asked its Australian customers to nominate themselves to be part of a Virgin Tester Team. The successful Tester Team participants are sent the latest handset to test drive and asked them to review the phone model’s advantages and disadvantages via a two minute video. This is uploaded to Virgin’s YouTube page and the Tester’s own social media channels. Then they get to keep the handset.

This initiative is based on two bits of customer insight:

1)   Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted source of product information, only behind referrals received from family and friends.

2)   The growing trend on YouTube for users to upload videos of themselves , share them with friends showing the moment of newly purchased technology products.

This is an example of taking customers into the heart of your business based on customer insight and good business sense. By asking real people to review handsets openly potential customers are getting a fair and honest review by everyday people, not just the technology pros. It enables Virgin Mobile to obtain rapid and meaningful feedback from customers that it can use to continually improve the customer experience.

How can you bring customers into the heart of your operations?

How to communicate without saying a word

Communication is a massive part of any major change initiative. A leadership team’s ability to connect with employees at all levels with a clear powerful message is critical to success.

Some of the best lessons on communication come from the world of advertising. Agencies are charged with breaking through the noise to catch a customer’s attention and deliver a powerful, meaningful message.

The image at the top of this post does just that. It also helps illustrate some rules about communication that can help leaders be more powerful communicators.

First it uses a powerful simple visual that tells a story without saying a word. “How am I going to fit my car into that spot….without killing anyone!”

Second the text is simple, to the point and benefit driven – “Park assist technology from Volkswagen”.

The lesson for leaders trying to drive change is – use powerful visuals that represent and reinforce the changes you want to make in the organization.

Here is a great visual we developed for one of our client’s that wanted to implement the “5 whys” process as part of their customer focused culture change initiative.

Why is the “Why” upside down? Good question! I thought you’d never ask….