Category Archives: Customer Satisfaction

Why being customer obsessed pays! Lessons from the CEO of massively successful startup Naked Wines

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Luke Jecks, the Former CEO of Naked Wines, founded and led an online wine business that operates in the US, the UK, and Australia. The company connects wine lovers with boutique wineries and uses a subscription model where “angels” – consumers who pay a monthly subscription to help fund the winery’s next vintage – are able to order their favorite wines and pay for them from their subscriptions. It is a customer-funded wine business.

I asked Luke how this came about.

He replied: “The most important thing in the wine industry is that the only way this online business could work would be if we could have consumers that were “sticky” to the business. If we could get loyalty in perpetuity we would not have to be a business that is constantly out there chasing new sales. Instead what we could do is invest in loyalty in the consumer and if we did that we would have a sustainable business.”

“So we needed a model that did not trap consumers but made them want to stay. So the questions we had to answer were: How do you reinvent the wine club and its benefits with a subscription that had no cancellation fees, had no minimum period of membership, you could walk away at any time, and any money you put into the subscription you got back?”

“We found that a segment of wine consumers need to see a choice, a benefit, a feeling of being in control and where they feel they can connect with the values of the business. We felt that to keep customers in the long term we needed to make them feel proud – because they mattered and were part of the key wine choices being made and understood their role in making the business a success and the winemakers successful. Also proud because they feel they are doing good through the stories behind the winemakers that can’t happen without them”.

I asked Luke how this relates to customer-centricity. He said: “To me, you must have an “attract” model and not a “trap” model. It is a model where the customer plays a vital part in the success. So it is important for us to measure the customer lifetime value – that is how long they stay with us and how much they spend. That is much more important than today’s transaction. We believe that if we can get loyalty, we will get sales. We tested this by sending “high engagement” emails to half our consumers and “buy” emails to the other half. It turned out that the “engagement” emails created loyalty and those consumers bought more. We asked our consumers to rate their happiness with us. We found that people who rated us 5 stars (90%-100%) had much bigger lifetime value. So we set about investing to get 90%+ ratings by putting more people in the business, paying our staff more, investing in career programs for our staff and empowering them to empower our customers.

I asked Luke what has been the result. He said:

“From a standing start 5 years ago Naked Wine now has more than 100,000 angels. But more important than this number is the high level of loyalty. This has created a growing, profitable and sustainable business.”

A truly customer obsessed business has loyal customers that buy from you because they want to – and stay with you because they see that you care and that they are important. It is a business, like Naked Wines, that invests in and empowers its people to fully engage with their customers to create great customer experiences. This translates into increasing customer lifetime value. Sustainable profit and growth follow.

Hear more from Luke in this previous post – “What is the kryptonite for disruptors?”

Learn more about creating this culture in our latest book, the Customer Culture Imperative.

The reason what they teach in business school is wrong and why a customer-obsessed culture is the only answer

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Many of today’s senior leaders were educated in an era where business school professors told them the sole purpose of a business was to create value for shareholders. This, at a time when only a few voices professed what revered thinker and writer, Peter Drucker, proposed that the purpose of a business is to create customers profitably. The two mindsets are complete opposites.

I recently watched the Netflix series: Dirty Money. It investigates three cases of big corporations where the only consideration by their senior leaders was the creation of shareholder value and their own bonuses at any cost.

Volkswagon was proven to have initiated and perpetuated (by senior leaders) built-in software to falsify carbon emissions in order to make claims about their cars to enable them to grow their business in the US with diesel-fuelled vehicles. Even when proven, senior leaders were in denial until indicted by the US government.

HSBC turned a blind eye to money laundering by the Mexican drug cartels through their banking network. Despite being castigated in US Senate investigations and regulators over a decade, there was no effective action taken and finally, the company was fined almost US $2billion with an admission to serious charges. This was a willful disregard of the consequences of their actions (or non-action) to achieve their profit goals at all costs.

Valiant Pharmaceuticals embarked on a merger and acquisition strategy to buy drug companies with unique monopoly brands as a basis for growth. Once acquired the prices of these life-saving products were hiked to levels where consumers could not pay for them – with life-threatening consequences. The CEO’s one stated aim was to create value for shareholders.

The senior leaders of all three companies gave no thought to the consequences for their customers and the community. In fact, they saw them as irrelevant. Excessive pollution from cars is a prime cause of the premature death of many consumers. Enabling money laundering financed drug lords and the associated violent deaths of innocents in Mexico and the drug habit in the US. Hiking pharmaceutical drug prices 10 or 20 fold over a short period created havoc and misery for many consumers with life-threatening illnesses. All of this because the senior leadership mindset and corporate culture were focused only on profit and their own bonuses.

I have heard this in many large businesses where people down the line tell me that the only concern of leadership is to meet profit goals at any cost. That cost is often lost jobs, unhappy and disengaged employees and frustration and disgust of customers.

Yet we know that the leaders of today’s most successful, modern large businesses have a totally different mindset. It is best illustrated by Jeff Bezos, who from day 1 at Amazon has built a culture around customer obsession and a focus on continually improving the value and experience delivered to its customers. He has never wavered from this mindset despite criticism at different times. What is the result? It is the most valuable and sustainable business on the planet – with a history of little more than 20 years.

We are starting to see this mindset in other leaders of long-established businesses. Richard Branson at Virgin is one. Paul Polman at Unilever is another. These leaders take the view that “what’s best for the customer is best for the business”. They truly believe that by creating a customer-obsessed culture in their leadership and employees they will deliver superior value to their customers and for their communities. And by so doing they will achieve long-term profitability and sustainability in their businesses as well as personal rewards and happy employees. They take a longer term and future-oriented view in their decision-making and their behavior.

This is foreign to many senior leaders and there is a lack of experience as to how to do it. In our research of more than 50 customer “obsessed” CEOs around the world and more than 300 businesses we now have a measurement tool that can create this mindset, benchmark your business against the best in the world and set out best practice steps to move you to the next level – a level that will be required for survival and success.

This is the secret to delivering powerful Customer Experiences that only a handful of CEO’s know about!

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Why engaged customer-focused employees are vital to business success!

In today’s market, the majority of companies have very little to differentiate themselves from their competition. Their product and services are very similar if not identical. It is so easy to change to another company that it can be done in minutes or even seconds on the web. Social media can instantly let millions of people know what just took place. Customer expectations have changed and their demands are greater than ever.

Future business performance and sustainability will come down to whether or not customers continue to use your products and services or leave for an alternative supplier. It costs 7.5 times as much to gain a new customer yet the majority of companies spend their budgets on attracting new customers. What are you doing to retain your current customers?

MarketCulture’s purpose is to help companies recognize the importance of building stronger customer experiences that retain customers. We believe that inspired, engaged and empowered employees focused on customers are vital to success. It comes down to how the company delivers on its promise and ultimately it is all employees that make this happen. It takes one bad experience and you have lost a customer.

As leaders do you truly understand what your employees need in order to deliver a great customer experience? Are we telling them what to do or are we engaging them in what they believe is important? Richard Branson says that engaged and happy employees deliver superior customer experiences. Virgin enters markets where customers are dissatisfied. They quickly win a strong market share by providing great service with a touch of magic. Employees want to be part of the solution and feel that they belong. They want to be listened to and feel that their feedback contributes to the success of the business. Your employees are the ones that retain or lose your customers.

Companies today implement many tools that measure either employee engagement or customer satisfaction. They allow leaders to know whether or not they have happy/unhappy employees or satisfied/dissatisfied customers yet they rarely provide insight into how they can improve. Leaders need to understand what employees need to deliver the company’s promise and customer satisfaction.

“There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.” Jeff Bezos – Amazon Founder and CEO

How do we engage employees to build stronger customer experiences?

Customer experience comes down to the way your company and employees behave – whether you deliver or not on your promise. It can be as simple as responding to a customer in a timely fashion or just the tone of your voice. Amazon is now one of the biggest companies, yet they have retained a strong focus on their customer experiences even as they have grown to employ more than 300,000 people. The test of a company is not when things go well but when they don’t. Customers are looking to receive the value they paid for or they will simply try an alternative supplier. Where do you start building a stronger customer experience? You can start with the customer and find out whether or not they are satisfied but that is after the event has occurred and maybe too late. Alternatively, you can start with those that create the experience – “the employee” – and find out what they need in order to be able to deliver a great customer experience.

Steve Job’s recognized this towards the end of his time as CEO of Apple when he said:

“It’s not about me, it’s about the company and it’s about the cause. It’s not about everything being dependent on me. I have to build a culture, I have to think about a successor, I have to think about setting this thing up to do well over time. And in the end, what matters is, I want Apple to be an enduring great company and prove it didn’t need me.”

How do we do it? – It is simple. Listen to your employees, find out what is important to them, engage them, act on their feedback, empower them to solve customer problems and they will deliver better customer experiences.

MarketCulture researched 100’s of companies across the globe that exhibited both customer-centric decision-making with employees empowered to deliver great customer experiences. Some of these companies included Amazon, Google, Virgin, Apple, and Ikea.

The research revealed 8 disciplines that employees act on to deliver great customer experiences. We found these disciplines used across the entire organization including all support functions. This was not evident in companies that deliver inconsistent customer experiences.

Through both quantitative and qualitative employee feedback companies are able to act on strengths and weaknesses in order to support employees in delivering superior customer experiences.

What – A unique employee assessed customer engagement measurement tool.

Where do we start? The first step is to discover what is important to the employees in order to provide a better experience for customers. To do this we need to engage the employees and gain their feedback. The Market Responsiveness Index (MRI) is a unique assessment tool that all employees, including leaders, complete. The MRI has quantitative (scaled questions/benchmarked) as well as qualitative feedback (verbatim comments). This will identify the strengths and weaknesses of your company against companies that use best customer-centric practices. This will create change and build future business performance through the retention and growth of customers. Studies have shown that companies with Customer Centric practices outperform the others.

What is the Market Responsiveness Index (MRI)?

The MRI is a web-based employee assessment, requiring 15-20 minutes to complete, that benchmarks employee behaviors within your business against the most customer-centric companies in the world. This translates into 8 key disciplines all with a strong focus on the customer. These are Customer Insight, Customer Foresight, Competitive Insight, Competitor Foresight, Peripheral Vision, Cross Functional Collaboration, Empowerment and Strategic Alignment. Your company’s performance in these disciplines has been shown to drive future customer satisfaction, revenue growth, and profitability.

The MRI will provide key benefits to your company.

1. Momentum, Engagement and a New Mindset: It will create focus and momentum for a Customer Centricity initiative across the business and can be used to drive the embedding process.

2. Measurement: It is designed to provide the basis for benchmarking and measuring progress on those customer-focused behaviors that drive customer satisfaction, advocacy, revenue growth, profit and plans for individual managers to drive improvements.

3. Gain Insights: Hear directly from employees on the key issues holding the organization back from being more customer-centric in specific areas and across the entire business.

4. Tangibility and Communication: It makes customer culture tangible for all staff by identifying relevant activities that support business strategies. Through its methodology and measurement process, it facilitates communication of clear priorities.

5. Gain broad employee involvement: It provides staff with an opportunity for input and direct engagement in Customer Culture initiatives and a forum for agreeing with actions to be taken and a feeling that they are a key part of the journey and contributing to its success.

6. Build a common language across the Business: It also acts as a tool for ensuring staff within the business “get it” and develops a common language and behaviors from Customer Culture initiatives. It forms the basis for ongoing discussions and actions deep within each functional group which is where the ultimate success in embedding customer culture will be determined through collaboration.

7. Accountability: It provides customer-centric behaviors that can be included in the Key Performance Indicators of managers and their teams.

8. Benchmark: It provides the business with a benchmark against some of the world’s most customer-centric organizations. How do you compare with companies like Amazon, Apple, 3M, Virgin and others included in the database? The current database includes more than 300 corporations globally across B2B and B2C and several hundred business functions and units.

Interesting in starting your journey to a customer culture? Learn more here.

Lexus – a beacon of customer centricity

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The auto manufacturing industry will soon be under siege – impacts are already being felt with easy consumer access and convenience of services like Uber, better public transport, parking costs and restrictions in increasingly large cities around the globe and technological advances in communications propelling less commuting between home and work.

Traditionally auto dealers have focused on each transaction – just getting a sale – and not on nurturing the long term relationships with their customers that will make them lifetime brand loyalists.

Lexus is an exception. Nick Dieltiens, a customer centricity consultant based in Europe, tells us of his experiences when working with Lexus in Europe. First the mindset. It’s not about the “car”, its about the “customer’s journey”. This is illustrated by the fact that on the rare occasions when a Lexus broke down in the French Alps, Lexus arranged for a helicopter to be flown in to collect the stranded family and fly them to their destination.

Also, customer service people at Lexus in Europe are empowered to make the decision to take back a car if the customer is not entirely satisfied with the purchase. Nick tells the story of a senior Lexus executive taking back a car from a customer because the remote control would not connect to the customer’s garage door and the issue could not be fixed. So the executive purchased a Mercedes at a discounted price and provided it to his customer at that discounted price.

The next car the customer bought was a Lexus.

The customer culture in many Lexus dealerships in Europe is strong. Staff are trained to observe Lexus vehicles on the road. If one is see with a broken tail light, they would wave down the driver where safe to do so, give them their car, take the car to get the light fixed free of charge and return the car to the owner.

You may think this costs Lexus a lot of money. It may cost a little more in the short term, but it pays off in a big way with high customer loyalty in car servicing and repeat purchase.

The most important investment by Lexus is in building and retaining a customer culture! This will be essential for all auto companies if they want to grow their businesses in future.

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?

Why aren’t Public Service Organizations Customer-Centric?

(Photo credit: UCSF)

The Department of Motor Vehicles (Photo credit: UCSF)

Why aren’t many public service organizations like health, tax, education, transport and treasury or utilities such as power and water authorities customer-centric? Public service agencies differ markedly. Some have an exclusive franchise – public schools, police and roads that are taxpayer funded or water and electricity transmission monopolies that are customer funded. Others operate in competitive markets such as postal and parcel services.

But the case for customer centricity is compelling.

The Case for Customer Centricity

Countless studies have documented the link between organizational culture and organizational performance. Specifically, many studies show that a customer-centric culture drives superior service and value for customers resulting in an experience that creates customer satisfaction and advocacy. This in turn drives exceptional organizational performance in terms of productivity, new product/service success, innovation and financial performance.

Government departments and public service organizations have clearly defined missions to provide a service to their constituents. Each reports to a government official who is part of a central, state or local government that represents a community – much of which is made up of customers that experience the service. Poor experience leads to complaints, that in turn, ultimately affects votes for public officials if service is consistently bad.

Public service organizations that do not understand their customers’ changing needs, or worse, don’t care about their customers, will receive complaints that require additional resources to solve. This creates stress for both employees and customers and takes resources away from their core roles. The momentum and complexity of global change are challenging all organizations, including government agencies, to move faster, work smarter, use their resources more effectively and think further ahead.

Most senior leaders of these organizations know this!

What’s the problem?

Many public service organizations try to focus on their customers, but wonder why their customer service programs have not really worked. A key reason is that senior leaders do not understand the difference between customer focus and customer centricity.

If you ask different people in your organization whether it is customer focused or customer-centric you will probably receive a variety of answers. If you then ask them what they mean by that you will probably get many more. Often many senior managers believe their organization or department is customer-centric while others will strongly disagree.

Another reason is that public service organizations do not measure customer centricity and make it a key performance factor for assessing leader and team performance.

The best starting point is to agree on what customer centricity is and then measure it for your organization. This will get everyone on the “same page” and create the mindset and benchmark that enables you to focus on things you should do to strengthen it.

What is customer centricity?

Research tells us that customer centricity requires a particular culture – a shared system of values and norms (mindset and behaviors) that focus all employee activity on improving the customer’s experience. Values define what is important and norms define the appropriate mindset and behavior that leads to what people do.

Leaders of customer-centric organizations have found that customer centricity is defined by the capability of an organization to understand, predict and respond to customer, market and external environment changes. It is based on the mindset: “what’s best for the customer is best for the organization” and a set of employee behaviors where the customer is central to the decisions they take and how they are implemented. This does not mean that you give customers everything they want, but by understanding their current and future needs you are best able to deliver value that will satisfy them in meeting their objectives in a way that meets your own goals. Customer centricity should transcend all departments and functions and be an integral part of the way employees behave and perform.

How do you measure it?

There are now valid measurement tools available to benchmark your organization’s level of customer centricity. Based on empirical research two tools can be used to assess where you are. The Market Responsiveness Index is relevant to competitive environments and benchmarks the capabilities of your organization on 7 factors. The Customer Responsiveness Index (CRI) is relevant to the vast number of non-competing government agencies and utilities and benchmarks the capabilities of your organization on 6 factors. Both tools reach into a global database to enable you to compare your level of customer centricity against the best… and the worst. But more important they enable all staff to understand what customer centricity is and what actions you can take to embed it in your organization as a sustainable culture.

Three steps for getting started

The following three steps will create some effective momentum:

  1. Hold a forum of leaders designed to create awareness of what real customer centricity means. This may include a debate on whether your organization is customer-centric with one team taking the positive stance and the other team taking the negative view. This will expose different views and help people understand what “being customer-centric” means.
  2. Measure and benchmark your organization’s level of customer centricity and identify strengths and weakness on the customer-centric factors that drive your performance.
  3. Conduct a leadership workshop designed to review your strengths and weaknesses and develop plans to act on the most important priorities ensuring that all leaders are involved.

These 3 steps will lead you to actioning a customer-centric plan based on an objective understanding of where you stand, some milestones and targets to be achieved and a roadmap to get there.

You will find some valuable tools, case studies and examples to help you through these steps in The Customer Culture Imperative: A Leader’s Guide to Driving Superior Performance, McGraw-Hill New York, 2014 by Linden R. Brown and Chris. L. Brown. (The foundation of the research is in Appendix 1, pages 273-287.)

Why real-time customer feedback is the future for customer centric companies

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Companies have been measuring customer satisfaction levels for many years and yet many of these same companies have not seen significant improvements or changes. One of the reasons is customer satisfaction research has been a static activity. Satisfaction levels are measured once a year or less frequency. The data is discussed and reviewed but is not integrated or used to drive business decisions. The result is a lack of action. Even worse customers make complaints which companies then try to address weeks after any useful resolution is available.

In fact this cycle of asking customers for feedback and doing little or nothing with it is one reason why most customers don’t respond to surveys. Why should customers spend the time providing feedback when nothing meaningful will be done?

One of the challenges facing companies trying to implement a more real-time approach in the past has been limited resources to apply to the challenge. Real time has required surveys been run more frequently and systems to be available to provide that feedback to the right people at the right time.

Thankfully with the technology available today, a number of companies are providing customer centric organizations with new tools to gather insights and feedback on the go.

A great example comes from the healthcare industry, more specifically hospitals. Patient Experience is something that Hospitals can no longer ignore as a large percentage of their at-risk income under the affordable care act comes from their patient satisfaction levels.

Eric LoMonaco, a great patient centered leader, from the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP) in Monterey recently implemented a real time feedback program using QR codes placed strategically around the hospital.

qr-code used for feedback

The challenge they faced was satisfaction was measured by an external body that would provide reporting after the fact. The result was patients left the hospital with problems that were never addressed. Eric saw the opportunity to implement a system that would allow CHOMP to gain real time feedback that could be directed to leaders in the hospital and responded to in real time.

The impact of this system on patient satisfaction levels has been dramatic and immediate. By scanning a QR code or simply sending a text message directly to a leader in the Hospital, Patients are able to provide real-time feedback that leaders can address immediately as issues arise rather than after the fact.

Eric shares the results CHOMP has been achieved so far in a great article he wrote here and a webcast here.

With this type of technology available, the excuses for real-time customer satisfaction improvements are running out.

It is the combination of a customer centric mindset, coupled with technology and processes that will determine the winners in today’s business environment. To learn more about creating the right culture in your business, check out our book, The Customer Culture Imperative.