Category Archives: Customer Satisfaction

Is this the end of in-store customer service and retailing as we know it?

a_retail_customer_wants_service

You would think traditional retailers when confronted with the undermining of their traditional in store purchasing business models would be reaching out for new ways to create value for their customers……

Although most retailers agree delivering a superior in-store experience will rescue the physical store from the fate of the last buggy whip company. I find it strange that they continue to offer customer service that borders on a slap in the face.

A recent survey released by Motorola has found that the number of shoppers who prefer to rely on their own mobile devices, rather than shop assistants, to guide their purchasing decisions has reached a level that for retailers can only be described as “a major wake up call”.

There are a couple of facts from the research that suggest retailers may have given up on providing better in store service.

Firstly about 50% of Millennials (Gen Ys) and more than a third of Gen X shoppers suggest it’s easier to find information on their mobile devices than from a store associate. Since the Millennials are gradually overtaking baby boomers as the biggest consuming group, retailers are saying to their future target customers –  there really isn’t much point in coming to the store after all.

The second interesting fact is that store managers agree – and are convinced in even greater numbers than their customers – that mobile devices provide better information. More than 60% of managers were of this view!

The Motorola research also revealed that the shopping experience improved when sales associates themselves used mobile technologies.

Digitally-enhanced service is clearly a direction being taken by many leading-edge retailers who are already shifting to mobile checkouts and other technologies that bypass or supplement humans to provide product information.

What is the future of store based retailing?

The shift in retailing appears to be heading in a smaller number of viable directions:

The first is technology-based self-service, with people being largely phased out of store operations. This is already starting to happen at super markets and other high volume retailers.

The second is real value-added  in-store customer experiences provided by passionate “brand ambassadors” – for example Lululemon and Apple in which store associates are so highly trained, informed and motivated that they can make customers feel good enough about the experience to make additional purchases.

The third will be specialty retailers in high traffic tourist areas that will continue to relie on holiday shoppers and serendipitous purchases. The local cannery row and fisherman’s wharf areas in Monterey California come to mind….

Consumers appear to be losing faith in the ability of retailers to deliver on the promise of people powered service.

What do you think? How will store based retailers survive in the future?

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?

Extreme customer service on top of Mt Kilimanjaro

climbing_the_customer_centric_mountain

Source: crewtreks.com

It is amazing where you will find people with a “customer first” mindset and an innate sense of understanding customer needs and how to fill them.

Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, at 19, 340 feet, is the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Mt Everest stands atop a mountain range. The climb from Everest Base Camp to the summit is between 11,000-12,000 feet depending on whether you start from the south or the north. But the continual climb of Kilimanjaro from base to the top is over 19,000 feet. So, when you start climbing the mountain you climb for a continuous six days increasing your elevation by over 3,000 feet per day. It is not a technical climb, so the biggest danger is altitude sickness, which will effectively end your mission to get to the top.

My friend, John, booked with a Tanzanian expedition company with experienced guides and travelled to Kilimanjaro last December with both excitement and anxiety. He dearly wanted to make it to the top, but could he? Climbing high mountains plays on you both physically and mentally. On the lower parts of the climb he kept hearing stories of how hard it is to reach the summit. He saw people being rapidly brought down the mountain suffering from altitude sickness.

After five days of climbing, John, his fellow climbers and their guides set off at 11pm for the remaining 3000 foot climb to the summit. The oxygen deficit at that altitude impacts the body and the mind. John was feeling tired, but good. The Tanzanian guides were continually encouraging the climbers – “go slow. You’re doing great!” At one point a guide came back to John and suggested he carry John’s backpack for him. John felt OK and said he could carry it himself. The guide persisted and said he would only carry it as far as the next rest stop. When they arrived at the next rest stop, John could see that the guide had carried an additional three packs apart from his own. When John approached him, the guide said he would just carry it a little further for him.

They reached the summit at 7.30am the next morning and the guide was waiting for an exhausted John with his backpack. Who knows whether he would have made it carrying his own pack. But, the guide could sense that John may have difficulties making the top – not only in the first part of that summit climb, but for the last bit of it. He was thinking ahead of his client’s future needs. He was almost literally “walking in the shoes” of his customer. He was checking with his client to understand how he was feeling and sensing what else he could do to help him achieve his goal. Most of all he was thinking of his client as a human being.

John was overcome by a sense of gratitude to his guide. The emotional connection was intense.

Isn’t that what real customer service is about?

Customer Centric Lessons from the Rock Band Van Halen

CREDIT: PHOTOSTATION IMAGES/LARRY MARANO

CREDIT: PHOTOSTATION IMAGES/LARRY MARANO

Van Halen was particularly big in the US during the 1970s and 1980s. David Lee Roth was their lead singer and also somewhat of an technical operations expert.

In fact Van Halen was a pioneer in many ways for touring rock bands. They were one of the first to take a really big action-packed rock concert to smaller cities and towns across America. In one year they did more than 100 concerts across the US. The technical set-up for these concerts was on a massive scale, Van Halen would haul 9 semi trailers worth of equipment to each venue.

Although they had their own road crew much of the initial set-up had to be contracted out beforehand. As part of that process they had developed very detailed specifications to denote the way the stage and surroundings needed to be set-up. David Lee Roth actually described the document as the size of the Yellow Pages. It’s is not the sort of detailed work you would expect from a lead vocalist in a rock band, particularly one that had its fair share of Rock Diva bad behaviour.

In fact they not only threw a TV out the window from the suite of one of their hotel rooms but they had enough extension cable to ensure the TV stayed on all the way until it hit the ground!

Another bit of folk lore from the time was the band’s requirement to have a bowl of M&Ms with the brown M&Ms removed. In fact in the contract they had with venue suppliers it stipulated if this bowl of M&Ms was not available back stage they had the right to cancel the show with full compensation. Many people explained this away as Van Halen making ABSURD demands just because they could. However the truth of the matter is a little different. The clause, called Article 126 was written with a very specific purpose.

If the band arrived at a venue and David Lee Roth saw a Brown M&M in the M&Ms bowl he would demand a full check of the entire production. He believed it was a guarantee there were errors in the way the technical elements of the stage production were set-up as clearly they had not read the “yellow pages sized” instruction book!

David needed a way to check that people were paying attention to the details of his requirements as a customer. So he add this little test as a cue.

In fact as customers we all use cues to determine whether something is good or bad, high quality or low quality and what we might expect in terms of service.

In the airline business, the airlines know that if there are stains on the trays people feel nervous about the quality and safety of the aircraft. So the good airlines pay attention to these details because of the broader message it sends about safety and airline quality.

Do you have customers like this? What cues are your customers using to assess whether you will live up to your promises?

Do you have the type of organizational culture where people are tuned into these customer cues?

What customer-centric looks like in the insurance business – Lessons from Aflac

customer_centric_health_insurance

Insurance is a “grudge” purchase. No-one likes to pay for something they may never need or use. It’s a bit like going to the dentist for a tooth extraction. Then when you have an insurance claim, getting compensation for what you insured can be like extracting teeth – very painful. It’s not just the processes that cause pain, but it’s the attitude of the people working in the insurance claims function. Often they come across as doing you a favor and treating you with distrust. They create a perception that they are there to protect the company, not the customer.

A friend, who spent his entire working life in the insurance industry, told me that one of his early roles was as a claims officer. He said that whenever a valid claim was made he immediately paid out sufficient funds for people to replace the basic things they had lost. He treated customers with empathy and trust and did everything he could to fulfill their legitimate needs. It served him well. When he became an insurance agent for the same company, he contacted all of those people he had dealt with in his “claims” role to discuss their other insurance needs. He rapidly gained a large client base and became very successful. Many of his clients switched from other insurance companies to buy insurance from someone they trusted and could meet their needs.

Michael W. Zuna, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Aflac, says the company is committed to keeping the promise it made to its customers—to be there when they need insurance most and take their concerns to heart. “We realize that stress is heightened during medical emergencies, and we strive to make sure their experience with us puts them at ease,” Zuna says.

Especially in a changing health insurance landscape, customers do not know or understand the insurance policies that may work best for them or what they need to do when they’re faced with a health problem. Zuna notes that Aflac prioritizes educating customers to prepare for the unexpected and helping them through difficult times. “Medical bills can add up quickly, so we make sure to pay claims fairly, promptly, and directly to our customers usually within four days so they can use those funds as they see fit,” he says.

The bottom line is that insurance companies must listen to their customers, empathize with them, and help them address, and ultimately solve, the problems that they’re facing.

How can insurance companies do this on a consistent basis? They need a customer-focused culture that recognizes how customers can best be satisfied in a way that is also profitable to the business. This “customer centeredness” must exist in every department, particularly the claims department, for the “grudge” to be eliminated from the customer’s thought processes. This will ensure customer loyalty and retention and help safeguard the customer’s best interests.

2 secrets of Salesforce.com’s success at attracting customers

customerculture_at_salesforce

Jamie Greney, a long standing employee says “In my ten years at salesforce.com, I think one of the most important elements to our success has been the corporate culture. We’ve had a consistent vision regarding the end of software. Three of our top values have been trust, customer success, and innovation.”

Alyson Stone, another company employee says “Depending on how you look at it, resolving a customer’s problem is the beginning or the end of a journey. Companies who decide to put the customer at the center of all business strategies and activities are making a commitment to engagement, yes. But more than that they are making an assumption that each customer is a long-term investment with a high rate of return.”

It is clear that Salesforce’s customer culture is embedded in the business and has been central to its ongoing delivery of value to its growing customer base. Salesforce is on Fortune’s 2012 list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For ranked number 27.

In a report titled “Salesforce’s happy workforce”, David Kaplin describes what happens inside the company.

 “There are plenty of reasons Salesforce is cool to work for: its downtown San Francisco vibe, its matchless end-of-the-year revelry, its embedded philanthropy, and its idiosyncratic leader.”

He quotes Marc Benioff, the CEO, “We achieved our market position by being born cloud,” Benioff writes in his book titled Beyond the Cloud, “but we are being ‘reborn’ social … We need to transform the business conversation the same way Facebook and other social sites like Twitter have changed the consumer conversation and created incredible loyalty — and love.”

Kaplan reports that Salesforce’s new social-networking app, Chatter, functions much like a Facebook inside a company — and helps enhance office culture. Whether on a computer or mobile device, Chatter is dynamic and collaborative — e-mail, by comparison, is static and private. In open groups or news feeds like Finance or Sales, multiple employees can share ideas in real time on projects, analyze data, and compare drafts. “I learned more about my company in a few months through using Chatter than I had in the last three years,” Benioff says.

At Salesforce itself — where there are about 3,000 daily Chatter posts, and internal e-mails have decreased 30% since Chatter went live — there are groups designed to get employees across departments and rank talking to each other about work life, including Tribal Knowledge and Airing of Grievances. Kaplan says you can’t post anonymously, so complaints and queries are rather tame. But it nonetheless generates a degree of cooperation unseen at large organizations.

When you think about it, by providing business software on the web as its core mission, the collaborative model that the company has with its customers engenders cross-function collaboration within each customer as they use the Salesforce software.

Success has many elements, but there are two secrets underpinning Salesforce that stand out:

1)   A Customer Culture as noted at the start of this post, is fundamental to Salesforce’s growth and profitability.

2)   Collaboration across functions and with customers fuels trust and innovation resulting in a happy workforce and more value for customers.

How strong are these cultural attributes in your company? What could you do to strengthen them?

If you want to build this capability in your organization check out our MarketCulture Academy.

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?

How to be insanely service centric – Lessons from Zappos

Customer Culture Car from Zappos

Zappos is renowned globally as a legend in customer service, partially for the e-retailer’s unique approach to customer interaction management. Zappos invests in the call center not as a cost, but as a marketing opportunity

Recently, Software Advice  Analyst Ashley Furness sat down with the company’s Customer Loyalty Operations Manager Derek Carder. He said the company’s whole strategy is to create loyalty through incentivizing ‘wow’ moments and emotional connections. Here are the four KPIs they use to monitor, track and improve performance:

  • Measure Total Call Time, Not Time Per Call

Instead of valuing quick time to resolution or processing high call volumes, Zappos looks at the percentage of a time an agent spends on the phone. Agents are expected to spend at least 80% of their time in customer-facing communications. This measure – called personal service level – is a way to empower the team to utilize their time how they see best promotes customer loyalty.

Reps who achieve this target get receive rewards, while those who fall below the 80 percent line are coached.

  • Quantify and Reward Wow Moments

Zappos measures calls against a 100-point scale called the “Happiness Experience Form.” This is based on answers to the following questions:

  1. Did the agent try twice to make a personal emotional connection (PEC)?
  2. Did they keep the rapport going after the customer responded to their attempt?
  3. Did they address unstated needs?
  4. Did they provide a “wow experience?”

Agents are expected to achieve a 50-point average or higher. Again, agents earn incentives for meeting their goals, while under performers are required to take extra training.

  • Mine for Idle Chats

Zappos monitors “abandonment time,” or periods when an agent has a session open even though the customer already disconnected from the chat.  Carder said sometimes agents do this purposely to avoid responding.

This strategy of looking for idle chats zeroes in on the cause of unproductivity. When agents aren’t productive, customers wait longer. And the longer they wait, the more apt they are to abandon the session.

  • Reward Perfect Attendance and Punctuality

Zappos uses a program called Panda to combat absenteeism. Employees receive a point for every day they miss work or come in late. Staff with zero points in a given period receive a varying number of paid hours off. These hours can be accrued and stacked for an entire paid day off, Carder explains.

The primary take away is that Zappos created metrics that emphasize creating a relationship with the customer rather than rushing them through the call. At the same time, these KPIs still successfully improve performance and make employees feel appreciated and rewarded.

This is what call center metrics look like when they are designed to maximize value for customers, rather than minimize costs for the company…..

Thanks to Ashley Furness for providing great inputs for the content of this post, for more on this story visit her here

7 ways to make a customer culture stick

how to make customer culture stick

Research and experience show there are 4 stages to getting and keeping a customer culture: Initiation, Implementation, Embedding and Reinforcement. In my last two posts I outlined the actions to take at the initiation and implementation stages. In this post I focus on the 7 actions to take during the embedding stage.

The focus of this stage is on institutionalizing the customer culture through supporting systems, on-going training, increased employee empowerment and accountability of all individuals and teams for delivering an improved customer experience.

1. Formalization of customer culture through symbols, rituals and artifacts

This often includes organization structure changes, more open office designs, images of customers taking precedence over images of products, customer invitations to corporate meetings and cross-function teams evaluating new market opportunities.

2. Development of customer focus behaviors at leader and individual levels

Key performance indicators measuring the level of customer focus are formalized for performance reviews and designing personal development programs.

3. Delegation of decisions from the Customer Engagement Council (made up of senior and influential leaders) to all organization members

The power to make decisions on behalf of the company shifts to all employees within an agreed framework. This new empowerment and accountability is sometimes hard to accept by long-standing employees. Some companies have used a “buddy” approach to help less experienced staff gain new skills and confidence.

4. Measurement of customer culture

Culture change is not a “bolt-on”; it is a “built-in” process. Effectively done, it can’t be “unbolted”. Measurement covering the breadth and depth of the organization is necessary to determine to what extent customer culture has been built in.

5. Measurement of customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy against targets

Ongoing measurement is part of customer culture embedding and provides a frequent benchmark of customer engagement performance. It guides how the organization needs to adapt to changing market trends and customer needs.

6. Formal alignment of rewards and recognition with customer metrics

Remuneration systems and promotion is formally tied to customer culture behaviors and customer engagement performance.

7. On-going training program

This is valuable for two groups:

  • new and recent hires
  • pockets and groups within the organization found to be lacking a customer mindset and relevant skills

Documented case studies of successes and learnings are often used to demonstrate successful customer engagement experiences.

My next post will outline the actions required to reinforce the customer culture and avoid the complacency and arrogance that frequently occurs with sustained success.