Category Archives: Customer Service

Macy’s Customer Experience: the good, the bad and the ugly.

RETAIL SALEMacy’s, like most retailers, has frequent sales to generate store traffic and boost sales. Here is an account of what happens in- store based on customers’ experiences.

The good: If something is purchased just a few days prior to an upcoming sale, Macy’s will offer the customer the sale price for the items purchased before the sale – that’s good!

The bad: The administrative process for sales assistants to record these pre-sale purchases at the sale price delays the customer 10-15 minutes for the procedure to be carried out. If there is a line of people having this done (which is common due to the shortage of staff on the floor) then a customer can be waiting 30-40 minutes. The pre-sale purchased products are put away for the customer to return to collect on sale day – that’s bad!

The ugly: The customer must return to the store during the “sale” period to collect the goods purchased pre-sale. Again, a line of people waiting for the sales assistant to go out back, locate the goods, bring them back to the counter and process the transaction – that’s ugly!

Why is it like this? The alternative can be such a better experience – either online or in stores that have streamlined processes and found added value to make it a much better experience for customers.

At Macy’s it seems that none of the executives or store managers have actually “walked in the shoes of their frustrated customers”. If they had they would be asking the questions:

What do we have to change to simplify this process for staff and shorten the wait for customers, knowing we are always short of staff on the floor?

How can we improve the customer’s experience while they are waiting in line?

What innovations can we introduce that will enhance the customer’s buying experience?

This is so basic, yet to even ask these questions requires a complete mindset and cultural change starting with senior leadership and through all levels of the organization. If Macy’s and similar stores can’t do this they will accelerate the shift to online buying and hasten their own demise.

You can read more on what it takes to become a customer centric organisation in our award winning book, The Customer Culture Imperative.

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?

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.)

How Zappos makes sure customers get a great experience everytime

customer service image on blackboard

You see countless articles every day that claim improving a single part of your customer service strategy is the “key” to something. Experts promise how listening to your customers, delivering more timely service, improving employee training and many other things offer a path to providing a better customer experience.

The reality is that your customer service is like a machine with many moving parts. These parts include your call center’s hold times, your field sales teams’ ability to make an emotional connection, the helpfulness of information available on self-service portals and more. They all need to function well, and – most importantly – function well together in order to offer an amazing customer experience and rank among the best names in stellar service.

Ultimately this requires a customer culture (read more in our new book here) The most well-known companies in customer service have earned their reputation by recognizing and executing against this reality. This is demonstrated in call center reviewer Ashley Verrill’s recent article, which examined how Zappos perfects quality assurance (QA) management for a better customer experience.

QA is not typically showcased as a big part of the “machine,” but the Zappos strategies she highlights do more than improve the accuracy and fairness of agent scoring. They also involve the voice of the customer and service reps to improve the experience for all parties involved:

Quality Assurance and Customer Service Reps Join Forces: Each QA team “advocate” is required to spend at least five hours on the floor, taking calls. This helps them stay connected to the real challenges and opportunities reps face on a daily basis and promotes active participation between the two groups.

Scoring Weighted to Reflect Zappos’ Values: (which you can view here): The scores that have the greatest impact on the overall quality assurance score are those in categories that do more to deliver the “Zappos Experience.” The most important factor for Zappos is forging a personal emotional connection with every customer. Also important is the solution to the issue. Knowing what’s most important to your company helps you evaluate your reps based on what matters most.

Self-Check Sessions: Every six months, Zappos evaluates its QA form and asks agents to grade their own calls. This not only helps continue the improvement of QA evaluation – it also empowers agents to voice opinions and innovative ideas.

Involve the Customer: Zappos manages call quality using traditional methods such as traditional Net Promoter Scores, as well as more unique strategies including “sharing great calls” and “customer props.” Again, this empowers the agent to tout an exceptional connection they made with a customer and also gives a voice to the customer, who is invited to give his or her take on the experience.

Custom Coaching with a Clear Path of Progression: Although Zappos has certain standards in place for measuring QA, team leaders are encouraged to personalize training exercises to best fit the learning style of the rep. Providing customized coaching optimizes the agent’s learning potential, interest levels and excitement. Zappos’ leaders take it a step further by outlining exactly how reps will move to higher-tier roles – creating an incentive for reps to continuously be improving their service quality. You’ll find a pattern with the majority of Zappos’ tactics for quality assurance management: they are constantly creating opportunities for feedback. Whether that feedback comes from the customer, the agent, the QA team or management, all suggestions are welcomed as vehicles for innovation.

It doesn’t matter which part of your customer service “machine” you’re working to improve – when you incorporate viewpoints of all parties involved, the closer you get to providing stellar customer experiences.

Want to know how customer-centric your organization is in comparison to the best in the world? Find out more about our Market Responsiveness Index (MRI)

How stupid companies hold their customers hostage

customer hostages

It never ceases to amaze me how some companies continue to make it hard for customers to leave. As though making it difficult for customers to leave will make  them want to stay. Why do you think businesses continue with such short sighted practices?

In my experience businesses that rely on monthly membership fees are the worst offenders. Of course there is the notorious case of AOL that lit off a firestorm online a number years ago and continues to be talked about today.

This is clearly a leadership and corporate culture issue. It happens when leaders behave in a way that suggests it is ok to make it hard for customers to leave. They probably say things like “what ever you do don’t let a customer go without doing everything you possibly can to keep them!” This is great in theory but in practice not every customer wants to stay and its not necessarily because they don’t like what you are offering.

Sometimes customer’s needs change, they grow out of using your product and need to move on. Don’t you think it would be a good idea to let them go on a positive note rather than kick them on the way out?

Why do you think this still happens?

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?

Driving high value – low cost customer experiences

emerging_customer_centric_airline_indigo

A friend of mine travelled last week from Bangalore to Dubai on IndiGo Airlines. She said it was low cost, with seats that would lean back giving a feeling of more space, along with great customer service. She travelled coach class and yet was addressed by name by the flight attendant.

IndiGo placed its first order of 100 aircraft with Airbus to start its business as a domestic airline in India. The size of this order ensured low operating costs, full maintenance support from airbus and the latest aircraft technology and comfort. In 2005, when other low-cost carriers were working with older, leased aircraft and battling a reputation for inferior service, Indigo inked a deal to buy 100 new A-320 jets from Airbus, purchasing at volume to ensure a lower price and a partnership-type commitment on maintenance. IndiGo’s investment in the training of its staff and its [aircraft] fleet killed whatever difference might have existed between a low-cost carrier and a full-service carrier by offering equivalent service. By 2011 Indigo had neatly 20% of the rapidly growing Indian domestic market. In September 2011 it introduced its first international flight to Dubai.

Indigo turned regular business travelers into loyal customers because it never acted like a budget airline. From the beginning, its purchase of all new aircraft helped it avoid maintenance problems, and superior planning helped it to match or exceed the on-time performance record of its full-service competitors — even though rapid turnaround of its planes was the key to the company making money.

But it also went beyond the basics to reinvent the first-time flyer segment. When Air Deccan, acquired by Kingfisher in December 2007, was struggling to fight the impression that their planes operated like public buses with wings, IndiGo pushed best practices even when there was no compelling reason to do so. In a country where other carriers shared passenger-stair vehicles and the top airline still had to have disabled passengers carried up the staircase to plane height by ground crew, for instance, Indigo brought in larger, handicapped accessible passenger ramps from day one.

Similarly, the company equipped check-in staff with hand-held scanners that allowed passengers without baggage to avoid the dreaded scrum at the counter. And at least in the beginning, flight attendants manning the beverage carts addressed even lowly economy class passengers by name (with the aid of the seating chart).

The strategy paid off: Since 2008, when the company booked its first profit even as high fuel prices and the economic downturn ravaged its competitors, IndiGo’s net income has grown more than five times — from a shade under $20 million to more than $120 million.

With Boeing forecasting that Indian air traffic will grow 15 percent a year over the next five years and that India will require more than 1,000 commercial jets over the next 20, according to the Wall Street Journal, that may just well make IndiGo the fastest growing airline in the world’s fastest growing aviation market.

IndiGo President Aditya Ghosh says India is a hugely under-penetrated market. We have just one commercial aircraft for 1.9 million people. The United States has one plane for every 50,000 people.”

The airline, which earlier ran role specific training programmes like any other airline, decided to merge training into one central operation with three segments: one, functional skills training aimed at specific roles like that of pilots, in-flight crew, ticketing attendants, baggage handling, among others.

The next segment was coaching for customer service and soft skills.

The last came leadership training at all levels.

This last segment of training, designed to encourage all employees to take ownership of customer issues, Ghosh insists, has really helped the airline develop a strong loyal customer base.

Do you have the right skills sets in your organization to drive high value at low cost?

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?

Why are companies grappling with basic customer service?

employee fear of change

Adam Bender from Computerworld Australia recently reported on an event hosted by IPscape exploring the challenges companies continue to have delivering customer service that meets expectations.

With exploding connectivity and consumer expectations for instant service one would think businesses would be forced to respond.  However fear and other factors have made progress slow.

“the vast majority of organizations are still grappling with the absolute basics” of customer service, including how to minimize how much time customers spend on hold or being routed through automated telephone systems.

IPscape CEO Simon Burke

“Fear of change” has held back many companies from enhancing customer service, Burke said. Even if a call center agent recognizes improvements, the agent may not tell upper management because of a perceived unwillingness to change, he said.

Telstra, the large Australian telco sees “a distinct shift away from thinking about technology as a way to cheapen the customer contact,” but rather as a way “to deepen the customer contact,” said Telstra group general manager of industry development, Rocky Scopelliti. He said there’s a diminishing distinction among the many channels customers use to contact businesses. “Organisations have arranged their channels as though there are different customers who are using different channels,” he said. “But it’s one customer [who is] engaging in different ways.” Customers expect companies to know the “context” of their engagement so they don’t have to “explain themselves at every step of the process,” he said.

What’s the real problem here? It’s cultural! First, there seems to be fear at lower levels of large organizations that upper management does not want to change its customer service practices. Why? Because, it is believed that the whole focus is on reducing the costs of customer service. Second, there does not appear to be a deep understanding of customer buying behavior and preferences.

This will continue until upper management address the need for a strong customer culture – a belief at all levels (led and demonstrated by senior executives) that what’s best for the customer is best for the business. This belief must then be translated into customer focused practices at all levels that create a deep understanding of customer perceived value and delivery of relevant service for customers.

When will this occur? When executives measure their organization’s level of customer-centricity and discover the direct links of a much stronger customer culture with outstanding business performance.

Do you measure your business’s level of customer-centricity? If you don’t, how can you expect to manage it for superior business results?