Category Archives: Empowerment

How a Customer Centric Culture can save lives

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The team at MarketCulture recently ran a one day leadership workshop in Sydney, as is often the case we get to hear some incredible stories of the power of customer thinking.

One that really stood out was the story of a driver for Virgin Trains.

Virgin Trains is a great story of a business that is always trying to improve the customer experience, Richard Branson is well known for saying “there is always another way to delight a customer.”

Many people would think why would you include train drivers in a program designed to improve the customer experience? They just need to drive the train, they are hidden away at the front with little interaction with actual customers.

Virgin did not believe this, their philosophy was that everyone matters when it comes to delivering a great customer experience. As a result the train drivers were included in workshops designed to help each employee think about their role in delivering great experiences.

A week or two after one of the sessions, a veteran train driver was taking the normal route he had taken for many years and as he rounded the bend on a bridge he noticed a slight bump on the tracks. It was not particularly unusual, small bits of debris can often end up on the tracks. However this time, with the recent customer thinking training on his mind, it made him think more deeply about the bump. More specifically he thought about the passengers on the train and his responsibility for keeping them safe.

He wondered whether passengers had noticed the bump? At the next stop he decided to radio the maintenance crews and report it. In the past it was not something he would normally do as it would mean an investigation of something that was in his 30+ years experience probably nothing.

He continued to the end of his journey for the day. As he pulled up to his last stop his shift manager was there waiting.

“That bump you radioed through”… the train driver winced thinking he wasted a bunch of people’s time… the Shift manager continued “our engineers were just out on that part of the track, it seems a strut supporting the bridge has failed. If we kept running trains over that section we would have had a derailment and hundreds of people could have died. I am so glad you noticed it, you have helped us all avoid a catastrophe. Even if it was nothing, I am glad you reported it, customer safety really is our number 1 priority.” The train driver was relieved, not only had he averted disaster but he had been empowered to do the right thing for customers even if it had consequences for the train’s operations.

The driver was later awarded outstanding employee of the year and celebrated at the annual Virgin Conference in the UK.

This is a powerful story about how customer thinking can help people connect their work to the bigger picture and their responsibilities in creating a great customer experience.

For more stories on Virgin Trains and other great customer centric companies you can check out our book, The Customer Culture Imperative

 

Why People Empowerment is Essential to Delivering Memorable Customer Experiences

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Uber, a 5 year-old company recently valued at more than $60 billion, has smashed the taxi networks’ monopoly in many countries. Traditional taxi drivers were expected to follow rule-book procedures with little thought of passengers’ problems and experiences. Uber drivers have a mandate to satisfy and delight customers and they are empowered to do so. High customer satisfaction rates get drivers more jobs showing a direct connection between customer experience and success for Uber and for their drivers.

Costco employees are empowered to take back products purchased by their customers – no questions asked. This saves any potential embarrassment for customers and employees alike. Costco members are loyal and enjoy their experience more because they know if they make a poor purchasing decision, they can return the goods without any hassles.

UK retail giant Waitrose won an award at the UK Customer Experience Awards last year with an initiative called “Licence to Thrill”. This empowered customer service employees to go beyond the rules resulting in improved customer satisfaction rates and sales.

For employees to be effectively empowered they need to have the freedom and desire to act for the customer, the skill to implement the desired solution for the customer and the confidence to carry it through. In organizations that do not have a customer-centric culture this is very difficult for people to do. They will be restricted by a rule-book of business-centered processes, will have reduced motivation to act outside the “book” and will lack confidence – believing their decisions to help the customer will not be supported by their managers.

A strong customer culture embraces employee empowerment to satisfy customers resulting in memorable customer experiences, brand loyalty, increased customer retention and advocacy – and sustainable revenue and profit growth.

Read more about it in The Customer Culture Imperative.

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?

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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?

Empowering Employees to do the right thing for customers

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When we measure the customer-centric culture of organizations around the world, one of the recurring themes is a low score on “empowerment”.

Lack of empowerment – real or perceived – has a huge impact on the ability of frontline staff to solve a customer’s problem. It also has a big impact on costs and is seen in many ways – duplication of work, mixed messages to customers, bottlenecks and slowdowns in customer service, and new product introductions – just to name a few.

For frontline staff to be empowered to solve customer problems or rapidly respond to customers’ requests a business needs a culture that encourages staff to be accountable for ensuring a solution for the customer is delivered. They need to have the confidence to make a decision that is right for the customer without fear of retribution from their managers if it seems to cost the business money. If they can’t fix it themselves they need to be confident that those who are alerted to the issue will fix it for the customer quickly.

A great example of this is seen in the hospitality industry. Chateau Elan, a boutique resort hotel with a property each in the United States and Australia has created an empowered culture in which a customer can ask any member of staff to do something for them – book a restaurant or a cab or get extra towels in their room. The immediate response by the hotel employee is “consider it done!”

This is an emphatic promise to the customer that it will be done. Not only does it give confidence to the customer but it empowers staff to collaborate and ensure the customer is satisfied.

How do you go about creating a customer culture of empowerment in your business?