Tag Archives: customer service

You can’t fake customer-centric culture

Woman holding mask of her happy face

We hear a lot about fake news these days – what’s real and what’s fake is sometimes hard to know. That’s not the case when it comes to customers “reading” your culture.

Let me recount my experience with 3 upmarket restaurants in Sydney, Australia.

Sydney has many fine restaurants. I will compare my experience at two of these – Aria is at Circular Quay looking at the opera house and the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Jonah’s is on a cliffside on Sydney’s northern beaches overlooking Whale Beach and the Pacific Ocean. Both serve fine dining at expensive prices with excellent food.

I decided to book Jonah’s for my wife’s birthday and asked for a table next to the window overlooking the ocean. I was told this was not possible and when I asked why, I was told by the manager that there are many factors that they use to decide who have the window tables – when the booking was made, how many people are in the party, what the booking levels are for that particular day. I was making the booking more than a week in advance and on a weekday at the earliest lunchtime sitting, but still could not be told whether I would get a window table. Choices were 12 noon or 1.30pm. He said, “ we are very busy, we get tours and we decide on the day where people sit.” There was an arrogant tone in his voice so I decided to try Aria.

The call to Aria was a totally different experience. “Yes, we can give you a window table, would you like a surprise cake for your wife’s birthday?” You can choose your time of arrival – “12.30pm is fine and you can stay the whole afternoon.” Aria is just as busy as Jonah’s but you have a completely different mindset. At Jonah’s it is all about their convenience, their operational procedures, their rules for organizing tables. At Aria, it is about what the customer wants and how can they be satisfied. You cannot fake it. The customer mindset exists or it doesn’t. The customer knows this with a simple phone call.

Then there is the dining experience. My wife and I went to Pilu, a Sardinian specialty restaurant at Freshwater beach on Sydney’s northern beaches. This too is an upmarket restaurant. What impressed us about this restaurant was the staff. The sommelier knew every detail possible about the wines, the server knew exactly what was in each dish and could explain it. Both established a relationship with us by telling us about their hometown in Italy. They were not rushed, were patient with our questions, answered them fully and made suggestions. At the time of payment, the manager told us how much of a team effort was involved and how his team worked together to make a memorable experience for their guests. At the end of the evening, they asked if we would like to give them information on our birthdays and we would be offered a 5-course degustation meal free at that time. We happily signed up and provided the information they wanted.

A customer culture only exists when it is authentic and all employees are part of a happy, collaborative team, knowing that it is the customer that is the center of their world. It can’t be faked. It’s the difference between getting the business and creating advocates and not getting the business and getting bad reviews.

How do you get it? You will find many of the answers in our book: The Customer Culture Imperative.

Is there a customer-centric gene?

genetic technology concept, gene engineering, 3d rendering, abstract image visual

Recently I was talking with Dmitry Pukhov, co-founder and owner of a very successful event catering company in Moscow. When I asked him about customer-centric leadership he said the core characteristic is a desire to help people that comes from the heart. He said he believes that we all have a gene that can create a drive to provide service to others. But only some people have developed this gene – through their upbringing, experience, interaction with others who use it and mentoring from customer-centric role models.

There is some scientific evidence to support this. Research shows that people who are more caring and compassionate towards others share a common gene variation linked to the receptor for oxytocin (sometimes referred to as the “love” hormone) that plays a key role in the formation of social relationships and impacts our capacity for empathy. The science suggests that those with the “GG” variant of this gene are better with people and generally more caring.

But all is not lost for those of us that don’t have the “GG” genotype. There is also evidence to suggest that compassion and empathy can be developed through socialization with people that role model it and experiences that elevate it.

I asked Dmitry why his business is so successful – it has grown rapidly over the 12 years since he founded it – and he told me it is because being customer-centric and service focused has always been the driver in his business. He recruits people that exhibit the customer-centric gene and invests in the ongoing development of the gene in all his staff.

Are you using your customer-centric gene or is it dormant? If you want to know what to do to develop it, refer to our book: The Customer Culture Imperative.

How one person can make a difference role modeling customer centricity

tarpys

Tarpy’s Roadhouse just outside of Monterey, California is renowned for its good food, friendly hospitality and fast service. One person, Niranjan (“Nick”) Subedi, a native of Nepal, shines out as a role model in serving guests at the restaurant since 2000. A phrase known to every Nepali translates to “guests equal god” and offering all you have to a guest is considered a moral duty. Nick remembers every guest and their preferences even when they have not been back to Tarpy’s in a long time. Clint Eastwood, who lives in the area, is a big fan and he like many guests requests to be seated in the area where “Nick” is serving. Nick’s belief is that service is a duty and a pleasure and he shows this in his wide grin and attention to customers’ needs. But more than that he says: “I try to bring the human element to dining, to show that I love the guests”. He lives nearby with his wife in a house he owns “ because of my customers. I owe everything to them,” he said.

“Guests equal god”

It only takes one person like “Nick” Subedi to act as a powerful role model in a business reflecting strong customer-centric behaviors to lead others to do the same. If enough people in your organization follow this example you will have a strong customer culture – and a sustainable thriving business.

Empowering Employees to do the right thing for customers

chateau_elan

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?

Why companies must embrace customer complaints

Customer complaints can often be a source of angst and negativity for businesses. What are they complaining about now….can’t we do anything right?

If not managed correctly this can lead to significant drops in employee morale and negative feelings towards customers which creates more customer complaints, a vicious cycle ensues….

So how should companies deal with these issues? They should learn to embrace complaints, bring them to the surface, use them positively to create change and make things better.

A interesting example is a company called Pizza Delphina that have actually used the customer comments from the review site Yelp and placed them on t-shirts worn by their servers.

Customer Complaints from Yelp

Customer Complaints from Yelp

Is this a good idea? It maybe to early to tell… but it is one way to embrace negative feedback. The only question I have is are they really doing anything with the feedback? or is this just entertainment value? Is it valid feedback or just people having a bad day and taking it out on the Pizza place?

The bottom line is that complaints are easier to make and I think on balance that is a good thing. What matters most however is what companies choose to do with that feedback to improve the way they do business.

Why culture is important to customer service – vonage example

Unfortunately I had to have our Vonage phone line canceled today. I was a big supporter of Vonage when they first launched, I felt they had a great value proposition – fixed price unlimited calling nationwide with low cost international calling and lots of cool online features to manage voice mails and call forwarding etc. I thought this was innovative new approach in a market dominated by monopoly style businesses.

But it seems at least for us they could not deliver on the basic need of a clear high quality call. So I asked our office manager to cancel our service.

What happened next was not an AOL type experience like below……

But it was unpleasant, the agents are obviously trained to try and retain you as a customer so they try and diagnose the problem and send you to customer support if its technical or offer a reduced rate. Meanwhile our office manager was getting frustrated just trying to get one of a thousand tasks done…

I think companies should really rethink this strategy, are there better ways to deal with exiting customers? Yes some can be saved but how do you treat the ones that just want to cancel?

Companies have two options:

1. Try as hard as possible to aggressively salvage the customer through different offers and risk leaving customers with a bad taste in their mouths

2. Just ask the customer permission to understand why they are canceling, if they are irritated just thank them for their business and process their request as fast as you can at least the customer does not feel like they were held hostage and if the customer divulges honestly why they are leaving the company has a chance to fix it.

These are really difficult areas of customer service to manage but ultimately the culture of the organization determines the tone that is set in all customer dealings. If the culture is one that supports a primary focus on delivering value for customers then when it is clearly not delivering it will take those opportunities as a chance to improve.

What do you think, does culture impact customer service?

Here are some great sources of information on building a customer service culture:

From: Customer Service Zone, Inc. Magazine and  Businessweek

I’m having an AOL moment here

I’m editing this on 12/11/07 to share that Embassy Suites finally handled this issue.  Bo called me on behalf of general manager Luis Arellano and handled the issue very courteously, if not just a bit late.  So I say “thank you” to them, but leave the post up regarding the general bad experience.

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In yet another example of customer service nightmares, I am very disgruntled by the Embassy Suites Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

We had some client work postponed until January of next year and so I canceled some hotel & car reservations a number of weeks ago. Everything has gone through except for the Embassy Suites. We have a reservation cancellation number which I’ve been told is ‘unaffiliated’ with any confirmation number. I’ve been calling about every other day now for a week and a half trying to get help on this. I’ve left 4 messages with accounting, 2 with managers on duty and no one has returned my call. I even gave our 1-800 number. C’mon guys, we’ll pay for the call! Worse yet, when I did catch one manager on duty I was promised Iaxa Berreos would return my call in the morning. No call from Iaxa. Thanks Irene, for making a promise you couldn’t come through on.

It’s rough because we were planning to stay there when we go back in a few months, but I may have to strongly advise against that. This whole thing reminds me of the AOL customer service incident involving Vincent Ferrari. (Here’s the NBC video link if you haven’t already seen it.) Customer service wouldn’t help him cancel an account he wasn’t using anymore. His was a valid request. Sure, losing the account was bad for AOL, but the sunken consumer confidence and following class-action lawsuit were far worse than that $9.95/month. I haven’t been badgered on the phone yet by the folks in San Juan, but being ignored like this is pretty frustrating. Enough to blog about, and that’s where Vincent started.