2010 Report Card So Far…

As we begin to move into the later part of 2010, I want us all to examine a fundamental business question.  How successful is our effort to improve the service we provide our customers?  How would you rate yourself and your company?

Here’s a great article by Becky Carroll, Community Manager at Verizon and founder of Petra Consulting Group, worth re-posting from earlier this year from Customers Rock!:

Focus on Customer Service in 2010 (Finally?)

This may be it. This may be the year that it finally happens. 2010 may just be the year that companies start to focus on their customers and serving them well.

Now, I am cautiously optimistic about this focus on customer service, but let me tell you why I feel this way.

- Brands are using a focus on customers as a competitive differentiator in their advertisements. Frank Eliason mentions the new commercial for the Chase Sapphire credit card service. It features the ability to talk “directly to a live person when I call” rather than being routed around an automated call queue. The newDomino’s Pizza commercials talk about how they have been listening to their customers and have improved their pizza as a direct result. Phil, who Tweets for them from Domino’s HQ, talks about how they have been serious about customer feedback and been researching this for 2 years. Kudos to these two companies and the many others who are making it public that they care about their customers and what they think of their brands.

- I am hearing more and more that “Customer Service is the New Marketing” from smart folks in the social media space (including in the above post from Frank Eliason). This isn’t a new concept; in fact, I spoke at a conference of the same name 2 years ago this February (where I first met Tony Hsieh from Zappos). Every customer touch is another brand impression of the company. Each contact with customer service, whether by phone, email, Twitter, or self-service is a brand impression. Each customer service representative says more about the brand by how they treat a customer during an interaction than any marketing campaign.

- Customers are having ongoing conversations with brands and with each other about products and services. Companies are realizing how influential these conversations are now that they are starting to listen to them via social media monitoring. And it is a good thing they are doing so. As I tweeted out earlier this week,

“Customer service is more critical than ever. The combo of social media and mobile devices = the perfect storm for an angry customer.”

Think about this scenario. A customer is standing in line at a retail store. The line is very long, and the checker seems to be taking forever. The customer feels like complaining to the closest person who will listen, and it is at his fingertips: Twitter/Facebook/posterous via his mobile phone. It is imperative that brands and companies constantly listen, and more of them than ever seem to be doing so. Those who are not will fall behind in 2010.

In my opinion, all the signs are pointing in the right direction for a focus on great customer service, and with it a rockin’ customer experience in 2010. Those companies that “get it” will rebound from this recession faster than those that don’t. Those companies that “get it” will have loyal customers who shout about how great that company is to anyone who will listen. Those who don’t may just hear a lot of shouting as their customers complain very publicly and then walk away.

What do you think? Is 2010 the year for a focus on the customer?”

How is your report card shaping up for 2010?

M

Posted under Customers, General, Shareholder Value

This post was written by Michelle R. Gardner on September 12, 2010

Partnering for Service

I try not to do this very often, but since I wasn’t the one to visit New York or Tiffany’s, it would make any sense for me to tell the story…Not the way Steve Curtin does or the way he experienced “astonishing customer service”.

How can we find ways to astonish our customers?

M

From Steve Curtin: Customer Enthusiast!

My commitment to Tiffany and Co.

tiffany_boxII_thumbI was in New York City for a business trip a week or so before my 10-year wedding anniversary. One afternoon, I stopped by the Tiffany & Co. flagship store on 6th Avenue to look at anniversary rings.

A thoughtful representative named Duncan showed me several rings as he explained some of the nuances of color, cut, clarity, and carat weight.

The rings looked magnificent beneath the showroom lights. I recall that of the half dozen or so rings that I looked at, there was one that I kept going back to. Duncan noticed it too. And, of course, it cost 25 percent more than the others.

After about 30 minutes together, I thanked him for his time and told him that I wouldn’t be buying the ring today. I mentioned that I had an appointment in two days with a representative at the Denver location of Tiffany & Co. He congratulated me on my 10-year anniversary and wished me luck in finding the perfect ring.

Two days later I arrived at the Denver location of Tiffany & Co. and met with a representative named Cynthia. Cynthia brought me into a private room to show me a set of anniversary rings that she had selected based on the criteria we discussed. As she revealed each successive ring, she would say something like, “Now, this ring combines the color you are hoping for with the mounting we talked about.”

After introducing several rings in this way, Cynthia produced the final ring saying, “Now, this is the ring that you were especially taken by when Duncan was showing you rings at the 6th Avenue store on Tuesday.”

I was absolutely floored! I said something like, “Huh? What? How did you…?”

Cynthia sensed my astonishment, smiled, and then explained that she had received a call from Duncan shortly after I’d left the 6th Avenue store and that together they had made arrangements for the ring to be shipped overnight from New York City to the Denver location of Tiffany & Co. in time for my appointment.

Duncan and Cynthia worked together to deliver customer service that was completely beyond the realm of customer expectation. I had no reason to expect that the ring I’d looked at in New York would be among the options made available to me in Denver.

Does this level of customer service influence sales? Guess which ring I bought?

I wrote to the president of Tiffany and Co. about his employees’ legendary service and committed to “never purchase a significant piece of jewelry from a jeweler other than Tiffany and Co.”

After customers make such a commitment, there is no coupon or incentive program out there that is strong enough to lure them—and their future spending—away.

How about you? What retailer or brand are you committed to and why?

Posted under Customers, Employees, Shareholder Value, Value Proposition

This post was written by Michelle R. Gardner on April 16, 2010

Purpose and Conviction…

What’s your purpose?  What do you believe you were put her on earth to do?  To be?  To experience?  Are you doing it?  Are you being everything you envisioned yourself being?  Okay, are you at least experiencing everything you wanted to experience or creating those experiences?

As we ask ourselves those questions, companies should be asking themselves the same questions.  What is your company’s purpose?

I ran across a great article from Bruce Temkin at Forrester Research that talks about Starbuck’s and how they regained their purpose.

From Starbuck’s website:  “The bottom line We always figured that putting people before products just made good common sense.”

Take a look:

Starbuck’s Brews a Comeback with Purpose

Between you and me, I like the idea of being relentless in pursuing something – a purpose.

I want to know the company I align my time, values and experiences with are aligned with my purpose as well…and is in relentless pursuit.

Is it?

M

Posted under Customers, Employees, General, Leadership, Shareholder Value, Value Proposition

This post was written by Michelle R. Gardner on February 3, 2010

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Lost ideas, lost opportunities…

j0399215A-Ha….there is a great post on Customer Connection from Leslie Pagel at Walker Information sharing how missing an opportunity to capture a customer’s idea in an immediate and simplistic fashion can make a difference – perhaps a game-changing difference.

“The other night my husband and I sat at a bar for dinner when I overheard the following conversation between the bartender and another customer.

Customer: Can you put on the IU (Indiana University) football game?
Bartender: No hun. We don’t get the Big Ten Network.
Customer: That is too bad. I was hoping to watch the game while I ate dinner.
Bartender: You can go to our website and submit a request to add that channel. They do listen when customers submit feedback. They’ve implemented a lot of things that have really helped us out.
Customer: Oh. OK.

The customer had a cell phone with internet access, but did not take the next step to submit his feedback. Instead, he used his phone to check the score of the game.

While I don’t know for sure, I doubt this customer ever submitted his feedback, which got me thinking. How many ideas get lost because sharing feedback is inconvenient for customers? Think about it. How many times have you thought, “I should send them a message to tell them what a great job they did,” or “That was inconvenient. I should send them a letter?”

How many times have you been in meetings, social events or even “just hanging out” where you witness or have an “a-ha moment”?  How do you take action on that idea?  In that moment?  Do you write it down on a napkin, call yourself and leave a voice-mail, write a note in your cell phone?  None of the above?

Right, too often we find ourselves not able to take the immediate action needed to capture an idea that would improve the delivery of service or product.  Enabling communication with the powers that be within a company is a nut worth cracking.

We have the ability to access information immediately.  How we leverage that ability or create a link to that information to harness the ideas of our customers is our next challenge.  As Leslie points out in “How many ideas get lost because sharing feedback is inconvenient?”, a challenge doesn’t have to have a complex solution.  It can be as simple as taking an order.

Great article and great food for thought Leslie,

M

Posted under Business & Process Innovation, Customers, Employees, General, Leadership, Shareholder Value

Loyal since 1992…

We’ve recently moved into a new house.  I use the term “new” rather loosely as it was built in 1973.  It’s new to us, not new to the neighborhood.  In fact, neighborhood and yard is amazing.  The gentleman who owned the house before us was an organic gardener.  Three rather large plots out back, as well as a mature orchard of about ten fruit trees.

As you can imagine around most of the plots and orchard area there is edging.  You know that lovely thick sharp metal kind.  The kind you hate to hit with a lawn mower and the kind you hate to have your dog step on at a dead run.

Yep, hard, fast running dogs and metal edging are not meant to be in the same yard.  Not a good or safe combination – In My Humble Opinion.

Now, I also think I have the best vet care around, Allpets Clinic in Boulder.

You have a bleeding dog, you call with an emergency, they get you right in and make an immediate initial assessment of the situation.  They made sure Max was stable then came out to talk to me about next steps.

Now here is an occupation where you might think soft communication skills are not always valued.  People are attached to their pets.  Crazy attached to their pets.  At least in most cases.  And sometimes it’s hard to make medical decisions based on your financial situation, but you do.  And the doctors understand that.  Now I’m one of those people who will take care of their pet regardless of cost, but the time spent with me by the doc so I would understand every aspect of what they were going to do was priceless.

She was patient, direct and compassionate about the situation.  I understood what she was going to need to do and how long it would take.  She needed to act and I needed to give her an answer right then and there.  I felt completely informed and I knew Max would be taken care of to the best of her abilities.  Once she was further into the situation, she came out and kept me informed.  Not once, but twice.

I point all of this out because she didn’t need to take that much time with me.  She could have  given me the information in several different ways, but she didn’t.  She could have sent a Tech, but she didn’t.  She showed me she cared about Max as much as I do.  How do you teach that?  Can you teach compassion and caring?

You can teach lots of things needed to be successful in your job, I’m not sure about this one.  It falls under my thought of hiring the right kind of people, with the right kind of spirit and attitude.  You can teach them all of the skills to do the job, but you can’t teach them how to have a good spirit and a good attitude.

Because of who they hire and how I and my animals are treated, I’m loyal to Allpets Clinic.  That’s why Allpets has been my vet since 1992.

M  –  And Max is doing great with a little TLC.

Posted under Customers, Employees, General, Leadership, Shareholder Value