Friday, June 29, 2012

Employees Can Be Raving Fans, Too!

Image courtesy of Pixabay
On Tuesday, I wrote about cult brands from the customer perspective.

Today, my focus is on a view from the inside, from the employee perspective. What is the employee's contribution or impact on creating a cult brand? (Given my recent push for focusing on the employee first, this follow-up perspective should be no surprise!)

Can employees become raving fans? A simple answer is this: Yes; employees are your "customers" (albeit internal), too!

As you already know, if you read my blog regularly, the employee is nothing short of critical to the success of the organization. And when it comes to raving fans, if employees are, you know they'll help your customers become fans, too. Why? Because people buy from people.

As Douglas Atkins points out in The Culting of Brands, people buy into the group, the community, before they buy into the ideology. They bond based on friendship and a common activity; they feel reinforced and supported. The people and their interactions with the customers (people buy from people) make the difference. It's the staff behind the stuff. (I like that one!)

I don't want to rehash everything that I've written about employees in the last several months, but I'll pull out some highlights that will remind you of how employees can become raving fans.
  • You must start with hiring the right people. Heck, hire your customers. They already love your brand and your products.
  • The culture must be employee-centric. The view from the top must be "employees first" because employee engagement leads to customer engagement.
  • Clearly and consistently communicate your brand promise and your purpose.
  • Define, communicate, and live by your core values; find and hire people who are predisposed to living by those same values.
  • Give employees direction and (then) freedom. 
  • Treat employees well. Respect them, and they'll reciprocate.
  • Develop and support a culture of employee ownership. Facilitate a grassroots effort to help employees make the brand their own.
  • Like customers, employees also live the (brand) lifestyle; they become a part of something larger than themselves.
  • Employee passion drives results. For themselves, for customers, and for the organization.
I wrote in It's Time to Focus on the Employee Experience:

Because of that enthusiasm and passion for the brand, for the business, employees are eager to contribute to its success. And when we're all working together for the success of the business, I believe that, ultimately, customers will win, too. As will your shareholders.

In Tuesday's post, I mentioned that that's how raving (customer) fans are defined, as well. They are passionate about the brand, and they will work together, provide feedback, and campaign for the brand's success.

Think about this. If your employees are raving fans, they are doing (at least) two things for the betterment of the brand/organization:
  1. They are sharing their passion and joy with their customers; they are drawing them in with their enthusiasm and compelling them to want to be a part of that, to feel that, too. To be a part of the  lifestyle, part of something bigger.
  2. They are going to tell people what a cool place it is to work, and so they are not only advocating or selling but they are also recruiting. They're encouraging others to enjoy the lifestyle and become a part of something (bigger). Remember, cult brands are inclusive.
And so... the cult grows!

To close, here's a quote from Tom Peters.
CEO Hal Rosenbluth chronicled the incredible success of his travel-services firm, Rosenbluth International, in The Customer Comes Second. Love that title! Who comes first? Don't be silly, says King Hal; it's employees. That is -- and this dear Watson, is elementary -- if you genuinely want to put customers first, you must put employees more first.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Is Yours a Cult Brand?

I read an article yesterday on Business Insider about 16 Brands That Have Fanatical Cult Followings. I love this concept because, ultimately, I think every brand wants to achieve this status. Don't you want to have raving fans? Evangelists of/for your brand? People who can't live without your brand or will accept no substitute? Yea, I thought so.

I wrote about Raving Fans as the ultimate stage in the Customer Experience Lifecycle a few months ago. Back then I said that you should "consider those brands where customers feel they are part of something bigger, where they show an outward expression of their devotion to the brand: they tattoo their bodies with the brand logo or even name their children after the brand!!" 

Here's a look at what others say about raving fans, evangelism, and cult brands.

Brains on Fire advocates a Fan Cycle. They talk about creating fans because fans have a vested interest and defend "their brands" passionately. When they join a movement, they do so to help it grow. They have a sense of ownership and want to see your brand succeed.

Customer evangelism and the culting of brands are strongly linked, and not just because of the labels and analogies drawn from their non-CX, non-brand meanings. And I love how the folks at Brains on Fire define evangelism, which they go into more detail about in their book:

It’s not about influence, because influencers can be MADE. But passion can’t. And it’s not about evangelizing your brand. It’s about your brand being the jumping off point that allows people to evangelize what’s important in their lives. ... all of which leads to ownership.

In the book, The Culting of Brands, author Douglas Atkin defines a cult brand as:

A brand for which a group of customers exhibits a great devotion or dedication. It is normally innovative in its ideology, can be identified by having a well-defined community that exhibits an acute sense of belonging, enjoys exclusive devotion (that is, not shared with another brand in the same category), and often enjoys voluntary advocacy on the part of its members.

He goes on to say that the belief is that people join cults to conform, when in reality, they join to become more individual. "You become more you."

Think about Trekkies, for second. Do they feel more like themselves when they are with a group of people who have no interest in Star Trek, or are they more themselves when they hang out at a Trekkie convention with "their kind?" They become a part of something bigger so that they can be themselves.

Supporting this thought are the authors of The Power of Cult Branding (Ragas, Bueno). They write:

Cult brands aren't just companies with products or services to sell. To many of their followers, they are living, breathing surrogate family, filled with like-minded individuals. They are a support group that just happens to sell products and services.

They also describe cult brands as follows:

... developers of customer communities. They provide their customers with unique identities. They dare to be different. They sell a lifestyle, not just a product.

It's all documented in their Seven Golden Rules of Cult Branding:
  1. Consumers want to be part of a group that's different.
  2. Cult brand inventors show daring and determination.
  3. Cult brands sell lifestyles.
  4. Listen to the choir and create cult brand evangelists.
  5. Cult brands always create customer communities.
  6. Cult brands are inclusive.
  7. Cult brands promote personal freedom and draw power from enemies.
So let's go back to the reason I started to write this post: those 16 brands with fanatical cult followings. I wanted to look at these 16 brands to see how they/their customers embodied the word "cult."

Wegmans: Musical theater students in Massachusetts created an entire musical based on the brand. People write love letters to the company, begging them to open stores in their neighborhoods.
Lululemon: They have a lululemon ambassador program; ambassadors are people in their store communities who embody the lululemon lifestyle and live their culture.
Linux: Not only did they create evangelists, but their evangeliests affect the product and the brand because of its open source.
Zappos: There is probably no need to describe this one, but their customers are drawn to their massive shoe collection, customer service practices, and off-beat culture.
Surge: This product has a solid following, even 10 years after it was pulled from store shelves! Their fans are  campaigning for a comeback.
Mazda Miata: This brand has 77 meetup clubs worldwide.
Vans: Vans is a lifestyle, bottom line.
Yuengling: This beer is part of Pennsylvania's local culture. It has such a strong following that when it started selling across the border, in Ohio, people camped out at liquor stores, waiting for it.
Dos Equis: The fanaticism of this brand comes from their brand character, The Most Interesting Man in the World.
Mini Cooper: People are on a waiting list for their customized cars.
Harley-Davidson: This is a true lifestyle brand; everyone knows that HOG is the ultimate brand community or brand membership.
Trader Joe's: TJ's provides a unique shopping experience; it's like shopping at your local Farmer's Market. This brand's customers are truly fanatical, and like Wegman's, people all over the country petition to have a Trader Joe's in their communities.
Vespa: There are currently 43 North American meetup groups focused on Vespa and the Vespa culture.
Mexican Coca-Cola: You say, "What?" Yea, me too! But, there is such a thing, and it has a lot of rabid fans who love it, most likely because it is made with real sugar and not with corn syrup.
Volkswagen Beetle:  This car has been around a very long time, with early photos of it from the World War II era. Its storied history supports this brand.
IKEA: IKEA has a huge following of people looking for a good deal to help them decorate their homes; it's chic value.

The article mentions Apple, Starbucks, and Whole Foods, but doesn't specifically call them out as one of the 16. They question if companies that have grown into huge and successful multinational corporations can still be cult brands. I think the answer is, "Yes." And what about Nike? Star Trek? Gold's Gym? Southwest Airlines? Barbie? Hot Wheels? Red Bull? In-N-Out Burgers? What others have they missed?

[Update: Tom Fishburne is a great marketoonist. In his recent cartoon/post about brand loyalists, he provided a great compilation of brand tattoos to show off cult brands with raving fans!]

Why are raving fans so important to their cult brands and to the creation and success of cult brands?
  1. They want to see the brand succeed and grow.
  2. They are happy to provide feedback, good or bad, to ensure that happens.
  3. They are less price sensitive.
  4. They choose the brand over the competition.
  5. They can't live without the brand, accept no substitutes.
  6. They are advocates; no, stronger. They are evangelists. They spread the word about your brand.
  7. They openly recruit new members to the community.
"If you really want to 'own' a customer, if you want a booming business, you have to go beyond satisfied customers and create Raving Fans." -Ken Blanchard

Friday, June 22, 2012

Building a Customer-Centric Culture

Becky Carroll presented to a small group of Customer Experience executives in San Diego last week; her presentation focused on creating loyalty through a customer-centric culture. She dives deeper into these three items in her book, The Hidden Power of Your Customers, but I'll highlight them here. (Go read the book, too!)

In order to ensure that customers are at the center of all actions and decisions, a part of your company's DNA, you must have a customer-centric culture, measure what matters, and put employees first.

Customer-Centric Culture
The culture is the key to your success. The key to having a customer-centric culture is a leader, i.e., CEO, who is passionate about the customer and is customer-focused, too. The culture sets the tone and reinforces the values.

"Customer service is not a department; it is a company-wide focus."

One of the stories Becky shared was about a Marriott guest who realized the morning after he checked in that he had actually packed his wife's pants! When he went to the front desk to ask if there was a spare pair in their Lost-n-Found or a store nearby where he could buy a pair of pants (in a very small window of time), he learned that there was neither; however, as it turns out, the employee at the front desk happened to wear the same size pants, and he literally gave the guest the clothes off his back(side). This isn't a one-off occurrence of great customer service or doing a little something extra; there are many other stories about the great service guests receive at Marriotts around the world.

Another example she gave was from Nordstrom. They're so well known for their great customer service. But did you know that they actually spell out their customer focus in their job descriptions? These qualities/responsibilities were outlined for sales, stock, and customer service positions at Nordstrom Rack. (Yes, even their off-price stores deliver great service!)
  • Sales people provide great service through positive interactions and product knowledge with each and every customer.
  • Customer Service Representatives meet our customers´expectations with professional, efficient service at the point of sale.
  • Stock people support our customers by keeping our fixtures full with merchandise that is accurately ticketed.
These responsibilities clearly define how each position impacts the customer!

A couple of other areas that Becky called out with regard to the customer-centric culture included:
  • Company Values: create a clear set of values as a guiding light, make a commitment to live and breathe them. Zappos was an example given as a great company with clearly-defined values. 10 of them, to be exact.
  • Hiring a Chief Customer Officer: He or she will be the ultimate authority on the company's customers; drive the customer strategy across the organization, and use customer insights to acquire and retain the best customers.
  • Stay Close to Customers: This includes talking to them and gathering feedback through VOC programs and social media listening. It also includes getting to know your employees. Undercover Boss was mentioned here.

    Measure What Matters
    The story behind the image to the left is a great example of what Becky means by "measure what matters." This is a picture of Starbucks seating. Gone are the days of the metal chairs; here to stay is seating that is comfortable and conducive for customers to sit for hours or all day, experiencing Starbucks. This furniture is much more inviting for the "office away from the office" than prior seating. This change came about by listening to customers.

    It's important to remember with regard to metrics and measurement: not all metrics are for everyone. Choose the one(s) that best fit your needs, your goals, and your situation. It is most important to collect the right data, analyze it, glean insights, and drive change from that.

    Put Employees First
    Employees are critical to creating memorable customer experiences. People buy from people!

    The first step is to hire the right people. Hire your customers! Look for people who...
    • are naturally people-focused
    • have a passionate spirit
    • are empathetic
    • think creatively to solve problems
    Those are great tips to considering when interviewing candidates! Frame your interview questions accordingly.

    Once they're hired, let them know that they matter and help them feel a part of something bigger. They are the company to the customer.

    Competitors can’t duplicate the relationship an organization’s employees have with its customers.”

    Help them understand your customers. Help them understand their impact on customers, regardless of role or position. 

    Make connections with customers by:
    • sharing customer information with employees
    • going on customer visits
    • creating customer advisory groups/councils
    • listening in on support calls
    • listening to social media conversations
    Make connections with employees, too, by providing them with tools to interact with each other. Two examples Becky gave included IBM's BeeHive, which is their intranet and so much more, and, similarly, McDonald's Station M.

    Listen to the voice of the employee. Listen internally. Measure satisfaction and retention, but also measure other employee-specific programs and initiatives.

    Empower your employees, which Becky defines as training them to listen to customers needs or problems and allowing them to do whatever they need to do in order to make it right (without a manager's input or approval) by:
    • providing them with clear guidelines
    • reiterating that they are an important part of the culture
    • reinforcing good decisions made
    • learning from poor decisions
    • recognizing outstanding service
    The result is likely that employees will enjoy their jobs more, the employee experience is improved, and customers are satisfied.

    Becky wrapped up the presentation with this advice from customer-focused leaders:
    • Listen
    • Initiate a customer feedback process
    • Think through the customer experience
    • Assemble a set of corporate values
    • Care for every customer
    • Measure what matters
    • Continuously interact with employees
    • Make customer service part of the DNA
    How well are you doing on each of those?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How Consistent Is Your MultiChannel/Partner Experience?

Image courtesy of Hyougushi
Gone are the days of griping about baggage fees. The airlines have provided us with some new things to gripe about to forget those baggage fees! (You know the old saying... if you have a headache, smash your thumb with a hammer, and then you'll forget all about your headache.)

Last week, I wrote about customer effort and provided some tips to reduce the customer's effort in order to improve the customer experience. I was going to include the story I'm about to write with that post and decided that it was really worthy of a post, and a lesson, all on its own! As you read this story, you'll understand why. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy!

Last week, I was booking a flight on Expedia for myself and my kids for this summer. I searched for and chose my flights, selected my seats, and booked the flight. Sounds easy, right?

Not so fast...

When the confirmation email arrived from Expedia, I had a seat for the outbound flights on American, but my kids didn't! (We were all set for the return flights on United, though.)

Now, anyone who has traveled with young kids knows that this can send you into a panic almost immediately.  Sorry, but I need my kids sitting next to me; and my guess is that the other passengers will appreciate that, as well. Two squirmy boys on a flight can be a challenge for me, let alone for complete strangers. (My kids are well-behaved, but a long flight can set the crazies in motion!)

Back to the experience. I went to the Expedia site and kept trying to select my seats (there were plenty available) on their Seatpointer, but to no avail. Why did it let me select them when I first purchased the tickets?

Finally, I went to, logged into my account, pulled up my reservation, and got a message that I couldn't assign my seats online for that flight, that I would have to call customer service to do that. Oh, let the fun begin!

Here's the gotcha, the thing that's going to make you forget about baggage fees, especially if you're traveling as a family this summer: aisle and window seats are now considered "preferred" or "premium" seating. And that means it's going to cost extra to sit there! Have any ol' middle seat you want, at no extra cost, but not window or aisle seats. Can I just say, that's not family friendly at all!

So I called American Airlines. This is now channel #3, if you're keeping count. The Expedia site was the first one; was the second one; and then calling American by phone is the third channel - all that to accomplish what should be a fairly simple task to complete online, via channel #1.

The AA rep suggested that there are middle seats available at no additional charge in rows 12, 17, and 22. Really? I asked her if that was family friendly. She didn't seem to care. As a matter of fact, she didn't react or think twice about it. Instead, she suggested that I could either pay $24 per seat to guarantee three assigned seats together, including those precious aisle and window seats. OR, I could just try to get my seats assigned when I arrive at the gate.

That's the point where I became a bit irate with the rep and said, "What? So I can be at the mercy of two gentlemen who would be so kind as to give up their seats (for which they've paid a premium) so that my kids can sit next to me?" Get this. She said, "Yes." How $#@&^ ludicrous is that?!

What we have here is someone going by the script. She could very easily ignore the script, waive the fee, and allow my kids to sit next to me without gouging me on top of an already ridiculous fare! In the end, I had to relent and pay the fee so that the three of us can sit together.

So, let's run down where we are so far.
  • The partner experience is not working. If your partner is going to offer customers the ability to select and book seats, then honor it. I believe that you are responsible for choosing partners that will honor your commitment to your customers and deliver a great experience on your behalf. Put an SLA in place. And make sure they live up to it.
  • The multichannel experience is broken. If I go to the website or if I call you, I should be able to do the same things. The experience should be seamless. As a matter of fact, if I book online, it's because I'm savvy enough to complete said transaction online; I don't want to have to call you to complete/finalize the deal. Any of it.
  • Allow the customer to engage with you or complete a transaction using whatever channel is most convenient for her; and make sure the entire transaction can be completed in that manner.
  • Your agents run on a script and have no authority or ability to break from it. Sometimes your reps need to forget the script and just do the right thing.
  • You don't know your customers. If you did, you'd never recommend that a mom and her kids are OK with being separated.
O, but wait, it gets better! You know me by now; it's never a short story!

You see... that was only the first leg of the outbound trip. I still had to get our seats for the second leg!

You're going to love this! For the second leg, the rep actually said that I should go online to request my seats! I had already told her why I was calling. I was online. There was a message on your site that said that I couldn't book my seats online and that I had to call customer service to do so. Now I'm calling you. And you've completed half an assignment and want to send me away to complete the other half, when in two clicks, we could be done?!

Is this really how American operates, or did I just enter the Twilight Zone?!

Wait, here comes the kicker!

The rep proceeds to tell me that, if she was going to have to book those seats for me, she would need to charge me $25 per seat because I had booked my flight through a different channel. Shame on you, American Airlines. You must be kidding. It had nothing to do with the (quality of the) seats themselves (they're back by the bathroom) and everything to do with the fact that I booked through Expedia, not through American.

I had already told her that I had tried to book my seats through the original channel but couldn't, then went to their site, where I was then instructed to call to book the seats. Brace yourself: she then said that I needed to take that up with Expedia. O, I love that... the "not my problem, not my fault" attitude.

In the end, perhaps she realized the absurdity of it, and she waived the fee to assign my seats on the second leg of the trip. But then, just so we could break one more CX law, I had to give her my AA# so that she could email me my confirmation. I had already provided that information on the ticket through Expedia AND on the automated system when I called American. Why did she ask me for it?

Let's look at some of the other customer experience faux pas committed here:
  • Creating confusion or providing confusing messaging across channels
  • Charging the customer because your multichannel experience is inconsistent or because you and your partners aren't working together cohesively
  • Playing the "not my problem" card
  • Not personalizing the experience
  • Asking for information you already have
I was thoroughly flabbergasted by the time I hung up. Honestly, all I could do was laugh. I can't say that I'll never fly American again; with the consolidation of the airlines and the routes that American flies, I don't have  much choice, really. The one that does have a choice, though, is American. They can choose to rise above it all, fix their multichannel issues, and put the customer first.

To wrap this up, here's a great quote from an article about the recent J.D. Power and Associates Airline Satisfaction Study; airlines should take heed.

Despite the need for some carriers to charge unpopular fees, they can gain a competitive advantage by focusing their efforts on process efficiency and positive interactions with the staff and crew. Carriers that find innovative ways to provide passengers with greater control, save them time, reduce hassles and make the airline experience more enjoyable and comfortable will reap satisfaction benefits.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What's Your Customer Effort (Score)?

Image courtesy of StoneRoadPress
There's been a lot of discussion or debate about Customer Effort Score (a metric developed by the Corporate Executive Board's Customer Contact Council), especially relative to Net Promoter Score, about whether it's an effective metric to use to measure the customer experience.

For those of you who don't know, Customer Effort Score (CES) is, in short, derived from one question that you'll add to your post-transactional survey(s) to assess the degree of effort that the customer had to exert in order to get an issue resolved, a request fulfilled, a product purchased/returned, or a question answered. (Many were first exposed to the concept behind CES in this HBR article, Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.) The survey question goes roughly like this:

"How much effort did you personally have to put forth to [insert interaction here, e.g., get this issue resolved]?"
  • Far less than I expected
  • Slightly less than I expected
  • About what I expected
  • Slightly more than I expected
  • Far more than I expected
Is this metric applicable to every situation or to every industry? Is it the right metric for everyone? No, of course not. I believe it has some limitations, not the least of which is, if the product isn't working as expected, a call to support is already more effort than you expected to exert when you purchased the product! If the metric is right for you, you will need to ask some other follow-up questions (including an open-end for further, descriptive details) in order to make the findings actionable.

Also, keep in mind that certain products, certain interactions, and certain channels for those interactions require more effort on the part of the customer than others. But do they have to? Now that's the real question!

I do like that the response choices are related to the customers' expectations because expectations can and will vary by the type of interaction, type of products, etc. And setting expectations is key to what follows (the experience).

Regardless, is this ultimately just about the score? No! But of course, you knew that! It's about the experience! Let me give you a couple of my own examples of customer effort, as well as share with you some tips to help minimize customer effort and improve the customer experience.

Example #1: Product Exchange
I love to shop online. There, I admitted it. "Hello, my name is Annette, and I'm an online shopaholic!" Recently, I was looking online for a very specific type of blouse. I found it and ordered it in the size I usually wear. When it arrived, I tried it on only to find out that the blouse is "oversized" and should have been ordered two sizes smaller! First tip: Provide accurate product information, including sizing, with the product! Expectation not set - effort begins.

I decided to exchange the blouse rather than return it. (Hopefully two sizes smaller is small enough!) I happened to be going to the mall the next day, so I thought I'd just do the exchange in their physical store. Well, lo and behold, this is an "online exclusive" item. Had I made a trip to the mall just for this, I would have been highly annoyed. So, my next tip: Provide thorough information about the product so that customers can "do the right thing" and not put forth unnecessary effort for something that should be really easy.

A return shipping label had been provided with the order, and the exchange shipping would be free of charge, so I shipped the item back. When the retailer received the return, I got an email confirmation, but here's where the next bit of effort was required. The email indicated that my return had been received and that I would be credited $XX, minus the shipping charge. I know I clearly indicated on the paperwork that I was exchanging the item. I sent an email asking for clarification and for confirmation that this was indeed what they were going to do. Customer service responded promptly, let me know that it was indeed an exchange, and that I would be notified with shipping details when the new size went out. Well, great! But, of course, this is where the next tip comes in: Don't use generic messaging for every situation. Personalize the communication to the specific request/interaction.

They shipped the new blouse to me via FedEx SmartPost. The shipment confirmation email included a link to track the package. Of course, I've checked it daily now (for three days), and #fail on FedEx's part here; the tracking information still shows that the item hasn't shipped. Tip: If you provide conveniences for your customer to "do it yourself," then make sure they work and aren't a source of additional effort! You are responsible for ensuring that your partners' systems support your customer experience.

Example #2: Product Return
Here's another example of a product return, with a slightly different twist. I ordered some really cute shoes from a site I had never ordered from before. The shoes arrived, but I didn't really care for the fit and needed to return them. The packing slip included very clear instructions on how to return/exchange an item, including implications for said return, which in this day and age of online shopping are quite ridiculous. #1 If you return the shoes, you will only receive a store credit. #2 If you return the shoes, you will be charged a $5.95 restocking fee. (Really?)

Here's where the effort comes in. First, remember those clearly-defined return instructions. Well, they state that I simply need to use their return label for the exchange. I tore (figuratively) the boxes and stuffing apart to find a shipping label, but there wasn't one. I have emailed them twice to ask how I should proceed or if they can provide me with another one. It has been six days, and I have not received a response yet. So my next step is to call them. Tip: Make sure a simple process remains simple. Have your quality control check to ensure that everything that should be in the box before it is sealed and shipped to the customer is there.

The second bit of effort here is the exchange. Honestly, I simply want to return the shoes and done. But since I'm only offered a store credit for a return (minus the BS restocking fee), I might as well find an exchange immediately. Problem is, there's not really anything else I'm interested in. So now I need to spend time combing their entire site to find an appropriate exchange. More effort than I really wanted to expend at the moment. Will I buy from them again after that? Probably not. Tip: Revisit your policies. If they are too restrictive, that's a problem. Such policies create effort that kills loyalty. Don't let your policies get in the way of the customer experience.

Ironically, their packing slip says, "Effortless Exchanges & Returns." Just because you say it doesn't make it so.

Mind you, I'm an experienced online shopper. Remember... online shopaholic. My local UPS and FedEx drivers, as well as my mailman, all know my taste in clothes, shoes, home furnishings, etc.! So when it comes to online purchases and returns, I do have a certain set of expectations about the amount of effort I ought to put forth to complete the transactions. This is one of the reasons Amazon tops my list of fav online shopping sites. Effortless. Accurate. Swift. Yes!

I'll save my last example for my next post. It's a doozy. I'll just preface it by saying it's an airline example. Enough said for now!

To wrap it up, some tips to minimize customer effort and to maximize the customer experience. Remember, not only does minimizing the effort make for a great customer experience, it also has an impact on your bottom line. It means less effort for you, as well!

Accuracy: provide accurate information about your products, services, policies, etc. Make sure all messaging is accurate, and confirm that everything that should be in the box, is.
Thoroughness: if you provide all of the necessary forms and information needed for a customer to complete a transaction or interaction, then no additional effort is needed to chase down forms, etc.
Consider Expectations: when you're designing and defining your policies, consider the customer's viewpoint and what their expectations may be about that interaction; if you need to, set appropriate expectations.
Self-Service: if you are trying to make an action/interaction self-service, ensure that it is truly self-service. Again, provide clear, thorough, and accurate information so that customers can complete everything on their own.
Communication: I can't stress enough how key communication is to reducing customer effort. Not just any communication, but clear, accurate, personalized, and timely communication.
Consistency: if you offer multiple channels for customers to shop or interact with you, be sure the experience is consistent across channels. Share information internally so that the customer doesn't have to start from scratch when moving from web to phone, for example.
Responsiveness: it goes without saying that if you respond in a timely manner, the customer doesn't need to follow up with you or chase you down. Effort averted.
Partnerships: ensure that your partners process facilitate the customer experience, not hinder it.

Who cares about your Customer Effort Score? Again, it's not really the score you need to focus on; but if you're using that question, heed the qualitative data around the reasons for the score. Otherwise, take a look at your processes, your communications, your messaging, your systems, etc. Anything that impacts the customer experience... and tell me: have you designed them from the customer viewpoint? Or were they designed to make things easier, or to make more money, for the company?

To understand the man, you must first walk a mile in his moccasin. -North American Indian Proverb

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Would You Hire Your Customers?

Recruiting Message from Pier 1
Continuing down the path I've been on lately about employees and their importance to the customer experience and to the success of the business, today's post is about hiring the right people. I'm talking about hiring specific people... your customers!

The golden rule for every business man is this: Put yourself in your customer’s place. – Orison Swett Marden

Well, how about if we put your customer in your place? How about hiring your customers? How about hiring someone who knows what it's like to be a customer of yours - to help your customers?

This might seem like a no-brainer, maybe not. But I like this concept. I think there has to be a clear approach to recruiting and hiring customers, though. If your goal is to hire the right people, then it's not about hiring any customer, just because they want/need a job. It's about hiring your best customers. I'll explain why in a moment.

The image above is an email I received from Pier 1. I don't know if they are methodical about their approach, i.e, if I was selected as a recipient because I met some shopping frequency or spending threshold, or if they just sent that email to all of their customers (likely, cardholders). It would be important to put some parameters around this strategy. Your best customers might be based on those thresholds or you might consider some other, more-personal, more-local parameters. You'll need to define who you consider to be your best customers and why.

Why is recruiting and hiring your best customers a great idea? Consider this. Your best customers...
  • Know your products.
  • Like your products.
  • Can sell the products because they can tell a personal story about them.
  • Can connect with customers because they are customers.
  • Know your business.
  • Love - are passionate about - your brand.
  • Share values, already feel part of your "something bigger."
  • Know the staff and probably already have a rapport with them.
  • Can refer you to other like-minded people.
What's your approach to recruiting and hiring the right people? Have you hired (your best) customers? (I have.)

”Do not hire a man (or woman) who does your work for money, but him (or her) who does it for the love of it.” - Henry David Thoreau

Friday, June 8, 2012

Is Yours a Culture of Employee Ownership?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I'm continuing to tackle the need for organizations to focus on employees and the employee experience because, as you know by now, they are critical to the organization's ability to deliver a memorable customer experience and, ultimately, to the success of the company. Today, I'm blogging about employee ownership. What does employee ownership mean?

I'm not referring to a financial stake in the company. Not technically. People haven't invested in the company, financially. But they are invested in the company, emotionally.

From the company perspective, employee ownership is about setting expectations and laying the groundwork. (Have I mentioned Brand Promise lately?) Communicating expectations; providing the right tools, training, and resources to execute and to deliver; empowering your people and expecting accountability; and stepping back and letting employees create the culture and the experiences based on those expectations. It is iterative, not stagnant; as the business evolves, so must the culture... and dare I say, vice versa. Of course, you must also begin with the right people.

From the employee perspective, they think and act like they own the business. It's about being passionate about what you do, not standing at the sidelines waiting to be spoon-fed; it's about taking the horse by the reins and running with your directive (the brand promise), being accountable for your role in the execution of the customer experience and in the success of the business, working together with others who are just as passionate and who share a common goal, and feeling like you are a part of something bigger, something you want to see grow and flourish.

What your employees are creating and supporting is a customer-centric culture. This is a culture in which the customer's perspective and viewpoint is ingrained in the company DNA, is at the center of every decision, conversation, process, strategy, etc. The best customer-centric cultures are built at a grassroots level; they are the most sustainable because your employees are the ones responsible for creating them, own the outcomes, and understand the implications of any missteps. Yes, there must be support and guidance from the top, but when the troops are rallied around this cause, great things will happen.

It probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway. The organization must also be employee-centric for employee ownership to occur.

I came across this definition of ownership on the CattLeLogos website, and I think it encompasses the essence of what I'm referring to, as well:

Everyone in your company should take OWNERSHIP of your brand, starting from the top down. Management should set an example for all employees by owning the brand image, providing guidelines, and training in use of the brand, and then holding all employees accountable for proper brand management.

Let's look at another definition of employee ownership. Herb Kelleher, co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, doesn't even say this is employee ownership, but he doesn't have to. This one is powerful.

“Engaged employees are not just committed. They are not just passionate or proud. They have a line-of-sight on their own future and on the organization’s mission and goals. They are ‘enthused’ and ‘in gear’ using their talents and discretionary effort to make a difference in their employer’s quest for sustainable business success. I’ve never had control and I never wanted it. If you create an environment where people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it.” –Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines

Wow! The executives are no longer in control; the employees are. That's a strong culture, a strong customer-centric culture. Everyone working toward a common goal, with a common perspective in mind.

Is this happening in your organization?

Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day. -Frances Hesselbein

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Who Knows Your Brand Promise?

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Back in March, I wrote a piece on change and on how I believed CEOs aren't interested in change. Last week, I wrote about how CEOs are the brand champions and how the buck stops with them. I followed that up with a post asking CEOs if they put themselves out there, if they stand behind and in front of their brands. As of this moment, I have only received one response to that challenge.

So now I want to know, what about your brand promise? Are CEOs talking about it? Is it guiding and driving strategy?

I've written about brand promise many times in the past, but today I want to know some brand promises and which companies broadcast their promises to their employees and their customers.

What is a brand promise? It is a promise to your customers. Everything you do should reflect this promise. Consistency is key. It sets expectations and defines the benefits customers can expect to receive when they engage in your services or use your products, when they experience your brand.

The CEO understands the power of strong brands and uses the brand promise to align all of the activities of the organization; that promise guides people, processes, products, systems, etc. Everything you do must support and reinforce the brand promise: every product, every person, every interaction, every touchpoint, all of it. Every time.

"A promise, for example, is meant to inspire. It creates alignment. It serves as the foundation for your vision, mission, and all business strategies and it must come from the top to mean anything. For without it, we cannot genuinely voice what it is we stand for or stand behind." -Brian Solis

What a brand promise is not? It's not a mission statement. It's not a brand position. It's not advertising. It's not a tagline. (Though I have noticed that some companies do make double duty of their brand promises and use them in their advertising.)

Is a brand promise meant for customers or for employees? It's meant for both. Employees at all levels, frontline and behind the scenes, deliver on the promise. But in order to deliver on it, it must be clearly communicated. Is that happening in your organization? Do you know your company's brand promise? Employees can't live the promise if they don't know it. Communicating and socializing the brand promise also helps to attract the right kind of people to support your culture.

Let's take a look at some of the brand promises that I was able to find online. (Some may be outdated; feel free to update me.) Forgive me if I got some of these wrong.  It's not like you can go to a company's website and easily search for it or simply find it right there on their home page. And why not? Is that too much to ask?

  • Starbucks: Providing the highest quality coffee, exceptional customer service, and a truly uplifting Starbucks Experience is the same around the world.
  • Zappos: Superior customer service; delivering happiness.
  • Harley-Davidson: The pursuit of freedom.
  • Walmart: Save money. Live better.
  • Ritz Carlton: Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.
  • Southwest Airlines: Dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit
  • Nordstrom: Exceptional customer service, every time. Offer the customer the best possible service, selection, quality, and value.
  • JetBlue: You above all.
  • Trader Joe's: A place where value, adventure and tasty treasures are discovered, every day.
  • Ford: Go further.
  • McDonald's: Simple, easy enjoyment.
  • Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
  • Signature Worldwide: We promise to be inspiring and fun, to be results-driven, and to provide you training that sticks.
  • Geek Squad: We'll save your ass.
  • Umpqua Bank: To make your stop at an Umpqua Bank the best thing you did all day.
  • Telefonica O2 Europe: Helping customers connect. We're better, connected.
  • Honest Tea: Strive to create healthy and honest relationships with its customers, suppliers, and the environment.
  • Virgin: To be genuine, fun, contemporary, and different at everything we do at a reasonable price.
  • Affinity Medical Group: Delivering personalized care to patients by listening, treating them with respect, and putting their needs and interests first.
  • Google: To provide access to the world's information in one click.
What is your company's brand promise? Is it proudly displayed for employees and customers? Is it communicated to you, the employee, regularly? Is it woven through the fabric of your organization? Share your stories and thoughts!

A brand is a promise, but a great brand is a promise kept. - Muhtar Kent