Transforming the Customer Experience

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Why Core Values Need to Be in Your Customer Experience Focus

 

Core Values are the fundamental beliefs of a person or organization.

Core Values serve as the guiding light for how everyone in your company interacts, communicates and works with each other, external customers, and the community. The core values are the solid foundational building blocks on which your culture is built. They are your company’s principles, beliefs, or philosophy of values.

Core Values provide the framework to help guide many business decisions. When weighing options – refer to the Core Values and the answer should become clear.

Core Values should be unique to your company. Just as your culture should only be able to describe your company alone, the Core Values follow the same idea. Consider examples of Core Values of the big names in business or your niche, but don’t copy them. Don’t try to be them. Try to be as impactful and distinct as they are… in your own way. Otherwise, customers won’t be able to state what is memorable about you and the way you work with them.

Avoid Truth, Integrity, Honesty, and Ethics as stated Core Values. Yes, I went there. My explanation… only because I feel these are inherent in any honestly run business. These will also likely be included in virtually every other company’s core values as well. Get to the Core Values that really mean something in a truly non-generic way. Your company Core Values shouldn’t be able to describe any company other than your own. So don’t include the ones that come standard with every other “Core Values Workshop” mindset. Let’s assume those as a given. If they can’t be assumed, then you’ve got bigger issues than defining other Core Values.

Use phrases or sentences as Core Values to convey the meaning. A word to summarize the intent is great – but extend it with a sentence to demonstrate the meaning within your organization in a specific way. Example – Fun: We work hard, and we play hard. Fun should be included during the work day as well as our outside team activities.

Core Values MUST be exemplified at the leadership level. As with culture, leadership must model Core Values in their actions, behaviors, thoughts, and communications for them to be believed understood and embraced by staff. Should this not be the case, you’ll be lumped into the same category as the notorious, now defunct, Enron. As little as 18 months before their demise, Enron had crafted a Core Values list that was clearly only worth its weight on paper. Had they truly personified those core values, they might still be around today.

Core Values need to be evident in practice – not just written on a document because they sound good. After a visitor spends a day within your company, they should be able to look at your Core Values statement and they are evident by how the company and staff operate as a whole and were apparent and displayed in their own personal experience.

Core Values help in recruiting and hiring decisions. While I’m a huge advocate of diverse thinking and perspectives, the Core Values of staff personalities and characteristics should hold true to the company Core Values. These Core Values, along with your defined ideal culture, should be openly shared and discussed during the interview process. Pay particular attention to how they engage in this part of the interview. Share examples of how Core Values are internally and with external customers. Prompt discussions with candidates on how they might envision the Values being exemplified in the prospective – or past – roles. Their stories will display an accurate understanding of the Core Values and their creativity in displaying them to customers.

Core Values should serve as foundation and guidance, not limitations, for the folks you believe in and invest in to best represent your company and work with your customers. Similar to using the core values to guide business decisions, staff will use them in making daily decisions in their responsibilities. When deciding upon a course of action, if there is a Core Value to support one method vs another, the answer becomes clear. The Values, as a whole, should not be limiting in nature, but provide clarity and direction.

Core Values guide performance reviews. How well your staff lives by and exemplifies the core values of your company should be coached and rewarded. Let’s say you have “Taking Creative Risks” as one of your Core Values. If you have someone who does their job very well, gets along well with others, and customers rave about them personally… yet they take few – if any – risks, they should be coached in this area. First – be certain they really understand what taking creative risks means within your company. Share a few examples of creative risks that you yourself have taken or – concealing the identity – the risks that coworkers have taken. Since risks are never guaranteed as a positive outcome, be sure to share some that did and did not turn out as planned, but keep the way the risk was created and ventured for the benefit of the company or the customer as the main focus.

Core Values are ingrained by frequent and regular discussion and relevant stories. I’m a huge fan of daily and/or weekly team huddles. Have staff share stories about how a Core Value contributed a decision or action for a coworker or customer. Stories are how people relate, internalize, and learn information and concepts. Hearing examples from those around them, staff will start to build on those or take key components and create their own way of modeling those Values.

Embed the Core Values throughout the Customer Journey and Experience. When mapping out your Customer Experience, be sure the Core Values are consistent and evident in every phase and impact point. Pick key moments of influence in the customer journey and consider how the Values can be seen and felt by the customer in each. Have the Core Values in your marketing material, on your website, in the lunch room, conference rooms, walls, feature an “Employee of the Month” who models the Core Values in a newsletter, etc. Talk about them, discuss them, challenge them, find ways to integrate them into conversations.

By intentionally identifying, setting, and modeling Core Values, the more they will become the DNA of your company, distinguish you from your competitors, and make you memorable in the minds of your customers.

It’s a beautiful thing…

Culture’s Impact on Customer Experience

Culture's Impact on Customer ExperienceDefinition of Culture – The sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. 

Corporate culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. Corporate culture is rooted in an organization’s goals, strategies, structure, and approaches to labor, customers, investors, and the greater community.

Culture is based on shared attitudes, beliefs, customs, and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time and are considered valid. (The Business Dictionary).

Needle (2004), stated that organizational culture represents the collective values, beliefs, and principles of organizational members. Culture includes the organization’s vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits

Deal and Kennedy succinctly define organizational culture as “the way things are done around here” (Deal & Kennedy, 2000)

Every company has a culture whether you’ve defined it or not. The key is to be in the driver’s seat of defining your culture and being deliberate about shaping it before you are trying to reign in an undesirable culture that has taken hold.

If you find yourself in the latter position… take heart, all is not lost. It is very doable, provided you make the commitment and persevere through the process.  

When you begin the discussion of defining the DESIRED culture of your organization, this is the time to consider….

What does it look like to work IN your company and WITH your company? How is the engagement between leaders and staff, staff and customers?

What is the environment like? Relaxed and casual, or professional and formal? Is it an open working environment or one that uses high walled cubicles?

How do you welcome people in – both as staff and clients? Your culture will be apparent the moment you greet your first candidate or client. The friendliness factor, the thoroughness and follow up displayed exemplifies the culture of your company. Are you a company to be taken seriously, or are you one that looks great on paper, but in practice…. falls short?

Is there clarity around the purpose of your company and product or service? There will be a measurable impact on the success of your company when staff truly believes that what they do matters to the success of the company and the overall customer experience.

How much autonomy will you give your staff? Will they be trained and empowered to fulfill their responsibilities within the organization and with clients?

Do you want a more formal and rigid top-down management style or do you want to empower people to act with the entrepreneurial spirit? Questions such as these will feed into the amount of risk your staff is willing to take in making decisions or working to solve issues for your customers and clients.

Take action in defining – or redefining – your culture by having purposeful conversations with key leaders around the desired culture of your company. As your discussions progress, the process will benefit by giving staff the opportunity to provide input. Staff will have different perspectives and ideas to be considered when crafting the ultimate outcome.

I stress that Leadership should have the most input on the desired culture definition. Leaders are guiding the direction of the company and if they are true leaders, they should have the insight and understanding on the best course to travel.

Make sure your culture is Unique! Even though you may have several competitors in the same space or industry, your culture as a company within that space needs to feel unique. Books are written about Zappos, Ritz Carlton, Nordstrom, Disney, Apple for a reason. They are successful companies with strong cultures. But don’t try to copy them or be like them. I tell my clients to try to be as impactful as them. All of those companies have competition in their space… yet they are unique.

I have my clients show me a marketing brochure. If I can remove my client’s company name and insert the competitions, yet all of the information is still accurate… then there is a problem. It all blends in. What makes you stand out? What makes you different? Your culture will help shape these answers. If you can’t think of anything… start figuring out what customers want that they can’t easily find as far as working style. That will help shape your culture and vice-versa.

Key components in setting a successful organizational culture…

Setting the culture begins at the top. Regardless of the size of your company, the leaders set the tone and example in the congruency of their attitudes, actions, words, and considerations when working with customers, selecting products, and engaging with staff.

Hire people based on competencies AND culture fit. I can’t stress this one enough. My experience shows that 90% of all customer experience and culture work is accomplished simply by hiring the right people that will support and sustain your desired culture. Should you have staff that work against it, or at the very least – don’t support it, this work can be extremely frustrating and ultimately futile. Even just a few people with the wrong attitudes can throw the entire program off course.

You have two people you are considering for the same position. One is competent, yet lacks the years of experience the other does. Yet, the first one actively engaged in the interview when you discussed the culture of your company. You gleaned the impression that they would be very helpful in sustaining the culture you are working hard to execute for staff and clients. The candidate with years of experience didn’t openly say they didn’t like the described culture, but they asked a few times if they could bring in ways of doing things that had worked for them in their past job, if they could work as they needed to on their own as long as the desired outcome was achieved.

Guess which one will be successful in your company? The first candidate. Provided they have the necessary credentials and training, you can train skills and competencies specific to your company. You just can’t train attitudes easily at all. The wrong attitude can derail your culture work.

Open communication promotes success. Companies with free and open communication are far more successful in establishing an engaging culture. When staff feels free to ask questions and discuss core issues with leadership, they’ll be much more engaged and the culture is strengthened, thus the company “team” is united in working in the best interest of the customer and the company reaps the reward of their continued loyalty.

Consequences of not focusing on Culture?

You can be successful in spite of yourselves, but that is not the norm. Not taking the time to actively shape the culture is indicative of a “non-directional” culture prone to reactionary decisions, inconsistencies in customer experiences, and intermittent lucky successes.

Possible Indications of Needing Culture Work

  • Employee turnover
  • Customer churn
  • Lackluster performance by employees
  • Disengaged staff
  • Minimum expectations delivered by staff
  • Low attendance at company events
  • Employee -vs- Leadership mindset
  • Declining customer loyalty and satisfaction

Prioritizing the definition and execution of your ideal Culture will pays off in many ways…

  • Morale will increase
  • Staff will willingly engage outside of their own responsibilities do more than the minimum
  • Everyone will understand and embrace the purpose of the company and actively work to support and promote it
  • Staff will feel empowered and engaged resulting in more thoughtful decisions to benefit both the company and the customers
  • Customers will benefit by doing business with a company where they feel they are part of an organization actively working to help them succeed in their responsibilities and goals
  • That Customer Experience will increase customer loyalty and generate referrals
  • Increased referrals and loyalty promote higher sales, resulting in higher profits, resulting in the successful longevity of the company.

It’s a beautiful thing…

Poor Customer Experiences Cost You Money

How many customers did you lose today? It may be a hard question to answer.

The answer may lie in the question – How many poor experiences did your customers encounter today while working with your company?

89% of consumers began purchasing from a competitor following a poor experience (RightNow Technologies).

Based on the size of your company and number of staff working with customers – front line, contracts, sales, billing, service techs, etc – if 100 customers that interacted with your company TODAY felt they had a poor experience, then it would be safe to say that 89 of them will do business with your competition as soon as tomorrow.

That’s a staggering statistic. But entirely believable. We’ve all done it. As consumers, we’ve gone elsewhere when we felt we were treated rudely or inappropriately. But it doesn’t even take that much for customers to leave. All you need to do is treat your customers like a number, or make them feel “processed,” or not follow through on a promise or commitment and you can consider them a Lost Customer.

Example – I was listening to The Minimalists Podcast #126 the other day and the main topic was Quality.  During the discussion, one of the hosts told the story of purchasing a couch after considering a few different companies based on the quality of the product, customer service, and price. He didn’t buy the cheapest and didn’t buy the most expensive, but he stated he “didn’t go cheap.”

They were making a point about what to consider when spending money on items quality items. They incorporated the quality of the company and experience under that topic heading. The host purchased the couch 12 weeks ago. He said the customer service at the time of purchase was right on target and they were told they’d have the couch in 12 weeks. He has now had to contact the company several times because he still has not received it. He finally got a response and was told that it would be about another 2 weeks. The hosts made the point that the expectation of 12 weeks was set by the company, yet they failed to follow through on that commitment. He would have forgiven them that (because life happens) but he was most irked that the customer service after the sale was nonexistent and that he was now doing their job of trying to get a delivery date.

He said that he would no longer recommend the company – and he isn’t even referencing the product. He is basing this solely on the fact that the experience was poor. This host would certainly be considered a Lost Customer.

According to the Harvard Business Review, 48% of people who had negative experiences told 10 or more people about it. Unfortunately for BoConcept, the company he purchased the couch from, he also has a website… and a podcast… so he is sharing that experience in the context of Quality, or lack thereof.

I wonder how much money their lack of service after the sale has cost them.

Please share your thoughts below…

More Customer Effort Drives Customers Away

C-Suite – Question for you: I’ll never tell you NOT to delight your customers, but what would happen if you focus MORE on reducing the EFFORT your customers have to make when working with you?

It goes back to the premise of the Customer Experience being more impactful when you deliver what was promised without the customer having to worry or perform any of your responsibilities. The EASIER you make it to do business with you, the more loyal your customers will be.

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CEX Leadership – Walk a Day in the Shoes of Your Staff

CEX Leadership Tip – Walk a day in the shoes of your frontline staff. So many leaders fight this, but the single most effective way to truly engage with staff and customers is to literally do their job with them. This is not a time to judge or evaluate their performance unless a true issue emerges. This is the time to understand what they encounter every day in their responsibilities. Doing this gives you a sound framework for many business decisions.

Think of the show Undercover Boss. Many of these leaders had no idea of some of the challenges their teams faced in performing their everyday responsibilities. Sometimes it was lack of training, antiquated equipment, software programs that don’t speak to each other, logistical issues adding time to completing tasks, etc.

Sometimes it was the workload. Some found that the workload of each member had increased to the point that no one task was ever done well. Some found that there was no possible way that every single responsibility could be performed in the allotted time of a standard workday.

And the real eye-opening moments came when the boss’s found that customers were part of the issue. Sometimes the customers were rude and inappropriate, so the boss empowered the staff by training them better on how to handle upset customers with phrases to empathize and how to maintain control of their own emotions. Sometimes they realized that customers were expecting things to happen at the frontline staff level that needed to be handled by management. A few handled this by empowering staff more and by making sure that managers were readily available to handle the request.

Bottom line… spend time with your staff. Understand what they do and how they do it. Understand the mental processes required. Doing so gives you an accurate base when making decisions that will eventually impact your team.

When staff trusts that you care and understand them and their responsibilities, they’ll trust you more as a leader. They’ll be more engaged in their responsibilities and customers will experience staff who truly believe and can deliver on the intended Customer Experience.

United Airlines Needs a Lesson in Apologizing

It’s all over the news… a United Airlines flight attendant insisted that a passenger put her dog carrier containing her 10-month-old French bulldog, Kokito, in the overhead compartment. Fellow passengers state the family told her there was a dog inside the carrier, but the attendant insisted the carrier be placed in the overhead compartment. The passenger begrudgingly complied and the dog did not survive the three-hour trip. The passenger and her 11-year-old daughter were devastated, as were many of the fellow observing passengers.

To make the situation even worse, and the purpose of this post is that United Airlines issued an apology that could have been delivered by a robot…

“This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.”

Now, a few folks are faulting the passenger for complying. The plane had already pulled away from the gate and was en route to the runway for takeoff. The passenger had her 11-year-old daughter and an infant traveling with her. While I do agree that since she had already paid the $125 ticket for the dog and had him in an approved dog carrier which was designed to comply with the airline’s requirement of fitting underneath the seat in front of them and remaining there for the duration of the flight… I really can understand why the passenger complied.

Traveling with children is a challenge. Traveling with children AND a dog is even more of a challenge. She most likely ran through a variety of scenarios… They could be asked to deboard the plane before takeoff, thus causing a scene, missing a connecting flight, having to hassle with the kids and the dog, etc. All of these play secondary to what I suspect was the deciding factor for her… the flight attendant was the authority in the situation. She worked for the airline. She was trained. She knew the rules. She would never insist something be done contrary to airline rules and policies. She would not insist that the animal would be safe in a situation unless that would certainly be the case. So while I personally would likely have not agreed to comply, I can understand and see what lead to her decision. I don’t necessarily agree, but I can empathize with the situation.

And that right there is the key to how this tragic outcome should have been handled. EMPATHY. Empathy is crucial to customer experience and United Airlines demonstrated it’s clear lack of empathy in their corporate response. Assuming responsibility… express deepest regret… committed to supporting… thoroughly investigating… those words and phrases all sound close, but nowhere near good enough. It feels like they are doing their best to sound apologetic, but they are keeping themselves at arms distance from truly owning up to this and doing the right thing. I think it lacks compassion and sounds like they are just annoyed that they have to deal with the bad press surrounding the incident.

My thoughts – If I were to advise United Airlines, I would quickly have them put themselves in the passenger’s place. They have a pet they loved so much they brought it with them on their travels rather than board it in a kennel. Most pet owners love their pets almost as much as they love their children and truly regard them as a member of the family. Not that the mother wasn’t upset enough, but I imagine it would be even more difficult for the 11-year-old daughter to handle the death of a pet, as this would likely be a “life moment” of teaching. United would also need to understand that it was one of their own employees who instructed them to perform the act leading to the death of the pet. Here is how I would issue the apology…

“We cannot express how very sorry we are that this family’s pet died on one of our planes while following instructions given by one of our staff. Losing a pet is hard enough, but to lose it at the direction of a representative you believe is trained and looking out for the safety of all passengers and acting with authority – and having them be wrong – in the situation is unimaginable. 

We know nothing can be done to bring this pet back or make up for this tragedy in any way. We do want to do anything possible to help this family heal. When and if the family decides it is time for a new dog, we would like to facilitate that and cover all expenses for the cost and care of the new dog for the first three years. We would also like to make a donation in Kokito’s name to the SPCA in the amount of $5,000.

As for our United Airline staff, we will be immediately retraining all personnel involved with passengers and pets during any of our flights on the appropriate and proper guidelines and methods to ensure the safety of all passengers and pets. What happened on this flight was not in accordance with our guidelines and the dog should never have been put in the overhead compartment. We will do everything possible to ensure that this never happens again. 

Our hearts go out to this family and we hope they can believe and accept our sincerest apologies.”

So, while I am no public relations specialist, this is the type of response I would like to hear had this happened to me and my pet. It comes right out and says “We are so very sorry.” Nowhere in the United response do they use the word “sorry.”  We are human. “I’m sorry” conveys at a heart level the compassion and empathy necessary to connect at a human level when delivered genuinely. My suggested response also quickly acknowledges the passenger followed the direction of the authority in the situation. It also acknowledges the directions given were wrong and states the immediate action of training everyone to prevent this situation from happening again.

Offering to cover the cost of a new dog and it’s care for three years and a donation is a gesture of sincere intent to do right and goodwill. They can’t bring the dog back, but they can show that they are humans behind the brand. The backlash that United has dealt with in the last 24 hours over this I think would be lessened quite a bit had United done something similar to show compassion and understanding for the important role pets play in so many families’ lives. United’s response says they are committed to supporting the family, yet didn’t take the time or effort to figure that out or come up with an idea.

With all of the bad press that United has received lately, I really am surprised to see them handling this situation so poorly. The customer experience is based on human emotions. It’s based on how people feel when they work with a company. It’s based on connection and being proactive. In the cases where there needs to be a reaction, the customer experience is successful when the customer feels that the company understands their perspective and has done everything they could to make it as right as possible. It’s about feeling cared about and valued.

Again, while the passenger could have refused, and believe me I’m sure she is replaying that missed moment over and over in her mind, I consider United at fault since their representative gave the directive causing the animal’s death that was not in accordance with their policy.

I truly hope United will take a step back, look at the backlash, really listen to the undercurrent of stated lack of empathy, care and concern and remember that behind the company and the brand, they are people working to serve other people.

 

 

 

 

Bridge the Gap of Customer Experience Perception

Long lumped in with Customer Service, the entire Customer Experience concept is finally being acknowledged as a weighty differential in the quest to build customer loyalty and increase sales.

Business Leaders everywhere must first understand there is likely a huge gap between the Customer Experience they believe their company delivers and the perception of that same experience their customers have as they work with them.

A recent paper by SuperOffice stated research shows that 80% of businesses believe they are providing excellent customer service. That sounds good, right? BUT – the customers of those same companies feel that only 8% of them deliver excellent customer service. Now THAT should keep you up at night.

While this research states customer service only, I firmly believe the responding customers lumped it in with the entire experience, as that is what motivates customers to return or leave.

Leaders typically look at their business goals, they put some programs and training in place to enhance both the experience and skills, they closely monitor what they think is important to the customers and in doing so… they believe their customers are benefitting from a better experience.

Let me be clear, the fact that they’ve even thought about how their customers perceive them is a great first step. Being aware that customers even have a perception or thought about the subject and wanting to improve on it is key.

But the real issue is they often lack the insight as to what their customers are really thinking… as well as what their employees are thinking.

The ultimate goal is to have as little gap as possible between all three components – Leadership, Staff, and Customer Perception. Currently, as the research indicates, the best of intentions among companies have fallen short.

So, what to do? Pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and start again… with a PLAN.

I often find that leaders think they are on track because they WANT to be on track. No one deliberately decides to go off the rails. But to be sure, a focused analysis needs to be done.

This analysis can be as informal or formal as you’d like…

Meet as a leadership team and discuss the CEX your company delivers at a high level. Ask yourselves these questions…

  1. What do you feel you do well?
  2. What do you feel could be improved?
  3. What does your competition do differently? Are those differences perceived as good or bad?
  4. What do you feel needs to continue to be done or started to improve the CEX? Be as honest and candid as you can during these discussions. There is no blame to be placed, only a plan to improve for the future.

Now, these same questions need to be asked of your staff and your customers. The logistics may take some figuring, but this can be done in a variety of ways conducive to your setting.

My suggestion – Gather your staff and have them break into groups of 6-8 and document their answers to the four questions on one sheet. Analyze the answers from those groups and note the answers for trends and ideas.

Then do the same with customers. Focus groups, a cross section, industry-specific, etc… simply starting is key. Each specific situation may dictate a completely different model than another, but the key is to get the feedback from as many customers as possible to get a true feeling of how they feel your company works with them. Think TripAdvisor.

Next, examine the responses between the three groups – Leadership, Staff, and Customers – and note the disparity and similarities between answers.

All four areas are important…

1)  What you do well indicates what draws your customers back and where staff feels training, empowerment, and capabilities are strong.

2)  What needs to be improved are key indicators of what could cause your customers to leave and staff to become disengaged.

3)  Just because your competition does something differently does not mean your company should adopt their practice, but be aware enough to know if your customers feel those differences add value.

4)  Pay particular attention to what they feel needs to continue to be done. The buy-in here is easily granted because it is already being done and not viewed as “extra work.” Things to start can be prioritized based on a variety of considerations, but be sure to consider each one.

Going through this exercise takes some planning and time, but the insight gained will be worth every bit of effort. Getting into the minds of your staff and customers is the single best way to identifying and bridging the gap between leadership’s and customer’s perceptions of the Customer Experience being delivered.

Listening to Customers Tells You Everything You Need to Know…

Listening. We all know how to do it… but few know how to do it well… and it could be driving your customers away if you don’t do it well. Listen well and you’ll increase sales and customer loyalty.

Even though communication involves two parts – speaking and listening – I believe that listening is actually 2/3 of successful communication.

Someone can speak all they want. But if the other party doesn’t listen – REALLY listen – nothing that was said matters… at all. And yes, there is a huge difference between hearing and listening. Hearing means you heard words and sounds. Listening means you understand the purpose, content, and context of the message.

About 70 % of all lost customers left because they didn’t feel valued or felt the service experience was lacking. And they should. If you don’t feel valued or that the experience was at a minimum “good,” why on earth would you continue to do business there?

Much of what goes into creating a memorable and desirable experience is derived from LISTENING to what customers tell you they want… what they like… what they don’t like… what they need… what is becoming a challenge for them… what they are confused about… what their last option didn’t do for them that caused them to leave and find you… etc.

LISTEN to the customer. Listen when they call to complain. This is an opportunity for you to be the hero and solve their problem. You can teach them how to get the most benefit from their purchase/contract/etc.

LISTEN to what is confusing for them. Make changes based on things that are becoming a trend or an issue over a certain threshold. Focus on making that form, procedure, instruction, etc simpler. The customers that voiced their issues will know you listened to them. They’ll feel valued for you taking their concern seriously and making changes as a result. They’ll feel you really want to do right by them to earn their loyalty… and they’ll stay.

LISTEN to what they like about your company and your product. Use that feedback as a springboard to determine how you can integrate those high points into other areas of your company. You know you are doing or providing that well – identify what makes it so and carry it through as far as possible. And in most cases – don’t change much unless absolutely necessary. They’ve told you they like it. Mess with it and they may not.

LISTEN to what they don’t like about your company and product. Seriously listen to that feedback. Hopefully it came about during a conversation which will provide the opportunity for you to ask probing questions to truly understand their perspective, the issue and to identify the cause.

LISTEN to suggestions customers make on something they feel would make a positive impact to them. You won’t necessarily be able to do or provide exactly what they are asking, but you may be able to generate ideas that are on the right track or come close.

Bottom line… LISTENING to your customers is really a crash course on how to stay in business long term and build a loyal customer base. Your customers are telling you exactly how to keep them coming back to you – because they want to.

 

 

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Branding and Quantity Imply Consistency

Consistency is key in many things… but I’m hard pressed to find an area as impactful as the Customer Experience.

Consider the successful consistency in the branding experience of McDonald’s.  Anywhere in the world that you want into a McDonald’s, you’ll quickly notice the same theme, colors, food, overall service, etc.

I believe it is also fairly safe to assume that when they open a new McDonald’s franchise, they hit the ground running with knowing how many staff to schedule for different times of day and days of week, knowing what are the favorite menu items overall and perhaps even by region, knowing how to interact with customers and make them feel welcome, etc. Basically, this isn’t their first rodeo anymore and each new franchise opens with only a minimum of hiccups… again, even those are most likely known to happen over the course of opening so many locations.

Last Spring Break, my family and I headed to Cancun to a new resort that had just opened. We were very excited because it was billed as a 5 star resort… something we hadn’t had the opportunity to do too often because our kids were small and, let’s face it, wouldn’t appreciate the “extras” that such a vacation delivers… and costs.

So, things started off well. We were greeted by the very personable staff and they reviewed the amenities of the resort and asked questions about the things our family enjoys while on vacation.

Our room was quite nice and the first two days of restaurant food met our hopes and expectations.

However… we soon began to notice things that left us confused.

While the resort itself was beautiful in design… we were shocked when we entered the entertainment venue. The seats were nice, but there was something about the stage that bewildered us. It was completely blank…. as in a stage against a completely plain, white, blank wall.  Nothing to match the ornateness of the other buildings less than 50 feet away. But to make it worse… when the performers were on stage, the spotlight would occasionally hit a spot on the wall behind them that had clearly been a door that had been speckled over and painted white. Not trying to sound negative, but it appeared that someone has non-handy as myself had done the job and that no one in the entertainment venue was concerned about the professionalism of the job. It just didn’t match the resort experience we’d had so far.

As I mentioned, the food was very nice overall. The servers were very pleasant, but we did find very quickly that very few of them, perhaps 30%, spoke English. Granted, we were in the Mexican Rivera. English is not the native tongue. But when almost 90% of your customer base speaks English, everyone would be better served when the staff speaks the same language as the customers they serve. While we were frustrated by the language barrier… we also noticed that the staff was as well. I could tell they were trying and making every attempt to understand my 2 years of high school and college broken Spanish.

The Room Service food was quite nice. They would bring it fairly quickly and followed the same protocol as most hotels and resorts we’ve stayed in over the years… enjoy your food and leave the plates outside your door to be picked up. Here’s the thing… those used plates stayed outside SEVERAL doors for over three days. Yes, the rooms were made up daily, yet somehow the staff didn’t know to pick up the plates or it didn’t fall under their responsibility.

We also found that there were staffing shortages during the times that the use of the pool or venues seemed to be high. There were far more guests than the staff could promptly serve during peak times. Yet during non peak times, there were more than enough staff to handle the guests.

In the main buffet… it was beautifully decorated and well laid out. The food was delicious overall. The great part about the buffet is that everyone can pretty much find something they enjoy. However, the experience was dampened when the line for the Benihana style food was over 10 people long… and there was only one chef during the main dinner time. This caused me to be waiting in line while the rest of my family enjoyed the food they found right away.

I was quick to write off these dips in service levels as just part of rolling out a new resort. The gentleman in front of me at the Benihana food line was clearly dismayed at the wait time. Because we had plenty of time and I’m just that type of person, I engaged him in conversation asking him where he was from, if he and his family vacationed in the region often, etc. He was pleasant but was quick to point out his frustration at having to wait for food and at the lack of English speaking staff. I suggested that they would likely have all of the kinks worked out soon as they had only been open 3 months at that time.

Here’s the kicker… he turned at looked at me and said “That would be understandable if this were their first and only resort. This company operates about 6 other of the most popular resorts in the area. This shouldn’t be happening. They should note everything that works and doesn’t work in their other resorts and work that into their new openings. I’m a small business owner. I do the same thing each and every day in my business and with my customers. I take every interaction and experience and learn from it to continuously improve the way I work with customers and my services.”

I hadn’t realized they owned and operated other resorts. I thought this was their first run at it. To me, that explained everything. I checked into the gentleman’s claim and found that this resort was owned and operated by a company that ran over 6 local resorts in the area… all of which were known to be highly regarded. And then dichotomy became very apparent, not only from the company operating the resort, but within the resort property itself.

Here’s where the consistency comes in…

Apparently, I was one of the few at the resort that didn’t know it was one of a chain. Each in the chain did promote the same company logo, so with the others being so highly regarded and not having complaints about language barriers, long lines, staff shortages, etc. why did ours?

Why was there such inconsistency within the resort itself? Why was there such a grand entrance and nice rooms… yet the entertainment venue had a stage that was so beneath their billing and reputation?

Why was the cleanliness of the rooms and overall resort so emphasized, yet the room service trays were left outside for days with staff walking right past them?

Why was the staffing so incongruent with peak times and usage?

Why the language barrier knowing that over 90% of the guests spoke English, yet it was hard to find staff that did?

Again, had this been their first or second resort, these could be overlooked. But because they had rolled out this exact same formula several times before, why did they not take their learnings from the other resorts and integrate them into this one?

This is where branding is also impacted. Remember McDonald’s? They’ve got it nailed. They know how to open new franchises. It doesn’t happen by chance. They are methodical about it because they know their brand name is front and center for all to see.

This resort company hasn’t realized that yet. I won’t mention the name because I’m truly hoping the they’ve gotten these kinks worked out and I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. But when folks travel from all over the country – or world – and you are affiliated with a high end name and reputation, be sure the consistency of the experience is strong.

Otherwise, your guests will set your reputation for you and it’s out of your control.

It doesn’t matter if you run a store, a service company, or a resort… consistency of experience is what customers crave and depend on. Those who actively seek out this parent company based on the other resorts may be in for a surprise when then stay at this new one.

Customer Experience Lessons from a Crew Regatta

Customer Experience Requires Teamwork

Teamwork was the focus of my weekend recently. Two of my kids just finished their last crew regatta of the fall season. We were up in the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan and the scenery couldn’t have been better. We caught the last part of the colors and the temperatures were crisp and best of all… NO RAIN.

But, the reason I bring up the regatta is how essential teamwork is in the sport of crew. I know, I know, teamwork is in all team sports. But, I have found that in football, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, volleyball, etc there always seems to be one or two players that really stand out. Some players are known as “ball hogs.” There are also many opportunities for some players to receive all of the glory while the rest of their teammates, simply by lack of mention, seem to be almost insignificant or regarded as less important. Often, some players never even get the ball during a play or even entire quarter or half of a game.

Not in crew. In crew, everyone rows… all the time. There are no timeouts, no water breaks, rotations, etc. Everyone in that boat has a role to play for the duration of the race. The coxswain guides the rowers in their pace and direction and the rowers follow that lead. Each rower has a role and purpose, regardless of their position in the boat. If one rower loses their focus for just a second, the entire boat feels it. Worse yet, if one rower “catches a crab,” it’s a public embarrassment for that rower and the entire boat suffers. And… the crew team is responsible for loading and unloading the boats from the trailer, rigging up the arms, attaching their oars, carrying the boats down to the water, taking them out of the water, and carrying the oars for the boat next scheduled to race.

A successful race comes together when all members of the boat are in such sync that they hardly even notice the effort their bodies are expending. While their bodies are screaming with the pain of lactic acid in their muscles, their shoulders and legs throbbing, and their hands literally blistered… the observer only sees a boat cruising through the water with powerful grace.

My point is this… business is very much the same as a crew boat. There are owners and CEOs, middle management and front line staff. There are so many different ways that each of these positions work into the overall Customer Experience. When all of these positions are in sync, communicate, know their roles and how they impact the roles of others, and all understand and work toward the same common goal… the experience for the customer is the same as the observer of the crew regatta… powerful grace in motion. They don’t know everything that goes on behind the scenes to “make the magic happen,” only that they enjoy working with you because you make it seem effortless and natural.

So, consider how well your teams, silos, and departments work together. Keep in mind that the customer never experiences your company silo by silo, but across silos. How well the team functions together across the customers journey is notice by the customer.

Make the time and effort to build teamwork in your company. Have functions, speakers, workshops, etc to keep your teams in sync with the overall goal of creating experiences your customers want again and again… with you.

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