Don’t break your brand promise

Courtyard promiseMany companies have brand promises that look good in ads, and emblazoned on websites, banners and buttons, but often these promises have little credibility among customers or employees. They are simply a set of words brainstormed at an ad agency that usually promise more than employees are prepared to deliver, and result in less than customers expect to receive.

Take, for instance, my recent stay at a Courtyard Hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Full disclosure: I worked for Marriott International for 20 years.) I passed a half-dozen signs on the way into the hotel that read: Make room for a little fun.™ And a quick peek at the @CourtyardHotels Twitter page revealed the phrase: “Put more play in your stay” along with the hashtag: #BringTheFun. With all this talk about fun, I was sure that my family and I were going to enjoy this hotel!

On the second night of our stay, after a long day of sightseeing and visiting relatives in Pender, Nebraska (100 miles north of Lincoln), we returned to the hotel and ordered in Valentino’s Pizza (a local favorite). As I waited in the lobby for the pizzas to arrive, my wife and four young children changed into their swimsuits. The kids were giddy at the thought of Valentino’s Pizza and playing in the hotel’s swimming pool. We were planning to #BringTheFun!

When I arrived with the pizzas, the kids were already in the pool “putting more play in their stay.” As I set out paper plates and napkins on the two available tables, the kids began to emerge from the pool, towel off, and sit down for a hot slice of pizza. Sure, we could have eaten the pizzas in our hotel room but we were “making room for a little fun!”

Courtyard poolAbout this time, a security officer entered the pool area and said, “I hate to be a wet blanket, but there’s no food allowed in the pool area.”

I said, “Seriously?” (I was genuinely surprised by the contradiction between the hotel’s brand promise and the reality that I was experiencing. While I was attempting to “put more play in my stay” and #BringTheFun with my family, the security officer, citing hotel policy, asked me to pack up our pizzas and eat them elsewhere.)

Incidentally, if I advised this hotel, I would caution each associate (Marriott’s term for its employees) that if you find yourself prefacing guest communication with, “I hate to be a wet blanket…” then you had better scrutinize the policy or process in question to ensure that it’s consistent with your brand promise. And I’m pretty sure that, from the guest’s perspective, being a wet blanket aligns with #SpoilTheFun, not #BringTheFun.

That said, I don’t blame the security guard for enforcing hotel policy. That’s his job. (And there are plenty of valid policies to enforce in any hotel: particularly those dealing with legal, ethical, financial, and safety considerations.) I do, however, challenge the thinking behind a policy that doesn’t allow family members to enjoy a slice of pizza at one of the tables in the pool area. When I brought this to the attention of the front desk agent who inquired about my stay during check-out the following morning, she said, “I can see the contradiction between (our brand promise) and your experience at the pool.”

Unfortunately, many companies trumpet brand promises that have little to do with customers’ actual experiences with the brand. These companies have a choice: either revise their brands’ promise or amend the policies and processes that contradict the promise. Otherwise, they will be promising more than employees are prepared to deliver and providing less than customers expect to receive.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Customer experience Q&A

Delight-Your-CustomersThe following post contains a recent interview by Erica Marois of ICMI:

1. In your book you mention that 80% of companies claim to provide superior service, while only 8% of customers agree. Where are companies missing the mark?

Too many companies focus exclusively on teaching their employees WHAT to do (imparting job knowledge) and HOW to do it (developing job skills), but neglect any reference to WHY they are doing it (conveying job purpose; employees’ highest priority at work). As a result, most companies produce competent employees who, while capable of consistently executing the mandatory job functions for which they are paid, are aloof: unaware of organizational purpose, uninformed about business priorities and objectives, and uninspired at work.

2. Recent ICMI research revealed that a majority of contact center leaders are knowingly preventing their agents from providing the best customer experience possible (they’re not empowering them with the tools they need). Why do you think this is the case?

There is a halo effect that suggests company leaders are somehow enlightened beyond the degree to which their frontline employees are enlightened. By “enlightened” I’m referring to having a shared understanding of their work’s meaning and purpose. Just because someone is a manager doesn’t mean that he/she is aware of organizational purpose. If managers are themselves ignorant about purpose, then how can they be expected to inspire their staff to achieve their organization’s highest priority? Disclaimer: Having said that, I disagree that employees are justified in delivering a subpar customer experience on the basis that their manager is unsupportive. Excellence doesn’t require permission. You are not given initiative by your manager; you take it yourself.

3. As a customer, what’s the worst service experience you’ve had recently?

I recently phoned my local supermarket upon discovering that $13.30 worth of sliced roast beef from the deli that appeared on my receipt did not make it into my shopping bags. After conveying this to the employee who answered my call, he said, “Could you call back at a more convenient time?” Seriously?

4. What’s the best experience?

Just today, I had a two-man installation crew from Ferguson Enterprises install three appliances: a gas cooktop, a retractable downdraft, and a double oven. They showed up on time, completed an expert installation within 2.5 hours, left no mess behind, and were courteous and professional. Now, you might be thinking: “Huh? Is that it? It sounds like they just did their jobs really well. Where’s the outrageous customer service gesture?” There was none. There didn’t have to be. My definition of customer service is this: a voluntary act that demonstrates a genuine desire to satisfy, if not delight, a customer. (Notice how it doesn’t read: “…genuine desire to delight a customer”?) There is a popular misconception that breathless, over-the-top customer service is required in order to achieve the reputation of a heralded customer service provider like Zappos or Nordstrom. The reality is that this type of service model leads to employee (and quite possibly, customer) fatigue and is, over time, unsustainable. Customers do not expect employees to go out of their way during every interaction. Most customers simply want to receive the product or service ordered at the time and price expected.

5. Many people now argue that delighting customers isn’t as important as making their experience easy. What do you think?

The people who make this argument assume that it has to be zero-sum: either delight customers or reduce customer effort. As most reasonable customer experience professionals understand, it doesn’t have to be one or the other; it can be both. In fact, as a customer myself, I’m “delighted” whenever a service provider reduces the effort I have to expend during a transaction. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

6. How much do you think customer expectations have changed in the last 10 years?

Expectations are based, in part, on our experiences. Before the proliferation of social media and review websites over the past decade, customers’ expectations were based on their personal experiences with a product or service or, perhaps, a review they happened across in the media or heard from a family member, friend, or colleague. Today, customers don’t have to happen across a review or bump into another person with first-hand experience; they can actively search for online reviews and form expectations based on others’ experiences. The result is that today’s customers are better informed and adjust their expectations accordingly.

7. Customer Service Week will be here before we know it. What’s one cool, low-cost way teams can celebrate this year?

Here’s my opinion about Customer Service Week: some companies will spend more time and effort staging events in preparation for Customer Service Week than they will spend celebrating customers and delivering exceptional customer service during the remaining 51 weeks of the year. Customer service is not a campaign; it’s a commitment. What’s one cool, low-cost way teams can celebrate this year? How about committing to celebrate the customer 52 weeks out of the year by consistently expressing genuine interest in serving them? It costs nothing to smile, make eye contact, add energy to your voice, display a sense of urgency, pay attention to detail, anticipate needs, follow-up, etc.

If you have an opinion about any of these questions, or my responses, please share it in the comments section. Thanks!

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Serving is selling

Customer Satisfaction SurveyI recently struck up a conversation with my insurance agent, Kevin, about the link between customer service and sales. We both agreed that the line separating these two distinct disciplines is fuzzy. Where does customer service stop and selling start?

Kevin said that while his company tends to reward agents for writing new business, the most important numbers to him are his customers’ renewal rates. His agency is always number one, two, or three in the market with renewal rates consistently above 90 percent – and that includes policyholders who have moved out-of-state, are no longer driving, or are deceased. Renewal rates are stratified based on policyholder tenure (i.e., one year, 2-4 years, and five or more years), but the one that matters most to Kevin is the renewal rate for customers who’ve been with him five or more years. Currently, this rate is 92 percent.

When I asked why he thought his renewal rates were so high, he mentioned that his company uses proprietary software that improves his organization, productivity, and responsiveness. It lists to-dos, runs reports, stores prewritten emails for common issues (such as buying a new home, adding an umbrella policy, scheduling a financial review, etc.), manages email campaigns, archives historical data (such as a past claim or a customer’s request for replacement auto insurance ID cards), and flags xDates (future dates that require Kevin’s attention). My homeowner’s policy, for instance, was flagged because my mortgage recently transferred to a new mortgage company. Because of this feature, when I contacted Kevin about a different matter, he was prompted to confirm the name of the new mortgage company to ensure the accuracy of his records. To me, this gesture demonstrates that Kevin is interested, engaged, and prepared. This instills confidence, which is the number one reason why customers choose to buy where they buy.

Another feature of the software alerts Kevin’s staff when a caller has not spoken personally with Kevin in the previous six months. If so, assuming Kevin is in the office and available, as the call is winding down they are instructed to say to the caller, “Do you have a few seconds? Kevin has a quick question for you.” Nearly everyone says “sure” and the call is then transferred to Kevin. This gives him a chance to personally check-in with clients to verify recent changes to their policies (such as the change in mortgage companies in my personal example above), follow up on a past claim, address concerns, etc. And since he’s also the past-president of a large local HOA with unique insight into local politics and area development, Kevin can often connect with customers on a personal level too.

Even with all the really cool software features at his disposal, Kevin still practices “old school” customer service by hand-signing correspondence that comes from his office and, in many cases, personalizing it further by adding a short note referencing an earlier conversation or the customer’s children – as Kevin also serves in leadership roles for a local youth sports league and high school football and baseball programs.

It’s well documented that current customers are infinitely more valuable than prospective customers. According to Gartner, 80 percent of future profits will come from 20 percent of existing customers. Research by Bain & Company revealed that increasing (current) customer retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 to 95 percent.

Given his agency’s 90-plus percent renewal rates, Kevin appears to be profiting from his approach. By expressing interest in the lives of his customers, reconnecting with callers he hasn’t spoken to in a while, and hand-signing correspondence that comes directly from his office, often adding a brief personal note, Kevin has established himself as the guy customers think of when they think about insurance. Clearly, when Kevin’s serving, he’s selling.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

This post was originally published on Pipeliner CRM Blog

A line in the sand

line in the sandIn 168 BC the Greek ruler, Antiochus led an attack on Egypt. Before reaching Alexandria, his path was blocked by a Roman envoy who delivered a message from the Roman Senate directing Antiochus to withdraw his armies from Egypt and Cyprus or consider themselves in a state of war with the Roman Republic.

Antiochus said he would discuss it with his council, whereupon the Roman ambassador instructed a soldier to draw a line in the sand around Antiochus. “Before you cross this circle,” said the ambassador, “I want you to give me a reply for the Roman Senate” (implying that Rome would declare war if the Greek ruler stepped out of the circle without committing to leave Egypt immediately). Weighing his options, Antiochus wisely chose to withdraw.

The above story recounts the origin of the “line in the sand” metaphor depicting confrontation, adversarialism, and ultimatum. And, while this conflict took place more than 2,000 years ago, similar showdowns between service providers and customers occur daily in a variety of forms such as: refusal to make exceptions, admonishment of customers for not knowing “the rules” (company policies, procedures, terms and conditions, etc.), and employee defensiveness or indifference toward critical customer feedback.

Here are three examples from my own experience (though, sadly, I could provide 33 examples if we had more time):

1.) As I approached the counter at an airport deli, I heard the customer ahead of me ask if the bread for his sandwich could be sliced thinner than those visible slices that had been pre-sliced. (The pre-sliced bread was quite thick and, as I learned, the customer had recently been diagnosed with TMJ syndrome – chronic pain that restricts how wide he can comfortably open his mouth.) The employee responded that the bread had been pre-sliced and could not be sliced thinner. The customer moved down toward the register, content to simply order a drink and a bag of chips. About that time, I noticed the open kitchen to the left where there were dozens of loaves of bread being stored on racks. I asked the employee if one of those loaves could be used to accommodate the customer who required thinner bread slices. At first she said no because, as she explained, the automated bread slicer used produced slices of standard thickness. Then I asked her if she had a bread knife behind the counter. At this point, she appeared to connect the dots and suggested that she may be able to honor the customer’s request after all. How many customers do you think will request thinner slices of bread at that airport deli today? Two? Three? Four? I’m not sure, but I can say this with certainty: these requests will be infrequent; they will be exceptions; and exceptions create opportunities to provide exceptional customer service.

2.) Last March, the branch manager at my neighborhood bank offered to print my last two months of statements for me (as we were refinancing our home through another lender). The following day, while reviewing transactions, I noticed a “statement printing fee” on my account in the amount of $6 (although there was no mention of a fee while I was at the bank). After taking to Twitter, the fee was promptly removed. A week or so later, the branch manager called me to apologize but actually made things worse by (subtly) admonishing me, saying three times during our call, “I’m just sorry that you felt as though you couldn’t come directly to me based on our relationship.” (Never mind that our “relationship” was based on a single encounter at the bank.) What she was really saying was, “Why did you broadcast my sneaky fee on social media?” Aside from the fact that customers should never be surprised by fees or terms and conditions they were not expressly made aware of in advance, they should feel free to use their preferred channel, Twitter or otherwise, when communicating with an organization.

3.) Over spring break this year, my family stayed at a resort at the base of Peak 7 in Breckenridge. On the day of our departure, we checked-out at 1pm, leaving the condo as the cleaning attendant arrived to prepare the unit for the next guests. We spent the next two hours in town shopping before leaving for home at 3pm. By 5:30pm we had arrived back at our house and were unpacking the car. It was then that my wife noticed that we were missing a bag. I called the resort and the employee at the desk said, “Yes, Mr. Curtin. Your bag’s sitting right here. Housekeeping found it in the unit and turned it over to the front desk.” When I asked her what time the bag was turned over, she said, “I’m not sure, but it’s been here since I arrived at 2 o’clock.” When I asked her why no one thought to call me (they have a record of my contact information, including cell phone and email address) during the previous four and a half hours, she claimed ignorance saying, “I don’t know. But if you have a FedEx account number, we can ship it to you – but not today, because they already picked up at 3:30pm.” So, four days and $65 later, we were reunited with the bag. This ordeal could have been avoided if someone at the resort had simply taken the initiative to notify me that I’d forgotten a bag before 3pm when I left Breckenridge for home.

Instead of jousting with customers over exceptions, not knowing “the rules”, or sharing critical feedback, employees should be trained to listen to them and (gasp!) empathize with customers by making the effort to connect with their unique circumstances, expectations, and perspectives. The next time you detect a line in the sand between you and your customers, consider inviting them across. That way, you can both be on the same side.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Being capable is not enough

TeamworkI was recently asked, “What is the biggest customer service challenge facing companies today?” My response was that it’s the same challenge companies faced last year, the year before that, and even 28 years ago: inconsistency of customer service quality and the customer experience.

The former head of SAS Airlines, Jan Carlzon, coined the term ‘moments of truth’ in 1987, referring to every time an employee of the company came into contact with a customer. Today, the same meaning is applied to ‘touchpoints along the customer journey’. While technology has enabled many more self-service options in 2015 than existed 28 years ago, customer interactions with employees persist and continue to have a disproportionate impact on overall customer satisfaction.

Regardless of how seamless one’s self-service check-in experience was for her latest flight, eventually she’s going to encounter an airline employee. And when she does, for better or worse, that interaction will supplant her check-in experience. No matter how user-friendly the technology or how flawless the omnichannel experience, ultimately a customer’s perception of service quality hinges on the nature of her one-on-one interaction with a service provider.

Too many companies focus myopically on the infrastructure and technology to support voice of the customer (VOC), customer experience (CX), and enterprise feedback management (EFM) processes and neglect their greatest customer experience asset and feedback source: competent, customer-focused, and engaged employees who are both capable AND inspired to consistently provide superior customer service.

A majority of companies employ capable workers who possess adequate job knowledge and demonstrate sufficient job skill. These employees know WHAT to do and HOW to do it. Where most companies fail (and where the consistency of customer service quality routinely breaks down) is they stop there, assuming that employees are now equipped to consistently deliver exceptional customer service.

What these companies overlook is the need to define and share the organization’s purpose, which informs employees about their highest priority at work. Employees need to know WHY they are doing WHAT they are doing HOW they are doing it. Instead of just being given something to work ON (duties and tasks), employees must be given something to work TOWARD (purpose).

The result is a workforce that is not only capable of providing superior customer service, but inspired to do so consistently.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

A rock-solid approach to being memorable

RockIn the book Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, the authors propose Six Principles of Sticky Ideas that contribute to a message being remembered as opposed to overlooked, disregarded, or forgotten. Those principles are: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories.

I spent my last eight years with Marriott working as a corporate trainer. One of the courses I co-facilitated with another instructor was a 3-day public speaking class. On days 2 and 3 of the class, each participant made an 8-10 minute presentation to the class that was evaluated by an instructor as well as his classmates. I bet I taught this class 40 times during my career. Given an average class size of 12, delivering two presentations each (of which I evaluated half), a couple of quick calculations suggest that I observed 480 presentations totaling 72 hours.

Today (perhaps nine years removed from my last class), of those presentations, I can vividly recall exactly one. It was in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2004. On the second day of the class, a participant named Chris stood before the group to share an important lesson that he learned as a child:

While in middle school, he had an altercation with another boy on the way home from school. At first they had only exchanged words from a distance, but then Chris picked up a small, triangular shaped rock and threw it in the direction of the boy, striking him right between the eyes and sending him running home crying.

Hours later, Chris’s father received a phone call from the boy’s parents explaining what had occurred and the fact that their son received several stitches above his nose and was continuing to apply ice to reduce the swelling around one eye. When his father hung up the phone, he confronted his son about the incident. Looking down in shame, Chris admitted to throwing the rock. With that, his father said, “Get your coat. We’re going for a drive.”

When he asked his father where they were going, he said, “We’re going to the place where you threw the rock.” During the drive, Chris’s father shared the details of the injury suffered by the boy. When they arrived at the scene of the altercation, the car pulled onto the shoulder, the two got out, and Chris was instructed to find the rock. Not just any rock – the very rock he had thrown.

Chris protested, saying, “Dad, it was a small rock. There are hundreds of rocks out here. How am I going to find the exact rock that I threw?” His father responded, “Well, I reckon you have about two hours of daylight left and, if you don’t find it by sunset, we can return with a flashlight.”

After an hour of scouring an area of brush, Chris found the small, triangular shaped rock – the actual rock he had thrown at the boy. When he presented it, his father said, “Son, starting right now, I want you to carry that rock with you at all times. Let it be a reminder of what happened here today and of your responsibility, to yourself and others, to always make a good choice. When I ask to see the rock, I want you to have it.”

As Chris shared this story, others in the class were visibly moved and drawn to the powerful lesson he learned that day so many years ago. What happened next produced a collective gasp from the entire group: with a deep sense of reverence, Chris removed from his pocket and held up a small, triangular shaped rock – the very rock he’d been carrying for years as a lasting reminder of a father’s lesson in personal responsibility.

Now, that was a memorable story, huh? Let’s apply the Heath brothers’ Six Principles of Sticky Ideas to see why:

Simplicity: The idea of accepting personal responsibility for one’s actions is quite simple.

Unexpectedness: I hadn’t expected Chris’s father to respond the way he did. Nor did I expect to see the actual rock that was the focal point of the story.

Concreteness: The rock itself was pretty concrete.

Credibility: Chris’s credibility peaked when he revealed to the class that, years later, he continued to honor his father’s request by carrying the rock with him at all times.

Emotions: Chris definitely evoked emotions (surprise, sympathy, empathy, interest, reverence, curiosity, sadness, regret, shame, outrage) from his audience.

Stories: The presentation itself was a story.

Think about your own situation. Whether you’re developing a presentation, writing a blog post, shooting a video, recording a podcast, or crafting a corporate mission statement, consider these principles and ways that you can apply them to make your ideas memorable.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

What’s in a name?

steveLast month I worked with a multinational retailer whose internal customer satisfaction survey analysis revealed some interesting findings: when they can recall an employee by name, customers’ overall satisfaction is 20 percent higher (from 69 percent to 89 percent) and their likelihood to return is 11 percent higher (from 76 percent to 87 percent).

The data also reveals that nearly half of all customers (47 percent) don’t encounter an employee on the sales floor. During my presentation at this retailer’s regional conference, I advised store leadership to set a positive example for their employees by being intentional about initiating customer encounters on the sales floor and by being purposeful in displaying and offering their names to customers. I wrote about ways to initiate customer encounters in an earlier blog post. Today, I’d like to focus on displaying and offering names.

Nametags are common throughout the service industry. So common are they, that many service providers don’t really think about them. I know this to be true because every other month, I review 80 pages of mystery shopper evaluations for a local shopping center. And every review period I see points deducted because employees are not wearing visible nametags.

The best companies are not casual when it comes to nametags. They recognize the importance of names and make employees’ nametags a part of the uniform standard. In other words, if the employee is not wearing a nametag, he’s out of uniform – just as if he was wearing sweatpants rather than slacks or flip-flops instead of dress shoes. Wearing a nametag also reassures customers that employees are, in fact, employees. (This is especially crucial in situations where employees work in security or enter customers’ offices or homes.)

Once the nametag is consistently worn, employees must be deliberate in offering their name to customers. Doing so has several benefits: it has the potential to elevate a transactional exchange to a relational experience, it reinforces the customer’s confidence that he will have a positive service experience (otherwise, why would the employee have offered to share his name?), and according to the above analysis, it may result in double-digit increases to overall customer satisfaction and likelihood to return.

So, what’s in a name? Lots of really positive stuff. So don’t be nonchalant about wearing nametags or offering your name to customers. Doing so separates extraordinary service providers from their ordinary counterparts.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration credit: Daniel Ruesch Design

Customer feedback: a gift that keeps on giving

Annoyed customer copyA study by Maritz Research and Evolve24 revealed that of 1,298 Twitter complaints, only 29 percent were replied to by the companies in question. Yesterday, during a phone interview, I was asked, “Why do you think company representatives choose to ignore feedback from customers – whether through Twitter, Facebook, or some other channel?”

My response was that leadership at many companies is primarily concerned with short-term results, while discounting the long-term benefits that result from listening to customers and (gasp!) acknowledging their complaints and/or suggestions for improvement. By choosing to ignore customer feedback, company leadership is violating the simple lesson most of us learned as children from Aesop’s fable, “The Goose with the Golden Eggs.”

In the story, a farmer had the good fortune to own a goose that laid a golden egg every day. But the farmer’s inability to delay gratification by thinking long-term led him to cut the goose open to obtain all the eggs TODAY! Of course, there were no golden eggs to be found – only a dead goose.

In the same way, company leadership tends to focus myopically on TODAY’S forecast, TODAY’S productivity, and TODAY’S P&L statement. This is widely understood to be the norm, although most business leaders would publicly endorse “long-term strategic thinking” and “customer lifetime value.”

But there’s another reason that customer feedback is ignored: lack of trust. In addition to not trusting the feedback source, there is skepticism about the assertions made and suspicion about one’s motives. Skepticism and suspicion tend to mute the “voice of the customer.” I liken this behavior to that of a self-righteous mother who questions the competency of the teacher who assigned her child a “C” grade. Or the headstrong father who disputes the logic of the coach who elects not to start his son in the big game.

Arrogance and obstinance cloud objectivity. When a customer complains, he is often seen as difficult rather than discerning and labeled a crank as opposed to a valued partner in the long-term success of the enterprise. And there’s little doubt the critical customer is ignorant to the unique challenges facing the business and, besides, is likely exaggerating his claims. Why even waste time and other resources responding to such a churl?

Here’s why: it’s the right thing to do. It’s also well documented that current customers are infinitely more valuable than non-customers. According to Gartner, 80 percent of future profits will come from 20 percent of existing customers. Research by Bain & Company revealed that increasing (current) customer retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 to 95 percent.

Given the choice, why would anyone willfully ignore customer feedback? Not only is feedback a gift, it’s a gift that keeps on giving in the form of increased customer retention, spending, profits, referrals, and other signs of customer loyalty.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

Here a tip, there a tip, everywhere a tip, tip…

Handscreditcard copyHave you noticed that lines to add tips before totaling amounts on charge slips and electronic point-of-sale (POS) systems have begun to show up in some unlikely places?

There are two independent coffee shops in my neighborhood that require customers to choose from a range of gratuities (pre-calculated in the amounts of 15, 20, and 25 percent) before signing to authorize the transaction. Customers choose to either add a tip or, sheepishly, decline by selecting the “No Tip” option.

I’m not against tipping and I frequently deposit the difference in change between the cost of my latte and a five-dollar bill. The issue I have with these types of POS systems is that they put the customer in the awkward position of selecting the “No Tip” option (which might as well say “Cheapskate”) if the only “service” provided was, in the case of the coffee shops, to sell the customer a one-pound bag of whole bean coffee.

Why does a customer have to choose whether or not to tip a cashier for selling him a bag of whole bean coffee? Imagine your local supermarket’s POS system suggesting that you add a tip or choose the “No Tip” option before completing your transaction. What about your dry cleaner? Maybe he should consider implementing a similar POS system in order to capture gratuities? After all, he has to expend the effort required to operate the garment carousel to retrieve his customers’ orders.

Last weekend, I visited the AMC Southlands 16 Theatres with my son and his friend. At the concessions, I bought a bucket of popcorn and three fountain drinks. Since I paid with a credit card, the cashier gave me a charge slip to sign that included lines to add a tip and total the amount charged to my credit card.

Seriously?

As if paying $25.39 for a bucket of popcorn (that I buttered myself at a self-service butter station) and three paper cups (that I filled myself at a self-service soda station) wasn’t bad enough, AMC Theatres suggested that I include a tip too! That’s ridiculous. Do they really expect customers to tip concession employees – who hand them a pre-filled bucket of popcorn and three paper cups – on top of famously exorbitant concessions prices?

When I presented this issue to AMC Guest Services on Twitter, a representative replied, “Non server/bartender Associates are not allowed to accept tips.” That’s not true. If it was true, then charge slips presented by non-server/bartender associates would not include lines for customers to add tips before totaling. I suspect that over the weekend, at AMC Southlands 16 and every other AMC Theatres location using the same POS system, every non-server/bartender associate who worked concessions processed charge slips that included tips.

If charge slips are presented to customers that include lines for adding tips and totaling the amounts to be charged, customers will feel obligated to tip (whether or not it’s deserved and, despite AMC Theatres’ claim, regardless of the employee’s job role). And some percentage of customers will add gratuities to the tip line. What AMC Theatres has to determine is whether these tips are being added enthusiastically on top of already high-priced (often self-service) concessions or, more realistically, begrudgingly; induced by a sense of obligation.

Businesses should not put unwelcome social pressure on customers to part with money they would rather keep. POS systems, whether at a coffee shop, movie theater, or elsewhere, should distinguish between full-service that warrants a gratuity and transactional service that doesn’t.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

Chance encounters by design

genuine-interest-copyI recently worked for a multinational retailer whose internal customer satisfaction survey analysis revealed some interesting findings: when they encounter an employee on the sales floor, customers have an overall better experience as evidenced by their reported 18 percent increases in both Overall Satisfaction and Likelihood to Recommend.

In addition to double-digit increases in Overall Satisfaction and Likelihood to Recommend (a key indicator of customer loyalty), customers who encounter an employee on the sales floor spend an average of 28 percent more. And if they are highly satisfied with the employee’s friendliness, then average spending increases another three percentage points to 31 percent more.

While a 31 percent increase in customer spending is substantial, the data also reveals that nearly half of all customers (47 percent) don’t encounter an employee on the sales floor. And this begs the question: “If we know that customers who report encountering an employee on the sales floor are more satisfied overall, more likely to recommend our store/brand to others, and spend an average of 28-31 percent more, why doesn’t every customer encounter an employee on the sales floor?”

If I were a store manager for this company, I would assemble my staff right away, share these findings, and then brainstorm ways that our team can be intentional about initiating customer encounters without being intrusive or appearing to hover. Below are some top-of-mind ideas that may emerge:

  • Initiate contact rather than waiting for customers to seek assistance
  • Practice the 15 x 5 Rule: Within 15 feet, make eye contact, smile, and nod (while looking for cues from the customer that she may require assistance). And within 5 feet, make eye contact, smile, and offer an appropriate greeting and offer of assistance (e.g., “Good morning! Is there something I can help you find?”)
  • Ask customers who have selected a clothing item if they would like assistance accessing a dressing room to try it on
  • Offer to retrieve a shopping cart for a customer holding several items
  • Anticipate needs: Scan for and approach customers who appear to be lost or looking for something (e.g., a public restroom, trash can, etc.)

The data is pretty clear: When customers (happen to) encounter employees, their overall satisfaction, likelihood to recommend, and spending increase. If this is true, then the corollary is true: when employees initiate encounters with customers, their overall satisfaction, likelihood to recommend, and spending (on average) will increase. Imagine the impact that employees can have on Overall Satisfaction, Likelihood to Recommend, and gross sales by increasing the total number of customer encounters (and thereby decreasing the percentage of customers who do not have an encounter with an employee) on the sales floor.

By encouraging employees to initiate customer encounters, these opportunities are not left to chance. Instead, these “chance encounters” occur by design. And when they do, the company fosters highly satisfied, if not delighted, customers who are 18 percent more likely to recommend the store/brand to others while spending 28-31 percent more, on average, than customers who do not encounter an employee on the sales floor.

What are you waiting for? Here comes a customer now…

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.