It’s very common practice to train employees that the customer is numero uno. It’s also common practice to spend the vast majority of time, resource and financial investment on those customers. But where does this leave your employees?
In a world where products can be replicated in record time, what often sets businesses apart is their culture, their mind-share and the intangible values they provide their customers. The power of a brand is built off of the sum of all experiences they have with you, but it’s the high-touch experiences (sales, customer service, project management, after sales support, etc) that trigger emotions – either good, bad or indifferent. Your employees can drive delight, create ire, or a whole host of emotions in-between. So, no matter how much time and money you invest in the customer, if your employees aren’t happy, it’s likely your customers won’t be either.
In the following video, Dan Pink breaks down what motivates employees to perform better. Contrary to popular belief, the answer is not financial incentives (although it is important to pay people enough so the subject of pay is off the table). It comes down to autonomy, mastery and purpose. My personal favorite, purpose, speaks to the desire for all of us to be inspired by our work. If we feel like we’re contributing to something, it simply makes work more enjoyable.
Herb Kelleher, the co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines believed that employees should come first. In his book, “From Nuts!”, he writes the following:
“…employees come first — even if it means dismissing customers. But aren’t customers always right? “No, they are not,” Kelleher snaps. “And I think that’s one of the biggest betrayals of employees a boss can possibly commit. The customer is sometimes wrong. We don’t carry those sorts of customers. We write to them and say, ‘Fly somebody else. Don’t abuse our people.”
Howard Shultz, the visionary of Starbucks, famously said:
“We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with consumers. Because we believed the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers was to hire and train great people, we invested in employees.”
And then there’s Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. He pays call centre employees a conservative $11/hr and does not have a 401K match. Yet his employees are extremely happy (one only needs to take a tour of his Las Vegas facility to see this first hand). Hsieh has created a corporate culture that is evangelized by employees with religious fervor. As he says, “I just want to have a company where people can hang out together and then come in to work the next day and not worry about whether they’ve done something stupid.” It sounds so simple, but the culmination of his unique corporate culture, philosophies and purpose-driven organization has resulted in some of the most amazing tales of customer service I’ve ever heard.
So, what do you think? Should the customer be #1 or the employee?
Photo via mrkumm
It’s never been more important to build raving fans. After all, we trust what other people like us have to say about brands more than what brands have to say about themselves.
Photo via AngelsWings
As a representative of your company, you are part of the corporate brand. When someone decides whether or not to buy your products or services they’re also determining whether they want you.
Just today, I went to my bank to meet with a new financial planner. Within 1 minute I wanted to run from the room, get in my car and never look back. Despite being with the company for over 9 years, he couldn’t clearly articulate his thoughts or his processes. A sentence that should have taken 30 seconds to say, took excruciating minutes. I was in the meeting for an hour and accomplished absolutely nothing. He inspired no confidence.
According to TARP research, a satisfied person tells 5-8 people, a dissatisfied person tells 10-16 people. But for every 1 person who complains, 26 don’t…they just dump you.
Before you think the resolution to my issue is as simple as giving someone else our financial portfolio to manage, ponder this:
Do you wait for people to complain or do you have a process to proactively understand their experiences with your brand?
When I worked agency-side, I spent more time than I care to remember behind one-way mirrors in research facilities. I sat in dimly lit room after room surrounded by bowls of peanut M&Ms, chips and all the bottled water I could possibly drink. I watched and listened as groups of 6-8 ‘consumers’ dissected their experience at shelf when choosing one bag of cookies over another. But for all of its woes, when done well, research can give us incredible insights into the minds of our customers.
These are all critical questions for any business to know the answer to…yet many don’t.
Since I began working with SMEs (small and medium enterprises), my exposure to research has come close to drying up. Many businesses within the events industry seem to forego formal dialogues with their customers. This is a shame because research can provide us with a window into your customer’s thoughts, providing those who listen with a big competitive advantage.
It’s a mandate of mine to do research with existing and lapsed customers when I work with a new client. Let me give you an example. I’m working with a client right now on developing their brand strategy. I have a list of 17 companies to call. After connecting with just 4, I can already see patterns of frustrations with their target market about the entertainment industry and have uncovered 2 ‘very easy to implement’ business ideas that will solve their frustrations. I am also starting to get a true sense of how my client is perceived in the marketplace. It’s one thing to ask my client what other people think of them…it’s far more insightful to go to those people directly.
1) Know what you want to achieve . One of the most important questions to answer before you begin with research is “What am I looking to get out of the call”. In the example I gave above, my objectives were to find out 1) How my client was perceived in the marketplace and 2) What frustrations their clients encounter when booking entertainment.
2) Ask the right questions . Having an objective is one way of helping you hone your questions. However, it’s a natural tendency to want to ask every question you can. This is not a good use of your time nor your customer’s. Keep your questions to a minimum and ask yourself, “Is this question going to answer my objective(s)?”.
3) Call, don’t email . We’re all inundated with emails. None of us have enough time in the day. Knowing this, how effective will it be to email your customers with questions? For most SMEs it’s perfectly feasible to call your customers as you’re not dealing with a list of thousands. A two-way dialogue will also allow you to dig deeper on insights that may arise in your conversation.
4) Communicate value . When you call your customers to ask for their time, tell them what’s in it for them. In the case of my client, it was as simple as saying that their feedback would help us continue to build a better experience for them.
5) Consider outsourcing . If you call your customers they may hold back from being honest for fear of hurting or insulting you. The benefit of a third party is that fear is diminished. Ensure if you’re hiring someone that they are clear with your contacts that they are phoning on behalf of your company but do not work for you. Also, make sure you hire someone you feel will do a good job representing your business, someone who can work off-script in order to get the best insights and someone who can disseminate through the research to extract patterns and help you uncover ideas and solutions.
When have you used research to better an experience for your customers? What tips would you provide to others to get the best out of their efforts?
I have been pondering whether to buy an iPad for about a month. Yesterday I took the leap. I went to apple.ca and bought my little bundle of joy as well as all of the accessories I could possibly need.
On the Apple website, it said that shipments would be made in 7-10 business days. As soon as I clicked ‘purchase’ I was verklempt to see on my receipt that it wouldn’t be shipped for 15 business days. I couldn’t wait that long so this morning I went into Best Buy to purchase my iPad and left the store with it.
I tried to cancel my Apple.ca shipment online. I couldn’t – it says that the accessories I bought have already been shipped. I call Apple, wait for 40 minutes until someone in customer service picks up my call (let’s name my rep Kelly Fickler). I tell Kelly that I want to cancel my order. Kelly tells me that some items were just shipped. I say fine, I’ll return them for a refund. Kelly tells me there will be a 10% restocking fee. I say NO WAY! The reason I’m returning the items is that Apple didn’t meet the timelines they promised on their website. Kelly calls me MA’AM. I ask for a supervisor.
She puts me on hold for 10 minutes. Yes, 10 minutes! Then, after speaking to her supervisor, she comes back on the phone to say she can waive the 10% restocking fee (magic).
THE REST OF THIS STORY IS NOT A JOKE…
Kelly asks me what I do. I say I’m in branding. She then proceeds to tell me that she was raised on a farm. Another lady once told her she was in branding. Kelly thought she meant cows. She then says that her family calls her pineapple – blond on the inside and brunette on the outside. She doesn’t know why they say pineapple. She says that coconut would be a better description.
A lot of businesses I speak to raise a common issue with social media: “If I start participating online, doesn’t that open my business up to customers complaining or saying negative things about us?”. My response is always: “How do you know they’re not saying negative things about your business right now?”. Crickets. Me: “What listening tools are you using to monitor what people are saying about you and your competitors right now?”. Crickets. “Just because you’re not participating…and worse, not listening, doesn’t mean that people aren’t talking about your business. It just means you don’t know about it AND that you can’t leverage those conversations into opportunities for your business.”
Social media consists of millions of conversations taking place online. We talk about what we love, what we hate, what we’re experiencing. We ask people for advice and we provide advice. If you’re not listening, you’re likely missing out. Here are 10 examples…
In less than 3 minutes you can monitor conversations related to your business. A while back, I posted How to use Twitter to search for customers (you can do the same thing in LinkedIn or even across a wide net of social media sites, blogs & forums). It’s a simple way to follow conversations about a topic, industry or keywords. Why let your competitors find these prospects first?
Third party recommendations are one of the most powerful forms of marketing. If you’ve done a great job for a client, they may be endorsing your products or services to others. Why let a recommendation go un-thanked? Also, a good number of recommendations aren’t followed through. Instead of leaving it up to the other party to follow up with you, you can follow up with them…but only if you’re listening.
Not all businesses can track their best customers – usually because they’re high volume or quick sale merchants. Tools like Foursquare tell businesses which customers who ‘check in’ to their establishment visit the most. Smart businesses are thanking these loyal customers by publicly recognizing them and rewarding them with free gifts, exclusives and other VIP perks.
I’m in the process of coaching one of my clients on social media. As part of his ‘homework’, I asked him to comment on 3 questions posted on linked in, blogs or other industry-related sites. He provided his opinion on a question posted on Brandchannel.com. Because I was monitoring my client’s name using Google Alerts, I came across a writeup from Brandchannel.com that summarized the best responses to their question. My client’s was one of three. His opinions made it to one of the most prestigious industry publications in the branding & marketing industry. Without monitoring, he would never have known.
Is it really a bad thing to hear that people have issues with your products or services? Sure people complaining about you isn’t great. If enough people do it, it means there’s a problem. But it’s what you do with that information that can be one of the best things for your business. You can pretend it’s not happening or you can listen & try to solve the problem. Comcast did the latter and, as a result, elevated their reputation.
What do you do when you attend an event? Beyond the drinking and revelry, there’s usually a lot of picture taking. This is an amazing resource for planners who use pictures and video to tell their story. Listening to conversations about your event can turn up some amazing photographs. I’ve bore witness to an incredible number of great photos being shared on Facebook for an event called Engage!10 (but more on that later…hint, hint). How great for the planner to see perspectives on their event from the guests. It also gives planners the opportunity to approach guests to ask if they can use photos for promotional material, website, award entries, you name it.
Knowing what your competitors are doing is a great advantage in business. Monitor their brand name and you could unlock insights on new clients, organizational changes, new hires and get a feel for how they’re marketing themselves.
Often times we look to industry publications for news…and they can be a brilliant and credible source. But the reality with print is that editorial lead times are pretty long. Listening through social media allows you to capture real time news, as it happens.
…Give me a few more minutes and I’ll double this list. Bottom line – just start listening. A few minutes of time will net you more information on your business, your competitors, your industry and your target than you’ve ever had before.
Stay tuned for Step by Step instructions on how to listen.