How to deliver excellence – it isn’t an accident.

August 10, 2016

deliver excellenceI’ve never met a business owner or leader who didn’t want the employees of their organization to deliver excellence. And the truth is – most employees want that too. They want to work for an organization that allows and even encourages them to go above and beyond for the people they serve.

Sadly, most employers believe that as long as they have this genuine desire and their employees share in it — they’re all set. But excellence doesn’t happen by accident.

The best companies in the world – the ones who get kudos for the customer experience every day like Disney, Southwest Airlines and Zappos, all invest heavily in training because they know that the true strength of their company’s brand rests on the shared values and common behaviors of their leadership and staff.

Zappos puts every newly hired employee through an intensive four-week training program that goes beyond orientation and also covers brand values, strategy and culture. One week in, Zappos makes what they call “The Offer,” a $1,000 bonus to any employee that will quit on the spot. The goal is to identify those who don’t embrace the brand and make sure they never get to talk to a customer.

Disney starts every new cast member, regardless of their job title, in a three-day class called Traditions. A housekeeper might be sitting next to a VP of operations or the next Cinderella. Together they learn all about the values, history and traditions of Disney. They are taught that every guest at the park is expecting something magical to happen, and it is their job, no matter what their actual job is, to make that happen.  After that training, and only after it has been completed, every cast member learns his or her actual job.

Disney cast members all learn and live by The Disney Cast Member Promise:

  • I project a positive image and energy
  • I am courteous and respectful to all Guests, including children
  • I stay in character and play the part
  • I go above and beyond

That promise and how the cast members honor it didn’t happen by accident. It was carefully crafted and even more carefully and consistently trained.

So how about you and your company? Do you invest in training your people? Do you have a way to discover and share your core values and how you want those values translated into behaviors?

You need to figure out what your core values are and how you’re going to teach/translate them to your team. And guess what – teaching them once isn’t enough. You need to weave those values into their daily experience as an employee so they’re surrounded and immersed in them.

Do you have a plan for getting that done?


How hard is your website working?

June 1, 2016

Website WorkingIs your website working for you?  Believe it or not, websites came into being in the mid-1990s. Only twenty years later – what seemed like an oddity back then is mission critical today.

For the first few years, many businesses were trying to understand why in the world they’d ever want a website. Today, it’s a very rare business of any size that doesn’t have a presence online.

Back when websites first came into being, the sites that did exist were little more than a digital brochure with some photos and text that validated the business.

Fast forward to 2016 — if your website isn’t one of your most useful marketing/sales workhorses — you’re missing the boat. Today’s buyers do 60-70% of their shopping online before they ever shoot you an email, pick up the phone or visit your store. This is especially true if you’re a considered purchase of any kind.

They’re not coming to your website because they’re looking for your sales pitch. They’re looking for information and reassurance. They definitely want to learn more about your product/services but they also want to get a sense of your company and the people they’d be dealing with. They want to know if you’re a good fit.

They’re probably not ready to buy after just one visit or point of contact. You’ll need a way to keep in touch with them until they are ready. How are you capturing their email address and what value are you offering for it? Your goal is to keep the conversation going.  Is your website working well for you in this regard?

Consider the following questions to get your website working overtime for you.

Do you have a call to action/way for your web visitors to stay in touch “above the fold” on your website? In other words, can they contact you, subscribe to an email newsletter or access some content you’re offering – all without any scrolling? When scoring pages, Google gives priority to content above the fold. Don’t waste this valuable space on just having a large header or image on pages within your site or blog articles.

Does it pass the squint test? Look at your website and squint. Does the ONE thing you want your visitors to do pop out at you? You do have one thing you want everyone to do, right? Make it a bold button or do something to make it pop off the page. You want it to be that obvious.

Do you talk about yourself all over your site or use the space to make your visitor smarter? Make them smarter by teaching them something useful to show them what it would be like to work with you. This is your opportunity to help. The more helpful and focused on educating them you are, the more you are earning their trust and respect.

Where are your visitors going on your site? Thanks to Google Analytics and other tools, you can pay attention to which pages your visitors are looking for/spending time on. That information will help you determine the hot topics that you should focus on in your content development and other communications.

Who will sing your praises? Word of mouth is a powerful tool you should use on the web. Potential customers will be watching for a hard sell or you blowing smoke up their skirt. But even the biggest skeptics appreciate hearing from people just like them who had a good experience. Use testimonials, links to review sites and any third party endorsements to reassure your web visitors that you’re the real deal.

Be ready to review your site with a critical eye. Remember, your web visitors didn’t just happen upon your site. They’re there for a purpose. Be sure you help them achieve their goal, which will serve your goals.  Get that website working for you.


Bookend Your Customer’s Trust

April 13, 2016

customer experience

Every business says that they are focused on their customer and earning their customer’s trust. What many of them really mean is that they’re focused on the customer’s wallet. Their strategies are about selling more, not helping more.

Want to stand out from your competitors? Then, commit (or recommit) to genuinely building your business around how to best serve your customers and prospects, knowing that in the end, they will reward you with their business.

Research indicates that in most cases, if an organization’s customers are surveyed about 80% of them will indicate that they’re satisfied. Many business leaders will embrace that number, a little afraid to dig in deeper. But satisfaction isn’t what it is all about. The real metrics are based on these two questions:

  • Will you re-purchase this business’ products and services?
  • Would you recommend this business to your family, friends and colleagues?

To create a business that earns a resounding yes to those two questions, you should consider implementing a comprehensive program that encourages you to think about the customer at every stage, but especially at the very beginning and right after the actual sale.

Front End: From the first sentence on your website to your direct mail and TV spots – your marketing should be helpful. Think about what your prospects need to know to make an informed decision and help them get there.

Avoid hype and what we call weasel words. Just give them the scoop. Be straightforward and warn them about any pitfalls they might encounter. Even if that means they decide not to buy what you sell.

Create tools (YouTube videos, PDFs they can download, questions they can ask their team etc.) that help your prospects evaluate your offerings and match them to their needs. Give them a number where they can ask an actual human a question or two.

The more honest you are at this stage – the more they’ll be reassured that they can trust you throughout the process. This honesty includes being transparent when someone has something negative to say – be it on your Facebook page, Yelp profile or anywhere else online. Address the complaint right there, in front of everyone so they can see that you’re open to concerns.

Back End: Believe it or not, very few companies make the effort to really follow up after the sale. I’m not talking about the “thanks for your business” form letters. I’m talking about actually asking for feedback via a detailed survey or phone call. I honestly think a lot of organizations are afraid to ask for fear that the customer will actually tell them.

If you have the courage to ask – be sure you follow up on the follow up. Let your customers know what you learned (either directly back to that specific customer or to all your customers) and tell them what you’re going to do to correct the issue, if there was a problem.

People are much more likely to tell you the truth (good and bad) if they know you’re actually going to do something with the information.

Demonstrating that you care about someone else has a lot to do with earning their trust. Imagine how a customer would feel about your company if you had earned their trust from the get go, with honest marketing that genuinely helped them figure out if they should buy your product. Then, you sealed the deal by asking for their candid take on how you did and made course corrections if there’s room for improvement.

That’s a customer who will keep coming back for more and bring their friends along with them. That’s a satisfaction score you can take to the bank.


Let your customers help you make it memorable

February 9, 2016

let your customers helpIn last week’s post we explored the importance of creating a memorable experience for your customers. Today’s customers are one click away from finding someone else to meet their needs which means you need to knock them dead every time.

While your competitors can match your prices, copy your products or services and even hire away your staff but they can’t replicate a unique customer experience. The question, of course, is – exactly what would that experience be?

The good news is we’re not talking about erecting a circus tent and putting on a show. We’re talking about making doing business with you simple, fast and without any hiccups – all flavored with your brand’s essence.

Here’s the best part. Your customers will help you craft the experience they want most. If you let them.

Get smarter: The first step is to listen, learn and share what you’ve discovered. You need to gather information about your offerings and your clients. In terms of your offerings, you need to anticipate what your prospects and customers might need to know. You also need to anticipate what your employees might need to know as they serve your customers.

You also need to capture as much information as possible about your customers. The best source? You guessed it — your customers. Start talking to them more. Find out what they worry about. Find out why they do or don’t buy for the second time. What would make it twice as easy to do business with you? These are the kinds of questions you need to be asking.

Another way to learn from your customers is to observe how they interact with every portal into your company. Where do they go on your website? What do they ask when they call or email? What size, feature or option do they gravitate towards?

Equip your team to deliver: This is one of the spots that constantly trips up companies.   The leadership team or marketing department put together new processes or policies but the details don’t ever trickle down to the front line staff. They’re expected to seamlessly deliver a remarkable experience but it’s news to them.

Better yet – let your front line team help you make the experience better. No one has more encounters with your clients so make sure their voice is part of the mix. Here’s the rub. No matter what you create, it won’t be quite right at first.  This is where your customer facing team is most important.   They’ll be the ones who can detect the flaws and suggest improvements.

All of this is only going to work if you invest enough time up front to get all the input from all levels of the organization and that you also build a feedback mechanism that allows you to gather reactions and issues so you adjust.

Wrap it with your brand: Making it easier to do business with you is one thing. And it’s an important thing. But what makes the customer experience you create genuine and something so unique that your competitors can’t mimic it is putting your brand’s stamp on every aspect of the encounter.

What does that look like? Look in the mirror. Is your company very buttoned up and serious about security? Are you playful and tongue in cheek? Do you have elaborate systems and processes? Think about how your customer perceives your organization. Identify what drew your best customers to you in the first place and figure out how to weave that throughout all your interactions.

Creating an experience that makes your customer feel valued, appreciated and heard is a powerful way to not only create customers for life but customers who can’t help but bring their friends along.


Marketing idea: What does your customer experience?

January 26, 2016

marketing idea - what does your customer experienceThe concept of creating a memorable customer experience is nothing new. Companies like Disney, Zappos and Ritz Carlton have become famous for how their customers rave about doing business with them. Who doesn’t know the famous Ritz Carlton line “we are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen?”

So the concept has been around for a while, but I predict it will take on new importance in 2014 and beyond. The digital fishbowl that every business lives in today makes every nuance of every interaction a potential powder keg. It used to be that focusing on the customer experience was what the big companies did or how the top 10% thought differently than everyone else. But today it’s not a nicety; it’s a necessity.

Here’s why:

Because one slip up can cost you plenty. Your customers possess the ability to skewer you with a single Facebook post or online review. It seems as though people are rather quick on the social media draw when it comes to taking a shot at a business that has done them wrong.

Just this last week, one of my Facebook friends shared a bad restaurant experience. At the beginning, she did not reveal the name of the establishment, but as people told their own stories and started trying to guess where she had been, she finally revealed it. Others started chiming in with their own horror stories about the place.

Guess what – I’m never going to eat there. Small example but it’s happening every day to companies big and small.

You know more, so they expect more. Thanks to all of the digital data we now collect, the databases we can build (whether we do or not), the very public lives people live and how easy it is to be connected to a business through social media, e-newsletters, websites, actual interactions etc.

Whether we’ve been paying attention or not, our customers are telling us more about themselves every day. They like our Facebook page updates or they redeem a certain offer. They choose to attend our business after hours event or they refer a friend. In every one of those actions is data. The question becomes – what are we doing with what we learn?

If we don’t create an amazing experience, someone else will. Let’s say you don’t own a computer and neither do your customers. (I know…fat chance, but go with me here) Unless you have no competition – all of this still pertains to you. You cannot compete if you don’t delight. You may not be at risk for the cyber blasting that review sites and peer networks allow for but you’re still fighting for their business every day.

Someone will figure out a way to make the transaction helpful, easy and/or fun. This affords them two things. First, it gives them the crack in the door to get in with your customer and eventually, steal them away. Second and perhaps even more annoying, it allows them to charge a premium price. So not only will your customers ditch you, but they’ll also pay your competitor more.

I don’t care if your product or service is better. I don’t care if your product or service yields better results. The truth is, people will settle for a good enough product or service if the experience of acquiring it is special enough. You cannot rely on just being better.

Right or wrong — your customer is judging you every step of the way. And deciding if they’re coming back for more based on that interaction.


Marketing Tip #47: What’s your oops plan?

January 26, 2016

what's your oops planEvery business needs to have an oops plan — a pre-determined course of action that allows you to make amends with your customers when something goes wrong.

This isn’t something you can create on the fly — it needs to be something that is rehearsed and ready to take off the shelf at a moment’s notice.  Because even the biggest organizations drop the ball. Even my beloved Disney.

I spent a long weekend at Disney World recently. Disney has a system called Fast Passes that allow guests to pre-register to ride some of their more popular rides.

At the pre-determined time, the guest shows up and goes into an expedited line that gets them on the ride in a fraction of the time that the normal line would take.

At Epcot, the ride in greatest demand right now is called Soarin’ and it’s not unusual for the regular line to have a wait time in excess of 90 minutes. So a Fast Pass to Soarin’ is worth it’s weight in gold since it reduces the wait time to about 15 minutes.

Being a regular Disney goer, I’d secured Fast Passes for the ride. We were in next group to ride when one of the cast members announced that everyone needed to leave the building immediately. When pressed, one of the cast members said there had been a fire alert triggered and although they were sure there was no fire, better safe than sorry.

As we dig into this case study, keep in mind:

  • They evacuated everyone in line, both Fast Pass holders and the people who had been patiently waiting for over an hour.
  • For most people, a trip to Disney World is a once in a lifetime event. They’ve saved for years and have planned out their days to maximize every moment.
  • Most Disney guests only budget one day for each of the major parks, which means if they don’t get to see something that day – they won’t see it at all.
  • The people holding the Fast Passes had already used them – they’re only good once so the effort they went to secure them was wasted.

When someone asked if they could re-use their Fast Pass, another cast member told them to visit the information desk outside the attraction and they’d probably be able to help.

Within the three minutes of the evacuation announcement, cast members were lined up every 10 feet (we left the building through an emergency exit that took us into space that guests are not normally allowed) to guide the guests back to Epcot’s public space. So clearly they’d rehearsed the evacuation process. Everything was orderly and safe.

But it had no Disney magic. Here’s what they missed:

No one apologized for the disappointment or inconvenience: When you mess up, more than anything else your customer wants to know that you’re genuinely sorry and understands their disappointment and frustration.

They didn’t proactively tell everyone how to get a make good: Customers know that sometimes things don’t go according to plan. They’re willing to go with the flow, but they want to know how you’re going to make it up to them and that you’ve thought about it before they ask.

The cast members were not well informed: The very people who had to deal with the customer knew the least. They didn’t know how long the ride would be closed or how people could check to see if it was back up. Don’t leave your team in the dark if they have to deliver some bad news to your customer. Make sure they have the answers.

If customer magic maker Disney can mess up, then we’re at risk too.

Take some time to identify the danger zones where you could potentially disappoint a customer. Figure out where you’re vulnerable and outline how you’d like to handle both fixing the problem and resolving your customer’s frustrations that it happened.

Meet with your entire team to review your oops plan. Then, get it in writing and review it regularly with your team so that when a mistake happens – you all are ready.


Building a great brand means going the extra mile

August 1, 2013

My Briggs & Riley bag

My Briggs & Riley bag

Want a great brand? Building a great brand means going the extra mile. Let me give you an example.

I travel a lot so I decided it was time to invest in a suitcase that could take the beating that 100+ flights a year dishes out without having to be replaced every year.  So after doing more research than a suitcase purchase should require, I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a Briggs & Riley suitcase.

Keep in mind, I’m usually a run to Target and buy a bag kind of guy.  So this was a big money decision for me.

I made the investment because the bag is guaranteed for life.  Here’s how they talk about their guarantee:

If your Briggs & Riley bag is ever broken or damaged, even if it was caused by an airline, we will repair it free of charge – Simple as that! Here’s how the Briggs & Riley Simple as that® guarantee works:

A. Simple bag repairs – you can send or bring your bag to a local Authorized Repair Center. No repair number is needed. Please note that you are responsible for any freight charges incurred when shipping your bag to an authorized repair center.

B. Badly damaged bags – we recommend sending them directly to Briggs & Riley at one of our Official Company Repair Centers.

Our ‘Simple as That®’ guarantee will cover the repair of all functional aspects of your Briggs & Riley bag for life.

In my mind, that meant:

  • It would last a really, really long time before anything broke, ripped or didn’t work
  • It would be easy to get it fixed, if I ever had to
  • These people really care about their customers

I love the bag.  It’s easy to pack an entire week’s worth of stuff into, if I need to.  Shirts and sports coats travel well and come out pretty wrinkle free.  So I’m happy.

photo[2]_optFast forward to 10 months after the purchase.  The bag has a rip in it.

So I go to the B&R website and complete a form.  It’s relatively painless (who knew a suitcase could have a serial number?) and I submit it.  Unfortunately, because there were no authorized repair centers in my area, I had to send my bag back to Briggs & Riley.

The email telling me this gave me all the information I needed but didn’t express any sentiment or apology for the fact that I was going to be inconvenienced.

I had to take the bag to a UPS store because really — who has a box big enough for a large suitcase laying around.  By the time I bought the box and paid for the shipping, it was close to $100.  Lovely.

photo_optThen, I waited.  And waited.  I didn’t hear anything from Briggs & Riley.  It had been a few weeks and I was just about to reach out to them via their website when voila, my repaired suitcase arrived with this card that outlines what got fixed.  And that’s it.

So let’s review.

  • Briggs & Riley makes expensive and well crafted bags
  • They guarantee the bag for life and will repair the bag for free
  • They make it simple to get the bag repaired
  • They honored their promise — fixed my bag and sent it back to me

So they follow all the best business practices.  They make a quality product and charge a premium for it. They back their product with a rock solid guarantee and then they honored that guarantee.

They did it all right. And yet….they screwed it up at every turn.  They had so many opportunities to build a bond and their brand and they whizzed by every one of them.

When someone pays a ridiculous amount of money for something you sell — they want to be reassured that they made a good call.  they want to be your fan.  Let me say that again — they want to be your fan.  But you have to extend the invitation and make the effort.

If I was the Director of Marketing for Briggs & Riley, here’s what I would do different:

  1. When someone buys one of our bags and registers it (with the serial # etc) I would send them a hand signed thank you note from the CEO/President, welcoming them into the B&R family and inviting them to join our customer exclusive club
  2. Our club would offer travel tips for the seasoned road warrior, packing tips etc.
  3. Every holiday season, we’d send a small gift (like B&R luggage tags) to the members of our club.
  4. If someone came to our website to report a damaged bag, we’d have them fill out the form but the email confirmation/reply would outline what they should expect, in terms of time frame etc.  It would also offer a sincere apology that they have to be inconvenienced by not having their bag.
  5. We’d have a suitcase loaner program.  No one spends that kind of money on a suitcase unless they travel a lot.  We’d offer to ship them a clean, used bag to use while theirs is in our shop.  All they’d have to do is pay to ship it back.  (I doubt very many people would accept this offer…but the gesture matters)
  6. When their bag arrived at our repair center, we’d notify them that it had arrived and give them an estimated date for the return of their bag.
  7. Sometime during the repair timeframe, we’d send them a funny video about their bag recovering from its surgery and as soon as it was released…it was headed back home.
  8. In the box with the returned bag, we’d send them a thank you note from the repair team, thanking them for their confidence in Briggs & Riley and apologizing again for the hassle.
  9. In 30 days after the bag was returned — they’d get a letter from us, asking if the bag is now performing to Briggs & Riley standards.

Most of those ideas wouldn’t cost very much money.  But each one would get one step closer to creating a brand zealot — someone who raves about their bag and convinces other people to buy one too.

Building a brand doesn’t have to cost a fortune. It’s about doing what’s right and then asking yourself — what else could we or should we do? And then doing it.  That’s how you create a love affair with your customers.

Don’t rest on your great product. In today’s hyper competitive world, you have to do a lot better than that.

Enhanced by Zemanta