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Look after your staff and they will look after your customers

Shift Employment filmsFortune magazine rates the top ten best companies to work for every year and interviews someone from each organization. None of the employees rated pay, rewards, or advancement as the reasons they enjoyed their jobs.

SAS scored number one as the best company to work for, and the employee interviewed spoke candidly about the company’s efforts to make her feel like part of a family. As a young mother, the childcare facilities were so convenient she was able to check on her children several times a day and even join them for lunch. ” You can’t put a price on that,” she stated.

Edward Jones ranked second on the list. Particularly impressive for the employee was being able to pick her location, design her practice, (financial adviser) and hire her own staff. Everything about the company is unique including a reimbursement plan for a pending adoption the employee had been pursuing.

Wegmans Food Markets ranked number three, and has been rated as one of  the best grocery stores in the nation. For employees there has never been a layoff in the company’s 94 year history. There are 4,000 employees, and 11% of the workforce has been there for more than 15 years.

So what makes people want to work at these companies, and why are these companies so successful? It’s not so much about the paycheck or the rewards; it’s more about emotions. People enjoy varied work, and they want to work in an environment where they can become passionate about a company, and that starts with the leaders of the organization. Excellence inspires excellence, and when people are led by exemplary examples of passionate, sincere, and honest leaders, employees get passionate about what they do.

The top three companies make their employees feel like the workplace is an extension of home; being treated like members of a large family. Colleagues support each other, and everyone matters when they come to work. In a recent interview with Doria Camaraza, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Fort Lauderdale Service Center for American Express, Ms. Camaraza made a point to regularly meet with the customer care professionals, not just about social issues, but what is important to the employee and to American Express.

How employees are treated sharply reflect how they treat customers. When leadership shows positive, confident, and trustworthy conduct, employees will feel the same way about their jobs which ultimately determines their motivation, job satisfaction, and productivity. Companies build their reputations, and when people are proud to work there, that which makes a company distinctive becomes their service culture.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Initiate high quality training programs.
  • CEO and all leaders need to be available.
  • Encourage employees with positive feedback.
  • Encourage new ideas and innovative thinking.
  • Respect employees for having both work and family lives.
  • Be fair and consistent.
  • Encourage employees to own their customers and work out problems. Offer assistance when needed.
  • Encourage feedback.
  • Be an example for employees.
  • Reward employees for stepping out of the box and taking initiative above and beyond.

photo credit: shiftstigma

Customer feedback gets personal

There aren’t too many receipts we get from retailers nowadays that don’t offer us some kind of reward to log on to a  short customer service survey about our customer experience. Yesterday I purchased dog food from Petco; hence a receipt offering me $2.00 off my next purchase in exchange for answering questions, and then onto Office Depot with another receipt offering a discount to log in and answer some questions. Of course, companies use these customer feedback surveys to gain more insight into their brands, but I often wonder how does a company know how I really feel about my shopping experience without asking me to actually describe it? Answering a question about my in store experience buying copier toner by rating the display on a “one to ten”  scale doesn’t necessarily reflect my experience that on this particular visit the display was moved to another part of the store, set up differently, and it took me twice the amount of time to find the toner colors I needed.

Competition is so fierce that standard brand and customer experience feedback questions with repetitive numbers are being replaced by open-ended questions where customers can actually articulate their own views and feelings about products and services. Kampyle, a provider of feedback analytics claim they can figure out why a customer has abandoned their shopping cart. Based on statistics, 29% of users will leave their phone numbers when submitting feedback, and 60% will give their real email addresses. When the company allows customers to steer conversations based on their needs, wants, opinions, and questions, feedback gets more personal.

So how do structured data analysis feedbacks work? For sure they are less precise, but companies agree they are “good enough.” Software spots negative and positive comments specific to the organization. For Choice Hotels and Gaylord Hotels, data will reflect service, rooms, and employee behaviors; tracking trends both good and bad. Keywords such as “wouldn’t return” or “wouldn’t recommend” are recognized, and what used to take weeks and weeks to interpret when done by hand can now be applied immediately.

The software is not without its problems however. Huge companies like BP with diverse operations with clients using  50 different languages would have a difficult time analyzing content. Can any of these automated coding programs capture feedback in different languages or with broad and diverse medical, financial, or legal feedback? Can this technology even understand some of the subtle nuances that could make a difference to clients and customers in selective companies?

So we revert back to social media where we can verbalize our feelings and comments and make a major difference in branding and customer service. Just last week GAP launched an online campaign to introduce their new logo, but when 1000 angry customers posted negative comments on GAP’s Facebook, Marka Hansen, president of GAP in North America announced she and her staff had “been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week” and returned to their original ‘blue box’ logo. So whether GAP did this entire online campaign just to get people talking, it worked and provided us with another lesson in the power of social networking and its effect on customer feedback.

Create a vision for excellent customer service

Holiday Extras Customer's Awards picturesEvery call, email, chat, or visit to a company’s website is a unique experience for an organization to differentiate itself  from their competition. More than price, since companies vie for the best prices all the time, is to make truly lasting impressions in order to win customer loyalty. In an information driven society, where anyone can research brands as easily as connecting to the internet, customer service is apt to be the winning difference.

It’s going back to basics that drives the train of success. Using the analogy of a train, the depots may have improved in their appearances with more comfortable benches, but the destinations are still the same. Companies may have larger, more inviting stores, but providing superior service is still what sets apart Zappos from ABC Shoes. They both have the same merchandise, but one just does it better. Admittedly,companies like Zappos can afford to spend millions on developing their brand loyalty, but didn’t they all start out small and learn from their own mistakes?

So what comprises quality customer service and how can we do it better? It’s not so complicated if we break it down to what each of us as customers truly want from a company selling us shoes or service. Here are some of the basics I learned:

  • Listen to what customers want. Make me a priority when I am in your store. If I am browsing your website, have what I want in your inventory because you have researched what shoppers like me want.
  • Make my shopping experience easy. If I’m on your website, make it user-friendly for me. I’d appreciate if you didn’t charge for shipping, and if you have a really easy return policy too. If I visit your store, have sales staff available for questions when I need help. Please smile at me when I come in so I feel important and welcome.
  • Listen to my complaints. Don’t make excuses when your company messes up.
  • Don’t use canned speeches on me when I call. I trust that you are educated enough to speak for your company without having to read a script. I trust your company has the confidence in you to be able to make decisions affecting our customer relationship.
  • Don’t take it personally. That was an unfair charge you levied on my account, and I have grown tired and irritated that the charge has not been removed in spite of four previous conversations with the customer resolution staff. My time is valuable.
  • Respond to me within 24 hours. I know how to use Twitter and Facebook, and I will tell others.
  • Communicate with me. Tell me what you are going to do to help me. Don’t tell me to call back at the end of the week when it is your company’s error.
  • Make me feel like you understand how I feel. Don’t get defensive.
  • Take my feedback on your company as help to make your company better. I am probably not the only customer out here feeling this way.
  • Resolve my problem.

photo credit: Holidayextras

Use social CRM to improve communications

단순히 비쥬얼드만을 위한 페이스북 친구지만 알고보면 형수님과 도련님의 관계.The original buzz word phrase of Customer Relationship Management began as a process to help companies manage their customers and potential customers by using a database full of information about that person’s buying habits. It helped companies maintain and improve customer relationships and hone in on the most successful and promising target audiences. From there an organization could concentrate on potential new sales, support, and marketing strategies to retain customers and find new ones.

Now we have progressed to a Social Customer Relationship Management (Social CRM) which takes us from the original CRM and now adds new communication channels via the social web to concentrate on  better customer relationships. No longer do customers just call and speak to customer service representatives; customers speak to each other, comment on articles, research common opinions, and blog. The expansion of the social media therefore requires companies to be aware of what is being said about them and who is saying what about them. When companies are not aware of the positive and negative, can it be perceived by customers and clients that the company or service just doesn’t care enough to answer?

A recent Nielsen survey states that the primary online communication of today is Twitter; its unique visitors have increased 1,382 percent since 2009. Why not then use this popular line of communication to positively engage customers and build trust and brand loyalty? Here are some suggestions of what can be done:

  • Brand Auditing – Be aware of what is being said and the general sentiment of a company’s brand. Watch criticism, review feedback, and pay attention to marketing successes and failures.
  • Making the Personal Connection – Sales people can track personal details about their clients and customers, and continue the personal connection by sending out birthday cards, communion cards, or favorite chocolates. It can give the names of their children or favorite charities. The Get Social Twitter Pro Module which helps a company leverage customer relationships will track a client’s last 20 tweets to give even more of an insight into a person’s life and what they are doing.
  • Market Tracking – Companies can track users and consumers who love a product but aren’t necessarily customers of a particular brand. For instance, I have a Keurig coffee maker which I find incredible, yet I was not the purchaser. Still positive consumers like me are potential customers.
  • Company Support – Social CRM can track keywords and give continued support about a product. When someone from the company is listening, angry customers can be immediately identified and referred to a customer service agent who can act upon negative comments and avoid potential damage.

Practicing Social CRM invites customers and clients to interact with a company and manage customer relationships with more success while saving money from potential unknown fire storms and risking the lost of valuable customers.

photo credit: ugoon

How to overcome negative brand perception

Tribute  FahrertrainingIt’s the elephant in the room when consumers become disenchanted with a company’s brand. Your products and services provide your customers with the choice to use your company, but your brand defines whether the customer will choose you over your competition. Companies that have consistent positive brand images have measured, tested, and evaluated their target audiences to help identify what areas need immediate attention, and hence have employed new methods to manage any negative perceptions.

Let’s begin with the classic example of Toyota. Here’s a company that used to have a strong brand perception; one publication described it as a “cult-like status.” That was until Toyota recalled more than eight million vehicles for sudden acceleration problems. What brought the elephant into the room were the many complaints that this problem had been going on for years, and Toyota had failed to seriously acknowledge the problem. Then came the recalls and the governmental investigations. Toyota profusely apologized to U.S. lawmakers and promised new procedures to fix  and address the problems. On the positive note, car makers have become more vigilant.  “I think Toyota did a good job, and its stock price shows the market shares the same view,” stated Kazutaka Oshima, president of Rakuten Investment in Tokyo in February of this year.

The widespread criticism brought  considerable damage to Toyota’s brand reputation. The company’s quality reputation dropped from 6th in 2009 to 21st in 2010. That has been the lowest rank for Japanese car makers in 24 years.

Another example goes back to the 1982 deaths of seven Chicago residents after ingesting Extra Strength Tylenol. McNeil Consumer Products manufactured the capsules, and its parent company Johnson and Johnson immediately informed the public that it would investigate to find out if the poisonous capsules were contaminated in their own manufacturing plants. Initial autopsy reports confirmed that the capsules had contained deadly cyanide. Although the case remains unsolved, Johnson and Johnson developed the triple-seal tamper resistant package to restore consumer confidence. According to Stephen Fink’s book entitled Crisis Management, the company regained 98 percent of its market share it had before the Tylenol deaths.

So what do these examples teach us? Companies need to fix the problem, fire suppliers, establish new procedures, hire new personnel, and communicate to the world that this will never happen again. There has to be a coherent approach that the company with the tarnished brand is going to think out of the box and go the extra mile to overcome the negative brand perception. In the case of Tylenol, Johnson and Johnson redesigned the packaging. In the case of Toyota, new designs for safety have resulted.

Of course these are extreme examples, but it does show that brand expectation connects with emotions, and emotions are not always rational. If a product fails, use feedback to improve it. Acknowledge it, confront it, and overcome the problem. When the negative feedback threatens your brand, give it immediate attention.

photo credit: v230gh

Make it a real customer experience

Lovely Patio and LandscapingGreat customer experiences are not accidental; they are strategically designed to appeal to everything that touches a consumer, client, or customer. Extraordinary customer experiences extend to all points of the connection that will affect the reason a customer returns. It extends beyond customer service; it is the total experience, and what makes a customer happier with your company than the competition each and every time.

Let’s start from the beginning. All customers or clients have experiences. For instance, in real estate sales there is the interest in purchasing a home. A potential buyer has to be qualified as to what he can afford. Then there is the shopping around for the perfect home, the time of the purchase which is negotiating and writing out the contract, the follow-up on all contingencies, inspections, municipal ordinances pertaining to the home, and finally the date of settlement where your customer shakes your hand, hugs you, and thanks you for finding his new home. Now one might think that the real estate agent has done a great job, but to deliver a notable customer experience, there also has to be the post purchase interaction; what does it take to keep that person coming back to you in a few years when they are ready to sell? Will they recommend you to their friends and family?

Customers and clients don’t just come to you for your products or services. They come to you because they like the experience of buying your product or service. It’s delivering that experience which is the hard part. Statistically businesses lose 50 percent of their patrons within three years. Is it that they are just not making their customers happier than their competition? Customer experiences that are memorable and give customers exactly what they want brings them back. It is all incorporated into the total experience.

So what can a business or service do to make that customer experience so positive that “it can never get any better?” Here are a few suggestions:

  • Concentrate on employee training. These are the people who will make the experience either positive or negative.
  • Understand what the customer experience objective is, and act upon it. Be a customer yourself. Walk through your store and examine it internally and externally. Touch upon the sites as you enter the store. How does the store appeal to your senses? Can you hear music? Is the store aesthetically pleasing? What about the lighting? How does it all make you feel?
  • For online businesses, create a personal experience. Use incentives; surprises after spending a certain amount of money. Provide customer service by phone, and make it easy to contact your business. Be environmentally friendly. Be quirky, and be a forward thinker. Don’t just follow the other internet sites selling the same products or services. Positive and innovative thinkers lead the pack.

Define the total  customer experience, and execute the plan. It’s not just being efficient; it’s the grand design to find customers, gain their business, and bring them back. It can be your distinctive brand; it will help to own the customer and the rewards are building loyalty and increasing profits.

photo credit: MichiganMoves

Customer satisfaction survey reflective of weak economy

Would you ever think there would be a customer satisfaction survey about soda preferences? After all the product is relatively inexpensive, and consumers can just change their mind as they pass by the soda machine at the office. Ann Arbor based American Customer Satisfaction Index surveyed 1000 soft drink shoppers in June and July and asked questions about different types of sodas and their value for the money.

The managing director of ACSI stated, “In a down economy, (consumers) say, ‘Quality is nice, but I need to get a good value for my money.’ ” Dr Pepper Snapple claimed the top score with an 85 out of a possible 100 beating Coca-Cola and Pepsi Company. Dr Pepper scored a few points higher, and according to ACSI may indicate a loyalty and enthusiasm for the underdog. Soft drink companies’ sales are fairly recession proof and with the global expansion to China and India, revenues have been on the rise.

The Pepsi Refresh Project gives away millions of dollars each month to fund refreshing ideas that may change the world. People, businesses, and non-profits can submit an idea; good for the important causes of  the world and good for the customer satisfaction perception. Coca-Cola recently signed a deal and will directly distribute its Dr Pepper brand in the US. “People who love Pepsi, love Pepsi. People who love Coke, love Coke.” It seems it’s really about the preference or maybe just the taste?

Customer satisfaction showed strong performances in fast food consumer spending. Many people still prefer fast food and the soft drink included in the value meals seem to be cheaper and a more convenient alternative to the grocery store.

Continuing with results of the poll, personal care and cleaning products had a sharp decline. Some consumers have abandoned Proctor and Gamble products for the lower priced alternatives. If consumers find the lower priced products to work just as well, it will be very difficult for Proctor and Gamble to regain their customer loyalty without discounting prices to step out against the new competition.

It’s a sign of the times. When money flowed freely, consumers didn’t have to worry about saving a few dollars here and there. What businesses will ultimately survive? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Branding is built on trust

Mind charity shop, LlandudnoTrust in a company’s brand attracts customers. They want to believe that the product or service behind that brand is what they want and that an organization will deliver and stand behind the brand. Now brands are more than catchy logos or clever slogans. Brands are what establish the personal connections with customers; good brands maintain the connections.

Consumers will pay higher prices for products they trust and through branding, companies are able to separate one from another, but the trust can easily be interrupted or even destroyed by a failure to deliver, abandonment, or reckless employees. Businesses are based on their reputations, and the action of employees is what creates a company’s brand. Think of Zappos, and the outgoing, personable, and knowledgeable staff who man their phones every day of the week. I doubt there is a shoe diva out there who hasn’t at the very least browsed the Zappos website. The reliability of the products, guarantees, and customer service create the experience of authenticity; a characteristic of trust. Then there’s always Starbucks. My Keurig makes one heck of a great cup of coffee, but is there anything like a caramel macchiato prepared by the friendly and well-trained barista?

Branding is not a simple tangible item. A company may advertise its brand, but that doesn’t create the part of trust, which is the part of branding that builds confidence and ultimately recognition. Having a high advertising budget to get a company’s brand out there isn’t going to mean success. Every action by every member in a company has to be accountable. We won’t soon forget giant brands as Enron, Packard Bell, Atari, and even A&P food stores. From the CEO to the grocery packer, every customer or client needs to be treated as a potential brand ambassador. We learn valuable lessons from the failures, and most unsuccessful businesses have fallen to the side of the road because of lack of trust of their brand.

Companies need to constantly work on their commitment to their clients and customers. A customer-focused infrastructure includes quality products, quality personnel, and every department taking responsibility building character, honesty, and trust.

Can we argue that branding and trust are different? Trust is personal while branding is relevant to a company. We associate trust with people, and trust is built through credibility and reliability. I trust my friends, and I trust my family. In a business sense, I trust the consistency of my shopping experiences or of the services supplied to me. Branding is the characteristic behind a company, but my experience with that company over time is what has built my trust. For instance, Mercedes-Benz is the brand, and over a period of four years, I have put my trust in  what they offer. For the best companies, I put my trust behind the brand.

photo credit: HowardLake

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