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Take lessons from Disneyland and learn how customers are treated

Corvette Z06Mark Reuss, President of General Motors North American operations has a three-fold plan to increase Chevrolet sales in California. As is the progressive California mindset, Chevrolet production will have to develop smaller and more fuel-efficient models to compete with the imports, make Chevrolet dealerships more physically attractive, and amp up customer service.

General Motors has lagged behind Toyota, Honda, Ford, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen for years. Statistically California Chevrolet dealerships are only capturing three percent of the market share for passenger cars. Time for a change? It seems so since Disneyland in Anaheim will be the setting for some intense customer service training with the purpose aimed at making a car salesman into Prince Charming.

Salesmen won’t be riding pirate ships and teacups, but will be concentrating on Disney’s attention paid to detail. Not that there is anything especially wrong with tattoos and body piercings, I wasn’t surprised however to hear a woman tell me about her disappointing first impression with a car salesman who had facial and lip piercings. The customer couldn’t concentrate because she was so distracted by what looked so very painful and offensive. Would the Little Mermaid ever sport a lip piercing?

Sales people won’t be smoking in public view while on the job. Disneyland says that would be equivalent to Cinderella smoking a cigarette. Perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from Disneyland is that customers are always to be appreciated, and it’s the small things that count which customers always remember. Can you ever remember seeing loose garbage on the sidewalk of any Disney kingdom? Can you ever remember any Disney character ever looking disheveled or having the slightest rip in her costume? The car dealerships can find small but effective ways to pay attention to details also. Service departments can show how their customers are appreciated with a free car wash with every service or a bottle of cold water in the beverage holder when a customer comes to pick up their car.

A big part of the total experience of purchasing a car is about the dealership – more than what the salesman has to say. Once GM brings forth a product that appeals to California car buyers – fuel and environmentally efficient, the physical appearance of the dealerships are next. GM promises to pour in $60 to $100 million into over 100 franchises – primarily in Los Angeles to make a uniform entrance, redesign others and even move dealerships to better areas – all with the intention of creating a brand known for quality and excellent customer service.

Time will tell if Disneyland comes to “Chevroletland”, but it definitely can’t hurt.

photo credit: Hertj94

The Disney Experience

DisneylogoLast week I blogged about how I would be going to Disney for a day. I did go to Disney on Saturday and here is my blog post about my experience.

Disney has perfected crowd control. Very few companies do a better job at managing crowds than Disney and whenever I was in line, I was impressed with how well Disney manages the waiting process. The waiting areas for the rides and attractions are well designed and well laid out. They’re visually appealing, usually feature some sort of thing to look at or do, and were mostly indoors (which means mostly in the air conditioning). Once people are done waiting in line, Disney fills seats with ease and makes sure that it guests know exactly where to go. Any company that deals with long lines and large crowds can learn a lot from Disney and how they manage lines and crowds.

Employees are everywhere. I visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios on a Saturday and the park was busy with guests and employees. Employees (called “Cast Members” at Disney) were all over the place. If you had a question for them, they were almost always very nice and almost always very knowledgeable. The Cast Members probably get asked the same questions over and over again, but from my experience, they answered the questions with a smile. It is a lot less stressful for customers when there are lots of employees around who are happy to answer questions.

Disney does a lot of research. I saw multiple people with “Disney Research” logos on their shirts and was asked to participate in two simple surveys during the day I spent at Disney. One focused on my demographic data and another focused more on the overall park experience. Collecting data and using it to improve the customer service experience is essential.

They try to go the extra mile. A friend I was traveling with had a special request and Cast Members did whatever they could to accommodate his request. The general demeanor of employees and of the way the parked seemed to function was consistent with what I saw; Cast Members were dedicated to helping however they could and would gladly go out of their way to help.

They keep the experience simple. Disney could make the customer experience a lot more complicated if they wanted. They could charge more for certain rides or certain sections and so on. Instead, they break it down by park and keep it simple. You don’t have to buy anything besides the park admission ticket if you don’t want to. The result is a speedier and more convenient park-going experience. Companies should never underestimate the power of simplicity. Whenever possible, make the experience simple. It’ll make customers happier and save a lot of time and effort.

If you’ve been to Disney before, what made your experience notable?

Upcoming: The Disney Experience

I’m going to be going to Disney World tomorrow for a little while and I’m looking forward to being apart of and hopefully noticing some of the interesting service and guest experience tricks Disney uses in its many parks. Disney is a very interesting company that written about before and I’m hoping to come back from my short trip with some great post ideas. 

I’ve been to Disney plenty of times before, but I think this is will be my first trip there since I started my blog. The myth that Floridans go to Disney World all the time is not true and I am living proof of that. In fact, I think I my family and I went to Disney World more often when we lived up north than when we lived in Florida (I was quite a bit younger then, but one would still think it’d be the opposite).

Have a great weekend!

What Mickey Mouse can teach us about customer service

It’s the Disney Institute’s 16th birthday, and as with all Sweet Sixteen parties, it’s a chance to celebrate successes and see how the pixie dust of enchantment mixes so effectively with the success of one man’s dream. Walt Disney stated,  “You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.”

The Disney Institute originally began in 1986 in Orlando offering “leisure learning” which entailed courses on fun topics like cooking and landscaping classes. By 1996 the organization offered business programs and currently sends representatives all over the world teaching Disney’s best practices of leadership, management, customer service, and loyalty. What the visiting families and tourist perceive as effortless daily operations is actually a well-trained, enthusiastic. motivated work force. Of course they are not without their trials and tribulations of union disputes, strict rules, and continuous growing pains, but to employ 64,000 people just in Orlando is a testament to the success of the operation.

What makes Disney so successful? After all, statistics state that 70 percent of Disney visitors make repeat visits. According to the Disney Institute, the top three expectations of cleanliness, friendliness and fun permeate the entire culture of the work force. No one walks by a piece of trash on the park’s grounds and doesn’t stoop to pick it up. Employees or “cast members” as they are called make the difference. Their opinions are heard, they contribute suggestions on how to improve service, and are motivated to do the best job they can.

From the moment a candidate applies for a job or as it is called a “casting audition,” the Disney University with its world class training helps employees to feel empowered by their own positions and work on exceeding guest expectations by paying attention to detail. Besides the training leadership and helping each person feel as if they are making a difference, Disney does employ the means to gather an amazing amount of information about their guests wants and expectations. For instance the organization collects data from constant surveys, focus groups, and opinion polls. The follow-up is phenomenal and compilations actually disseminate how often people travel to Disney, how long it takes for an average family to save the funds to make the trip, how much a family generally spends, and who drives or flies to the land of happiness and magic.

Of course I have never had the privilege of auditing the Disney Institute, and I do hope one day to experience the magical mystery behind the infamous brand, but there is definitely a finite connection between business success and the culture of respect employees seem to have for each other. In the Disney book called In Search of Excellence, it lends some interesting advice to applying some of the lessons to our own businesses – even if we don’t offer Magic Toad Rides or Mickey Mouse parades.

Check out lines getting to be more customer friendly

The CashiersThere’s a December 25 deadline, so it’s not really optional whether or not we want to wait at a checkout line – that is unless we shop online. This year, according to a Deloitte survey, online shopping is up in the United States from one-third last year to one-half this year showing more consumers opting to stay away from shopping malls.

There’s hardly anyone who has been immune to choosing the wrong line. My own experiences seem to escalate when I use the drive-ins at the bank because there are no easy ways to change bank aisles. In supermarkets, we get to choose our line, but in many other retail stores customers wait in one line and then move on to the next available register. Other stores more interested in keeping their customers off the Internet and still having the patience to wait for the next register to check out are much more innovative.

Home Depot brings in “line busters” who are employees who scan items in carts before the customer gets to the cashier. Apple Store employees have hand-held devices to help consumers check out. Yesterday I was at the AT&T store which positions a greeter at the front door asking how he could help and entered my phone number so the next available agent already knew my name and why I was there. Walt Disney World has taken a pro-active approach and while a customer waits online, a Disney character entertains them. Once the consumer is at the register however, efficiency and accuracy become the main attraction. And in Publix, the supermarket has their employees stand in front of the cash registers to not only say hello and smile, but indicate to shoppers their availability.

In the book, “Why We Buy – The Science of Shopping,” customers feel less stressed when an employee or electronic screen guides shoppers to the next available register. One line is often thought to be far less frustrating than switching back and forth between lines, quietly seething while someone else who came later gets to the checkout counter in another aisle quicker than you, or in the worst situation abandoning the product because the consumer is out of patience or time.

It’s interesting to ask people how they choose which line to enter. This morning at Publix, I asked a shopper behind me how she picked her check-out line? She told me she pays attention to what people have in their shopping carts, the age of a person, or how many children accompany the shopper. Carts overflowing with groceries take longer to check out, older people tend to unload their baskets slower, and children often are distracting to their mothers and the entire process takes longer.

So what should we do? The bottom line is if people don’t feel like a store is doing all they can to make the buying experience convenient, there are a lot of options out there. It’s holiday time everyone – hire extra help if needed and don’t keep your customers with their wallets in hand waiting.

photo credit: Aaron Jacobs

Let Your Customers Count Cows

Crow in spruce“Counting cows” was a backseat game that parents used years ago in rural areas to quell the endless “Are we there yet?” queries from their children. The rules were simple: each person took one side of the car when the journey began. One point was given for every cow you saw on your side; five points for every horse, and if a graveyard appeared on your side, you lost all your points and had to start over again. Active participation in a simple, competitive game made the car trip seem much shorter.

Today’s customers have a strong need for speed. They are as impatient and restless as a group of “desperados waiting for a train,” to quote the country music song title made famous by The Highwaymen. Faxes gave way to e-mails which gave way to text messages from anywhere at any time. Netflix and FedEx taught us you could get it next day; Zappos.com surprised us with an order for new shoes placed on line in the evening arriving at our door step the next morning. The customer’s standard for the speed of service has continued to hasten with seemingly no end in sight.

But, there is a way to slow the speed of service. Let your customers “count cows!”  Look for ways to help customers participate. Like Disney World, entertains guests who are waiting in line to board that special ride, perhaps you could entertain your customers in an engaging yet appropriate way. My bank has a popcorn machine and big TV’s playing CNN or CNBC to help you wile away the wait should the teller line become long or the CSR is tied up and not quite ready to provide you assistance.

Is there a way you can make getting service seem to go faster through turning it into a compelling game? Ted’s Restaurant (as in Ted Turner) in Atlanta helps calm fidgety little kids waiting for a meal by providing them color crayons and a kids menu turned into coloring book. What would be the adult version for your customers? How about a clever contest? Or, a social gathering? How can you manage the customer’s perception of service pace as you work to improve the reality of service pace?

Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What You Can Do About it due in bookstores in May.

photo credit: alexfiles

Raising the bar for lawyers and customer service

1-888-I-Can-SueDo you think lawyers conduct surveys about customer satisfaction? Actually, most attorneys I have spoken with in the last few days maintain that client relationships don’t fall under the topic of customer service. They told me if their client has a problem with them, the client will tell them. Now we all know that’s not true; customers and clients are more likely to move on to another attorney because there’s always someone else trying to pull their client into another office.

Yesterday I accompanied a buyer of a relatively inexpensive home here in Palm Beach Gardens to an attorney’s office about her new contract of sale. In Florida real estate closings are commonly done by title companies, but in this particular case, the buyer chose to use an attorney for her closing because of some potentially conflicting issues she wanted to avoid in the future. The moment we walked into the office, the receptionist stood up, greeted us with a friendly smile, and referred to the buyer by name. (The buyer had never been there before.) We were ushered into a conference room and offered water and soft drinks. The room was impeccably decorated with family photographs and community awards reflecting the generosity and good-will of the law firm. The attorney entered the room on time, introduced himself, went over the contract, explained the contingencies, and answered the client’s questions clearly and concisely.

It was a great experience, and this attorney’s office met the client’s expectations. That kind of service didn’t arbitrarily just happen. Some lawyers think that their long-term clients will have an undying loyalty, but loyalty isn’t what it used to be. This client had a previous attorney for 20 years, but left that firm because he never returned phone calls and made her wait in the reception area well over an hour; bottom line clients need to be the most important priority.

Let’s put it another way; if 80 to 90% of revenue comes from existing clients in a law firm, how does a law office differentiate exceptional service to keep their clients? Since most of us realize bad service is everywhere, exceptional service is the golden ring of opportunity to bring in new business. No matter where we go, we go for the experience. Why else would anyone travel to Las Vegas? Most people lose, but if you ask someone why they go, they will tell you they went for the experience. The same concept holds at Disney here in Orlando. Customers are called “guests,” employees are “cast members,” and each work day is a “show.” We’re there for the experience. Is it any different what was presented to the buyer and me yesterday? Not at all since our experience was worth an “A” rating.

Lawyers need to anticipate, learn and invest in their client relationships. Lawyers need to be available and prove they care. Deliver great value and show clients they are more than just billable hours.

photo credit: emilydickinsonridesabmx

A Wake-up Call for Bored Customers

Quak Quak!A large brokerage company added a twist to their toll-free telephone cue – “…punch 6 if you’d like to hear a duck quack!” Word of the playful feature spread and soon millions of people were weekly calling just to hear the duck. The company had to remove the unique feature because it overloaded their phone system and ran up a huge tab! The story communicates just how bored customers have become.

Something else has happened to customers. They’ve been getting way over-stimulated. Television has become both high definition and multi-media. The nightly news now shows the weather report, ball scores, stock market numbers and a crawling headline simultaneously on the TV screen. That steady stream of sensory arousal risks making a trip to your unit or organization seem humdrum and plain vanilla.

What’s an organization to do? Imaginative service! Want a small taste? The service techs at Sewell Lexus in Dallas program in the radio stations for a new car buyer from their trade-in and let customers discover it. Miller Bros. Ltd in Atlanta, an upscale men’s clothing store, has a large colorful gumball machine in its entrance. Beside it is a large bowl of shiny pennies. Guess where junior gets to go while daddy is trying on trousers? An insurance agent abandoned the age-old practice of sending key customers a birthday card. He secured the enthusiastic service of his young daughter to call his very best customers and sing happy birthday to them. Pretty creative, huh?

Customers like extras. They enjoy service with a cherry on top. In fact, the features of a service have become more titillating than its function; extras more valued than the core offering.  But, two things have happened to extras that have robbed them of their power as a retention strategy.

First, they have gotten a lot more expensive. That free snack on a flight is now eight dollars and service charges are standard fare on most bills. Pursuing extras can also send a mixed message. What do employees think when told to “wow” customers in the morning and informed of staff cutbacks and expense reductions in the afternoon?

However, imaginative service is different. Ask customers what actions would be value added and they will focus on taking the expected experience to a higher-level … meaning “they gave me more than I anticipated.” But, imaginative service is not about addition, it’s about creation. When service people are asked to give more, they think to themselves, “I am already doing the best I can.” But, if asked to pleasantly surprise more customers, they feel less like worker bees and more like fireflies. If employees are requested to create a big customer smile instead of just working harder, they feel a part of an adventure. And, when employees get to create, not just perform, they feel prized. Just ask a Southwest, Disney, Zappos.com, or Lexus dealership employee.

At a time when value-added service has gotten way too pricey maybe it is time try value-unique – imaginative service. Customers recall, return, and refer others to those experiences that engage them emotionally and leave them with a positive memory. Creating a place of joy can help your unit or organization become the customer’s “oasis of choice.” And, imaginative service can take their breath away.

Writer Bio: Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of the best-selling book Take Their Breath Away:  How Imaginative Service Creates Customer Devotion.  They can be reached at www.taketheirbreathaway.com.

photo credit: Newsbie Pix

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