* You are viewing the archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category. View the rest of the archives.

Book Review: The Ultimate Question

Uq SmThe business world is filled with an overwhelming number of questions and uncertainties. As statisticians analyze the uncertainties, the number of questions they ask seems to grow exponentially.

Business consultant and author Fred Reichheld thinks he has found the question that all companies need to ask in order to determine just how loyal their customers are – and he has humbly called it the ultimate question.

Reichheld talks about this ultimate question and what it should mean to you and your business in in his 200 page book entitled The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth. The book, first published in 2006 by Harvard Business School Press, primarily focuses on three key areas: the “ultimate question,” a scoring method called “Net Promoter,” and the importance of “good profits.”

The “ultimate question” is the simple and common question of “How likely are you to recommend Company X to a friend or colleague?”. Net Promoter is a scoring method that subtracts the proportion of detractors from the proportion of promoters. Good profits are simply profits that come from people that actually want to use your products and services (as opposed to those who might be locked into contractors or dissatisfied for one reason or another).

Like many things in customer service, the premise behind the book and the Net Promoter concept is laughably simple: if you deliver an experience that makes people genuinely want to recommend your company to their friends, family, or colleagues, you’re going to grow. Just like many business books, The Ultimate Question takes this relatively simple concept and adds strategically placed healthy servings of jargon, buzzwords, and acronyms to help justify the three hours and $20 that the book will cost. After the first 50 pages, the book starts to drag on and get redundant, but there are plenty of examples and tidbits to make it worth reading until the end.

With that said, I’d still recommend reading the book because it clearly articulates some very important aspects of business and customer service. Recihheld’s core points make sense and the examples he provides are interesting. After reading the book, any competent customer service manager or executive can easily conduct a Net Promoter survey and make use of the results. He clearly explains what Net Promoter is, why it should matter to your business, and how to make it work. Even though I don’t agree with Recihheld’s view that the “would you recommend” question is the only question that needs to be asked (I think you need more information than that), I still think that the “would you recommend” question is a great question to ask and that Net Promoter has its merits.

Net Promoter isn’t exactly new to the business world and that may very well be one of its biggest strengths. A whole host of companies in a variety of industries make use of Net Promoter and many of them are fairly transparent about their scores. It’s interesting to see what your Net Promoter score is and then compare that to some of the big companies in your industry. The average Net Promoter score is around 10 and it’s possible to have a score anywhere between -100 and 100.

I’ve conducted Net Promoter surveys for several companies and have always found the results to be useful when they are coupled with other questions. Net Promoter doesn’t tell you everything, but there is really very little to lose in asking your customers how likely they are to recommend your company to a friend or colleague. You might be in for a rude awakening, but you’ll almost certainly come out of the process knowing more than you did before. Once you have the results from your first Net Promoter survey, you’ll be faced with the true ultimate question, the question of how to improve.

Bottomline: Despite being slightly redundant, The Ultimate Question clearly articulates the importance of and how to measure customer loyalty. You may not agree with all of Reichheld’s points, but a majority of them make sense and are applicable to almost any business.

Pros: The book fully explains Net Promoter and why it matters. It provides a plethora of advice and action items that managers and executives can use to start tracking customer loyalty.

Cons: Some of them Reichheld’s methods are more academic than they are practical and the second half of book gets annoyingly redundant.

Interested? You can purchase the book on Amazon.com for about $20. You can also see some of my other posts about Net Promoter here.

Book Review: Delivering and Measuring Customer Service

Another book I recently finished reading was Delivering and Measuring Customer Service by Richard D. Hanks. The book focuses on two key aspects of customer service: actually delivering it and then getting real-time feedback that you can use to improve upon it. The book is relatively sparse on details about the delivering aspect and focuses much more intently on the importance of and the best practices for measuring customer service.

Author Richard Hanks told me he decided to write the book because he was frustrated with a lack of hands on, practical books that addressed the topic of how to measure customer service. There were plenty of long, relatively boring “academic” type books on the subject, but he noticed a serious lack of “here’s how you do it” books. Thinking Delivering and Measuring Customer Service could help fill that gap, Richard worked on writing down and summarizing what he learned from his work at Marriott Hotels, PepsiCo, and most recently, his survey company Mindshare. His perspective is a unique one that makes for an informative book that is also an interesting read.

Delivering and Measuring Customer Service talks a lot about the importance of real time feedback and subsequently, the importance of mastering “the boring, everyday.” As Richard explained to me, if you run a hotel that’s located in an exquisite location, provides great customer service, and has wonderful food, you’d think your customers are going to be pretty happy. They should be, but if you don’t master the “boring, everyday” things like having clean bathrooms or ensuring the light bulbs in the room work after each guess, customers are going to be frustrated. If the bathroom in the room is dirty, the customer isn’t going to leave happy, no matter how good the rest of the experience is.

The actual book, which is about 200 pages of pretty easy reading, is divided into seven primary sections: General Overview, Cultural Catalysts of Service, Gathering Customer Experience Feedback, Analyzing the Results, Using Customer Feedback to Improve, Customer Service Recovery and Follow-up, and finally, Tips and Tricks. Each section contains a few sub-sections that delve into specific areas. They’re generally well presented, well organized, and informative.

Perhaps most importantly for this type of book, Delivering and Measuring Customer Service gives plenty of good tips that managers can act on right away. I read the book with a highlighter in hand and found myself highlighting something that I thought was interesting or insightful once every few pages. Like most of customer service, a lot of the advice is common sense, but a vast majority of customer service managers will be able to get something useful from this book, particularly with the book’s focus on measuring customer service. Very few customer service books spend so much time on the importance of and how to measure customer service.

According to Richard, great customer service and at the very least, mastery of the “boring” stuff stems from the repetition of consistency and dependability. To be a great customer service organization, you need to be able to provide great service all the time. Customers then start to expect great customer service and a standard is created. The ability to keep up with that standard is what sets the mediocre companies apart from the exceptional companies.

Bottomline: Delivering and Measuring Customer Service is a great book for those interested in the subject the name implies. It’s an easy and entertaining ready that is full of useful advice, guides, and information that customer service or business managers can take back to their teams and start acting on right away.

Pros: Easy to read with clever cartoons scattered throughout book, more than enough useful insight and advice to justify the price and time

Cons: The book tends to only touch (as opposed to explain in detail) many areas and also happens to jumps around. The lack of detail is both expected and acceptable given the book’s broad subject area and the jumping around isn’t noticeable or important to those reading the book for its content, as opposed to its literary merit (which is how most business books should be read).

Interested? You can buy the book on Amazon.com for about $20.

Topgrading for Customer Service

I recently finished reading Topgrading for Sales, an extremely short (50 pages of text, 50 page appendix) book that talks about how to apply the principles outlined in the book’s much bigger (592 page) brother, Topgrading, specifically to sales positions.

Topgrading is a well-respected hiring technique that has is used at companies like GE and Microsoft. Companies that use Topgrading use it to determine who is an “A player” versus who is a B or a C player. The idea is that a team of 90% A players will be infinitely more productive and successful than a team comprised of mostly B and C players. The practice, which calls for multiple extremely in-depth interviews, is a sound one that has been successful for a lot of companies.

Topgrading for Sales is a good book that’s literally filled with action items and useful advice, but as I was reading it, I was trying to think of ways I could apply the practices outlined for hiring sales representatives to the hiring of customer service representatives. As I was drinking the metaphorical Topgrading Kool-Aid, I thought about some of the ways various companies go about hiring customer service representatives.

Through my conversations with various customer service executives, I’ve heard about both extremes and everything in between when it comes to hiring. Some companies do one half hour interview and call it a day, while others have multiple days of in-depth three and four interviews. As one would hope, the latter, while thoroughly exhausting, tends to be more effective.

After a bit of research, I found an article by Mike Faith, the CEO of Headsets.com (which I’ve written about multiple times), explaining how his company uses the Topgrading approach when interviewing, hiring, and evaluating customer service representatives. The article was interesting (and complemented the book nicely), but I still found myself looking for a details about how to apply Topgrading to customer service.

I’ve since ordered the full size edition of Topgrading (wish me luck as I read through it!) and will post an in-depth review when I finish it. I’m hoping a more in-depth knowledge of Topgrading will give me more insight about how to apply it specifically to customer service hires.

In the mean time, if you have or do use it, what has your experience been like with Topgrading? What about the broader task of hiring customer service representatives? I’m sending a couple of emails to a few HR and customer service executives I know and will report back with their thoughts as well.

Book Review: Managing Online Forums

I’ve been reading Managing Online Forums by Patrick O’Keefe over the last few days. The book was an interesting read because Patrick has an interesting, very hands on background. He has a lot of experience running some very large and very successful forum communities and as a result of that, the advice in his book is extremely practical and hands on.

O’Keefe focuses on the “how” and provides a plethora of information about “how” to do things. The book isn’t academic and it isn’t really that marketing focused (i. e. run a community to help brand awareness, etc.) — it’s focused almost entirely on actually running an online forum or community. The book is for those who are looking to learn how to do it, not why to do it.

Managing Online Forums is essentially divided into ten parts:

1) Laying the Groundwork (planning and overall goals)
2) Developing Your Community (setting up and configuring the forum)
3) Developing Guidelines (community rules)
4) Promoting Your Community (self explanatory)
5) Managing Your Staff (working with the people who will help you run your community)
6) Banning Users and Dealing with Chaos (self explanatory)
7) Creating a Good Environment (working well with your members)
8 Keeping It Interesting (games, features, resources, etc.)
9) Making Money (self explanatory)
10) Appendix (resources, templates, etc.)

If you are a customer service manager looking to start a community for your company, you can probably skip parts 5 and 9. While these apply (and are very important) to traditional online communities, communities run by companies usually don’t deal with volunteer staff members or making money (the company handles both aspects). The other chapters, though, serve as a great introduction and overview of what it’s like to run a community. Experienced community managers probably won’t pick up too much from this book (there are still some really helpful tidbits), but for those new to community management, this book is a great book to start with. It is a perfect book to give to the customer service supervisor you want to be your community manager. That manager can have it right on their desk as they go through the process of setting up, starting, and eventually, running, the community.

Managing Online Forums is a dead simple read. It’s easy to skim and you won’t have to think too hard about what’s on the page – it is all pretty logical. Communities, like customer service, require thinking things through and making the logical choice. The topic isn’t that complex and it certainly isn’t abstract, so the simple tone and style of book is appropriate. The content is organized and written in a way that makes it easy to understand and easy to put into action, making it perfect for a newbie.

Bottomline: If anything, Managing Online Forums can serve as a useful and practical guide and overview for starting and managing an online community. O’Keefe provides the reader with an easy to follow how to guide that can be applied to almost any community without difficulty.

Pros: Easy to follow, useful templates and examples, lots of information covering a broad range of topics.

Cons: Because the book covers so many aspects of managing a community, it doesn’t go too far in depth on any particular aspect (with community rules / guidelines being the notable exception).

More on Service Untitled: For some more information about communities, check out this post about looking at communities like parties.

Note: According to the author’s web site, the book’s publication date is April 28. It is currently available in most Barnes & Noble stores.

Book Review: "Punching In" by Alex Frankel

I had my review copy of Alex Frankel’s Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee sitting in my bookcase for almost two weeks before I had a chance to read it. When I interviewed the author, Alex Frankel, for my work with Customer Service is the New Marketing (where he is speaking), it renewed my interest in the book and I made some time to read it over the relatively slow holiday season.

Punching In recounts Frankel’s experience as a frontline employee at five radically different companies over the course of two years. He starts off as a temporary delivery assistant for the shipping giant UPS and quickly finds himself asking what he can do for Brown instead of what Brown can do for him. He becomes surprisingly absorbed surprisingly fast in the company’s culture. Despite the hard physical work, Frankel finds himself fitting into the role of a genuine UPS deliveryman comfortably and quickly.

After UPS, Frankel moves onto an incredibly boring, painfully mind numbing job of essentially folding clothes at Gap. At Gap, he experiences a culture that treats it employees more like potential criminals than future leaders. Frankel makes a sudden turn and starts to work at the unique, career development focused Enterprise Rent-a-Car. During the largely negative experience, Frankel learns about a company that isn’t as true to itself as the company handbook says. The supposedly “authentic” culture at Starbucks is similar and lacks the authenticity that ironically made the brand huge in the 1980’s. Frankel’s final job is at the laid back, but very cool Apple Store, where because of a laid back, but still rewarding working environment, he has a largely positive experience.

Each workplace, as Frankel points out, is unique. There is no one word to describe the five companies or how they treat their respective employees. Each job has its pros and cons, a unique company culture (or lack thereof), and an incredibly varied employee base. Frankel finds himself getting involved, and unexpectedly into, each job he holds not only as an undercover journalist, but as an actual employee. Punching In tells about the front lines in a way that interviews could not.

During his journey throughout the commercial front lines, Frankel encounters employees of all shapes, sizes, looks, and skillsets. Most importantly, he meets employees who have radically different views on their respective employers. He meets those employees who have unmatched levels of dedication to and passion for their employers and their products and services they offer. In these employees, he sees the quintessential example of the perfect, highly passionate employee that each company dreams of hiring. Frankel also meets and finds himself working with the polar opposites; disaffected employees who could care less about their job and the company they’re working for. Frankel finds that the only passion these employees have is for the bi-weekly paycheck and often, there isn’t much gratitude for that.

Aside from telling of the typical day in the life of a deliveryman, sales representative, or barista, Punching In shares anecdotes and information that will interest any retail or customer service executive. Frankel asks questions and addresses issues that good retail managers and executives should be concerned about. He examines the front lines and concisely points out how that crucial front line translates into the bottomline.

While Frankel provides a fairly varied view of what it is like to work in various retail outlets, he mainly works in larger stores in larger cities. Punching In doesn’t go that far into the suburbs or that far into the detailed operations of any of the companies. There is more recounting and telling than there are suggestions for improvement, but it all fits within the scope of what Punching In is trying to do.

Punching In examines the overlooked, undervalued part of the American business economy that is the frontline employee. Executives at the top will never fully grasp and understand all of the challenges that those at the bottom face every day, but Punching In provides a firm starting point with a valuable amount of useful insight and information for all employees on all levels of the corporate ladder.

Bottomline: Punching In is a worthwhile read for those interested in retail and the importance of front line employees.
Pros: Well written and insightful. Unique perspective of the front lines and companies that consumers think they know well.
Cons: Lacks “take home” advice that could make the book really useful to those focused on improvement, Frankel mainly works in stores in large cities (which are often different than those in the suburbs).
Interested? You can buy the book on Amazon.com for about $16.
More on Service Untitled: Interview with author Alex Frankel coming Monday.

Book Review: How to Talk to Customers

I finished reading “How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC®” the other day. It was an interesting book and one I’d like to review here at Service Untitled.

The book was written by Diane Berenbaum and Tom Larkin of a company called Communico Ltd. Communico calls itself a customer service training and consulting company. They have this proprietary process/set of processes they called MAGIC.

Here’s what MAGIC is in a nutshell:

M: Make a Connection – Build the Relationship
A: Act Professionally – Express Confidence
G: Get to the Heart of the Matter – Listen and Ask Questions
I: Inform and Clarify What You Will Do
C: Close with the Relationship in Mind

MAGIC also stands for “Make a Great Impression on the Customer.” There are 33 steps associated with the process – some of which are quite obvious, but still useful. The 33 steps almost serve as a checklist of sorts for many types of interactions, especially face to face and telephone interactions.

The book is divided into six parts: The Essence of MAGIC (what it is, what the benefits are); MAGIC – It’s Your Choice (setting the stage/defining the culture for MAGIC); Build Magic Relationships (the actual “how to do it” part – concentrating heavily on Little Things, Big Differences); Express MAGIC Accountability (more “how to do it” stuff); The World of Magic (specific instances, culture building, face-to-face interactions); and MAGIC n Real Life (stories and closing thoughts).

The book has a lot of real world examples filled with stories and firsthand accounts of various customer service or a lack thereof experiences (the stories are labeled as MAGIC or Tragic; good and bad, respectively). Each chapter contains a nice little summary (MAGIC Maxims), some good exercises (Experiment with MAGIC), and so on. Each chapter has a lot of plain language, practical advice in addition to a few statistics and study summaries that help back up what they are saying, and more importantly, the relevance of good customer service as a whole.

The book started out a little slow for me, but got very good near the middle. If you are new to customer service and its importance, the beginning would be more relevant, but if you already realize that customer service is important, it is a slight drag. The book picks up later, though, and starts coming out with some great, practical, and effective advice.

I’d suggest reading the whole book as an executive and picking out the practical, do it this way things and asking CSRs to read those sections. Get your highlighter out and mark sections you think would be useful to your employees. There is definitely something for everyone in the book. I learned the book was written to apply to different levels, so everyone could get value from it.

As with many customer service books, “How to Talk to Customers” includes a lot of stories and examples. I really liked the exercises (the 33 point checklist of sorts was the best part of the book) and can see how they would be tremendously useful for a wide variety of companies and employees. I would print out the “33 points” and pin them to every CSR’s phone if it were up to me. Some of the stories of great and terrible customer service seem a little extreme, but overall, they are believable and realistic enough where the advice is useful.

I spoke to Tom Larkin, co-author of “How to Talk to Customers” last Wednesday. From talking to him, I could tell that he really believes in the power of customer service and the “Little Things, Big Differences” that I talk about. How close the topics I talk about on my blog and that Tom talks about in the book were surprising

Tom told me that the book was designed so it could be read by all levels (frontline, executive, etc.) and that all of the readers could get value. He also provided me with two, solid customer service tips worth considering:

  • If you use your last name in a greeting, it increases confidence. For example, you should say “Good afternoon, this is Tom Larkin” instead of “Good afternoon, this is Tom.”
  • When you ask permission to get more information, it is a huge benefit. The customer and the representative end up listening more, and the representative gets more influence over the call. All it takes is a simple “May I ask you a few questions to resolve this quickly?”

Before the end of our call, Tom told me that what’s common sense always isn’t common practice. A lot of companies will experience a situation where they say they will do things, but don’t end up doing anything. Following through with a dedication to customer service is definitely the hardest, but still the most rewarding part of the entire process. It truly is MAGIC when someone can deliver all 33 points that How to Talk to Customers addresses in a 4-5 minute interaction.

If you like the topics I talk about on my blog, you would probably find “How to Talk to Customers” a good read. They cover a lot of the “Little Things, Big Differences” aspects of customer service that I constantly preach about as well as the extremely important “big picture” element of customer service. This well written, informative book blends a nice combination of practical, “do it this way” tips and exercises with more strategic, “have your company act this way” advice.

Bottomline: A good read for an executive/manger interested in customer service, especially how to make a big difference through little things.

Pros: Well written, great stories and examples, healthy amount of “do it this way” exercises and tips mixed with some “academic” information to back it up

Cons: “MAGIC” as a concept is good, but how the book words and embellishes it can get somewhat tedious (simply cosmetic issue); starts off slow if you already know customer service is important.

I’d suggest checking out this link. It’s an interesting (though slightly exergerated) quality assessment exercise using MAGIC. The best part, though, is it lists the 33 points and lets you hear them in action. You can also download a free chapter here [PDF format]. I’m working on getting another chapter available to Service Untitled readers.

Those interested in the book can buy it on Amazon.com.

On a side note, I’m going to try and do book reviews every few weeks. I read a lot of books on customer service and business in general and I think books are a great way to learn. Hopefully, I can help you select the best books to read. If you have any books you’d like to see reviewed, please feel free to suggest them and I’ll check them out.

« Previous Page