Refresh the Experience

Istock_000000995158xsmall It was one-of-a-kind, at least in our little central Texas town. There was a playground for the kids. Fresh baked cookies inside. Two of those pump-it-yourself thermal canisters filled with flavored coffees and another with decaf, a flat screen TV hanging on the wall and for the workaholic who can’t stop long enough for an oil change, WiFi, still a big deal when this oil change station opened a year ago. The owners had managed to infuse charm into a business that's usually anything but charming.

I brought my car in a for an oil change just yesterday morning. What a difference a year makes. Absent were the coffee canisters (at 9:30 in the morning), a plate with yesterday’s broken cookie sat on a dirty counter top, the TV was silent and dark. I looked outside toward the playground. A sign hung from  the chain link fence. "Closed for Repairs."

It’s a natural fact. Paint fades along with enthusiasm.

It starts slowly. One day you come in and there are a couple of customers waiting for you to open. No time to make the cookies now. The early birds are the first prophetic signs of a busy morning. The action doesn’t stop. You look up.  It’s 10:30. Haven’t even made coffee. And you know this because a few customers grumbled about it on their way out – in a good-natured way, of course. The next morning, the phone is ringing when you walk in the door. One thing leads to another, but no thing leads to cookies and coffee. After a while, it becomes part of the routine – no coffee – no playground - no extras. Business is good. Why spend the money? No one seems to notice. I mean, none of our competitors do it.

And gradually, suddenly, it’s not a one-of-a-kind business any more. It’s just an ordinary, average lube station.

Or supply house. Or retailer. Or office. Or restaurant. Or hotel. Or "fill in the blank."

Most people understand the idea behind the Personal Experience Factor (PEF) – that customers will gauge their emotional connection to anyone with whom they do business and the deeper the emotional connection, the deeper the loyalty to the business. Business owners intuitively know this and they start out doing their best to surpass their customers’ expectations, to raise the needle on the PEF meter. But, over time, they get busy and forget. And before long, they begin to take their customers for granted.

Sure, you're busy now.

Remember when K-Mart was busy?

What's that?

Who's K-Mart?

Do what you have to do to remember this: Work as hard to keep your customers as you did to acquire your customers and you will always have your  customers.

Mark it on a calendar. Make it a seasonal maintenance item. Whatever it takes. To keep a high PEF score in the eyes of your customers, the experience has to stay polished and shiny. All the little extras you did in the beginning, you need to keep doing. Things have to be renewed, repainted, replaced.

Refreshed.

Refresh the experience.


Customer Care College

Face_of_africal_2The remarks below are from aspiring actor and documentary filmmaker, Wanjiku m., of Nairobi made in response to an earlier Business Turnaround blog post titled, What Customers Want.

Personal attention is very important and here in Nairobi Kenya, it is highly lacking. Many are the times I go to a restaurant or a shop and I want to pull out my hair because half the time the person behind the counter really doesn't care what you want. So long as you give them money for their products, they really couldn't care less how you are doing or if you are a regular customer. One of my dreams is to hopefully open up a customer care college in the heart of Nairobi and have the government pass a law that will force all service industry professional attend at least one semester to learn how to deal with clients...like I said, a dream :) . Anyway, I long for the day my waiter will say "Hi Wanjiku, will you be having the usual?" cause it really doesn't happen here.

It doesn’t happen here much either, Wanjiku. Your idea, though, for a customer care college is inspiring. Imagine if the Chamber of Commerce and the Visitors Center got together and came up a plan for training the staff in all of the businesses along the main corridors through the city. It could be a customer care program specifically focused on how to be gracious and helpful to visitors.
Soon your town’s reputation would grow as a friendly place to stop and shop.  So Wanjiku, you dream isn’t so far fetched at all. Imagine what a forward-thinking Chamber of Commerce could accomplish by following these three steps.

  1. Chamber and Visitor’s Center invests in a customer care program that focuses on training individuals to have good verbal communications and interpersonal skills.
  2. Map the restaurants, service stations, and convenience stores located along major corridors that pass through the city.
  3. Provide the customer care program free to the merchants marked on the map. Encourage collaboration between business owners. Provide multi-channel methods for receiving the training program. Example: Off-site, on-site, or online seminars.

Abilene, Texas executed a similar program in its reinvention effort to become a hub for tourists traveling across state. Today you’ll find Abilene listed in the Top 10 Leisure Destinations of Texas alongside metropolises like Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.


Now Showing

Yep. You’re right. I shoulda’-woulda'-coulda' posted this back in January before Valentine's Day. But, in spite of the seasonality of the video, it’ll still make its point. And that is this – 2007 is the year of video – on your Web site, your blog, your wherever and anywhere your imagination takes you. For example, banks are using “virtual tellers” for their drive through customers. The screen shows sports, weather,  trivia, etc. while you wait.

Drivethrubank_1

Realtors have been wise to this idea ever since someone posted the first “virtual tour” of a home for sale. Now customers can get a virtual tour of your store, or office, or even a video of you and some of your staff taking care of business.   

I created this holiday video for Brickwood, a retail shop owned by my friend, Gina Angelo, by using One True Media - and no, I’m not receiving anything for the mentioning One True Media. I’m sure you can do the same thing with YouTube. I think OTM is for the technologically challenged, like me. And if you want a professionally produced video, check out my WOA partner, Rex Williams, of SunPop Studios who creates professional Video inSites that you'll just have to see to appreciate. 

Use your imagination to come up with ways you can use video to give another dimension to your business.

Please share your ideas.


Customers_will_talk“Among retailers, Target, Kmart, Sears, J.C. Penney, Gap, and Wal-Mart top the list of stores consumers talk about most." From www.RetailWire.com citing diary-based methodology from Keller Fay

You’re not the only one surprised to see Sears and Kmart on that list. And you’re probably asking, “Well, what about this brand or that brand? I thought they would be on there.” That’s not the point of this posting. The point is, customers talk and some of their favorite subjects to talk about are eating and traveling and shopping. “Word-of-Mouth” is the latest buzzword and businesses are scrambling to harness this elusive promotional tool.

Word of Mouth today travels at the speed of light – or at least at the speed of text messages and emails and the Internet. There is an old adage that even bad publicity is good. Not any more. Ask Tom Cruise.

People aren’t just interested in value. They’re also interested in Values – as in the values of the companies and individuals with whom they do business. 

In the first decade of this new century, “Core Values” have replaced the “Mission Statements” of the nineties. Core values are those unchangeable principles that define the character of an organization or individual. Integrity, performance, quality, safety, and transparency are examples of core value words. But, this isn’t a wish list of what you would like for customers to believe about you. Remember, customers believe what you do, not what you say. 

Core Values are those unwavering standards that you would defend even if it cost you money. For instance, if you declare “customer satisfaction-guaranteed,” as a core value, then you will give an unsatisfied customer their money back even when it’s clearly their fault that the product or service failed. There are no, “yeah, but’s” or “what if’s.” If you aren’t willing to guarantee customer satisfaction even if it costs you money, then it isn’t a core value. Choose a different one.

If you haven’t listed your core values, take your time in doing so. Give it some thought. Reflect. But set a deadline, or this time next year you’ll still be reflecting. Make the new year your deadline for coming up with seven core values - both personal and professional. Write them down. Share them with your co-workers. family, or employees. Then spend the next year living into them. It will make a positive difference in your level of service. And customers will talk.


Visions Dance

The_graduates_1

The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. …if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - - "Carpe" - - hear it? - - "Carpe -- carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary." John Keating (played by Robin Williams) From the movie, Dead Poet’s Society

Why did you start your company? What were you trying to accomplish? Are you any closer to your original vision? Perhaps your response is, "vision schmision – I just wanted to make some cash!” And that’s okay, too. How much cash? Did you write an amount down? Simply by writing something down, you improve the chances of bringing it about by fifty percent. No, I don’t have a survey to back that up. If you think about it, it’s common sense. Aren’t your trips to the grocery store more successful when you write down what you need before you go?

Looking at the kids in the photo – uh, excuse me – the young adults in the photo, you might imagine them giving each other “high-fives” and singing, “Looks like we made it,” between snapshots. Perhaps they did, but it’s not because they’ve “made it.” Actually, they're probably singing,  we've only just begun. (My apologies for the hackneyed music phrases – it’s an illness of mine). All five of them have years of study, long hours, and hard work ahead. All with the hope that some day one of them might potentially save your life. You see, at the time of this photograph, these two men and three women just graduated from a four year pre-med program. They are facing another eight to twelve years of education, depending on the specialty they choose. None of them would have made it this far without a vision. And none of them will ever hold a scalpel without a firm hold on that vision. Vision gives them focus, gives them resolve, gives them endurance. The same things that you need to keep your business going. Or your job relevant. Or your relationships healthy.

Do you have a vision for your Business? for your Success? for your Life? Of course you do. But this season, it might be worthwhile to hold it up to the light and take a look at it again. Is it the same for you now as when you first formed the vision inside the theater of your mind? Does it still inflame your passion, engage your talents, entertain your thoughts?

Yes, I suppose I am a little contemplative this time of year.

But, I do so much want for your life to be extraordinary. And I believe that takes a compelling vision. After all - ‘Tis the season for visions.

Happy Holidays!

Mike


20/20 Customer Service

Contact_cust_serv_1“Thank you for calling 1-800-CONTACTS. My name is Tracee. How may I help you?”

A live voice! Imagine that. Maybe it was just a really, realistic recording.

“Hello,” the voice was practically singing. “This is Tracee.”

Convinced it was a live human, I responded. “Hello. My name is Mike Dandridge and I’m a moron.”

The friendly voice laughed and said, “Oh, I find that highly unlikely, Mr. Dandridge.”

“Just wait. You haven’t heard my story. You’ll change your mind. You see, I ordered my disposable contacts online because I figured that if I tried to order over the phone, I’d go through voice mail purgatory. Well, I ordered the wrong contacts and didn’t figure it out until I’d thrown out the last pair of my old ones. So, I called your company and someone took care of it immediately – got the right ones on the way, and sent a “Return” for the ones I’d ordered by mistake. When I received the correct contacts, I tore open the boxes and put in a new pair. That was a month ago. This morning, I decided it was time to dispose of the ones I’d been wearing. But then, after I inserted the new ones, I couldn’t see a thing. After I looked again at the box, it dawned on me what I’d done. I had kept the contacts I’d ordered wrong in the first place and sent back the correct lenses by mistake. Like I said, ‘I’m a moron.’”

“Not at all, sir,” she insisted. Then she laughed – not in a mean-spirited way or anything, just sort of a sympathetic giggle. Then she said, “I’m sorry for the mix-up. After all you’ve been through; let’s get you taken care of right now.”

Two days later, the new contacts were in my hands. Two days after that, a handwritten Thank You note arrived from Tracee, with an apology for “all the confusion,” and a five-dollar gift certificate. Either by intuition, or instruction, Tracee completed five small steps that made the transition from set-back to solution appear seamless. Here they are:

  1. Empathize. Become an advocate, an ally for your customer, not an adversary. She sympathetically saw the humor in the situation, yet she took seriously the problem.
  2. Take ownership of the situation. Do whatever is within your power to fix the problem. If you’re the boss, empower your employees to do the same. She  didn’t pass me off to another department. Didn’t say, let me get back to you. She fixed it. Right then.
  3. Lessen the customer’s inconvenience in body, mind, and currency. The last thing your customer wants is a recitation of shoulds and shouldn’ts from your company’s return policy. She understood the importance to me of having the correct lenses and she made true on her promise to provide a quick resolution. Plus, she gave me a $5 discount. It’s not much, but where do you think I’ll place my next order for contacts?
  4. Manage the memory of the customer. Take the sting out of a negative experience. When I got off the phone with Tracee, my wife asked, “What are you smiling about.” I’m sure I’ll be telling this story in the future wearing the same idiotic grin.
  5. Extend the experience. Offer an invitation, an enticement, a reason for your customer to return. Think of it as a courtship. A handwritten Thank You Card? Who sends handwritten cards anymore? Exactly.

Note that she would have followed this same procedure had her company made the mistake instead of me. It’s never a good idea to assume that everyone in your company intuitively knows what to do when something bad happens to a good customer. They don’t. It’s important to have a systematic outline for dealing with potential problems. Share these steps with your colleagues or staff, because no matter how much you pride yourself on your service, eventually something will go wrong. It may even be the customer’s fault. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re prepared to resolve any setback – when good things go bad.


When Good Things Go Bad

Fonz_jumping_the_shark You know it when you see it. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now on…it’s all downhill. Some call it the climax. We call it “Jumping the Shark.” From Jump the Shark by Jon Hein.   

   

My son, Christopher, first told me about the expression, “jumping the shark,” born from the ramblings of five college guys rehashing favorite "classic" TV shows. The question emerged, "At what point did you know your favorite show was going downhill?" When they got to Happy Days, Sean Connelly said, ‘That’s easy. It was when Fonzie jumped the shark.’

   

Fans of the show may remember that "moment on Happy Days when Fonzie, fully clad in his leather jacket while on water skis, literally jumps over a shark in the Pacific Ocean. Anyone who was watching knew that very instant that the show would never be the same.” The phrase stuck. No explanation needed.

    

Then it occurred to me there are a number of ways a successful business can "jump the shark," too. Such as:

·     Cutting expenses at the cost of the customer experience.

·     Neglecting to communicate core values to staff, so they can communicate them to the customers.

·     Failure to have core values in the first place.

·     Seeing through the eyes of the shareholders, instead of the eyes of the customer.

·     Growing content, complacent – and compromised.

      

So, how do you keep from jumping the shark? By staying in close communication with your customers.

·     Offer an open forum on your Web site for customers to “chat” with each other.

·     Start a company blog where your customers can make comments.

·     Provide multiple, safe ways for your customers to tell you their needs.

·     Use self-assessment tools to uncover business strengths and weaknesses.

   

For the ten “touchpoints” considered most important to customers, go to the Customer Experience Index. My colleagues have correctly pointed out that the Index is too subjective for use as a self-assessment tool, but if you’re brave enough, you could hand a copy to your customers and let them fill in your score anonymously. It would be an opportunity to see your business through your customer's eyes.

   

Another way to avoid shark-jumping is by taking a few moments to browse the entries on the Wizard of Ads, Portal of American Small Business. You’ll quickly find plenty of great ideas for keeping your business fresh and alive. After all, you don’t want to become shark bait, do you?


What Do Customers Want?

Fast_company_cover_14

Where do we do get our notions about what qualifies as exceptional customer service?

Fast Company's editor, Mark N. Vamos believes it comes from "an unspoken expectation that's rooted in an idealized image of early-20th Century small-town commerce. We want to feel as if we're looking the proprietor in the eye over a wooden counter. We want the owner of the hardware store to know us. We want the waitress in the cafe to call us by name and pour our coffee with cream, no sugar, without being asked."

I slipped that into my "Wish I'd written that" file. He concludes that the companies best known for superior service are those that have learned how to leverage technology and training in such a way it actually personalizes the relationship between the customer and the business. You might enjoy his complete “Letter from the Editor" in the September issue.

This month the magazine features their Customers First Awards. The winners are described as those businesses that "transform ordinary transactions into entertaining experiences - delighting customers..." Sound familiar?  If you're not thinking about your business in the context of providing a compelling experience, you're missing a unique opportunity for a deeper connection with your customers.

We do personalize the relationship with the people and companies with whom we do business, just as our ancestors did when they looked the local merchant in the eye across a wooden counter. That is what Roy Williams defined as the “Personal Experience Factor.” Provide lousy customer service and the PEF drops below freezing. Enhance the customer experience and you raise the PEF thermostat. Do it right consistently, and you raise profits.

From the mom-and-pop businesses of a bygone era to the mega-corporations of today, the formula for success is timeless: Treat customers as friends. Generously reward their loyalty. Focus on fulfilling their needs and wants.

What do customers want? Simply this – personal attention.


More Signs

No_shoes_sign_2 Remember those “No food or drink allowed in this store” signs. Someone must have figured out that seeing the word “No” upon entering the store wasn’t exactly an invitation to buy. Those signs, located mostly at the entrance to the anchor stores of malls – where the customers bought the food and drink in the first place – seemed to disappear overnight. I like what retail consultant Donna Geary has to say on the topic. The message behind these signs almost “screams at the customer, ‘Go away!””

   We may not have signs with the word “No” posted, but we can unintentionally deliver the same message. How about this one: “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” (Do you really have to post a sign to reserve that right?) Or, this one, taped to the front of the register: “ALL SALES FINAL.” That one always makes me re-think my decision to buy. Here's one seems to be a favorite in the wholesale industry. I've seen it behind more than one sales counter at eye level so the customer can't miss it. "Failure to plan on your part, doesn't constitute an emergency on our part." I know, I know - it's supposed to be funny. But it's really no joke -it's how the distributor feels.

    Geary suggests business owners take this test. Monday morning, or after you’ve been away from your business for a day or two, pretend you are a customer entering your store for the first time. Walk through the main entrance and pause as you look around the store. Slowly, count to seven and then close your eyes. That’s how long it takes to make a first impression. What are the images that remain in your mind’s eye after those seven critical seconds? What are the signs you remember seeing? The colors, the products, the displays? A sense of order and continuity or disarray and ambiguity? Either is fine as long as that’s the message you’re intending to send.

    My WOA partner and clever friend Michele Miller elaborates extensively on the importance of those first seven seconds in a marvelous blog, WonderBranding posting titled, "Opening Gestures." You'll want to read it, but I'll paraphrase from her last remarks and offer you a new sign. Consider posting it where you can see it every morning, "Improve the impression you make in those first 7 seconds and you'll improve your bottom line."


Silent Messages

Coffee_frownie_face_1 At first, I thought she was just being fussy. Next, I began to rationalize the behavior of the server behind the counter…He probably didn’t mean it that way-maybe he's having a bad day…. Then it occurred to me – I’ve been that server behind the counter, and as a matter of fact, I did mean it that way.

     Here's how it happened: He knew he messed up the customer's coffee drink order, but he resented her for calling him on it, so he began making excuses for himself, internally – things he could never say aloud, like, well, if you’d spoken more clearly, or if your order wasn’t so particular, and on and on. Then, because he was upset and knew his company had strict directives on what to say and what NOT to say to a customer, he did the only thing he could think of to express his feelings – he delivered a silent message – with great flair and deliberation, he poured out the coffee in the sink in front of her. Though he spoke not a word, the server loudly announced, See what you made me do. You made me waste that perfectly good beverage. She got the point. That's when she became upset. I guess he showed her, huh.

  By the way, the company has strong directives about the server's actions, as well. Something like this: “Set the beverage on the back of the counter, wait until the store is empty of customers and THEN pour it out.” Why so specific? Because this company knows the power of silent messages.

    Customers receive silent messages when we ignore them, answer our cell phones, make faces of irritation, and on and on. Whether or not it is our intention to send the message is beside the point. If the customer perceives it a certain way, then in the heart of the customer, it is that way. And every word we use to express how much we value their business is quickly erased when our silent messages say otherwise.