I provide a seminar on customer service, and have a keynote presentation called The Customer Never Forgets. I have studied customer service, read a lot about customer service, and written quite a bit on customer service.
But more than anything else, I am a customer. Constantly. Practically every day. Increasingly, my customer experiences are on-line. And most of these experiences are fully what I hoped – one-click, fully satisfied little miracles. I click my mouse, and my product shows up on my doorstep two days later. Wonderful!
But occasionally, not so wonderful…
Recently, a disappointing customer experience, which cost me a little embarrassment and about one hour of my time, which was completely the fault of the company providing the service because of a mistake by one of their people, made me think a little more about this whole “how do we provide a better customer experience?” question.
So here is a snapshot of my latest thoughts..
In my training, I state that all customer experience boils down to two critical elements: be nice, and, be competent. I am convinced that if a company provides both of these, they will, in fact, keep their customers coming back. If the product or service is what the customer wants, and the interaction between the company representative and the customer is nice and hassle free, you’ve got a real winner on your hands. (We’ll leave it for another discussion about what happens when a competitor has a “better” product or service to offer. That is a different issue).
If you force me to choose, I will take competence over nice. If the product or service is exactly what I want, and I can’t get it anywhere else for less, I will take a slight absence of “nice.” Nice without competence does not satisfy – I need to be able to rely on the product or service more than I need someone to treat me in a nice way. But, give me both, nice and competent, and I am happiest.
But the real moment of truth is when there is a problem; a “mistake; a “disappointment.” When the company messes up, this is the acid test. And when I call to say, “you have made a mistake,” the first thing I want is “empathy,” then I want it fixed. I am not happy if it is fixed first. And, no matter how nice the person is, after I sense empathy, if it is not then fixed, I am not happy.
Consider this as a way to think about providing that better customer experience:
|If I need a precise product||The company provides it, with no hassles||I am happy|
|If I need a product, but don’t know exactly what I need||The company suggests the right item/solution – I get it, try it, like it||I am happy|
|The company messes up||The representative of the company tries to fix it, but without empathy (including a genuine “I’m sorry”), before they then fix it||I am not happy|
|The company messes up||The representative of the company is really empathetic, but does not “fix it” well||I am not happy|
|The company messes up||The representative is genuinely empathetic, then fixes it||I am happy|
So – Empathy first, fix it second. This is what I need when a company messes up. And without that empathy first, I am not happy – and might look for an alternative.
I have recently presented synopses of two terrific books related to customer service excellence. One is Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It by Adrian J. Slywotzky. This book is terrific on the issue of removing hassles. And people really do not like hassles!
The other is Prescription for Excellence: Leadership Lessons for Creating a World-Class Customer Experience from UCLA Health System by Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. Michelli is a superior observer, and he is especially good at pulling out insights that you can transfer into your own arena.
Both of these books are worth reading. And, you can purchase my synopsis of these books, with audio + comprehensive handout, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
And, if you are interested in bringing my customer service training, or my keynote presentation, into your company or organization, click the “hire us” tab.
Last Friday at our First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson for the first time. I repeated it to another audience on Tuesday and, I suspect, will do so a number of more times in the weeks/months to come. I have found that a book synopsis is a great conversation starter, and then, a valuable and useful “let’s think about things” catalyst. Isaacson’s book is terrific for just such a purpose.
So, on Tuesday, a man walked up and wanted to talk about Steve Jobs (the person, the business leader – not just the book). This is a sharp man. He earned a PhD, he started a successful company, and he is involved in an exciting new start-up. He is extremely well-read. (In this conversation, he told me of a book that I have not read, and I immediately downloaded into my iPad). Oh — he is also a long-time Mac user.
He had quite a few observations about the leadership style of Jobs. He asked me if I knew the MobileMe story, when Steve Jobs let the team “have it” for their failures. I did know the story. (I forget where I first read it. You can read about it here). Here’s the key part of the story:
Jobs asked his team what MobileMe was supposed to do. Upon receiving an answer he quickly fired back, “So why the f*** doesn’t it do that?”
This astute observer then said this about Jobs:
“Steve Jobs was the greatest advocate for the customer I have ever seen in a business leader.”
That may be IT! – the insight about what made Steve Jobs great. As a business leader, Steve Jobs cared about, was passionate about!, was demanding for, the customer and the customer’s experience. He cared that his products made the life of the customer better, and easier. And his products do exactly that.
And though he was hard to work with/for, this was his motivation. From the Isaacson book:
Business Week asked him why he treated employees so harshly, Jobs said it made the company better.
In other words, according to the insight of this Tuesday night participant, Jobs wanted to make the company better in order to make the customer experience better. He was hard on his employees in his role as advocate for the customer.
This is the insight of the year!
This brings a real clarity to my understanding of Steve Jobs, and to business success in general. You have to care for the customer. You have to be an advocate for the customer, all the time. Because, without the customer — without a happy, genuinely satisfied customer — your days are truly numbered as a business.
You can purchase my synopsis of Steve Jobs, with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
It’s in the sub-title: Prescription for Excellence: Leadership Lessons for Creating a World-Class Customer Experience from UCLA Health System by Joseph Michelli. Ponder the phrase, mull over the concept: “customer experience.” I am increasingly convinced that this phrase, “customer experience” is the best phrase to use to talk about customer service.
Think about the depth behind this statement: “It’s been my experience…” When a person utters those words, it communicates a whole lot. Each person passes judgment on a company within each and every experience.
In discussing this concept, Michelli refers to the book The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage, published back in 1999 (this is a book I presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis over 11 years ago; Spring, 2000):
– from Gilmore and Pine, 1999, The Experience Economy:
• Even in difficult times, 50 percent of consumers will pay more for a better service experience.
• A full 68 percent will sever a customer relationship because they were treated poorly by a staff member.
• Companies that are successful in creating both functional and emotional bonding with customers have higher retention rates (84 percent vs. 30 percent) and greater cross-selling ratios (82 percent vs. 16 percent) compared to companies that are not.
And UCLA has developed a true customer-centric/customer-experience approach to their core business – taking care of patients. Principle 1 of their 5 core principles is this: Commit To Care — Care Takes Vision, Clarity, And Consistency. And the UCLA Health System requires each and every employee to sign the CICARE promise:
• “CICARE” – (pronounced “See-I-Care”) — the “short version”:
Connect with the patient or family member using Mr./Ms., or their preferred name.
Introduce yourself and your role.
Communicate what you are going to do, how it will affect the patient, and other needed information.
Ask for and anticipate patient and or family needs, questions, or concerns.
Respond to patient and/or family questions and requests with immediacy.
Exit, courteously explaining what will come next or when you will return.
(the longer version, teaches… elements of Courtesy; Professionalism; Respect)
I thought of all this as I had three different customer service experiences this week. I use these three “services” each and every month. They include Constant Contact, and two others. Here’s what I have experienced: whenever I call Constant Contact, the person I reach is easily understandable; is fully knowledgeable; is always polite – almost pleasant. And I always get what I need, with no hassle, and no feelings of frustration.
The second company (notice I am not naming the other two) is hit-and-miss. One time, I have a terrific customer experience. The next, maybe not. Every person I have ever called at Constant Contact seems fully ready to meet my need. This second company, I either get lucky, or I end up slightly to more-than-slightly frustrated.
The third company, well… don’t even get me started. With practically every call, the person is not all that pleasant – it’s as though I am interrupting his or her day with my question/need. They are not knowledgeable. They do not have answers. And though they are not rude, they are nowhere near pleasant.
Let’s think of these as three different spots on the customer experience spectrum. One, I would gladly recommend to you. (That’s Constant Contact). The second, I would recommend, because the service is really, really good. But don’t expect the same level of experience. The third, I’m about to drop – even though I like their “service,” and dropping it will mean more work for me. I’m simply tired of dealing with them, and I’m looking for an alternative.
Or, to put it another way — I don’t mind it when I have to call Constant Contact. I sort of mind it when I have to call the second compnay. I practically dread calling the third company.
Think about your customers, your clients. Do they walk away from every encounter with you having experienced a genuinely, hassle-free, fully liked, experience? Or — not?
By the way, there are no short cuts to providing such a true good experience culture. It takes constant attention, over the long haul. You can never let it slide!
Every customer encounter is taken personally by that customer. Every experience is judged. Every time. And each bad experience can lead to the loss of that customer (A full 68 percent will sever a customer relationship because they were treated poorly by a staff member). You don’t want that, do you?
You’ve got two challenges. Keep you current customers very, very happy. And, find your next customer.
But customers are not like they used to be. They get to choose – everything! And most of all, they get to choose whether or not to be your customer.
The experience economy… signifies the final blow to the notion of mass marketing. Today, the experience of the product or service – the experience of the exchange itself – defines delight and ultimately spells success or failure for the business and the brand. Experience is not objective. And it is your customer’s perception of the experience that you must strive to improve… The increased intimacy of that experience is what allows customers to ascribe a deeper connection and more value to products and services. The structuring of that intimacy is the goal of Persuasion Architecture.
At the heart of the experience economy is this. Was the customer’s experience memorable (in a good way)? Here is a quote from The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage by B. Joseph Pine and James Gilmore:
Companies stage an experience when they engage customers in a memorable way.
Customers remember two kinds of experiences. The really good ones. And the bad ones. You don’t want the bad, and you don’t want the “neutral.” You want your customers to have good, memorable experiences. Those are the only kind that will keep them coming back, and spreading the word, in this era. Why? Because they simply have too many choices…
(By the way, they will also spread the word re. the bad experiences – whether you want them to or not).)
So, ask this – over and over again:
are my customers experiencing good positive experiences when they come to my event or buy my product or service?
If not, you’ve got some better experiences to create.
(By the way, the one guarantee of a bad experience is an experience filled with “hassles.” Aim for hassle free experiences!)