We first met Jonathan when he was introduced as the President of the Global Speaker’s Federation. He struck us then as a statesman and diplomat. A few months later, I (David) enjoyed a wonderful dinner with Jonathan as he traveled through Denver, Colorado. After trusting me to order for the table, our conversation ranged from our professions to our favorite foods, to how we can help those in need. Jonathan is also one of our hosts at the Asia HR Summit and Asian Professional Speakers Singapore Conference. He doesn’t just talk about the power of relationships and building customer loyalty – he lives it.
Click on the image for more information about Jonathan’s book.
Winning Well Reflection
One of the things we love is when we can provide practical tools to help leaders succeed. Jonathan delivers in that vein with some very practical and helpful tools for leaders who are challenged to build relationships. For some people, this comes naturally, but for those who need to be more intentional, his suggestions, particularly scheduled ‘reach out’ time are so helpful.
I first met Shep when we were both keynoting at International Customer Service Association conference in Florida. It was my very first external keynote (I was still working as an executive at Verizon) outside of Verizon and Shep was the incoming President of the National Speakers Association. I’ll never forget the moment he said, “So when are you going to do this for a living?” And, when you’re ready to leave Verizon, call me and I can give you some pointers to get started– which I did, and he was extremely helpful and encouraging. Shep was also one of our earliest encouragers of Winning Well. You can listen to our Winning Well interview with Shep on his Amazing Business Radio show.
Click on book image for more information about Shep’s book
Create Customer Confidence By Delivering Consistent and Predictable Experiences
In order for companies to be successful, their customers must feel a sense of confidence in them. No matter what you do or what you sell, you must create confidence. I’ve been preaching for years that the way to create confidence is to deliver a consistent and predictable experience. And, that is still the most powerful way to get a customer to trust you.
When your customers know you will always do what you say, you will always be on time, you will always do what you promise, you are always polite and appreciative … well, you get the idea. That word “always” is a pretty powerful word. It’s about consistency and predictability.
There is one more piece I’d like to add to the concept of confidence, which is to guarantee whatever it is that you do or sell. Why do people like to shop at Nordstrom? They know they are going to get great merchandise delivered with great service. In addition, they know that if for any reason they are unhappy with their purchase, or if there is a problem with whatever they bought, they know that Nordstrom has their back and will give them a refund or exchange the product.
I had the opportunity to speak with Aaron Leon of LD Products. His company sells remanufactured ink cartridges for copiers and printers. You might have a brand name printer like a Canon or HP, but you don’t have to buy brand name ink cartridges from those same brands. LD Products prides itself on a very cost effective alternative, sometimes saving the customer as much as 70% off the brand names. And, while LD Products promises great customer service, they know that they have a battle with the perception of the quality of remanufactured ink cartridges. So, what did Aaron Leon do? He offered a guarantee that takes all of the risk out of the purchase. Just how strong is the guarantee? Basically, if for any reason you have a problem – which you won’t – or you’re not happy, LD Products will take the product back and refund your money. That’s a nice guarantee, but the quintessential guarantee statement can be summed up with what Aaron Leon tells his customers: “If you don’t like the color of the box, we’ll take it back!” Now, that’s a guarantee!
So, are you so comfortable with your products and services that you’re willing to offer that kind of guarantee to your customers? Think about the trust and confidence that it would create. Think about the increase in sales. Think about the repeat and loyal customers. Creating customer confidence means delivering a consistent, predictable experience and standing behind your product or service – with a guarantee.
Winning Well Reflection
Shep is a master of customer service and his suggestions to build customer confidence by keeping your commitments and guaranteeing your products and services are fundamental to amazing your customers. We believe the same principles hold true for your employees. Can your employees count on a consistent and predictable experience with you? Credibility is your currency – both with customers and your team.
We’ve enjoyed getting to know Chip over the years and are so inspired by his passionate approach to creating a great customer experience. He truly understands the importance of Winning Well not just with employees but with customers as well.
Click on the image for more information about Chip’s book.
Larry Smith lost it! And of all places, he lost it in the big-deal quarterly leadership meeting. He absolutely went over the edge in his impassioned plea for some issue around a key customer. No, he didn’t cry; although he did wipe his eyes before his cheeks got streaked. No, he didn’t pound the table; although he did demonstrate a few gestures that would be the envy of any aspiring thespian.
But, what Larry did do in his “out of control” passion clearly crossed all normal bounds of rationality and routine boardroom decorum. And yet, he engaged the hearts … and commitment … of every single person in the leadership meeting. People were truly moved. And, it did make a difference. Stuff happened!
The “Larry loses his cool” incident led me to reflect on the true meaning of leadership. I thought about how much the land of being “confidently in charge” contained artifacts of control, rationality, logic and “keeping your cool.” I thought about how little these sensible artifacts had anything to do with inspiring spirit in any context of life.
People do not brag about their rational marriage, their reasonable hobby, or their sensible vacation. There is rarely “in control” behavior when Junior is rounding third base or Julie “sticks” her dismount. Exhortations of ecstasy are never restrained on the fishing bank when the cork suddenly disappears and with surprising force. But, somehow all that Larry-like spirit is an unwelcome distraction after the time clock is passed. And, the closer one gets to mahogany row, the less tolerance there seems to be for “sounds of the heart.”
I thought about how freeing it was for everyone in that room when “Larry lost his cool.” Were we uncomfortable? Yes! Did we wonder “Where the hell is this going?” Yes! But, we all felt momentarily in kinship with real life. Julia Roberts echoed the Larry theme in Steel Magnolias when, as a courageous diabetic expectant mother facing the life-threatening potential of giving birth, said: “I’d rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.”
Great leaders are not rational beings … they are spirit carriers. They passionately “give birth” in the face of threatening circumstances. The biography of almost every great leader who ever faced the potential of bodily harm accompanying his or her cause communicates a consistent theme: “Why we were there played so loud in my ear I never really heard what might happen because we were there.” Passion played and leaders put issues like “in control” on some emotional back burner. We know Larry. And, Larry is not an irrational, illogical person. Yet, somehow, that day we trusted his passion more than his reason.
“Whoa!” you say. We can’t have the chaos of unbridled emotion. What would the stockholders say? After all, is it not the role of a leader to bring forth a sense of “grace under pressure,” or “order when all around you is losing their head?” Should leaders not strive to be more anchor than sail? More rudder than oar?
“No!” We have missed the boat on what it means to be a confident leader. The organization, the marketplace, and the situation offer far more “predictable” than is predictably required. The truth is rationality oozes from the seams of every business encounter. Leaders do not have to bring order, sanity, rationality or logic. Every dimension of business life reeks with those qualities. Sane leaders foster insane passion.
Great leaders call up in each of us a visit to the raggedy edge of brilliance and the out-of-the-way corner of genius. When we feel inspired … incensed … ennobled …we have visited the magical realm of passion. We typically return from that realm renewed, revitalized … and slightly revolted. And, when a leader has had a hand in that visit, there is a sense of security married to an otherwise solitary search.
Passion takes the plain vanilla out of encounters. Philosopher Goethe called it “boldness” and said: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin in boldness. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.”
Today’s followers need passionate connections from leaders who come soaring from the heart to awaken boldness. It builds a relationship platform that raises everyone to a higher level. Imposing mountains are climbed, culture-changing movements are started, and breakthrough miracles are sparked by leaders who take the governors off rationalism and prudence, letting their confident spirit ascend from within.
Winning Well Reflection
We hear all the time from leaders around the world who wish their teams would “put their heart into it.” If you’ve ever wistfully wondered where your team’s passion is, Chip offers you a fantastic look at where that igniting force comes from. In order for your people’s heart to be in what they’re doing – they’ve got to see yours. Be real, be authentic, and let us know why it matters.
Once your product becomes a commodity, you’re hosed. Even your once loyal customers start looking around for where they can get your offering cheaper, faster, or with less hassle. Most companies get this and take deliberate steps to differentiate their products.
Sadly, as companies work to scale, one of the biggest mistakes I see is that they begin to de-personalize the customer experience in the name of efficiency.
The Biggest Reasons Your Customer Feels Like a Commodity
No customer wants to feel like a commodity. If you’re not sure if you wandering into dangerous territory, watch for these symptoms of commodity-feeling behaviors.
You’re Force Feeding Processes for Your Convenience
Have you ever said, “We just have to train our customers to do it this way. They’ll get used to it?”
If how you’re “training” them is really in their best interest, they might see the value in changing the way you work together. But if your new process is clearly all about your own efficiency or to make things easier internally, customers will wonder why they’re the ones who have to do things your way.
I see this all the time when start-ups work to scale. They begin informing their loyal customers who’ve been with them from the start the new rules of the game. It’s quite possible they took a chance on you from the beginning, because you were creative, flexible, and involved them in the process. If they start to smell bureaucracy and overhead, they’re likely to start looking around to regain that “I’m special” feeling.
I’ve left several of the suppliers I used early in building my business for this very reason, and I know I’m not alone.
You’re Reading From a Script
If you can’t trust your employees to have a real conversation, then you’re hiring the wrong people or not training them well. Nothing says “You’re just not that important to us” more than a script.
They Know More About Your Product or Policies than the Person Who Answers Your Phone
By the time a customer picks up the phone, they’re looking for an expert. Be sure the person they reach is both confident and competent.
You Under-Appreciate Their Tenure
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard employees quibbling over five bucks with a customer who has spent thousands over their tenure because some “policy” told them to.
You Make an Exception, But Offer a Lecture
I was at the hairdresser the other day when a woman came in to buy some shampoo with an expired gift certificate. The owner cited that their policy was quite clear to the person who had bought it. When the customer asked if there was anything that could be done, she cited the policy twice more and then gave in. After the owner honored it, she then gave the customer a lecture about expiration dates and how it’s really just better to give people Visa gift cards.
That customer bolted for the door as soon as she had her shampoo in hand. The owner lost twice. She was out the cost of the bottle of shampoo, and she had a detractor poised to tell the world about how she was made to feel.
No customer wants to feel like a commodity. Be sure you keep people feeling special as your business grows.
The only problem with the concept, “The customer is always right,” is that sometimes they’re wrong.
If you’ve been in any kind of customer-facing position, I know you’re with me.
Sure, there are many, many circumstances where the only choice is to bite your tongue and concede, for the good of the customer experience.
But some wrong is just, well…wrong.
It takes confident humility to stand up to a customer when they’re doing something unethical, immoral, or discriminatory. Winning Well managers know that the MIT (most important thing) at a time like that is to stand clearly on the side of right.
My assistant conductor, Loretta came to me and said matter-of-factly, “There’s a guy in the second car, who refuses to give me his ticket.”
“Does he have a ticket?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure he does.”
“Why won’t he give it to you?” I continued, now sensing an undercurrent of hurt beneath her frustration, as the color drained from her dark skin.
“Well, I have a theory.”
“I’ll be right back.”
I approached the old, balding man, “Hi Sir, the other conductor said you refused to give her your ticket.”
He laughed, “Oh, I’m happy to give it YOU. I just won’t give it HER.”
“Well then, you have a problem. You see Loretta is the only one who takes the tickets. But since yours is the next stop. I’ll take it this time.”
“Oh no, I’m getting off in Albany.”
“No sir, you are getting off at the next stop. And if you refuse, I’ll be happy to make a phone call to get you some help getting off.”
I then held the train at the next stop and explained the situation to the agent at the ticket window. He could feel free to refund his money, but under no circumstances was he to sell the meanie a ticket.
Rick sent a clear message to Loretta, her peers and all the customers watching the spectacle. Loretta’s dignity is what mattered most. Bigotry, even from a paying customer, was completely unacceptable.
I’m sitting next to Rick, a retired railroad engineer, on a delayed Southwest flight from Tampa to Baltimore. It’s been a LONG week of serial cancelled flights, and other travel frustrations. I’m wearing the same suit I wore in Detroit on Tuesday because I never did make it home between gigs.
Rick doesn’t seem to notice the wrinkles, as we begin swapping travel nightmare stories.
It was the middle of winter and the train was headed through a really rural section of upstate New York. The snow was coming down so hard you couldn’t see the sky, when the train stopped dead on the tracks—serious engine trouble. After several hours of waiting for help, it was clear we had a very long night ahead of us.
The café car ran out of food. The passengers were one Snickers bar short of a riot.
Jeff (whom Rick proudly pointed out he had trained), went to the café car attendant and said, we’ve got to solve this problem—people need to eat. Please give me some cash, I’m going to find food.
Jeff then trudged through the snow to the Kentucky Fried Chicken and said he needed 159 chicken dinners.
The kid behind the counter looked panicked, “Look, man, I want to help and I’ve got the chicken, but I don’t have enough staff to cook all that!”
Jeff smiled, “No worries, I used to work at a KFC. Let me just wash my hands and come back and help you.”
I can only imagine the eruption of applause as Jeff returned smelling of grease and salt, and began handing out free chicken.
It’s hard to be cranky with a drumstick in your hand.
Many customers took the time to write Amtrak with commendations. Amtrak fully supported his out of the box thinking.
Two weeks later his boss wrote him up for having his hat on crooked.
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I thought I was getting ahead of the blizzard, After all, the snow wasn’t supposed to start until Friday morning. But apparently I wasn’t the only one thinking Thursday morning was a good time to slip out to our local Trader Joes. Every register was open and the every line stretched all the way to the back of the store. I had to give them credit–they had clearly planned for the onslaught and called in reinforcements.
Knowing that customers weren’t happy, the manager was getting on the microphone being a merry as possible.
“Hey everybody, oh my gosh, did you hear it’s going to snow?”
A few minutes later she was back on the mic.
“Okay raise your hand if you are number 7 in your line.”
We all worked together to count. Nice distraction.
“Wow! Just wow! Today is your special day! Everyone of you in the number 7 spot gets a candy bar.”
She approached the #7s behind me, “Can you share?” The skinny 70 somethings behind me looked at her longingly and she caved, “Okay here’s two.”
She was clearly trying, and empowered.
After about 45 minutes, I was next in line. The woman in front of me tried to pay with her smartphone and it completely crashed the computer register in my lane which I had already observed was lane 8, #justincasetherewasanothercontest. At this point I was hungry.
They had to call headquarters IT. After 10 minutes of trouble shooting, I turned to the candy-bar-crunching 70-something- number-7s behind me.
“Okay, they were doing great, but now this is a fiasco. I’m a leadership and organizational effectiveness consultant, here’s what I think they need to do next… I’m so ready to go give them some free consulting. Do you think that would be rude?”
They were all ears on my plan, so we began chatting about how I could offer to help in the spirit of being useful vs. obnoxious.
As it turned out no intervention was necessary. The jolly manager once again grabbed the mic.
“Okay, so this happened…. we have a lane down, so here’s what we’re going to do. If you’re in lane 8 raise your hand.”
We were all ears in lane 8, and eagerly raised our hands in surrender. Everyone else just rolled their eyes.
“First of all, if you are in lane 8, Steve here is going to come by and ask you what your favorite Trader Joe’s item is. He’s going to go get it for you and you will get that for free.”
But here’s where the rest of you come in. Some of these folks in lucky lane 8 have been waiting for nearly an hour just like you. So, you don’t have to do this, but if you would be willing to let them step in front of you, raise both of your hands (yup, that’s how many feet of snow we’re getting), and you too will get your favorite Trader Joe’s item for free. Raised hands all around, and the people began chatting and moving in an orderly fashion.
Her plan trumped mine by a landslide.
The lady next to me kindly let me step in front. We both got our steaks for free.
As my new cashier was ringing me up, she was all smiles.
“How great is this?” She questioned. “Can you imagine ANY OTHER grocery store that would respond this way?
The best Superbowl advertisement ever: It was Superbowl Sunday just before kickoff. It was the first appointment the Apple Genius Bar had available, my hard drive had crashed, and I was in a tailspin. The book I had finished that weekend, was stuck in a system that wouldn’t boot, the last third lost with no back-up. Not to mention the trapped keynote presentations and other docs I’d lost.
“Our DNA is as a consumer company – for that individual customer who’s voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s who we think about. And we think that our job is to take responsibility for the complete user experience. And if it’s not up to par, it’s our fault, plain and simply.”
~ Steve Jobs
Apparently, the editing of the video we filmed Saturday was just too much for my little MacBook Air. I waited with fearful expectation for my turn and diagnosis, anticipating the rolled eyes I deserved. After all, what ding bat does a big project without a net? I felt like a rookie.
Tony called my name and I shared my story. I was disturbed by his odds, but strangely comforted by his approach:
Oh, Karin, that’s just terrible, it could be bad. I’m not sure we can recover your files. But, you have my absolute commitment that I’ll do everything in my power to fix this. OUR goal is to have you leave here with your book, the rest of your data, and a fully functional laptop. It’s complicated, and I can’t make promises, but here are the first 3 options we’ll try if those don’t work, I’ll explain our other options and we’ll decide together,
After my 30 minute appointment morphed into full surgery, Tony brought in reinforcements. The prognosis was improving, but it would take a while.
Chatting to keep me off the ledge, Tony shared gently: You know the video work you’re trying to do on this is a lot for this computer. It will work, but it’s not ideal. I know you don’t want to think about that now; just something to consider in the future.
I had time to kill, so I told him I was off to wander around. Tony introduced me to John to answer any questions I had while I browsed. I told John the whole story. His eyes brightened.
“You’re writing a book! Oh way cool, what’s it about?” (HE LISTENED)
He shared, “I write too, mostly fiction, screen plays. Working on a sitcom. (NOW I’M LISTENING)
And I do video, this is what I use. That’s actually my dream, but I love working here because I stay up to date on all the technology. (I’M LISTENING AND LEARNING)
Are you using iMovie? (HE’S LISTENING)
How’s that been for you? (HE’S LISTENING MORE)
“Do you like to travel,” he continued. “I find most artists like to travel, I sure do. (NOW HE CALLED ME AN ARTIST. NICE)
“You know, once you publish your book, you should bring it in so we can all celebrate together about the book we saved. (WE WERE IN THIS TOGETHER)
He continued, it’s so nice seeing someone pursuing their passion. (THE FEELING WAS MUTUAL)
So there we were two “artists” spending Superbowl Sunday chatting about dreams. I left the store with my book, a working laptop, a new desk top computer, and a joyous heart inspired with possibility. I woke up at 3 am the next morning, gave the book a once over on my new machine and hit send, feeling like an “artist.”
Great Customer Service Feels Like
Commitment to resolution
Being “In It” together
Leaving the customer feeling like their best possible self
Whether your customers are external or those you are leading, connection matters.
Zappos has so many folks looking to benchmark their magic, that they offer a menu of ways to learn their playbook. Teaching culture has become a revenue stream. While the rest of us carefully guard our best practices, they offer you shot of Grey Goose, and welcome you to play along. Why?
My theory– they know we don’t have the guts to pull it off.
They’ve seen thousands of mesmerized execs return home to create more rules and standards that absolutely ensure a culture like that will never exist.
Cracker Jack Service
Chip Bell’s latest book, The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service offers easy suggestions to creating great customer service cultures. No Grey Goose required. He advocates for “Cracker Jack” service, differentiating experience through surprise. It was not the colorful box of caramelized popcorn that enamored consumers; it was the free toy inside. While financially worthless it was emotionally priceless. And, it is a reminder of the clout of simplicity.
His advice is extremely simple. Build cultures of empathy, delight and surprise. But most of the LGL community in not in the C-Suite, making the big rules. You can’t build a Zappos from the bottom up. So, how do frontline and middle management leaders encourage creative, zappos-like magic within their existing cultures? I called Chip.
He shared, “Customer service organizations rely on command and control when they hold a belief that the frontline is not capable of handling such responsibility. The downward spiral begins when the capable people react to that kind of treatment, by doing exactly what you’ve told them to do. Frontline leaders can structure the work so the reps find joy in the experience.
He offered this simple suggestion.
Ask reps to consider, “what’s something I could say to this customer today that would really surprise them?”
I’m off to try that.
I appreciate the conversation with Chip in the writing of this post. Chip is the author of 20 books, including Wired and Dangerous (co-authored with John Patterson) and Take Their Breath Away (also with John Patterson). He is a senior partner with the Chip Bell Group and serves as a consultant, trainer, or speaker to major organizations. Find his new book on simpletruths.com.
I know you’re frustrated that your internal presentation on fixing customer service was leaked to the press. That stinks. You can recover. At least we know you are trying to fix it. We’d all like a bit more happy with our meals.