Protecting Your Corporate Brand

Corporate Branding Is More Than Just Logos and PR

Ever since I wrote my first book in 1997, Corporate Image Management: A Marketing Discipline for the 21st Century, I have advocated that “nothing touches the customer more than how he or she perceives your corporate image.”

Corporate image management, or what some writers and researchers refer today as corporate reputation management, remains one of the most important (and yet most overlooked) management and marketing disciples for businesses, organizations, associations, and government entities.

In today’s global market environment, customer trust in organizations, particularly corporations, is at an all-time low as a direct fallout from the never-ending series of widely reported scandals (i.e. WorldCom and CEO Bernie Ebbers, Enron, Martha Stewart, HIH Insurance, OneTel, Tyco, Citicorp’s recent activities in Japan and Europe, Boeing, and Parmalat in Italy).

Corporate image management has always been important, but perhaps never as important as today. As Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said in his Commencement Address at Harvard University in 1999, “In today’s world, where ideas are increasingly displacing the physical in the production of economic value, competition for reputation becomes a significant driving force, propelling our economy forward.”

The corporate image is an extremely important corporate asset, one deserving the same attention and commitment by senior management as any other vital issue. The key to managing this asset is to fully understand that your stakeholders’ perceptions embody your corporate image.

Unfortunately for every organization, these stakeholder perceptions are no longer (and I doubt if they truly ever were) formed solely through experiences with your products and services.

For instance, a multiyear study by Cone Inc., a marketing and communications firm based in Boston, reveals that American customers are now increasingly taking into consideration the reputation and track record of social responsibility of the companies they will keep in their spending circle. Eighty percent reportedly said corporate support of a cause is a key factor in whether or not they trust a particular firm, an increase of 21 percent from the previous year.

According to Carol Cone, CEO of Cone, “This study, a series of research spanning over a decade, shows that in today’s climate, more than ever before, companies must get involved with social issues in order to protect and enhance their reputations.

Supporting a cause can improve a company’s status with customers. Companies that are caught or reported behaving unethically or illegally can also expect to receive some clearly defined customer responses. In such cases, according to the Cone research:

  • 90 percent said they would consider switching to another company’s product or service.
  • 81 percent said they would speak out against the company to family and friends.
  • 80 percent would consider selling any stock holdings in the company.
  • 80 percent would refuse to invest in the company.
  • 75 percent would refuse to work for that company.
  • 73 percent said they would boycott that company’s goods or services.
  • 67 percent said they would be less loyal in their job at that company.

On the other hand, positive corporate activity in social and community issues can have an immediate positive impact on corporate brand images. GMIPoll conducted a survey with 20,000 consumers in 20 countries one week after the South Asian Tsunami, measuring their opinions on American multinational brands, corporate tsunami relief efforts, and U.S. foreign policy. A remarkable 59% of these consumers reported that their impressions of corporate brands improved as a result of the tsunami relief efforts from U.S.-based multinational corporations.

For example, Coca-Cola provided bottled drinking water, basic foodstuffs, and medical supplies to tsunami victims; Starbucks made an initial contribution of $100,000 to international relief organizations CARE and Oxfam UK, plus donated $2 per pound of Sumatra coffee sold during January; and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged an initial $3 million to nongovernmental organizations to aid tsunami relief efforts.

The GMIPoll results indicated that as a result of Coke’s contributions, 61% of consumers reported an improved image of Coca-Cola. Starbuck’s tsunami relief pledge resulted in 51% of respondents expressing an improved image of Starbucks. The Bill and Melinda Gates donation resulted in 50% of respondents reporting an improved image of Microsoft.

Furthermore, 46% of all consumers indicated that they will purchase more products from the companies that provided tsunami relief. For example, 39% indicated they would consider purchasing more Coca-Cola products in the future; 32% indicated they would buy more at Starbucks; and 37% indicated a greater willingness to buy Microsoft products.

Positive brand sentiment gained from tsunami relief efforts stands in stark contrast to images heavily influenced by U.S. foreign policy. The GMIPoll found that one in five international consumers consciously avoids purchasing American brands as a way of displaying their discontent over recent American foreign policies and military action (the three countries with the highest percentage of consumers who indicate an intention to boycott iconic American brands are South Korea 45%, Greece 40% and France 25%).

Softening the blow however, 56% of those who indicated that they consider boycotting American brands also reported that their judgment of those corporations that had donated to the tsunami relief effort had improved; similarly, 48% stated that they would consider purchasing products in the future from those brands that had provided tsunami aid. Clearly, there are powerful international cross currents influencing global consumers’ views of American iconic brands.

Corporate branding is more than just positive media coverage, good financial results, and increased market share. And it is certainly more than just donating money, products, or services when natural disasters strike.

Properly managed, your corporate brand should discourage unethical behavior throughout the organization, reduce staff turnover, reduce customer churn and attrition, and minimize negative media coverage. This will happen only when management sees the corporate image as a management discipline, and not just a marketing tool, a graphic design project, or a public relations exercise.

The essential role that corporate image now performs is also a result of major shifts in the field of marketing combined with more knowledgeable and interested customers. The corporate brand image is much more than a name or logo. Your corporate brand reflects your way of doing business, a key component of reputation and identity.

The strongest corporate brands tend to be the ones with the most consistent and clearest messages. These brands create expectations and anticipations in the minds of both consumers who buy, use, or recommend the brands and the employees who deliver upon these inherent promises.

Every organization has a corporate image, whether it wants one or not.

When properly designed and managed, the corporate image will accurately reflect the organization’s commitment to quality, excellence, and its relationships with its various constituents: such as current and potential customers, employees and future staff, competitors, partners, governing bodies, and the general public.

Also, when properly managed and communicated, the corporate image will create an internal culture that is more likely to protect the brand and reputation of the organization.

In a sense, this is complete circle of corporate brand protection. A properly managed corporate image creates a culture that protects the brand and reputation, which therefore reinforces and strengthens the management of the corporate image.

This makes the management of your corporate image one of the most potent marketing and management tools available for your senior executives to use in ensuring the viable execution of your corporate vision, as well as ensuring the protection of this most vital corporate asset.

 

KEY POINT: nothing touches the customer more than how he or she perceives your corporate image.

TAKING ACTION: who is in charge of your corporate image? If the answer is not “everyone in the organization,” then take time to reflect on why not.

When was the last time your senior management team reviewed and discussed your corporate image? How soon can this subject be added to the next senior management meeting agenda?

Survey the top 20% of your customers on their perceptions of your corporate image. Survey 100% of your employees asking the same questions. Compare the results.

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

Taking Care of Customers

If you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will

I was in Melbourne in 1999 attending a major meeting of the Australian and New Zealand banks that issue MasterCard credit cards and Maestro debit cards.

Mr. Nicholas Utton, Chief Marketing Officer of MasterCard International at that time, had one key message for this audience of senior bankers concerning customers: “if we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will.

That’s worth repeating — and reflecting on: “if we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will.”

And how true that is.

Just think about all the choices and options available to your customers today.

Rare is the organization that finds itself without numerous competitors. Even rarer is the customer without readily available options, choices, or substitute products for the solutions they seek.

To take care of your customers, you need to have a full understanding of their wants, needs, and desires.

I would also suggest that you need to have a corporate-wide attitude that understands a person or an organization is not truly your customer until the second time they buy.

That is right. I recommend you do not consider anyone a customer until the second time they buy from you.

The first time they buy they are merely a trial user. Unless they achieve satisfaction from the purchase and the use of your product or service, they may be unlikely to repeat their business with you.

Hence, taking care of the customer goes beyond the mere sales cycle and includes all post-purchase activities such as use, repair, servicing, customer service, warranties, and trade-in or re-sale.

The best way to take care of your prospects and customers is to tailor or customize your products and service offerings as much as you profitably can.

Treat your customers as individuals ─ with individual needs ─ at all customer touch points and you will be well on your way to developing customer loyalty.

And remember, in the words of MasterCard’s former Chief Marketing Officer, if you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.

 

KEY POINT: if you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.

TAKING ACTION: are you fully aware of the experiences customers have with your products? How satisfying are these experiences? Any way to find out?

Where can your product or service offer be customized? How can you create tailored solutions for your very, very important customers?

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

Make It Easy For Customers To Complain

Customers Who Complain Are Customers Who Care

 Two of the key points from last week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo are:

1)   complaints will happen because mistakes will happen, and

2)  customers who complain are customers who care.

Therefore, knowing that you are going to get complaints and knowing that such complaints are good for you, it makes sense to have a complaint management strategy in place. Such a complaint management strategy must not only focus on resolving the various customer issues that crop up, but needs to also systematically turn customer complaints into learning opportunities for the entire organization.

The first component of your complaint management strategy is that you should make it easy for customers to complain.

“What?” I can hear many of you saying. “Make it easier for customers to complain, so that we actually get more complaints?”

But that’s exactly what your goal should be ─ to drive more complaints. After all, if you do not hear about the problems your customers are having with your products, services, or staff, then how are you going to go fix these?

Secondly, when a customer has a complaint, and they run into hurdles and barriers trying to voice their complaint to someone, all they do is get angrier and angrier. This results in a small problem developing into a multi-faceted larger one, simply because the customer cannot find a way to channel their concerns, anger, fears, worries, questions, or complaints to your organization in a timely and convenient manner.

This is particularly true when it comes to the information posted on your website. Few things seem to infuriate customers more these days than not being able to find the right contact details for lodging a complaint, or for speaking to someone other than a call center “service rep” on an organization’s website.

Thus, there are two key benefits from making it easy for customers to complain:

1)   The customers do not get angrier and more upset from the additional frustrations of trying to contact your organization.

2)  You have more opportunities to fix initial, small problems before they evolve into larger and harder to resolve ones.

Part of your complaint management strategy needs to emphasize to all employees, especially the first tier and second tier staff who routinely have to deal with 90% of customer complaints, that service recovery starts with how they react to complaints.

Unfortunately, for too many organizations the initial reaction to a customer complaint is either defensive (trying to push the blame back onto the customer) or process driven (having a focus on a speedy resolution so that the frontline service staff can rapidly move onto the next customer complaint).

This approach often has unintended negative consequences, as customers end up feeling that they have been handled in a non-personalized fashion or have been quickly served so that another customer’s situation can take priority. This is not to say that speed and prompt resolutions are not appreciated; however it is important to understand that the manner in which swift results are delivered can be perceived as dehumanizing and robotic.

A good example of this is when an organization’s email autoresponder system sends out the highly depersonalizing “thank you for your inquiry, we will get back to you promptly” message when an email of complaint is sent via the organization’s website.

Please note: an email (or letter) of complaint is not an inquiry. It is an attempt to get a humanized and customized resolution to a situation that your customer finds unpalatable. It should not be responded to in the same manner as an email asking a general product or service question.

Additionally, in the most unfortunate situations, another unintended negative consequence of the focus on speed is that the customer actually walks away feeling unheard and that his or her true, underlining complaint was ignored, overlooked, or not fully understood. The result is that customers feel it is difficult to voice their complaints to the organization, and may end up deciding that it is far easier to take their business elsewhere than to continue dealing with an organization that fails to listen and comprehend.

It is for this reason that I advocate changing “customer service staff” into customer satisfaction staff,” who are then measured on their abilities to deliver complete satisfaction to customers, rather than by quantitative indicators such as the number of calls handled, the number of customers served, and the average time per service transaction.

This is not a matter of semantics, but of a philosophical approach of being fully customer focused and pro-active in the area of customer satisfaction, rather than being reactive and process driven in determining customer service standards.

One interesting thing I have noticed is that customers are more acute listeners and observers when they are angry. In fact, when angered customers notice every little detail about how they are being treated and what steps the organization is taking to settle the dispute. As a result, each and every thing done by someone representing the organization, including outsourced contract staff such as those in call centers, is noted and mentally recorded by upset customers. This is especially true for any attempts to forestall the customer from complaining or to thwart their desires to be fully heard and understood.

Customers willingly play these details back to the next level of management, or to anyone else who will listen ─ including your other customers and prospects ─ at a moment’s notice. This not only lengthens the time it takes to eventually solve the original customer complaint, but it also means the dissatisfactions incurred by the customer while engaged in the settlement process must now also be dealt with. This leads to additional costs to the organization, in terms of both staff hours and the eventual compensation to the customer, as well as an unsatisfying feeling all around for the customer, your staff, and the management personnel involved.

All this could be alleviated, of course, if you simply made it easier for customers to complain in the first place.

One of my personal marketing cornerstones is that preventing customer complaints is better than resolving them. Such prevention, however, must come through quality products, services, procedures, processes, policies, and staff. This does not imply that you should prevent customer complaints from being fully voiced and understood.

When something goes wrong, it is best to hear about it. Only the problems your organization hears and knows about are fixable.

Handling customer complaints properly impacts all current and future customers ─ and starts with processes, procedures, and systems that make it easy for such complaints to be communicated to your organization.

So, make it easy and convenient for your customers to complain. You will be glad you did. For the benefits will be for you and the organization to reap.

 

KEY POINT: make it easy for customers to complain to your organization.

TAKING ACTION: how are customer complaints handled in your organization? Are they processed and handled as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then forgotten? What can be done so that customer complaints are fully voiced and understood?

What steps are needed to turn the efficient handling of complaints into learning opportunities for your organization?

How is customer service monitored and measured in your organization? What does your customer service “scorecard” look like? Does it include measurements for how lessons from the frontline points of customer interaction are circulated to other staff, used in training courses, and incorporated into new employee orientation programs?

 

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in Kindle and paperback formats at Amazon.

 

Customer Complaints Are Good

Customers Who Complain Are Customers Who Care

As sure as there are customers for your product, you can be guaranteed that there will be complaints about your products or services.

Why?

Is it impossible for any organization to deliver 100% customer satisfaction and 100% fault-free products and services all the time? In a simple word: yes.

I have yet to come across an organization that does not make the occasional mistake, or the employee who does not commit the odd accidental error or who simply is in a grumpy mood that is reflected onto your customers.

So face it ─ complaints will happen.

And this is good. For complaints are good for you.

One of the worst things customers can do when faced with unsatisfactory service or a poor quality product is to not tell you and leave for the competition. After all, if you do not hear of the problems that cause customers to take their business elsewhere, how can you fix them?

Customer complaints are good for these:

  • Highlight areas that need improvement.
  • Identify procedures that cause customer pain.
  • Reveal information that is lacking, or erroneous, in your communications.
  • Identify staff who need more training or closer supervision.
  • Provide a check on consistency levels.
  • Surface policies that may be outdated.
  • Trigger positive change (if you take the initiative to act on the complaints).
  • Raise staff morale (through positive change).
  • Provide a method of competitive intelligence.
  • Provide bench marking from other industries.
  • Identify customers who care.

That last point is a critical one to ponder. Customers who complain are customers who care!

Sure, customers who complain often want some form of restitution for the inconveniences suffered. But most just want the organization to live up to the promises made, which ought to be the key objective of the selling organization anyway.

So while they care about themselves and having their own satisfaction levels fulfilled, they also care enough about future engagements with the organization to want to help the organization live up to future commitments.

Otherwise, they would simply just walk away and take their business elsewhere (after demanding a refund of whatever money has already been spent on the unsatisfactory product or service).

Whether they are loyal customers, upset customers, wronged customers, disappointed customers, angry customers, right customers, or even wrong customers ─ customers who complain do care. (Okay, maybe not all, but certainly most.)

If your staff attitudes can be shifted so that they collectively and individually view complainers as customers who care, then your organization is in a much better position to learn from such complaints and to implement restorative steps that result in retrieval of departing and departed customers.

Unfortunately, too many organizations treat customer complaints as “sore points” that need to be counted, rectified, and forgotten as soon as the service staff moves on to the next complaining customer. This is why too much of “customer service” these days is reactionary and process driven, with managers and service staff monitored and measured in terms of efficiencies, quickness of response, and the number of complaints “handled” per shift, day, week, or month.

When complaints are handled and tracked this way, true organizational learning and the opportunity to turn complaints into new levels of customer satisfaction through positive change are usually lost. Forever. Or at least until an enlightened new manager takes over the so-called customer service unit.

Lastly, it is important to remember that all complainers have one of two things in common ─ they are all customers or prospects.

Service recovery starts with the way you handle complaints and complainers, a topic that we will discuss in the next Monday Morning Marketing Memo.

Until then, remember that complaints are good. And that, for the most part, people who complain are customers who truly care about your future. Or at least your future with them as your customers.

 

KEY POINT: customers who complain are customers who care.

TAKING ACTION: how are customer complaints handled in your organization? Are they processed and handled as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then forgotten? What steps are needed to turn the efficient handling of customer complaints into learning opportunities for your organization?

How is customer service monitored and measured in your organization? What does your customer service “scorecard” look like? Does it include measurements for how lessons from the frontline are circulated to other staff, used in training courses, and incorporated into new employee orientation programs?

How can lessons from the frontline be turned into learning stories to the benefit of the entire organization and its customers?

 

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

 

Think Customers

Customers are people. Treat them as customers and people.

How do you call or refer to the people who buy your goods and services? What descriptive names do you use? What terminology do you use to discuss them?

Your pronoun of choice may include passengers, guests, participants, clients, patients, and a whole host of other words.

However, there is only word that should be used ─ customers.

Here is how the choice of descriptive can alter the way you and your colleagues think about your customers:

Passengers sit in airplane seats eating boring meals and attempting to be entertained by movies on small screens.

Customers are flyers with individual needs, wants, and desires whose travel experiences begin from the time the journey is planned to the time they collect their luggage at their final destination.

Δ Δ Δ Δ Δ

Cargo shippers hand over freight that is then stored and transported in the belly of a plane or the hold of a ship.

Customers are the people shipping or receiving the precious (to them) cargo being carried and transported.

Δ Δ Δ Δ Δ

Hotel guests check in, check out, occasionally dine in house or in room, and might return some day.

Customers are individuals away from home looking for comfort, rest, familiarity, recognition, and a reason to return some day.

Δ Δ Δ Δ Δ

Clients sit in offices and have meetings in conference rooms.

Customers are the people who react to your ideas and appreciate the value you add.

Δ Δ Δ Δ Δ

Patients sit patiently in waiting rooms as they are moved from test to test or room to room.

Customers are people scared about their medical conditions and worried for their futures.

Δ Δ Δ Δ Δ

Participants at a conference have paid for their admission and eagerly wait to hear nuggets of brilliance from the speakers.

Customers are individuals with important personal concerns seeking new insights and experiences to help them achieve personal and professional goals.

 

Customers are PEOPLE — treat them humanely and with respect, as they most certainly deserve.

Customers are not “the man in seat 17F,” or “the woman in room 839,” or “the couple at table 14.” And most assuredly, to them, they are also not “seat 17F,” or “room 839”, or “table 14.” Yet, how many times a day do your staff refer to your customers this way (and hence THINK about them this way)?

Customers are “the customer in seat 17F,” and “the customer in room 839,’ and “the customers at table 14” and they deserve to be spoken about and thought about in this way by your staff and colleagues.

Think of your customers as CUSTOMERS. As PEOPLE.

And treat them as CUSTOMERS and PEOPLE.

Think of them, and treat them, as CUSTOMERS and PEOPLE with real and individual needs, wants, and desires. Not as account numbers, participants, account holders, clients, passengers, guests, or patients.

Do this and you will have more customers.

Do this and you will have happier customers.

Do this and you will have repeat customers.

Do this, and your happy and repeat customers will help to ensure a better and more stable future for your organization.

It all starts with how you think about, call, and refer to the people who buy your goods and services.

KEY POINT:  the choice of descriptive can alter the way you and your colleagues think about your customers.

TAKING ACTION:  for the next week, record every descriptive used internally to describe the people who buy your goods and services. In what context are these words used? How do these words reflect the TRUE feelings of your staff towards your customers? How would their thinking change if the word “customer” had been inserted every time another descriptive was used?

For the next week, review every piece of internal and external communication generated. How often are the people who buy your goods and services described as customers? How often are they described as something else? How do these other words reflect the TRUE feelings of the writers and the readers towards your customers? How would their thinking change if the word “customer” had been used every time another descriptive was used?

Go out to your customer points of interaction. What words are your staff and colleagues using IN FRONT OF CUSTOMERS to describe them? Are your customers being called “room 1027” in front of the customer who is in that room? Are your staff saying “the guy on flight 64 wants to move his seat” in front of the customer making this request?

Start an internal movement now to eliminate ALL descriptive names and words used by your organization other than the word CUSTOMER to refer to the people who buy or use your goods and services.

This article is excerpted from my book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

Service Excellent Attributes

Excellent Customer Service Drives Customer Satisfaction

There are several attributes regularly displayed by staff who consistently perform at high levels of customer service delivery. These attributes are the ones that differentiate Service Excellence winners from other staff.  They are also the attributes that managers will want to search for in future hiring and staff transfer decisions.

These attributes are:

Cares for the customer ─ Service Excellence winners are sensitive to customers’ needs and are frequently described as customer advocates. They display a sincere willingness to listen to customers and to assist wherever and whenever they can.

Displays Consistent Service Ethic ─ Service Excellence winners are committed to doing the best job possible every day. They assume ownership of problems in spite of adverse circumstances or conditions. They work well under pressure and adapt quickly to new assignments.

Exceed Production/Quality Goals ─ Service Excellence winners regularly exceed their volume, timeliness, accuracy, and quality goals.

Solves Problems Creatively ─ Service Excellence winners proactively seek alternative methods to improve procedures, reduce costs, and improve quality. They place customers’ needs above internal concerns.

Works Well With Co-workers ─ Service Excellence winners have excellent working relationships with co-workers. They are always willing to help others and to share knowledge freely.

Helps in Other Areas ─ Service Excellence winners display a desire to learn jobs outside their immediate areas of responsibility. They frequently volunteer to assist on task forces and special assignments, notwithstanding the longer hours required.

Exhibits High Energy and Enthusiasm ─ Service Excellence winners exhibit positive attitudes that impact morale within their units. They have the ability to motivate those around them to work harder and smarter on behalf of customers.

Can you teach the above skills? You can, in the same way that you can teach ethics, good manners, proper social behavior, and fellowship to mankind. For in effect, what really differentiates a service excellence deliverer from anyone else is how they interact with their customers, both external and internal. It is really a personal attribute, sort of like being a good citizen or being a good neighbor.

In addition to teaching the above skills, it would be best to create the right internal corporate culture where these skills and attributes can flourish. As we discussed the Monday Morning Marketing Memo on Creating A Culture of Service Professionalism, none of the tactics employed by service excellent companies to build employee professionalism are necessarily revolutionary. Most important, however, these tactics are energetically and comprehensively inculcated throughout service excellence organizations on an on-going, never-ending basis.

In our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo we discuss the Five Dimensions of Service Quality Excellence, the 7 Cs of Customer Retention, crafting a Customer Service Creed, Creating A Culture of Service Professionalism, and other key attributes of service excellence providers.

The path to becoming a Service Excellence Company is figuring out how to integrate these concepts into your own comprehensive, energetic, interactive, on-going, and never-ending program.

For, at the end of the day, excellent customer service drives customer satisfaction; resulting in a strategic advantage for your organization with a direct impact on repeat business, customer recommendations to others, market share, revenue, and profit.

If your business focus is on customer satisfaction, all these other items on your corporate scorecard will fall naturally into place.

KEY POINT:  the attributes regularly displayed by staff who consistently perform at high levels of customer service delivery are different from other staff.

TAKING ACTION:  how do you recognize and reward staff who assume ownership of problems in spite of adverse circumstances or conditions?

How do you reward, recognize and celebrate your customer service success stories?  How can these be ingrained in the culture and practices of your entire organization?

Do your training programs focus only on functional skills, or do they also incorporate activities that help to grow personal attributes, social skills, and interpersonal communications skills?

Is your organization or business unit a high energy one or a demotivating, energy-sapping one?

This article is partially excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

Creating a Culture of Service Professionalism

Customer relations mirror employee relations

How is a service-successful organization different? To start with, such organizations build employee professionalism in several ways.

They establish the personal accountability of individual employees. They create service teams. They open multiple communication channels with their staff and use these rigorously.

They accomplish employee professionalism by rewarding extraordinary service actions and informing staff how their jobs fit into the entire organization. They explain to staff the importance of customer service, the need for problem-free service, and the benefits to the organization of delivering excellent service to customers.

None of these tactics is necessarily revolutionary. What’s most outstanding is how energetically and comprehensively excellent companies work at their total programs. The strategies and tactics for excellent customer service are ingrained at all levels of the organization, not just within a handful of specific departments or outlets.

Underlying all these imperatives is a simple belief: customer relations mirror employee relations.

Employees must first perceive and experience within their own organizations whatever it is that management wants customers to perceive and experience. This operates most directly with customer contact employees, the pivotal people in any service business. They internalize messages passed within their organizations and in turn broadcast these messages to customers.

A recent study of bank branch employees and their customers confirmed this relationship. When employees reported that their branch emphasized service, customers reported superior banking experiences, and were more highly satisfied.

Some proven techniques for achieving a culture of service professionalism include:

  1. Use of staff attitudes (people surveys) as a diagnostic tool for understanding staff views on service and service delivery. Action plans undertaken to address staff issues and concerns should be part of the business unit’s overall service delivery strategy.
  2. Use of service recognition programs that result in winners serving as role models for fellow staff members. Also, service awards for the office or business unit are based on service indicator performance.
  3. Internal performance improvement teams are established within offices and business units to work on improving service delivery. Participating staff learn new skills and are motivated to perform at even higher levels.

Like marketing itself, creating a culture of service professionalism is not rocket science. But it does take effort, leadership, dedication, and continued communications to make it happen.

It also means having a management team that is not solely focused on achieving “the most efficient processes.” This is because many aspects of excellent customer service delivery require personal, customized handling.

A good example is the “telephone hell” that many customers have to go through to speak to someone. All these automated voice response systems are fine (you know, “press 1 if you have product A, press 2 if you have product B, etc.) and highly efficient from the organization’s perspective.

But from the customer’s perspective these systems are annoying, dehumanizing, and denigrate the customer service image of the organization being contacted.

A taxi company I used to use in Singapore had it right. Their automated incoming call system had just two options: press 1 if you wanted a taxi immediately, or press 2 if you wanted to book a cab for a later time. If you pressed 1, and you were a regular customer calling from your normal phone, the taxi was sent immediately to pick you up and the system provided an estimated time of arrival. If you pressed 2, a customer service person came on line, took your details, and arranged for the taxi to collect you at your requested time and place.

Simple, short, and sweet – while both highly efficient and highly personalized.

The bottom line for creating a culture of service professionalism is twofold:

  1. Treat your employees positively and they will treat your customers positively.
  2. High-tech is great from the perspective of organizational efficiency, but high-touch is even better from the perspective of your customers.

When you accomplish both of these, you will achieve a great bond with both your customers and your staff.

KEY POINT #1: customer relations mirror employee relations.

KEY POINT #2: high-tech is great and efficient, but high-touch is what keeps your customers coming back.

TAKING ACTION: Do you treat employees as special? Is the way your organization treats its own staff reflected in the way your staff treat customers?

What impressions of your organization do your customers have after each and every interaction with your organization?

How can you eliminate the “us and them” thinking between your staff and your customers?

How do you reward, recognize, and celebrate your customer service success stories? How can these be ingrained in the culture and practices of your entire organization?

How can you use technology to make your customer experiences simple, short, and sweet?

 

This article is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo by Steven Howard and is available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

Customer Service Creed

When the customer wins, you also win

The importance of focusing on customer needs, wants, and desires is a key theme in every seminar and keynote speech I give.

I have long advocated that too many businesses are being run in the pursuit of short-term shareholder value (i.e. share price) and not in the pursuit of long-term shareholder value through solving customer problems profitably and from developing long-term customer loyalty.

Now that a significant portion of the global economy is undergoing a slow (or negative) growth phase, the solitary pursuit by senior executives in trying to constantly push the share price higher and higher is coming home to scorch them.

The best way to create long-term shareholder value is to create and keep good customers.

In order to develop strong customer retention strategies, you need to have an organization-wide customer service creed in place.

Here’s a generic Customer Service Creed that you might be able to adapt for your own purposes:

Every employee has customers, either internal or external (or both). Everyone in the organization must walk the talk during every customer point of interaction.

Treat all employees as special, just as you would treat all customers as special. How you treat your staff is mirrored in the way they treat your customers.

Empower employees who are engaged in regular contact with external customers to make decisions. Establish relaxed levels of authority and alternate chain of commands. Not all decisions should, or need to, come to managers. Trust your staff, having given them appropriate guidelines to work within.

Customer service does not end when the customer has paid for the product and taken it home. Customer service must continue after the sale, just as it must come before the sale.

Allow the customer to talk. Look at them. Be interested in them. Summarize what they are saying. Treat each customer as a unique individual with individual needs, wants, and desires and never as someone who is making the same request you have heard before.

To the customer, each individual they interact with is the organization. Eliminate the “we/they” thinking. Success comes when you think of the word “us” when dealing with customers.

It is much easier to create a positive impression than to erase or correct a negative one.

Let the customer win. Then you both win.

Your competition is anyone the customer compares you with.

Reward, recognize, and celebrate your customer service successes. This creates momentum for future success stories.

To win today’s marketing battles, you might want to consider creating and publicizing, both internally and externally, your own Customer Service Creed.

And remember, when the customer wins, you also win!

 

KEY POINT #1:  in order to develop strong customer retention strategies, you need to have an organization-wide customer service creed in place.

KEY POINT #2: when the customer wins, you also win!

TAKING ACTION:  do you treat employees as special? Is how your organization treats its own staff reflected in the ways your staff treat customers?

What impressions of your organization do your customers take away with them after each and EVERY interaction with your organization?

How can you eliminate the “we/they” thinking between your staff and your customers?

This article is partially excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

7 Cs of Customer Retention

Seven Ways to Keep Good Customers

Many companies around the world are recognized by consumers for worldwide excellent service. Companies such as McDonald’s, Singapore Airlines, Federal Express, L.L. Bean, and Citibank are successful because they know exactly what their customers expect and then they satisfy these customer expectations (most of the time).

At McDonald’s, every employee ─ in every country around the world ─ knows the company stands for quality, service, cleanliness, and value. Every McDonald’s employee also knows exactly what each of these elements means in terms of HOW to do business with McDonald’s customers.

At Citibank, the service quality goal is to set and consistently meet service performance standards that satisfy the customer and profit the bank. In other words, at Citibank the customer is the final judge of service and the bank invests an inordinate amount of money each year in tracking its customer satisfaction levels.

While all customers are unique, and use different values to make purchasing decisions, there are seven common customer expectations for customer service that have basically become the MINIMUM LEVEL that today’s customers DEMAND be met by all the organizations from which they buy. Because these are the minimum requirements, they are also the ones that must be met if you are to achieve any significant level of customer retention.

The 7 Cs of Customer Retention are:

Caring Attitude ─ employees that are caring, friendly, helpful, care/show empathy, value me as a customer, apologizes for company errors.

Customized Practices ─ flexibility in applying most, if not all, company policies, simple documentation, forms that are easy to understand and use, suspension of disputed charges, willingness to extend additional services, ability of the organization at all key contact points to know and understand the customer’s relationship with us.

Competent CCPs ─ having customer contact personnel who communicate well and accurately, take action, meet commitments, keep customers constantly informed of a situation’s status, and who are fully aware of all the organization’s products, services, procedures, and policies.

Call/Visit Once ─ the customer’s initial contact person in your organization handles the problem, or gets it resolved. The CCP or contact person makes necessary decisions and the customer only needs to explain the problem once (even if moved to another service provider). All contacts know the customer’s account status, as well as the nature of the problem under resolution.

Convenient Access ─ your operating hours of stores, branches, outlets, offices, and call centers are structured with the needs of customers in mind. Your access numbers are easy to get through, are answered promptly, and the length of time on hold and the number of transfers internally before the problem is resolved are kept to a minimum. Your website is easy to understand, navigate, use and the ordering process is simple and caters for international orders (if you are willing to ship goods and products outside your home country).

Compressed Cycle Times ─ customers receive an immediate response to enquiries, products and services meet customers’ timing, adjustments or changes (such as address changes) are made before the next billing or statement cycle, and your organization provides consistently quick turnaround (especially for problem solving).

Committed Follow Through ─ the CCP and/or customer’s contact person commits to what/when/how, follows-up to confirm action, checks on satisfaction level, and your organization takes corrective action to prevent reoccurrence of an error or problem.

These 7 Cs are the minimum requirements your customers have. And if you do not deliver well against these criteria, then you cannot expect to have high levels of customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, or customer retention.

Last week we gave you a checklist of items that you can use in monitoring your business unit’s service delivery on these seven customer expectations. As several other successful, customer-focused organizations have done, please put this checklist to good use and you will be well on your way to achieving high levels of customer retention, or what I like to call the art of keeping good customers.™

 

KEY POINT: there are seven common customer expectations for customer service that have basically become the MINIMUM LEVEL that today’s customers DEMAND be met by the organizations from which they buy from.

TAKING ACTION: do all your customer contact personnel have caring, friendly attitudes? Do they exhibit empathy towards customers at all times? How could this be improved?

How flexible are your company policies? Could they be made more flexible? Would greater flexibility be appreciated by your customers?

How simple and easy-to-use is your documentation? How can this be made more simple or easier to use?

When was the last time you asked your customers these same questions?

This article is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, which is available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

Nobody Noticed

The Little Things Matter in Customer Service

A few years ago, when living in Australia, I flew from Melbourne to Singapore. Just another day, another international journey.

Except that it was not just another day. It was my birthday. And nobody noticed!

As a result, the airline and the hotel that I encountered that day missed a huge opportunity to provide this customer with an extraordinary experience.

Instead, I only received their “ordinary good, everyday customer experience.” And yet, there was really no excuse for this.

While checking in for my flight, the customer service person at the counter used my passport details to create the “Express Lane” immigration card that they give out to all Business and First Class customers. That card has my birth date details.

This airline is one of my two favorites, and I had already attained Platinum Level status in their frequent flyer program, because of my loyalty and the number of long-haul trips I had made that year between Australia and Asia. Their main competitor on the Australia to Asia sector sent me a birthday card that arrived two days before this journey. But I did not receive anything from this particular carrier.

Upon arrival in Singapore I proceed to the well-established, five-star Asian hotel chain where the three-day workshop I was conducting was being held. This time the lady at the check-in counter took my passport and completed the various boxes on the hotel’s registration card. I noticed that she properly recorded both my passport details and my date of birth. Again, there was no correlation to entry of the data and the fact that it coincided with that particular date.

In reflecting upon this, I see that the hotel staff had been well trained to fill in forms quickly and efficiently. But they took no notice of the information that was being recorded. I was just another customer to be moved as quickly as possible from the check-in desk to the hotel room.

Now I did not expect birthday cakes and birthday songs from either of these organizations.

I did think, however, that they would have had systems in place so that a personal greeting would have been proffered. On the airline, the Chief Cabin Officer always walks around, introduces himself/herself, and personally welcomes aboard their FFP customers. And while this did take place during the flight, I would have been extremely pleased had he quietly said, “Oh, Mr. Howard, I see that today is your birthday. Happy Birthday from all of us at XYZ Airlines.” Instead, he only checked to see if I needed an immigration form for arrival into Singapore.

The same goes for the hotel. Why don’t they have a system in place for the General Manager or the Resident Manager to send a short birthday note to the rooms of the guests who are traveling away from home on their special day?  I am not suggesting that they need to send flowers or a bottle of wine, but just a personal note (or even better a phone call) would go a long way in telling the guest that they are not just another customer in residence on a typical day.

There was nothing to fault in the normal service delivered by either of these two service providers. Both were efficient, friendly, and up to standard.

On any other day, the service delivery would have been proper and sufficient.

But this was not any other day. It was my birthday.

And hence the opportunity for an extra-ordinary customer experience was missed. By both.

KEY POINT:  a customer’s birthday is a great opportunity to provide an extra-ordinary level of personal attention and/or service.

TAKING ACTION:  are you capturing data about customers that could be put to better use?

Are your people real good at completing forms, yet taking no notice of the information being collected? How can you put to better use the information on customers you collect?

What important events in your customers’ lives are you overlooking?

How can you make a special day in your customer’s life even more special?

This article is partially excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, which is available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

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