Being passionate about customer centricity and customer experience makes me either the best customer you ever had or the worst critic, as you might expect. With over 30 years of experience in customer experience and services there is not much that my partners and I have not seen in both B2C and B2B. When I am a customer of a business I am always looking beyond the core and immediate interaction to understand if this is a business that I want to help by giving them my money or not. If I do not think that the company cares about me and my success then I will chose to take my money elsewhere to people who get it. The good news is that I can have a bad experience with an individual or a transaction or two and not react to that alone. I can usually tell if an employee is just a bad actor in that play or if their behavior is driven by the culture, the measurement and or just bad policies. If I think that a company is worth saving I might find a place or a person to provide constructive criticism and even a little free advice. How they react to that feedback is also a determining factor in my continuing patronage. They have an opportunity to win my loyalty back or they have an opportunity to make me their worst enemy.
I have previously written about Delta airlines that while they want good customer experience Delta puts policies and practices in place that take the power away from their employees and that create very public customer nightmares. http://servtrans.com/delta-sends-its-11000-agents-to-charm-school/
I also wrote a blog about customer rage and the cost of recovery and about Sears Home Services that just did not care about customers. That one hit home (pardon the wording) with many readers who voiced similar stories. Let me give a few more examples and then the lessons to be learned.
First a negative example with a fabric / crafts store chain called JoAnn’s Fabrics. I had several interactions with them and I was initially favorably impressed when everything went right but hit a snag with the next few visits. The employees seemed to be very customer oriented but it became apparent they did not have enough employees especially in critical areas. For example they have 6 cash registers and one cashier with long slow moving lines. They are primarily a shop that sells cloth and accessories for various crafts. Central to the store is the place where cloth is cut, measured and priced and yet they typically only have one person staffing the area during the week. When they get overwhelmed with customers they talk into an in-store communication device asking for help, but none ever comes and the customer queues grow long and angry. Clearly the store manager is focusing on costs and not building customer loyalty and repeat business. If you ask 3 different employees a question about a process or store policy you will get more than 3 different answers. Because I wanted to like the store I took time to find a place to give constructive feedback. They made it difficult to give feedback which was strike two for me. The reaction that I got back was friendly but it continues to show me that they care about something other than my continued patronage, strike three and I am out…of there. This is a place where the CEO and C-Suite should secretly shop their own stores like an ‘Undercover Boss’, I do not think they would be proud of the results.
On the other side of the coin, I like to shop at Harbor Freight Tools. This is a chain dedicated to selling low priced tools that give you good value for the money. Typically companies that focus on selling lower cost items are not known for good customer experience. This is not Nordstrom’s and the employees may not be rocket scientists but they do know what they are doing. They can give you, or get you, the right answer to questions and their policies are very customer friendly. I feel like I am getting a deal every time I go in there. They are clearly aligned to their brand promise. Recently I received an email about changing store hours that included the following statement.
“At Harbor Freight Tools, one of our guiding values is “Doing the Right Thing” for our customers, our communities and our employees” Eric Smidt, Founder and President,Harbor Freight Tools
It is these kinds of values around “doing the right thing”, from strong leaders, that are so simple but make a huge difference in how companies act and what customers experience. Companies with strong founders often lead the way. Look at examples like Disney, Marriott, Zappos or Harbor Freight Tools and you will see that customers are important to them. Values are a driver of culture and when leaders continue to focus on those values the culture thrives in an organization and is reflected in the employees with whom you interact. Just as important is that this type of culture also reflects positively to the bottom line.
It is easy to talk about personal experiences that we have as consumers in the B2C world but those parables apply equally, if not more, to B2B and especially B2B2C. In our research we looked at 7 areas of focus that a company needs to get right to grow their customer equity and sustainability in their industry. The short version of the results is that the right culture is an imperative. However there is no magic culture pill or Kool- aid that makes it happen. It starts with the right leadership, listening to employees through proper engagement and aligning the organization to the right set of values.
Culture by itself will move the needle but to sustain the culture it must be embedded into the organization by ensuring the processes /policies, tools and technology, customer engagement and operations facilitate the outcomes and are designed around the core values and desired outcomes of success. If you do not do this then you have examples where the executives talk about the importance of customers but dictate policies focused on internal metrics only. This results in organizations like Delta whose people want to make customers happy but have inflexible policies that create viral social media disasters.
One of the common traits of great leaders in great business cultures is that they practice the art of “listening to understand”. Stephen Covey once coined in his 7 Secrets for Effective People; “seek first to understand before trying to be understood. Leading performance companies learn to listen to the customer AND to the employees, laggards tend to listen to themselves and ignore employees. They understand what the customer needs versus what they might ask for and they listen to employees as to how they could service the customer better if they had x, y or z. Empowering people to do things right will lead to better financial outcomes for all. Understanding customer needs will lead to greater innovation and market leadership. Both of these outcomes will supercharge your business.
That is my thought, what is yours?