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How to Create “Walk-Through-Fire” Customer Loyalty (Even In a Down Economy)

With such news headlines as “Odds of Recession Seen Rising” (Wall Street Journal Online) and “Consumer Crunch: The Day the Spending Stopped” (U.S. News & World Report), it’s no wonder that so many executives are wearing long faces. Companies are filing for bankruptcy, or closing their doors completely, at an alarming rate. And many economists predict the trend will continue.

Yet despite the doom and gloom, some companies are weathering the storm very well. Indeed, some aren’t just surviving, they’re thriving. What are the thriving organizations doing that allow them to continue building business while others are scrambling to just stay in business? And what can be learned from them?

Walk Through FireThe big difference between those who are thriving and those who are barely surviving (or not) is that the thrivers relentlessly focus on what I like to call, “walk-through-fire” customer loyalty. Most of us have favorite stores or restaurants, and we’re willing to drive miles out of the way, passing competitor after competitor, just to do business with them. That’s walk-through-fire customer loyalty.

So, what can you do right now to generate that kind of loyalty for your own organization?

1. Do not scrimp on quality – As soon as your customers, even the most loyal of them, notice a drop in quality you’re starting a downward spiral that’s difficult to pull out from. When, for instance, customers noticed the quality of Starbucks coffee was diminishing due to over-brewing, many formerly loyal Starbucks customers switched to McDonalds which Consumer Reports ranked #1 in coffee taste. In July Starbucks announced the closing of six hundred stores.

Sure it’s important to watch costs. But the lesson here is to not cut those things that earned your customers’ loyalty in the first place.

2. Train, train, train – Now is the time to ensure your employees know exactly how to delight your customers. Customer service, while always important, is especially vital right now. Make sure every employee is able to demonstrate flawless product knowledge (or knows where to get product information instantly), knows to be supremely responsive, and demonstrates genuine care and empathy in every interaction. Leaders must clearly articulate the behaviors expected and hold employees accountable for delivering.

3. Stay in touch with your best (and most profitable) customers – Solidify relationships with those customers who have been loyal to you in the past. Information about loyal customers can come from your sophisticated CRM system, your Rolodex, or by simply asking your employees who the regulars are. Make personal contact with those customers, letting them know that they’re appreciated.

A company’s loyal customers get frustrated when they see all of the perks going to programs for attracting new customers. The long-term customer thinks, “Hey, what about me?” Make sure your loyal customers know just how much you value their loyalty.

4. Involve your employees – Who in your organization is better positioned to know customer likes and dislikes than your frontline employees? One of the best ways to light a “customer loyalty fire” is to hold employee meetings to discuss best practices for delighting customers. For example, a bank Dog at Bankemployee somewhere must’ve been the first one to suggest; “When a customer comes through the drive-through teller line with a dog in the car, we should put a dog biscuit in the container when we send it back out.” Dogs and dog owners have appreciated that simple idea ever since. Leverage the best ideas throughout the company.

5. Treat your employees well – Make sure your employees know how much you appreciate their loyalty. Now more than ever it’s important for leaders to recognize, reward, and simply offer sincere thanks to those employees who contribute to the organization’s success. You don’t want your superstar employees to even think about a move to the competition.

The economic downturn can be viewed as a curse or an opportunity. Looked at as an opportunity, smart leaders know that this is the time to distance themselves from the competition. This is the time to build walk-through-fire customer loyalty.


Being a Good Customer

As a customer service speaker and author, I spend most of my time talking or writing about what organizations can do to be better service providers. In this post I thought I’d divert from my usual theme and spend a moment talking about a different, but certainly related subject. Being a better customer.

More times than I can count, I’ve stood in line at a coffee shop, fast food restaurant, or store observing an employee trying to take the order of a customer who is chatting on his or her cell phone. Everything gets slowed down as the customer tries to order and talk on the phone at the same time. The employee often doesn’t know if the customer is talking to him or to his phone companion. The employee gets frustrated; the other customers in line get frustrated. And the phone addict is oblivious to it all.

I can think of few customer behaviors ruder than disregarding everyone around in order to hold a cell phone conversation. What the offending customer is saying is, “I’m more important than the rest of you.” Most employees I’ve observed have handled the situation in a patient manner, but you know they’ve got to be silently shouting, “Get Off The Phone!” I know I am.

Another common breach of cell phone etiquette is the customer who boards a plane while talking on the phone. They juggle the phone and boarding pass while ignoring the gate agent. Most frustrating of all, the rest of the boarding passengers are delayed as the cell phone addict tries to put luggage in the overhead compartment with the phone tucked under the chin – and it never works. And other passengers and the crew are the ones who suffer as the perpetrator obliviously chats away.

I firmly believe in employees doing what it takes to provide great customer service. I make my living helping organizations and employees do just that. But I also believe that customers have a responsibility to be reasonable customers. There are plenty of other examples of rude, arrogant, or uncaring customers. And employees need to be able to graciously handle those situations (unless it crosses the line of being abusive). But the cell phone talker is a special case because his or her arrogance impacts everyone around them. I guess it can be called “exponential arrogance.”

Let’s be sure we are good customers by respecting those who are doing their best to serve us and by respecting our fellow customers.



My New Book, “Lessons From the Mouse,” is Now Available

Lessons Cover by you.I’m pleased to let you know that my new book, Lessons From the Mouse – A Guide for Applying Disney World’s Secrets of Success to Your Organization, Your Career, and Your Life, is now available.

If you would like complete information about the book as well as ordering details, please visit www.LessonsFromTheMouse.com.

If you’d like to order right now, you can go to Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. Discounts on ten or more copies of the book can be found at 800CEOread.com.

In brief, Lessons From the Mouse provides ten easy-to-read lessons for applying Disney World’s formula for creating legendary customer experiences. Any organization, and anyone in an organization, can put these principles to immediate use.

The book’s chapters include:

  • Never Let Backstage Come Onstage
  • What Time is the 3:00 Parade? Is Not a Stupid Question
  • Little Wows Add Up
  • Have Fun With The Job – No Matter How Miserable You Feel
  • Don’t Be a Customer Service Robot
  • Pay Attention to the Details – Everything Speaks
  • Never, Ever Say, “That’s Not My Job” – Don’t Even Think It!
  • Everyone Has a Customer
  • Figure Out What Ticks Off Your Customers – And Do Something About It
  • Take Responsibility For Your Own Career

I’d sure like to create a buzz about Lessons From the Mouse and I would be most appreciative if you would forward this blog post to anyone you feel would benefit from the book.

I hope you’ll check out Lessons From the Mouse. I would love to hear your feedback!



Customer Service and JetBlue

Many of you know that JetBlue, the discount airline, recently began charging $7 for pillows and blankets on flights over two hours. While they have received some negative press due to the move, I feel that JetBlue actually implemented the program pretty effectively by connecting the change to increased value. Pretty radical for an airline.

Jim Blasingame ShowSeveral radio programs have interviewed me on the subject this past week, including the show, “The Small Business Advocate,” hosted by Jim Blasingame. He asks about a few customer service related topics, which I hope you’ll find helpful, and we get into the JetBlue story about half-way through the interview.

Agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your comments!

Customer Service – The Disney Difference

Yesterday I received an email from an employee of one my clients. The email shares a story of a recent visit to Disney World, comparing the experience to other theme parks. I thought it was a good example of how people make the difference. I’ll share the actual email a bit further in this post, but I want to make a couple of comments first.

In the case of a theme park, certainly the rides and shows must be great. But that’s not enough. There are lots of places with great rides. But if you combine a quality product with great service delivery, you have something special.

As you read the story, think about your own organization. Think about ways that you can build meaningful relationships with customers. Think about the types of interactions that result in customer delight and how you can create standards that make customer delight “business as usual.”

 Last week, I was on vacation and decided to spend a few days in the Orlando area. I purchased 3-day passes from Disney for myself and three teenagers (ages 13, 14, and 15).  As usual, we had a great time visiting all the Disney theme parks.  We purchased the tickets with the “Hopper” option, so we spent our days running back and forth from one park to another.  This time around at the parks, I took a special interest in observing customer service.  As usual, it was very, very good…I really should probably write “excellent.”  I was amazed at how one cast-member managed to still smile when I asked him where the Toy Mania attraction was even though I was standing almost directly in front of it.  The whole magic really did shine through every minute I was there. It’s almost too difficult to explain what makes Disney’s so successful.  

While in the Orlando area, we had dinner one evening at NBA City in City Walk, adjacent to Universal Studios.  I can tell you that while making my way to City Walk, I noticed that what sets Disney apart from the competion is quite simple; their cast-members and customer support.  City Walk employees looked like maniacs scattered throughout while trying to keep the “cattle (us)”  in control.  A large crowd should not have been the issue; trust me, Disney seemed to have the same sized crowd.  I really looked at the faces of Universal Studios employees and I could swear they were just different.  No calmness there.  I appoached two employees, to be exact, and they appeared to be aloof and distracted….one was on their cell phone.. I had to wait about  30 seconds (believe it or not) for the person to answer my question.  I thought to myself, “does Univeresal focus on customer service, at all?”

After spending a few days in the Orlando area, I continued on to Tampa, where we visited Busch Gardens (yes, I was on theme park binge).  There too, I noticed how different customer service was from that at Disney.  I remember asking two employees walking by if they knew of any restaurants in the park which offered a salad bar.  You would have thought I was asking the most ridiculous question in the world.  One of them was twisting her hair with her fingers and looked like she just wanted to carry on her conversation with her friend.  She clearly thought I was interrupting her very important conversation.  I remember that as I approached them, they were discussing how one might be sent home and she was not going to stand for it. She was clearly not happy with her employer and others were probably hearing the same conversation I was.  

I wanted to share the above observations with you.  What is the secret to the Mouse’s success?  I don’t know.  Do you think it’s something in the water at Disney grounds?  Could be!  I couldn’t tell you and I’m sure you must have a much better idea than I do.  I do believe though that Disney has struck gold.  They have the same product as their competition (Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, etc) and they obviously know it.  However, they have found that differentiating factor and know how to keep it going strong.

When you look closely at the behaviors the writer describes from the Disney experience, nothing there is really extraordinary. Mostly it’s about paying attention, caring, and being empathetic to guests who are out of their comfort zones. The writer’s examples show how a focus on simple, customer-focused behaviors make all the difference.

In the next few days I’ll be announcing the release of my new book, Lessons From the Mouse: A Guide for Applying Disney World’s Secrets of Success to Your Organization, Your Career, and Your Life. The book addresses how Disney instills that service attitude in its 55,000 cast members.

In the meantime, keep focusing on wowing your customers!