Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Importance of Customer Service

Think about some famous brands. If a company is well-known, it is most likely known for a product or service AND excellent customer service. Some examples are Southwest Airlines and Zappos. If you think these companies sell air travel and shoes, you would be incorrect. These two companies provide customer service first and foremost – and just happen to be in the air travel and shoe industries.

From Southwest’s earliest days, it prided itself on providing a fun and festive atmosphere for customers – getting them from point A to point B at a low cost without any frills. And ever since Zappos began, its employees have thrived in a culture where they are determined to find a product for a customer – even if Zappos doesn't sell it – with the goal of creating a long-term relationship with a customer who will return to Zappos again and again. Think about your company, does it provide service that makes customers want to be repeat customers?

Customer crusader and “customer experience expert” Jeanne Bliss began her career as a customer service pioneer at the direct mail innovator Lands’ End. She then served as chief customer executive for Coldwell Banker, Allstate, Microsoft, and Mazda. As a result of her experiences, she realized that satisfied customers can promote a company even better than the company can – all you, as a company, must do is create customers who love you. In her book, I Love You More Than My Dog – Five Decisions That Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad, Bliss provides examples that showcase how very successful companies either teach their employees to provide service and/or provide their employees with the resources or authority to create happy, satisfied, and repeat customers. The result is admirable: these companies have customers who love them and tell everyone. In today’s social media era, every company should want this type of customer.

In Bliss’ book, she shared an incredible story about how Gary Comer, the founder of Lands’ End, thanked his employees. In 1989, he built a state-of-the-art gym for his employees and unveiled the building to the employees. Once all employees had assembled near the pool, he asked them to look at the tiled wall near the pool: the names of all employees had been added to the wall.

How many companies show their gratitude for their employees in such a visible manner? Moreover, how many companies truly realize that, in order to create satisfied customers, they must create satisfied employees first? In Jeanne’s words, “If you ask 10 people in your company what your purpose is, how many answers would you receive? [And] are you [hiring] employees who are capable of delivering on your purpose?”

Beloved companies share a set of five characteristics that determine how they operate:

  • They decide to believe.
  • They decide with clarity of purpose.
  • They decide to be there.
  • They decide to be real.
  • They decide to say sorry.

So, is your company beloved? Take Jeanne Bliss’ quiz. Your answers will determine the changes you need to make in order to “become a beloved and prosperous company.”

[1] Do your customers talk about your belief in them?

[2] Do your customers give you referrals?

[3] Do your customers want you in their lives?

[4] Do your customers grow your business for you?

[5] Do your customers say they love you?

[6] Do your employees feel treated like partners?

[7] Do your employees know you believe in them?

[8] Do your employees have a seat at the table?

[9] Do your employees become part of the story of your business?

[10] Do your employees have permission to impact customers’ lives?

If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, a willing basis, the fewer hierarchies and control mechanisms you need. ~ Herb Kelleher, founder, Southwest Airlines

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