Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why Should You Care About Your Brand's #CustomerExperience?

Thanks to social media, the world is definitely getting smaller. Every day, we meet new people through our social channels, whether we’re connected to them directly or via our first or second level connections. Recently, someone from 3,000 miles away viewed one of my Tweets and made a kind comment. I responded, and we realized that we’re both enthusiastic "customer experience marketing" ambassadors. A conversation followed, and highlights are featured below. 

I would like to introduce Kevin Leifer to my blog. Kevin is passionate about retail, specifically aligning a brand's expectations of its customers' experiences with consistent execution in-store. With expertise in leading clients toward a transparent omnichannel (online, in-store, call center, and mobile) experience, Kevin and his company work with clients to define the desired customer experience and use a suite of tools (including Mystery Shopping, Customer Satisfaction Surveys, and Customer Intercepts) to measure that experience. I recommend you follow him on Twitter @KevinLeifer – and you can also find him on LinkedIn and on his website.

And now, highlights of our conversation…

[1] How do you explain the difference between customer service and customer experience?
KEVIN: Customer service refers to the interaction between customer and brand/associate. Customer experience accounts for all touchpoints that a customer experiences in interacting with a brand, including leading up to a purchase, the transaction itself, product use, and any service or post-purchase interactions. Much has been written about this over the past couple of years, as many people were interchanging these terms. They are distinctly different, in that customer service is one of the MANY elements of the entire customer experience.

[2] What are the three things that every employee should learn so that he/she provides a memorable and positive customer experience in the retail space?
KEVIN: Creating a positive memorable experience is part art and part science. While there are many skills necessary to do this correctly and consistently, I would narrow them down to the following:

Listening: It is imperative that associates listen to customers to truly understand their needs. Otherwise, it’s extremely difficult to satisfy those needs. This goes beyond keeping quiet while the customer is speaking. Active listening is a skill that includes confirming what has been said, asking additional questions to obtain more details when necessary, and ensuring the customer has completed his/her thought before moving on. Active listening will not only help the associate understand the customer's shopping mission, but also gain the customer’s trust early in the interaction, as the customer will appreciate that the associate is focused on the engagement. This rapport is necessary to drive the conversation and create a memorable experience.

Product Knowledge: Nearly every brand has a website (or many) dedicated to the product details for every SKU they carry, mostly accompanied by photos/videos of these products in action as well as customer reviews. Customers come to brick-and-mortar stores because they need more than what they can find online. Associates need to be well-versed in the products in their stores, having personally used them whenever possible. Once an associate understands a customer's needs via active listening, he/she will need to match those needs to the most appropriate product in the store. Without the knowledge of the store's inventory, including how items differ from each other, it will be difficult to match customers with appropriate solutions.

Suggestive Selling: Building the sale is a skill that is vital to retail, regardless of the channel a customer uses. When done well, it’s mutually beneficial. The transaction value grows, and the customer benefits from a more complete solution. While recommending the best solution, associates have many opportunities to increase the sale based on the addition of complimentary items, i.e., various accessories for a phone/camera (electronics), a belt to go with pants (apparel), low-salt Swiss cheese to go with store-baked turkey (deli), etc. The potential pairings are endless. These obvious and appropriate pairings are far different from offering every customer the random promotional/push item of the week. The conversion rate of suggestive selling greatly increases when the customer views it as a natural part of the conversation and in line with their needs (versus the associate attempting "to sell" something).

The goal of any retailer is to create a great experience today so customers come back the next time they have a need and, in the meantime, tell friends and family about their positive experience (which will drive even more traffic to the store). Consistently delivering an experience that incorporates all of the above is key to this cycle.

[3] When consumers think about customer experience marketing, they often think of a visit to a Disney theme park or a visit to their local Starbucks café. But how can other retail venues, such as, clothing stores, car dealerships, gas stations, etc., create similar experiences?
KEVIN: Both Disney and Starbucks have mastered incorporating emotion into the customer experience. Disney's messaging focuses on the magic and the lifetime memories they help create, almost always incorporating family into their imagery. Starbucks was at the forefront of the experiential economy, creating a "third place" that was neither home nor work, but a place to go to escape, if only for a short time. Both of these brands have positioned themselves as destinations by focusing on how the customer benefits by visiting them.

Other retailers can move in the same direction if they consistently deliver a unique brand experience. Defining the expected customer experience must begin with a brand promise: What can customers expect from your brand? It is critical for retailers to link the brand experience to the brand promise. Making promises you can’t deliver (or deliver consistently) is setting your business up for failure.

Apparel stores can focus on how customers feel when they wear the brand’s clothes, or convey the experiences customers should have in the brand’s clothes. Car dealerships can craft the customer experience based on their target market, i.e., sports cars, luxury cars, etc. and get customers thinking about the destinations they will reach and the memories they will make in the specific brand cars. While a stop at a gas station (typically a very transactional interaction) may never equate to a Disney visit, the intent would be to up-level the customer engagement in a manner that would promote repeat visits.

The in-store experience should then parallel and reaffirm emotions evoked through the brand promise. It all comes down to the associate, who personifies the brand. Remember, the staff (also known as Cast Members) at Disney theme parks plays a very large part in the magic felt in their parks.

[4] Bill Gates is quoted for saying that an upset customer is an opportunity to create a long-term customer. How do you interpret his quote in terms of the Microsoft brand?
KEVIN: Customer feedback is a gift. Aside from the hundreds of thousands of data points we collect through mystery shopping each year, ICC/Decision Services receives 3 million customer surveys annually from our clients' customers. Not all of this feedback is positive, nor would we want it to be. When a customer tells us about an experience that differs from his/her expectations or previous experiences, we have an opportunity to correct that experience for all the customers that follow. This feedback also allows our clients to make the situation right with the customer. It would be very easy for an unhappy customer to move on to the competition, never to return. Not only are we saving the lifetime value of the customer, but we’re also helping the client create a very positive experience from one that did not begin that way. This gives the customer a much better story to tell about the brand, encouraging more people to use the brand, shop at its stores, etc.

[5] I recently visited a well-known store in California and when I attempted to make a purchase, I was told, “Our computers are down. You’ll have to come back.” Well, my car was parked in a garage where the clock was ticking and charging by the minute. I did not want to come back to the store. I wondered why the clerk didn’t offer me a discount on a future purchase or even offer to order the item for me from the 800 number. Bottom line, I walked out disappointed with the belief that I would never buy from that store again. How would you have handled this situation?
KEVIN: There are so many options available to that associate, regardless of the systems issue at the time. My first recommendation for the associate would have been to order the item via a mobile device (while you were in the store) and have it shipped to arrive at your home the next day. While I’m certain that the associate must have felt helpless due to the systems issues, management must ensure that associates are aware of all the options available and BE EMPOWERED to make the decisions necessary to meet customer needs. Asking that customers "come back at a later time” is inviting them to shop the competition. The key is to find a way to capture the sale while the customer remains in the store not only eases the situation for the customer, but also protects the revenue for the business.

[6] What is your favorite customer service story?
KEVIN: My favorite personal customer service experience was with the kitchen staff at Disney World. My wife and I took our then 5-year-old son, Aidan, there a few years ago. It was my wife’s and son’s first visit. Like many great planners, I was on the Disney site making dinner reservations months in advance. During the reservation process, the Disney employee specifically asked for any special requests or food allergies. This alone gave me a great feeling of safety, as my son has an allergy to tree nuts. We carry an Epi-Pen at all times and are very careful with his meals.

When we arrived for dinner the first night, the chef came out to our table, greeted us, and introduced himself as the executive chef for the restaurant. He proceeded to walk us through the different food stations throughout the restaurant (it was a buffet style restaurant), pointing out the specific items we should avoid as well as those that were completely safe for Aidan to enjoy. The chef also described several of the food-prep processes the staff follows to avoid cross contamination in the kitchen. The restaurant experiences for the remainder of our trip closely followed this same depth of caring, which we completely appreciated.

We had an early dinner reservation toward the middle of our trip, followed by a dessert party at Tomorrowland Terrace, which provided an amazing view of the fireworks over Cinderella's Castle. The chef brought Aidan a plate of desserts he knew to be nut-free, showed him a binder that listed all the ingredients for each of the desserts, and asked if there was anything else he would like, offering to get it from the kitchen. Aidan asked for a brownie, which the chef hurried off to retrieve. He returned about 10 minutes later with a brownie wrapped in plastic. The chef apologized for the delay, saying he had to run across the park to get it from a different restaurant because his kitchen had run out of brownies. This was truly an above-and-beyond experience on top of very high standards set by the various on-site restaurants throughout the week. Not only did the employees go out of their way during each meal to let us know they were aware of Aidan’s allergy, but they treated Aidan like a king.

My sincere thanks to Kevin for sharing his customer experience marketing insights. What have you learned to improve your brand's customer experience?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How Has Twitter Impacted Your Brand?

Image Credit: Twitter
With the recent celebration of Twitter's 10th anniversary, there are some in the mainstream media and especially the financial media who question Twitter's impact. The financial value may not be as strong as that of other social networks, such as, Facebook and LinkedIn, but there is no doubt that Twitter has become an influential item in the marketing tool box.

If your President, CEO, or entire leadership team questions the validity of Twitter and why you should develop a presence on this social platform, here are five ways that you can use Twitter - no matter what your industry is - to build your brand.

[1] Customer Service
While a common use of Twitter may be customer upset over airplane delays or poor restaurant experiences, the ability for a customer to interact with your brand in real time cannot be surpassed by any other social network. There is a recognized hashtag #servicefail used by many in the Twitterverse (Twitter universe) to indicate displeasure with a customer experience - and the appearance of this hashtag in a Tweet makes it guaranteed to appear in any search for poor service. And when a Tweet is included in a search, others in the Twitterverse will see it. You don't want your brand or company name to be included in these types of searches!

[2] Brand Listening
With a few short and easy-to-remember words or phrases - or even taglines - you can monitor what customers, prospects, and the media say in real time about your brand. Hashtags with your brand or brands, business name, or even your tagline if it's short (think #JustDoIt for Nike) will create easy-to-follow search threads.

[3] Event Promotion
Whether you're a for-profit business or a nonprofit organization, event attendees like to talk about events leading up to an event and also during an event. Think about award ceremonies, technology tradeshows, and galas. You can create a hashtag for the event and then watch the comments. Think about the #SuperBowl, the #WorldSeries, and even #2016PresidentialRace - these are just some of the events that create real time opportunities for discussion.

[4] Tweet Chats
Twitter has a unique capability called Tweet Chats. You can set a time and create a hashtag, and for 30 or 60 minutes, host a virtual discussion. These Tweet Chats exist for nearly every subject and are hosted by many brands. You can attract potential customers and make new connections for your brand - and easily feature an expert from your company or invite an industry expert to participate on behalf of your brand or business.

Check out this schedule of Tweet Chats:

Learn the basics for hosting a Tweet Chat:

And lastly...

[5] Competitor Research
Have you ever wondered what was happening with your key competitors but didn't know how to find out before a new product or service launched? NOW you can easily find out. Follow your competitors on Twitter, and you will learn all the news that they share in real time. If there are hashtags for unique products in your industry, then searches using these terms will automatically find them. And with Twitter, your searches are not shared with the world - as opposed to LinkedIn, where your searches and activity can be tracked.

So if you haven't yet jumped into Twitter, create a strategy about the content you will share, develop a distribution schedule, and join the conversation, or convo in shortened Twitter lingo. You may even attract new customers, but you won't know until you try. Above all, respond to Tweets in real time - or as soon as possible - don't leave a fellow Tweeter hanging - it's similar to not returning a voicemail or email.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Why Janitors May Be Your Best Brand Advocates

Some time ago, I read a book, Managing Whole People, One Man's Journey, by leadership expert Mark Herbert, and the book featured a memorable story about the importance of corporate culture. A man visited a hospital in Texas because he wanted to meet a famous heart surgeon. As the man left the hospital following his meeting with the surgeon, he met an elderly man who was mopping the floor. The visitor asked, “What do you do here at the hospital?” The elderly man who was mopping the floor replied, “Dr. DeBakey and I save lives together.” The elderly man explained that Dr. DeBakey had told all staff members that hospital infections kill more patients than disease, so the elderly man was doing his part to keep the hospital clean.

Now, think about your business and your culture. If a total stranger interacted with any of your employees, would he or she have the same type of experience? Would he or she see firsthand that your employees understand your business, your brand promise, your competitive advantage, and why your business exists?

I’ve invited Mark Herbert to share some of his insights to help businesses improve their cultures and maintain long-term, satisfied employees.

The Human Resources Pyramid describes a series of questions that every employee from the custodian all the way up to and including the CEO seeks answers to, and both the questions and the order that they are answered in (if it all) play a very important role if you expect to create and sustain an environment of engagement. Those questions are:
•    What is my job?
•    How am I doing?
•    Does anybody care?
•    What do we do?
•    How are we doing?
•    How can I help?

When you address these questions on an individual level along with the Golden Circle from Simon Sinek, you have a formula for creating the kind of alignment and performance that cause CEO’s and CFO’s to shout with delight. Sinek’s model is elegant in its simplicity; he recommends that organizations answer three key questions from the inside out rather than from the outside in:
•    WHY are we doing this?
•    HOW are we doing this?
•    WHAT are we doing?

When you think about it, these questions form the foundation of every organization with a meaningful value proposition, whether they are in the profit or not for profit space. We hear every day that the new generations are demanding more from their work than a paycheck, they want meaning and value. For all the debate about employee engagement and employment branding, the evidence is compelling that organizations with high levels of engagement outperform their competitors in every key performance metric. Similarly, organizations with strong intentional employment brands – think Starbucks, Google, Apple, Zappos – don’t spend much time lamenting the fact they can’t find applicants to fill their open positions.

Dr. DeBakey was a man before his time. He provided a roadmap for employees before it was called employee engagement. If you look back at the conversation with the custodian, he knew the answers to both the Human Resources Pyramid and Sinek’s Golden Circle. High-performing organizations recognize that their BRAND lives where their customers and their employees intersect. As leaders, the choice is ours….

My thanks to Mark for his commentary here on my blog. Here are some final thoughts...What steps do your leadership team, management team, and human resources team all take to make sure that your corporate culture allows for and develops respect, responsibility, rewards, information sharing and open communication, and loyalty? If you cannot answer the question, just think about the Texas hospital janitor – wouldn’t you want him on your team?

For more timeless leadership insights, follow Mark Herbert on Twitter @NewParadigmer and on his blog at http://www.newparadigmsllc.com/blog-page

Image Credit: vectorolie via FreeDigitalPhotos.net