Leadership on Point

Innovate, Don’t Imitate

September 11, 2013 Chip Bell - Guest Author

Chip Bell + Richard Levin & Associates + Principles of Innovative Service + Service Innovation

The concept of best practices has been a mainstay in industry for a long time. Typically it has been a siren’s call for leaders to flock to the feet of a renowned exemplar in search of practices they could duplicate and methods they could replicate.  For the company on the pedestal it was no doubt an ego thrill.  After all, in the words of Charles Colton, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

 

There have been many lessons learned from best practices studies that resulted in improvement.  Some organizations learned what not to do; some learned their own ways were better.  And, some shamelessly copied without logic.  For example, a pianist at a baby grand like the ones in the early Nordstrom stores begin appearing in places a piano seemed out of place.  Customer service did not improve, it just sounded prettier!  These mimics embraced the service symbol and missed the point!

 

There is a dark side to searching for facsimiles.  They bypass the creativity of all employees, especially the insights of those that interface with customers.  Why not innovate instead of imitating?  If employees are given clear direction and free reign, they can be as inventive as Apple and as entrepreneurial as Virgin Air.  If they experience their ideas are valued…even those that do not always work…they will remain on the hunt for novel ways to serve.  Set your employees free and enjoy their gifts!

 

Chip R. Bell is a customer loyalty consultant and the author of several best-selling books.  He can be reached at www.chipbell.com.

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Mentoring As An Act of Freeing

June 4, 2013 Chip Bell - Guest Author

Chip Bell Mentoring as the Act of Freeing Richard Levin & Associates

“Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane?  Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting?   He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; he does not shy away from the sword.  In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground; he cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.”

These powerful words from Job: 39 open the movie Secretariat, a film about the greatest horse that ever lived.  Not only did Secretariat (real name: Big Red) win the Triple Crown, he won all the three races in record time that all stand today, almost 40 years later. The storyline of the movie was about owner, Penny Chenery Tweedy, insisting his trainer and jockey let Secretariat run his own race–that is, with minimum supervision.

What if mentoring was all about removing, not about adding?  What if mentors believed their protégé was like a prize “race horse” that only needed the permission, proficiency, and protection to achieve greatness?  What if mentors worked as hard to get out of the way as they did to control and direct?

Had Secretariat trainer Lucien Laurin or jockey Ron Turcotte decided they needed to dictate, direct and domesticate Secretariat we might never have gotten to witness his “frenzied excitement to eat up the ground” as he ran the race he was meant to run.  Set your protégé free and let him or her “learn like the wind.”

 

Chip R. Bell is a customer loyalty consultant and the author of several best-selling books.  His newest book (with best-selling author Marshall Goldsmith) is Managers as Mentors:  Building Partnerships for Learning.  He can be reached at www.chipbell.com.  The book can be ordered http://amzn.to/1aqsUf3.

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This Holiday Season, Remember: Customer Loyalty Is A Two-Way Relationship

November 28, 2011 Richard Levin

The holidays are upon us and that means opportunities for retailers to develop loyalty among its customers.  The first step?  Make it easy!  Customers are busy and want to accomplish what they set out to do… without any unnecessary obstacles.  Impressing customers now could likely lead to loyalty throughout the year.

 

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For Whom the Bell Tolls

June 6, 2011 Chip Bell - Guest Author

Great service can come from unique places.  I buy my night crawlers (worms) for fishing at Jerry’s Bait Shop…an antique, all-purpose country store.  Buying night crawlers involves several steps:  opening the refrigerator, taking out a Styrofoam cup of worms, pouring them into a large container to make certain they are all wiggling (therefore alive), replacing the worms in the cup, and purchasing the worms.  Anglers are right particular about their fish bait.  So, Jerry’s creates a service process that keeps his customers in complete control.

First, the refrigerator is right next to the fishing lures and hooks so customers there to buy hooks remember to get worms and vice versa.  Some establishments would separate these and keep them under control of management.  There is large note on the refrigerator door reminding customers to check the worms in the large funnel shaped bucket to check for wiggling.  And, when the cash register is involved, there is a checklist on the customer’s side—need a fishing license, cold drinks, cigarettes, etc.  The goal is clearly to help customers avoid getting in the middle of the lake only to discover a critical fishing item is missing.

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How Your Customers Have Changed

May 26, 2011 Chip Bell - Guest Author

Customers today are Picky — more cautious in their choices (and they have many more choices) and interested only in getting obvious value for their money.  They are well-informed about choices, smarter in choice-making, and selective in whom they elect to join.  Blame it on a scary recession, but the is customers are picky!

They are Fickle–much quicker to leave if unhappy.  They not only show a lower tolerance for error, they will exit just on account of plain old indifferent service.  The hype of a brand name means little in deterring the disappointed customer’s exit.  And, their expectations for their encounters with you are up 33% over this time last year!  The old “tired and true” is no longer the “tried and true.”

Customers today are Vocal–more apt to rapidly (and loudly) register concerns with their higher standards for value and their expectation of getting a tailored response.  They assertively tell others their views of service; they also listen to fellow customers’ reviews and make choices without even giving the organization a chance.   Three-fourth of customers makes a decision not to do business with you based solely on “work of mouse” from other customers.

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Effective Steps to Significantly Boost Customer Loyalty

May 16, 2011 Dr. Johnny Magwood - Guest Author

Outstanding customer service is rarely the result of high-priced employee training and performance-monitoring programs.  Before launching a costly plan to overhaul the organization’s customer service operations, consider inexpensive steps that can significantly boost customer loyalty—right away.

Energize employees.  Pep rallies can help, but nothing energizes employees more effectively than seeing senior management demonstrate enthusiasm toward customers.  Bill Marriott of Marriott Corporation has been known to work the front desk from time to time.  It isn’t for the guests’ benefit, but for his employees.  They never forget seeing the head of the company doing what they do—and enjoying every minute of it.

Be generous with customers.  In the rush of day-to-day business, small favors might seem trivial.  To customers, however, they can be the key factor in a decision to develop a long-term relationship with a company.  It might be as simple as a compliment an employee gives to a customer.  Or, it could be a special tailor-made recognition given a customer for placing a larger order or being loyal for a long time.

Keep pace with changes in customers.  Customer expectations are constantly changing.  They are up 33% over this time last year.  Organizations that don’t keep up with them have little chance of developing long-term relationships.  Instead of asking customers how they like the organization’s service, ask them; “What can our company do to provide the best service in the business?”  Answers will help keep you up to date on what customers expect.

We work in challenging economic times.  As margins get thinner, budgets are squeezed.  Sometimes, the best service is simple service.  Just like that homemade holiday gift given during lean years when you were growing up, frugal service can still be fantastic service.

 

 

Written by Dr. Johnny D. Magwood, Vice President and Chief Customer Officer for Northeast Utilities. A well-known industry spokesperson, he can be reached at magwojd@nu.com.

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I Am Spartacus

April 14, 2011 Chip Bell - Guest Author

Spartacus: A Role Model For Leadership

“Spartacus” was the story of an actual slave who led a massive grassroots uprising against the Roman Empire.   The movie was a major hit with cast of silver screen giants like Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons, Lawrence Olivier, and Peter Ustinov.

After the severely outnumbered slaves were defeated in a bloody battle by the Roman Army plus several of their allies, the Emperor coveted the head of the person who started the slave revolt.  Surveying the field of defeated survivors, he announced that if anyone would reveal which slave was Spartacus, all (but Spartacus) would be freed.  If they did not, all would be crucified.  One by one each of the hundreds of survivors stood and proudly proclaimed, “I am Spartacus.”

The essence of service leadership is to create in others such clarity of purpose, boldness of spirit, and unanimity of action that customers derive confidence, trust and identification.  Leadership is not about what leaders do, it is about what an organization accomplishes when many unite and engage in the courageous work of providing inventive, memorable experiences for the customers they serve.  What steps can you take to create among all employees a oneness of mind about your customers?  What is your unit or organization’s shared vision of your customers’ experiences?  What can you do to get everyone to wear the customer’s hat every day and every transaction?

 

Written by  Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson, customer loyalty consultants and the authors of several best-selling book. Their newest book is Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to do About it. They can be reached at www.wiredanddangerous.com.

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Taking Service Out of Customer Service

February 23, 2011 Chip Bell - Guest Author

We were participating in a panel discussion at a conference of Fortune 100 CIO’s.  One senior leader of one of the 10 largest banks in the nation asked: “How can we maximize the profitability and efficiency of our call centers while minimizing the customer’s involvement?” Something about the question left us momentarily confused.  “Let me make sure I understand you,” one of us queried. “You want to remove all of the service out of customer service?”  The audience laughed.  But, he was dead serious as he continued, “Actually, I’d like to take most of the customer out as well!”

There has been an assertive migration toward self-service.  Self-service has had a positive side.  By shifting the lion’s share of the work on the service experience to the customer, it has lowered operating costs.  It has freed up human resources to be used in roles and functions truly requiring a human touch.  Self-service has also made customers more self-reliant as “do-it-yourself” has replaced “I’ll take care of that for you.”  Learning to fend for oneself can trigger education and confidence; customers are less dependent and far more competent.

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The Rebellious Customer, Part I (Part II is inevitable)

January 19, 2011 Richard Levin

Although Sirius XM Satellite Radio is beginning to emerge from its deep financial doldrums, it is remarkable they are surviving with their current business processes.  I realized the credit card I use to pay my XM bill was about to expire, so I went online to update my profile.  I encountered an error message that told me I couldn’t access my account because my credit card had to be updated.  They advised that I call XM Listener Cares, where I received a recording that “due to heavy call volume, we advise you to use our website to manage your account”.  Caught in a classic Catch 22, I sent an e-mail to Customer Service.  The response: “We apologize for the inconvenience.  Please go to our website to update your account.”  How can a company stay in business when you have to jump through hoops to pay them?………………………The Apple iPhone, in many ways the best phone I’ve ever owned, has a tendency to erase its own calendar.  If you have an iPhone, you might want to discuss this with Apple or AT&T…………………..Spirit Airlines’ decision to charge for carry-on luggage has to qualify for whatever award organizations give out for dumbest decision of the year.  Do you have other nominees?………When I checked in to a luxury hotel on a recent business trip, I entered my room and discovered a woman had checked in to my room before I did.  Some businessmen might find this a fantasy come true.  When I called the front desk, they sent Security to investigate.  Security tried to convince me the woman inside my room was my wife. My wife was not on this business trip.  I’m convinced Jerry Seinfeld’s Bizarro World is becoming reality.

 

 

Written by Dr. Richard Levin, President of Richard Levin & Associates. He can be reached at rlevin@richardlevinassociates.com.

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In the New Marketplace, the Customer is King

January 12, 2011 Richard Levin

Now that the holidays have come and gone, what have we learned?  If we didn’t know it already, we’ve learned that the customer is quirky, unpredictable, demanding, and…more than ever, the customer is king.  We’ve also learned that many businesses haven’t figured this out.  They feel the customer is an intrusion into their workday, and businesses are still woefully unprepared to deal with the challenging customer.

But just to clarify: this is not going to be a business-bashing blog.  On the contrary.  It’s a wake-up call for both the business and the customer, neither of whom understands their new role in a very different marketplace.  For businesses, it’s time to learn how to see around corners, to shine a spotlight in to the dark corners of the consumer’s psyche, and most of all to be prepared.

The marketplace is a psychological place, not just a physical and financial one.  It’s filled with mind-games, strange behaviors, and psychopathology.

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