Leadership on Point

Innovate, Don’t Imitate

September 11, 2013 Chip Bell - Guest Author


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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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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Powerful, Persuasive Book Captures New Reality in Customer Care

May 23, 2011 Richard Levin

Book Review: Wired and Dangerous, by Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson.

Wired and Dangerous, Chip Bell and John Patterson

I have distinct childhood memories of my grandparents sharing the latest news with their neighbors.  I remember my grandmother tapping on the pipes in her apartment to summon her upstairs neighbor to a conversation.  And I recall my grandfather talking to friends over the back fence, and my grandmother chatting with neighbors across their mutual clothesline strung across their backyards.

We’ve gone from clothesline to online in communicating the latest information.  And while my grandparents had the quaint opportunity to share product and service reviews over the back fence, their customer experiences reached a miniscule fraction of the consumers we can reach today with merely the click of a mouse.

Thus is the premise of Chip Bell and John Patterson’s powerful and persuasive book, Wired and Dangerous.  The title is apt.  Today’s customers can bring a business to its knees by virally spreading a negative consumer review online.  Wired and Dangerous is full of real-life narratives of customers distributing stories about their horrific experiences.  But more than that, Wired and Dangerous issues a siren call to the business world: treat your customers with respect, and you will thrive; treat them poorly and you will lose market share and earnings literally in an instant.

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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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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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Do Your Employees Know How To Handle “The Basics”?

December 10, 2010 Richard Levin

Barrie Greiff and I have been writing our newspaper column, As We Live and Work, for 10 years now.  Hard for us to believe it’s been that long.  Our columns often manage to strike a chord with our readers, but perhaps never as strongly as with our article  (“It Doesn’t Add Up”, 4/2/2010) about the computer failure at a Los Angeles food court.  We’ve done great columns (in our humble opinion) about baseball, the economy, and the fundamentals of leadership – but who would have guessed our food court column would generate one of the biggest responses. Here’s the story: a large-scale computer failure affected all of the food concessions at LAX Airport; when I attempted to purchase a salad, the cashier told me I’d have to wait for the manager to drive in from an hour away “because he’s the only one who knows how to make change”.  At another concession, I was told that I couldn’t order more than one item because “employees can’t add columns of numbers and can’t figure the tax”. When someone nearby offered the use of a calculator, the manager said “I’m not sure that’s going to help because I don’t think the employees know how it works.”

Despite legislation that students must graduate high school with proficiency in basic math, our minimum standards fly out the window when they enter the real world.

In our column, Barrie and I suggested that every high school student should take a course on “the basics of life”:  simple medical knowledge (CPR, first aid, nutrition, exercise), basic home repairs, fundamental automobile maintenance, and basic money management.  Readers practically came out of the woodwork, praising us for saying something everyone knows but never admits: we do a pretty mediocre job training our children on the basics.  What do you think?  When you deal with a service organization, how do the employees handle the basics?

 

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

 

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