July 2014
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Joseph's Blog

Easy Wins

Ahhh, summer – a season of sunshine, valiant efforts to slow one’s life down, and vacation travel.  It’s hard not to notice, however, how our great escape efforts are often marked by so much preparatory and participatory stress. Marketing guru (and a man who was kind enough to endorse my Zappos Experience book) Seth Godin recently posted fantastic tips to help reduce travel-induced anxiety. We as customers often accept the hassles inherent in travel, particularly air travel, as forgone conclusions. But why? While not known for being particularly customer-centric, even the airline industry seems to making some effort to reduce the pain points we all encounter.

The Wall Street Journal reports that JetBlue Airways has introduced automatic check-in for a select cohort of passengers. 24 hours in advance of their flight they will receive an email with a ready-to-print boarding pass and an option to download the airlines’ mobile boarding pass app. Armed with either one, that passenger is airport ready.

“”The idea of asking customers to jump an additional hurdle before their flight is an increasingly antiquated concept,” says Blair Koch, JetBlue Vice President Commercial and Shared Development Services. “By having the right systems in place, we can remove this step, and even help identify and prevent issues that can hinder customers from fully enjoying their travel experience.”

“JetBlue’s focus since day one of our launch has been about looking at the customer experience through a different lens and making the travel experience simpler and more enjoyable,” says Michael Stromer, JetBlue Vice President of Digital, Loyalty & Customer Insights. “Following our successful smartphone and mobile boarding pass launches, auto check-in is just another example of leveraging technology and common sense to make our customers’ travel experiences better.”

The return of common sense is refreshing, isn’t it? It is not that the customer “hurdle” of having to make your way to a computer to check in for a flight is all that difficult. It’s just that it is one-more-thing-to-do in the flurry of pre-departure activities. When you’re preparing to step out of your everyday life and responsibilities to take a trip, you know as well as I do that one-more-thing-to-do is the last thing you need.

What “rules” of engagement are at play in your industry?  How can your business create systems, like JetBlue, to erase or ease them for your customers?

My First (and possibly my last) Book Review – Hooked on Customers by Bob Thompson

As an author, it seems I am always on deadline with my own manuscripts.  This leaves me little more than the opportunity to write business related correspondence and a weekly blog.

Through the years, friends have asked me to provide reviews of their books and I have always apologetically declined.  If I feel strongly about a colleague’s book, I am usually able to cobble out a few sentence endorsement blurb that becomes part of the cover content and marketing campaign.

All that was said as a context piece for a review of Bob Thompson’s book Hooked on Customers – The Five Habits of Legendary Customer-Centric Companies.  To make this all the more strange, I realized I probably haven’t actually done a book review since high school and I am not even sure if I read that book.  I am sure that I didn’t find the joy in my high school reading and writing project that I did producing this in support of Bob’s book.

First a word about Bob and then a quick effort to pique your interest in his book.  I have known Bob for more years than either of us would want to count.  He first contacted me in the early days of his development of a blog site called  Not only have I had my blogs republished there through the years but I have watched him build a community of the world’s thought leaders.  To do this, he has invested tireless effort on the blog and is one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to “all things customer.”

In every dealing with Bob, he has demonstrated the very behaviors he offers up in Hooked on Customers, namely the consistent effort to:




Create, and


While straightforward and crisp in their presentation in the book, Bob unpacks each habit thoughtfully and often with an interesting twist.  A clear example of his engaging analysis can be found in his assessment of why the architect behind the customer experience at Apple (Ron Johnson) failed to deliver an engaging experience at JCPenney or how Southwest Airlines made sure that their LEAN (process improvement program) was not MEAN when it came to customers.

I am sure my high school teacher would not have approved of this review (too personal, not in 5 paragraph expository writing format) but I know you will approve of “Hooked on Customers.”

Thanks, Bob, for your passion for customer experience and for giving us all a straightforward, engaging, though-provoking and actionable read!

Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy – Loving your Customer and your Message

Here’s an exercise for you. Try to go one day without seeing an advertising message. Ok, how about an hour? Some subtle, others overt, marketers are finding us in as unsuspecting of places as the bottom of golf holes. Every business is talking at customers. But what makes that chatter banal or brilliant?

For a while now, videos like Coca-Cola’s “Friendly Twist” campaign have ricocheted across social media. A refrigerator filled with Coke was placed in the center of a college campus on the first day of classes. Predictably, the freshmen were somewhat uneasy and weren’t talking to one another. Coke had dreamt up something to help break the ice. A few students approach the fridge for a Coke and discover they can’t open the bottle…unless the friendly twist cap is matched with another. Eye contact, aha moments and smiles ensue. “Open a Coke, open a new friendship” is the tag that appears across the screen. From engineering design to marketing execution, there is something awe-inspiring about this work. Current, yet nostalgic, you are so easily transported back to your freshman year, recalling the search for familiarity and belonging. You remember how uncertainty eclipsed the empowerment and freedom you thought you would be feeling during those first days.

Global advertising network Saatchi & Saatchi introduced us to the idea of lovemarks in the book Lovemarks – The Future Beyond Brands by CEO Kevin Roberts. It’s a book I have been talking about and quoting from for years. shares the “three intangible, yet very real ingredients” that characterizes a lovemark:

Mystery draws together stories, metaphors, dreams and symbols. It is where past, present and future become one.

Sensuality keeps the five senses on constant alert for new textures, intriguing scents and tastes, wonderful music. Sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste.

Intimacy means empathy, commitment and passion. The close connections that win intense loyalty as well as the small perfect gesture. These are often remembered long after functions and benefits have faded away.

This viral “Friendly Twist” video rings with these elements, endearing the brand to the viewer. How does your business’ advertising, and for that matter your brand experience, employ these ingredients to draw people into a “loving” relationship with your brand?

Why it’s in your own interest to forget your self-interest

The modern world inundates us with a constant flow of information.  Not wanting to miss anything, our tendency is to scan the clutter for ways to improve our businesses.  Studying best practices, following experts on Twitter, regularly checking in with our favorite bloggers, we ultimately seek to be better and do better by our customers.  Sometimes insights are cutting edge and bend thinking in new ways.  Other times we find activating perspectives in established works.

Founding partner of, Ray Baird, shares the best of timeless wisdom in an interview with August Turak.  Author of Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO’s Quest for Meaning and Authenticity, Turak is an entrepreneur and executive who has been a monastic guest of the Trappist monks for nearly twenty years.  Through the lens of service to our customers and building a beloved brand, a particularly resonant part of their conversation follows:

Turak: The monks don’t have a brand; they are their brand. So every person that comes in contact with them, in every single way, encounters quality—quality in the way they’re treated in the line to get food, the way their room is clean; if you’re a guest, the way your room has been cleaned for you. Every single thing. They are their brand; they live it.

Baird: What other branding lessons can we learn from the monks…?

Turak: When I looked up the word piety, it comes from the Latin word for duty. The monks are not just pious towards God; they also have a sense of duty towards everyone.

Duty is out of style in our society, but if you want to have a great brand you think a lot about, “What is my duty to my customers?”

…probably the most important <thing>, is trust. Authenticity, to me, is having a brand that people can trust. And the monks are tremendously trustworthy people. If they tell you they’re going to do something, they’re going to do that.

The next thing is consistency. The whole monastic way of life is built on a consistent, methodical, day after day, living the life. If you’re consistently giving people every single day the best that you’ve got to offer, you’re going to have a great brand.

…<There is a> [Trappist] beer in Belgium that the Wall Street Journal says is the best in the world. They don’t have any labels on the bottles. They do no advertising, no marketing. People line up in cars for miles to get two cases, which is all you’re allowed. That’s a real illustration of how powerful a brand can become if people believe in you.

Turak so poignantly remarks, “The most important thing that I learned is, it is in your own self-interest to forget your self-interest.  The monks’ entire way of life is dedicated to what I call service and selflessness.”

As a customer experience consultant, I have regularly said, “service serves us.”  It is in the losing oneself to service that service professionalism thrives.  If you don’t believe me open a Trappist beer or chat with a Trappist monk… then give me a call!

How to Balance Service Standards with Empowerment

I recently had a conversation with someone who just changed customer-facing jobs. Beyond the dynamics of salary, benefits, and the myriad of other factors that influenced her decision to move on to the next professional opportunity, the way she described her former position stuck with me: “I didn’t like that I couldn’t see customer issues through to resolution.”  A customer would bring a problem to her attention and she, per policy, would be required to pass it up the customer resolution chain to be handled…or not, as was sometimes the case.  As someone who takes exemplary initiative, she was dissatisfied operating within a system that didn’t allow her to build relationships with customers by personally delivering solutions in those critical service-recovery moments.  Most discouraging was her realization that when those in the ranks above her did not handle issues promptly, appropriately, or at all, the customer perceived her to be unresponsive, apathetic, unmotivated, or lazy.  Understandably, this protocol would drain the morale out of most anybody.

A respected colleague of mine, Micah Solomon, author of High-Tech High-Touch Customer Service writes on, “Standards help ensure that every part of your service reflects the best way your company knows to perform it—a prescription that your autonomously performing employees can then feel free to adapt to suit the needs and wishes, expressed or unexpressed, of the customers they’re actually facing at the moment.”

Yes, there is a degree of trust and confidence you must have in your front-line staff to empower them with autonomy.  Sometimes the endless damage control procedures that seem to involve the entire chain of command are simply control mechanisms – an effort to ensure that your business’ service standards are met reasonably consistently, regardless of who was working the front desk.  In other words – they are thought to prevent folks from going rouge and thus screwing anything up too badly.  You can see how demeaning this thinking can be to the engaged employees who are on the floor, behind the desk, on the phone – interacting with customers most regularly.

Ask yourself:  Are your service standards static expressions that describe an ideal customer interaction?  Or, do your standards provide a framework to help front-line employees discern how they can personally and promptly make it right for a customer in the not-so-ideal interactions?  Standards that provide employees with functional tools to guide their judgment when faced with issues are a relatively low-risk, high-reward way to improve both your customer and employee experiences.

If you hire talent, set guard rails as to what is acceptable, and then let your team members improvise to solve problems – YOU, YOUR team members, and YOUR customers WIN!

True or False? Measuring Performance Leads to Better Service

If you said “Yes” – you are either amazingly astute or you had a chance to look at the recently released Q1 Zendesk Benchmark report.  In either case – Congratulations!

Zendesk, the maker of customer service software that streamlines customer support and fosters self-service and engagement, studied the use of analytics and their impact on customer satisfaction across 16,000+ companies in 125 countries. As stated in the report, “Analytics reporting is necessary for any company to not only gauge the success of its efforts, but objectively understand what areas need improvement.  For customer service these metrics typically include customer satisfaction, as well as factors that contribute to customer satisfaction, such as first reply time, full resolution time, and percentage of one-touch resolution.”

Zendesk divided a group of their software users into two groups, high usage and low usage, and compared the aforementioned metrics between the two groups.  The high analytics usage group had 1.6% higher customer satisfaction ratings, 12% lower first reply times, and 16% lower full resolution times.  In much the same way that budgeting can create financial margin, systems that measure how well a business serves its customers can highlight opportunities to do so even better.  The catch is, the systems themselves must be sound and they have to be used.  A budget tool that is implemented then ignored may indeed capture and categorize spending.  What it won’t do is reveal what the business can learn from/modify/improve.  This requires a touch point.  Someone must first access the analytics gathered within the tool, make inferences, and draw conclusions.  The strategies that result are the change agents.

On a less rosy note, Zendesk’s findings  indicate that the United States ranked 15th in overall customer satisfaction across industry.  That dose of reality suggests ample room for improvement across business sectors.  The report’s convicting take-away?  “What is measured, truly does improve.” What systems are in place within your business to measure customer service excellence – on satisfaction and the even more challenging metrics of emotional engagement?

Beloved Brands Think Differently

Working remotely, I am sitting in a Starbucks with my laptop.  (As you may have surmised, I’ve been having a substantive long-term relationship with the brand.)  Across the way, a woman was also working away on her computer when…it happened.  A keystroke run amok sends her beverage sailing across the table and onto the floor, unfailingly sweeping across her laptop and paperwork on it’s way down.  She doesn’t react at first, staring in disbelief.  You can imagine how she feels.  Maybe you’ve even been there.

She goes up to the counter to request a rag to begin cleaning up the spill.  Meanwhile, a barista goes to get a mop while another appears with a drink to replace the one now seeping through the keys of her laptop keyboard.  When the barista returns with the mop she asks the woman, “Can we get you something to eat?  Anything to make this day a little better for you?”

Apropos for this traumatic albeit poignant moment, I had just run across a quote from Mahatma Gandhi which will appear in my upcoming book about Mercedes-Benz USA.  In it Gandhi suggested, “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us.  We are dependent on him.  He is not an interruption in our work.  He is the purpose of it.  He is not an outsider in our business.  He is part of it.  We are not doing him a favor by serving him.  He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

As you engage your work, keep this sentiment with you when a customer brings you a mess to clean up, or makes one before your eyes.  Whether they are sheepish or demanding, they are your customer.  This is itself a gift and a privilege, sometimes only realized once they are no longer.

How to turn problems into customer loyalty

I recently visited a store to make a return.  I suspect that few people relish this particular type of retail encounter – not the employees, not the customers. Both sides often seem prepared for a debate at best and an argument at worst.  It is an unexpected relief when the experience is seamless. The product I had purchased failed to meet reasonable expectations. Something you would expect to easily last a year or more wore out in a very short span of time. Sales receipt in hand, I headed to the counter.

It bears mentioning that this retail brand has a reputation as a customer service leader.  The manager looked at the item that I have brought back and asked how often I had used it. This question surprised me.  Does my answer impact the fate of this return? She goes on to say, “As a courtesy, we’ll refund your money this time, but this is what we consider normal wear and tear.” At that juncture, she opined that the particular item I purchased doesn’t last as long as others like it…

Was my mission accomplished? Yes. I was issued a refund. Did I feel cheerful about the experience? Hmmm. The manager’s approach to the return was accusatory and the permission to allow me to return the item seemed more of a gesture to appease not a commitment to reasonable customer satisfaction. I heard a warning that my “bad customer behavior” would be tolerated once and only once.

Invariably, some customers are emotional, erratic or unreasonable in their requests. Often the best we can do is try in earnest to help that customer walk away feeling whole. Sometimes the simplest word choices and “presumptions of positive customer intent” can help those who frequent our businesses walk away feeling more valued than when they approached. In my case, the manager could have simply and graciously said: “Thank you for taking the time to bring this back to us and share your concerns about its durability.  We value the opportunity to make it right. Sorry for your trouble.”  The manager knew she was going to take my return, per the store’s published and customer-facing policies.  But the policy seemed to be something she was working against and that she endured it in the context my brief interrogation and resulting placation.

So take a look around your business this week and ask yourself Are my staff members openly or reluctantly securing customer loyalty through a gracious and grateful response to customer issues?  What barriers can you eliminate to make service recovery effective, pleasant, and loyalty building?

How to Float a Complaint

Imagine – a picturesque resort retreat near a lake. To take full advantage of its serene surroundings, the resort offers canoes in which guests can paddle onto the lake to enjoy nature’s splendor. You are all set to hop in a canoe and enjoy the nature at her best but despite unused canoes at the water’s edge you are advised that there aren’t enough life jackets for all canoes to be in the water at once. Disappointed, you rearrange your plans for the day or abandon the plan altogether.

You might walk away from an experience like this incredulous, seeing the problem as obvious and ask yourself what-were-they-thinking? Just as Will Rogers suggested that common sense isn’t so common any more – the obvious is not always so obvious.

As customers, we have an opportunity to make the “obvious” pain points of our experiences known to the business operators we patronize.  While I was socialized to “be nice”, I have come to learn that by not calmly and constructively offering feedback I am not doing any favors – not to me, the business owners or future canoe guests in our hypothetical example. Perhaps the facilities manager purchased the same number of life jackets as canoes, overlooking the possibility that more than one person could be aboard a vessel. Or maybe they just…weren’t thinking. It happens – details get missed, logic lost. When you are a customer on the receiving end of a botched service encounter, you still have the power to graciously offer the remedy that appears so plain-as-day to you. It is easier said than done.  Teachable moments so quickly slide into rants.

As business leaders, we know there is often a lag between becoming aware of an issue and being able to execute the solution. When the next customer approaches the dock to rent a canoe, Tali Yahalom writes for, “React before the customer realizes anything is wrong. You’ll gain tremendous loyalty by solving a problem before the customer voices a complaint.” The employee might acknowledge the equipment issue and make special efforts to streamline another nature experience in its place. Great business leaders don’t wait for customers to find them to complain. If you are aware of an issue and have a solution underway, being forthcoming has the potential to build far more goodwill than trying to talk a disgruntled customer off the wall once they have climbed it.

What customer complaint have you anticipated?  What have you heard that has made your business better?  Where has a business listened to and addressed a concern of importance to you?

Guest blog by Bradley Taylor: Is lack of marketing education letting your firm down?

It is my pleasure to introduce you to my guest blogger from over the pond. Bradley Taylor joins us from Derby, England to discuss the risks of limited marketing knowledge….

Is lack of marketing education letting your firm down?

Many firms lose potential clients and business partners as a result of poor marketing strategies. In today’s technological society, it has never been more important to enhance customer awareness and engagement with your firm in order to acquire a wealth of clients who will seek your services and recommend them to others. Listed below are several business marketing strategies and solutions, through which you can augment your marketing expertise and subsequently improve the branding and online reputation of your firm.

Capitalise upon the popularity of social networks

Social networking has become an extremely lucrative platform through which firms can market their professional expertise and services. LinkedIn is one of the world’s largest social media networks, connecting over 100 million professionals within a variety of different industries. Your firm can utilise LinkedIn to promote your services to fellow networking firms, and thus exponentially improve your chances of acquiring and sustaining professional relationships with both clients and business partners. You can instigate these connections via LinkedIn groups; whereupon you can participate in discussions as well as gathering information and receiving recommendations concerning your favoured line of work. Within these groups, you can showcase your professional capabilities by offering relevant, valuable contributions to group discussions. This facilitates a highly effective way of marketing your firm as it generates a channel of direct communication between members of your chosen profession.

Business bootcamps

Another effective method of expanding your marketing expertise is by attending a business bootcamp. These seminars and conferences impart valuable knowledge on how to improve key aspects of your firm. Moreover, there are a wealth of bootcamps available for firms of all sizes; from start-up businesses to industry leading corporations. These bootcamps provide an opportunity to hone your marketing strategies by gleaning exclusive insights from industry leaders, as well as learning how to cultivate and sustain a profitable business model. According to business marketing strategist Wilson Luna, it is important that companies learn “how to see business from a different perspective” in order to instigate improvements. Knowledge is power, and if you can consolidate your awareness of business marketing strategies, you can begin to implement these improvements within your firm.

Hire consultants

An increasing number of firms are hiring consultants who can objectively assess and improve certain aspects of your firm. For example, if your firm intends to launch a new marketing campaign, you can hire a consultant with experience within the marketing industry. A competent marketing consultancy expert can create a full marketing and communications plan for your firm; identifying what your primary objectives should be and developing a more comprehensive understanding of your target market. Consultants can offer vital insights upon how to market your firm successfully as a brand, and furthermore they can impart key strategies which your firm can implement in order to surpass any business competitors. These consultancy services can enable your firm to design and implement a proactive marketing campaign which will professionally publicise your firm and its services to a larger network of potential clients and business partners

Bradley Taylor is a freelance writer from Derby, England who enjoys writing across a variety of topics. You can find Bradley on Twitter @BradleyTaylor84