April 2015
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Joseph's Blog

BE PERFECT or BE EXCELLENT: The Art of Getting Real

Sometimes we teach because we have something to share and other times we teach because we have something to learn.  This is one of those cases where I am exploring an issue for myself as much as I am addressing it for you.

How do we balance all the demands necessary to serve the needs of our customers?

For me, this challenge manifests in finding the time to keep a regular dialogue going through blogs.  You, the reader of this blog, represent a part of my service audience, as do my consulting clients, my speaking event customers, my team members, my book readers, and my publisher.  As I have been locked down on deadline writing my upcoming book about the amazing customer experience transformation taking place at Mercedes-Benz USA, I have had little bandwidth to regularly deliver blogs. I have considered having someone else write blogs for me but that always seems like a less than authentic solution.  Of course, the absence of blogs isn’t necessarily a viable alternative.

I imagine you have similar challenges.  How do you triage which customers get which services, given that there are always limits to the viable resources you can bring to your experience delivery?  Is it better to compromise product quality or authenticity in order to bring some product to market or do you step back from product presentation if it isn’t fully resonant with your brand?

If there is a lesson to learn and teach in this writing, it has to be the massive pressure we all face to execute flawlessly in an omni-channel world.  We often get pulled into the belief that we HAVE TO BE on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, have live chat, deliver engaging telephone support, master face-to-face service excellence, be thin, read the classics, know what’s trending…. You get the point…

In my case, I have opted to write blogs when I can (recently, about once a month) until my new book deadline passes in May.  I also will wait on reading the classics and will give myself a break on knowing what’s trending.  I once co-authored an article titled “The Risk of Excellence” in which my colleagues and I offered a core theme which suggested  that in order to be excellent you have to say no to things that will make you mediocre.

Saying NO to things that will make you mediocre — hmm, that’s a lesson I may not be qualified to teach but it is one I know is worthy of learning.  What are your thoughts?

Are your property values up? Thank Starbucks

What does brand equity get you?  Among other things – happy neighbors!  According to recent reports, when a Starbucks opens nearby your property values rise – alot.  Before you think this phenomena occurs anytime a multi-national company opens its doors in your vicinity, the research also shows that its better to have Starbucks than Dunkin Donuts.

So first to the details and then to the relevance for all of us who own or strive to improve the businesses with which we work.  In their new book Zillow Talk, the chief economist Stan Humphries and CEO Spencer Rascoff at Zillow report that if you live within a quarter-mile of Starbucks your property value could nearly double.

Here are the numbers, according to the Zillow data from the last 17 years, homes near a Starbucks increased in value by 96% those farther than a quarter mile from a Starbucks increased 65%. Rascoff and Humpries further note, “these properties appreciate at a faster rate than US housing on the whole. Interestingly, they’re also recovering much more quickly from the housing bust.”

All is not lost if you live near a Dunkin Donuts location, it’s just that homes near Starbucks appreciated 16% more.  While real estate analysts can talk about the impact of Starbucks on gentrification or that Starbucks has more west coast locations than Dunkin Donuts, those debates are beyond my scope.

My message is that great businesses lift up entire communities.

Rather than selling the notion that profit is the “be all end all of business,” we should be reminded that we have an opportunity to drive the enterprise value of our companies.  That value goes beyond the profit and loss statement.  It is reflected in the way in which we affect the lives of all we serve.

If we drive great value, that value will be extended richly into our surrounding community.  What will you do to drive enterprise and community value today?  Let’s think purpose not profits…profits emerge from purposeful activity!

Would you have your wedding at Starbucks? Becoming a Beloved Brand

So would you?  Would you have your wedding at Starbucks?  How about your reception? Lets switch venues, how about at Taco Bell or Subway?

While I have never heard of a Taco Bell reception, I have been tracking the phenomena of Starbucks weddings and receptions since I worked on my first book about the company back in 2006. For example, an article on pictorially recounts 13 recent Starbucks wedding receptions.   The phenomena of engagements, marriages and receptions at brands like Starbucks or another company about which I have written, Zappos, demonstrates what it means to become a beloved brand  That is not to say that marital unions have to be taking place in your business to prove your belovedness to customers but such actions show how closely a brand connects with the values and identity perceptions of its customers.

In my latest book, Leading the Starbucks Way, I explore a model of brand love created by Graham Robertson (president of the brand strategy firm aptly named Beloved Brands).  Graham’s model defines brands along a continuum of customer emotional connection that goes from indifference, like it, love it, and ultimately to beloved brand for life.  The key to the last category is that customers view the brand as a form of “self-expression” where they are outspoken fans who will not switch loyalties because they have formed lifelong memories connected to the brand.

Brand love has power in the market place.  Beloved brands get more positive media attention, they have increased social media following and viral marketing campaigns and as we are all coming to learn more weddings and significant life events either in their buildings or with their products and services prominently displayed (e.g. think of Star Wars theme weddings as an example).

Your goal may not be to have customer say “I do” at your dry-cleaning business or your sushi restaurant but it is to have them say “they do”.  They do allow me to express myself.  They do serve as an extension of my identity.  They do hold a special emotional place for me through the memorable experiences they produce.

Human and Automated: Customer Experience Management at Its Best

According to customer support technology reviews firm Software Advice and research they conducted, manually trying to manage customer relationships and consumer complaints through email and spreadsheets is going the route of rotary-dial phones! What was once an expectation in large business is becoming stand fare for small business owners as well. Integrated software solutions are becoming essential for customer relationship management from mom and pops to global enterprises and the best of breed not only integrate customer record keeping but nimbly respond to customer needs in a seamless and authentic manner.

Each year, Software Advice interacts with thousands of professionals looking for the right customer service solution for small businesses.  There recent findings are based on 385 randomly selected discussions with buyers from small businesses (which they categorize as companies earning less than $100 million in annual revenue).  The findings from those conversations are as follows:

“Most potential buyers were using manual methods such as email to manage customer support, with only 14 percent using dedicated CSS (customer service and support) software.

Small businesses buying CSS software for the first time were significantly more likely to say they struggled with managing customer complaints.

The vast majority of buyers (90 percent) requested basic trouble ticket management, with an additional 36 percent looking for reporting features.”

Graphically the reasons for wanting an integrated solution are provided below:

While your response to customer needs should be uniquely human the tracking and integration of responses to those needs should be automated.  Greatness in customer experience leadership is automating aspects that can and should be automated and leveraging that technology to make the personal and human connection with those you serve!

Holiday Relationships – Focusing on More than the Sale

We are in the throes of the frenzied shopping season, so it seems timely that we remind ourselves of several truths about why we should focus more on customer relationships and less on sales:

  1. People want to be viewed as important and unique. (Jumping into a sales process without taking the time to understand the person, and the wants and needs of the person they are shopping for, is a recipe for a lackluster sale and a commoditized shopping journey).
  2. As chaos ensues in stores, little acts of kindness matter more. (When we are being jostled about in crowded retail environments, the smile and authentic expression of gratitude by another human being – store manager/sales person – are welcomed reminders of the better part of humanity.
  3. People may justify purchases on the basis of benefits and attributes of products but in truth they make purchases through a blend of thoughts and emotions. (Great sales people help customers find the value, delight, and joy derived from their purchases!)
  4. With so much shopping occurring online these days, people need a reason other than “bargains” to come into your business. (Maximize sensory elements – music, seasonal scents, festive lighting and maybe some apple cider – to create an inviting and engaging environment.
  5. Give extra love to your people when it is the busiest!  (I am assuming you treat your people extremely well all year round, given that the experience of people inside a business predicts the experience of customers, but extra TLC of team members is essential fuel to help your staff meet the challenges of serving throngs of customers over and over again through the holiday crunch
  6. Nurture yourself this holiday season. ( I once wrote that it is “not the destination but the journey.” As I age, it seems I am gaining more clarity on the importance of finding happiness on the detours.  In the midst of the craziness, it might me worthwhile to pause in gratitude for having the problems that come with a profitable season.)

Here’s to experiences beyond sales…oops I just spilled my eggnog…

Wireless Charging at a Starbucks Near You! Partnering in the Removal of Pain/Drain Points

You have seen us. If you are honest you will admit to being one of us. We are the people trying to appear inconspicuous as we feverishly look for an available power outlet to recharge our laptops, tablets, or cellular phones. We are easily located in a wide number of locations including airports and Starbucks stores. Well, we used to be found in Starbucks stores…

In my most recent book, Leading the Starbucks Way, I noted:

“Other technology explorations at Starbucks look to enhance the quality of the coffeehouse experience. One such example is the wireless charging spots with Duracell Powermat…In an effort to decrease the power source search, Starbucks leaders have placed inductive charging technology into some of its tabletops in select Boston, Massachusetts locations. The purpose of this effort is to assess how customers respond to emerging charging technologies in the context of their overall utility in the café experience.”

I am now happy to announce, the assessment phase is over and the technology charging mat is being rolled out at 200 stores in the San Francisco area. Look for them in a Starbucks store near you soon.

So here’s the quick lesson. Starbucks is not a technology company but they are on the cutting edge working with technology companies to remove pain points for their customers. That begs the question, who can you partner with to smooth out the experiences of those you serve?

It’s Not Just Moments-Of-Truth: It’s the End-To-End Experience

The findings of a powerful research study emerged in the Harvard Business Review late last year and it’s clear from the behavior of some companies I’ve visited recently that word has not been disseminated widely.  The article was titled “The Truth About Customer Experience” and in it the authors Alex Rawson, Ewan Duncan, and Conor Jones noted that customer satisfaction at transactional touch points with your brand may positively distort how customers truly feel and more importantly how they behave toward your company.  Here is the lynchpin conclusion of their work:

“In our research and consulting on customer journeys, we’ve found that organizations able to skillfully manage the entire experience reap enormous rewards: enhanced customer satisfaction, reduced churn, increased revenue, and greater employee satisfaction. They also discover more-effective ways to collaborate across functions and levels, a process that delivers gains throughout the company.”

The power of those two sentences is so profound I need to unpack their content.  Customer experience is not about winning a few battles it is about winning the entire war.  A victory with a cut-over in one silo of the business may result in transactional satisfaction that has little to do with repeat business with that customer; particularly, if the customer is dissatisfied in another silo or is neglected in between what a company views as “moments-of-truth.”    Success at touch points does not necessarily translate to roll-up measures of emotional engagement or loyalty.  Doing well at key moments in a badly designed process or customer journey may get you a few positive satisfaction scores but also a customer ripe to churn to a competitor.

The big message here is measure both the overall experience with roll-up metrics and satisfaction at touch points.  Work to design, refine, and execute the end-to-end customer journey.  Don’t be content with transactional success…your customer’s aren’t.

Segment Your Service Experiences!

Customers aren’t always right and they certainly aren’t equal,  but…customers are always paying the bills!

I am stuck by two groups of business leaders – those who treat customers as an after thought to profits or products and those that treat every customer equally.  I have always ascribed to Peter Drucker’s adage that we are not in business to create a profit but rather to “create a customer.”  It is through customers that profits come!  That said, profits come differently from varied customer segments.

High volume customers keep a business afloat and it is wise to position your services and people to assure the loyalty of that customer segment.  While low volume customers should receive a positive and respectful service experience, segmented service delivery reflects good stewardship of your service delivery resources.

Let’s assume you could segment your customer base into low frequency/spend, medium frequency/spend, and high frequency/spend.  It is reasonable to offer service to the low group that is quality but more generic, to the medium group services that are more customized, and to the high group experiences that are more personalized.  Collecting data on your customers purchase relationship with your brand guides you in how much you can invest in augmented services and even service recovery.

While Thomas Jefferson wrote that all men are created equal in the context of the Declaration of Independence, when it comes to customer experience creation some customers are more equal than others…all, however, should be treated with respect and excellence.

Experience Delivery = Quality Products + Service Excellence + Empathy

I am blessed to be attending the gala Singapore Experience Awards as a guest of the Singapore Tourism Board.  I was asked earlier in the year to serve as a judge to help determine the best experience providers in Singapore.  As you likely know, I am a fan of this uniquely special city/state and truly enjoy the hospitality and fusion of eastern and western cultures that exude from this magical land.

That said, this trip has afforded me a couple of negative, aha moments related to my hotel stay. I have never been let down for inspiring service experience at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia but this visit found me in another high-end prominent Singaporean hotel.  The amenities are impeccable, the staff friendly and extremely efficient but…..empathy is missing.  Suffice it to say the operational excellence of this hotel may come at the expense of a heartfelt understanding and anticipation of guest needs – at least as it relates to a series of incidents I encountered.

Since Singapore is twelve hours ahead of my home time zone, I find myself sleeping at times during the day.  For the first two days of my visit, I had my electronic “do not disturb” sign on and had advised the front desk of a desired early evening wake up time.  Over those two days, I was awakened a total of 5 times for items the hotel staff wished to deliver to my room or over concerns that I needed my room refreshed.

Those experiences punctuate a truth – great products and task oriented albeit efficient service can still go bad when the emotional need state and empathy for the plight of your customer is missing.  Bleary eyed but enthusiastically, I challenge you to think of opportunities to “step into your customer’s shoes” and not simply dazzle them with what you want to achieve on their behalf or possibly at their expense.

Becoming Known For Service Excellence – Aligning Who You Are With Who You Say You Are

I have often suggested that a measure of a person and of a brand is what people say about you when you are not around. Many customer voices are included throughout my book The Zappos Experience but it seems only fitting, given the innovative use of Twitter at Zappos, to share how some customers “tweet” their take on the Zappos Experience in 140 characters or less. For instance:

“Went to an Indian restaurant that gave me a free beer for
showing up too early to get my food. This place is like the
Zappos of Indian food!”

From my perspective, the Zappos Experience reflects a culture committed to impassioned service delivery, transparent communication, acceptance of differences and weirdness, a highly playful/highly productive and innovative business where staff and customers become fully engaged and emotionally connected. Micah Solomon, contributor to, posed the question – “What would it mean if your business could become: the Zappos of muffler shops? the Ritz-Carlton of hardware stores? the Starbucks of hospitals?” He goes on to say “To become the Ritz-Carlton of screwdriver distributors, or whatever your particular situation may be, is going to be a lofty, time-consuming, and somewhat expensive undertaking. It’s not going to happen overnight. Even if you learn to deliver Ritz-level service once, that is far, far different from building your systems, your hiring processes, and your cultural mindset to allow such service to occur as the norm in your organization.”

Becoming known for service means that expectation-exceeding service delivery must be something that happens more often than it doesn’t. It means being creative, present, kind, and patient in finding ways to meet your customers’ needs because that’s what you do…not because someone from corporate is visiting or because secret shoppers are rumored to be about. It is simply how you operate. If your business has pieces of the puzzle in place but needs help aligning all its systems around this thinking, brainstorm the following:

  • Do you have explicit corporate values? If so, do they reflect a blend of founding principles and the evolving demands of the marketplace? Or are those values static and immutable?
  • How prominent are your values in the prospective applicant’s journey to your job posting?
  • Does your on-boarding process immerse participants in your culture or does it simply preview it?
  • How effectively does your orientation process build empathy for the customer experience and create interdepartmental connections?
  • What do your customers value? How do your corporate values match up with the wants, needs, and desires of your customers?
  • Since values can be both explicit (stated) and implicit (unstated), do your corporate actions align with stated values? If not, what do the major decisions of your business suggest about your company’s real values?

If this exercise reveals your real values differ from your stated values, how willing are you to consider revising stated values to match your demonstrated actions or revising actions to match your stated values?