October 2014
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Joseph's Blog

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?

Blessed are the Peacemakers. They will Experience Business Success!

Leadership guru Brian Tracy has been kind enough to endorse a number of my books and I have looked to him for wisdom throughout the years. One of my favorite quotes of Brian’s is “Set peace of mind as your highest goal, and organize your life around it.”

The older I get the more value I see in creating “peace of mind” for oneself and for others. In fact. consumer trend data in the and research on “emotional value” make a case for being in the “peace of mind business.”

The rise in consumer skepticism is a direct result of many companies selling a promise that they frequently fail. You know the ads that make you think a product or service will make you smarter, taller, thinner, more attractive and rich – when in truth the only person getting rich is the company that lured you in.

I have been asking my team and individuals in the businesses with which I work how can you assure your customers “peace of mind?” How can you guarantee that customers will get what they ask for and not have to worry about or follow-up with you to get there needs met? How will customers know that you care about them at a level where they don’t need to constantly monitor your deliverables?

The world is complex, the demands on all of us are high and extraordinary customer experience companies make life easier and more peaceful for those they serve.

It’s time to see “peace of mind” as a value-add that distinguishes ordinary from extraordinary customer experience businesses. So, how would you rate on a 1-10 peace of mind scale?

Exploiting Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Think Authenticity When Doing Cause Marketing

As a person, who lost his wife to a six-year battle with breast cancer the month of October is bitter sweet. I am heartened by so many organizations championing the cause of breast cancer awareness, research, and treatment – the month is awash with television ads, corporate buildings bedecked with large pink ribbons, and businesses sharing the stories of employees who have “survived” the disease. On the flip side I think about the more than 220,000 women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and the approximately 20 percent of those who will lose their lives to the disease.

My personal feelings aside, I caution business leaders from trying to ingratiate themselves to customers by putting their finger to the air of public opinion and selecting a popular cause to enhance their “marketing effectiveness.” Cause marketing (linking a for-profit business to a nonprofit) is a powerful tool for both business and the communities they serve but with so many organizations in need the key ingredients to partnership are authenticity and sustained commitment. Just as networking experts often advise that seeking network connections is pointless whereas building friendships is meaningful, committing to a cause like breast cancer awareness is transformational but giving out pink t-shirts with your corporate logo is not.

I was struck by an op-ed piece in the Huffington Post by Danielle Ripley Burgess highlighting cases where companies do little more than provide lip-service to cancer causes while making great profits selling cancer pins, buttons, and other commemorative items. In that piece Danielle suggests, “We should demand to see how the profits from sales of these materials actually go toward raising awareness. I’ll even go as far as hoping it’s a significant percentage since technically products like these compete with nonprofits across the country who sell similar gear in online stores, yet send 100% of the proceeds to support awareness efforts. If companies really want to raise awareness and support survivors, they need to invest in the cause. Until brands disclose exactly where the money goes, it will appear as though they’re more concerned with boosting sales than raising awareness to save lives.”

With all this pink around, it begs the question, how authentic and committed are your social cause efforts?

More Freedom Considered for Virgins: Empower Through Trust

Okay, the title may be somewhat misleading, but Richard Branson has announced a policy for a small number of employees at the Virgin Group. Essentially he is copying something that is occurring quite frequently among tech companies in the Silicon Valley and just so happens to be practiced in my company as well. Okay, get to the point, Joseph. That practice is allowing select employees to take as much vacation time as they choose. On the face of this, it sounds like a disastrous human resource strategy. Once you open up the hen-house, all the chickens will be gone. In truth, at my company, for example, the most committed and dedicated staff need to be encouraged to take personal time. Moreover the freedom and autonomy granted to them produces incalculable levels of engagement and productivity. Borrowing from the work of Daniel Pink and his breakthrough book, Drive, most human beings are motivated by purpose, mastery, and autonomy. While I do not encourage this as a business practice for every individual and every organization, in my company and as it’s being considered at Virgin and Netflix, select individuals who already demonstrate a powerful work ethic should be managed based on projects, not time. In a world where the boundary between personal and work life has been seriously blurred by smart phones and technology, why wouldn’t you wish to give the respect, authority, and autonomy of scheduling work time and vacation time to your highest producers? If you’re worried about people abusing the policy, they are probably the wrong people to whom the policy should be applied. By contrast, people who take a true ownership stake in your business will likely under utilize time off, even if its provided on a buffet.

To Tattoo or Not to Tattoo? – Starbucks, Ink, & Customer Experience

“Cover your tattoos!” That’s the current policy at Starbucks (and for that matter many other businesses).

Partners (the Starbucks term for employees – more on that in my recent book Leading the Starbucks Way) are hired without prejudice for tattoos; they just can’t be visible to customers. Now the company is reconsidering its policy and if Starbucks makes the change, it is logical to conclude many other employers will follow suit.

So how did this reconsideration process begin at Starbucks? It started with a question from Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, asking partners how their careers could be improved. One of the risks of asking such a question is that you have to seriously consider and respond to the input you receive and in Starbucks case that input included a sizable response concerning the freedom to bare ink.

While I personally have not sought to express my individuality through tattoos, my hunch is Starbucks will and should change its policy. I know the leadership at Starbucks and they know the importance of partner engagement to the delivery the experience they seek. Their employee and customer base will not be aghast with visible tattoos on baristas and few, if any, customers will turn away from the brand for a reversal on this policy.

Companies who select and hire people only to tell them to hide a part of themselves at work might think about changing their selection criteria as opposed to developing policies to quell the spirit and individuality of those hired. That’s my two cents…what do you think?

A Lesson Your Business Could Learn from the Ray Rice Video

I will leave it for others to opine about Ray Rice, his wife, and the NFL. But as a customer experience consultant there are two important business lessons to take from this horrific situation. Assume every customer interaction is being videotaped and appreciate the power of viral video.

When I was a kid my dad was quick to say, “never do anything that you wouldn’t want to read about in the newspaper.” That “dadism,” while dated, applies more than ever in a world fueled by stories secured with the ease of pushing a button on a phone. One doesn’t have to look far to find a bevvy of YouTube videos where customers capture images of their telephone screen depicting a 2 and 1/2 hour hold time on call. The audio you hear is often the repetitious “someone will be with you shortly.” I recently shared the stage with Dave Carroll who has literally launched a speaking career and even written a customer service book based on his YouTube video/song titled United Breaks Guitars (sharing how United Airlines broke and did not replace his Taylor guitar).

Treating a customer badly doesn’t necessarily end with them grumbling to a few friends and family members. This week we all experienced the impact of video evidence. Moving images shaped and changed perceptions and fueled outrage.

I have never been one to advocate striving for exceptional customer service delivery to avert consequences such as negative customer services videos. We should serve one another well because it is the right thing to do.

Thanks to the technology of today, we must assume that whatever we do (good or bad) will be seen, captured and shared!

Pregnancy to Birth in 6 seconds – Customer Experience and the Short Attention Span

Ian Padgham one of the creative geniuses at Origiful may be the only person who has shrunk an entire pregnancy and delivery to 6 seconds.  If you haven’t seen it already, check it out

Ok so his wife, Claire, actually went through a normal birth and delivery but the rest of us (and literally that means more than 18 million loops of this Vine video to date) get to experience the process in 6 seconds.  Meticulous work went into this piece with his wife standing in the exact same spot, month after month but the video typifies the short attention span of our consumers and ourselves. (By the way, are you still reading or am I writing to myself?)

Ian’s company Origiful is a creative production firm that only provides “short form content for the web” and his client list includes Visa, Twitter, Sony, and Ford.

Whether it’s catching our consumer’s attention amid the clutter of information on the web or helping them move in the direction of a purchase upon entry to a retail store, customers are expecting us to deliver in seconds not minutes.

So my challenge to you is, if pregnancy and birth can happen in 6 seconds, where should you be streamlining your messaging to instantly grab and hold your customer’s attention?

How Sorry Are You? Keys to Driving Satisfaction While Resolving Customer Issues

In addition to their products and services, I am a fan of Zendesk because they openly share pertinent customer experience information.  Unlike others who report customer experience results, Zendesk’s data is not the byproduct of surveys but instead emerges from customer interactions with over 25,000 businesses in 140 countries.  Here are some high level findings from Zendesk’s recently released Q2 report:

When a customer contacts a business with a complaint, customer satisfaction decreases with the frequent use of the word “sorry.”  While sorry has it’s place in resolving a customer’s issue, frequent use of the word can signal that solutions are not being generated by the company’s representative.

Closing off your communication with a customer is obviously an important transition point; particularly, after a service issue has been addressed.   According to the Zendesk report, “When looking at the sign-off in the last public comment made by an agent to customer, it appears that specific word choices can impact customer satisfaction…The use of a valediction—specifically ‘Yours sincerely, ‘Best regards,’ and ‘Cheers’—are all better options than other choices, or none at all. Customers want personalization, and a personalized sign-off can be a great reminder to the customer that they are speaking with a human. However, and perhaps oddly, customers appear to have an aversion to the phrase ‘Best wishes.’ It’s difficult to draw any conclusive lessons from this. But it is clear that small details like this can have a serious impact. Tracking these details and learning from them—in this case, avoiding “Best wishes”—is more important than you might realize.”

How often are you or your company’s representative saying, “I’m sorry” to a customer?  Customers want you to acknowledge the problem and fix it and not repeatedly apologize for the problems existence.

In the spirit of the Zendesk study, I take my leave this week by simply saying “with gratitude and enthusiasm.”

How to Create Experiences through Personalization, Sharing, and Social Platforms

I am sure it is not news to you that Coca Cola has been facing declining sales numbers for a considerable stretch thanks to consumers who are less inclined to want sugar based carbonated drinks.  That trend notwithstanding, Coke’s global presence and marketing strength have allowed it to offset many of the company’s revenue losses in places like the US with growth in other parts of the world.

In an effort to get at least a seasonal boost in sales across America, Coca Cola’s recent marketing campaign has some rather important lessons for all businesses today.  Coca Cola calls their effort the “Summer of Sharing” and it comes together in three important dimensions:

Personalization – getting on a first name basis with consumers

Sharing – Associating your product in a gifting or positive moments context

Social – Building ways for customers to engage with one another through social and digital platforms

From the perspective of personalization, Coke has removed its logo from 20 oz. bottles and replaced their name with the 250 most popular millennial names.  It has also added the words “Share a Coke with….” to the bottle label.  In essence, we are encouraged to buy a Coke and share it with a person we know whose name is printed on the bottle.  Stuart Kronauge, senior vice president, sparkling brands, for Coca-Cola North America puts it this way “Summer is the perfect time to get together with others and share moments of happiness over an ice-cold Coke at barbecues, sporting events, family reunions, amusement park outings and other gatherings…Now, enjoying a Coke with your name on it and sharing the occasion with someone else makes these moments even more special.”

The final component of this campaign that warrants our attention is the integration of social media platforms. For example, the newly created website allows consumers to personalize virtual bottles of Coke and share them on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram.  Use of the #ShareaCoke hashtag, allows members of the Twittersphere to post photos and stories in the hope they can appear on interactive Coke billboards across America. If you have the free Coca-Cola Freestyle mobile app on your phone you can scan a QR code on a fountain dispenser’s touch screen that will result in $1 off coupon for a 20 oz. Coke being sent to a friend.

Early reports suggest this Share a Coke campaign is having a lift on sales this summer….what are you doing to create experiences that personalize, encourage sharing, and offer social platforms that integrate with product or service offerings?