Blowing the socks off your customers is not a one act play; it’s a synchronized series of continuous actions that is repeated throughout an organization day in and day out.
Consistently delivering amazing service requires a carefully thought out service strategy, with two essential elements: core service — what you deliver to people — and the service experience — how they feel when it is delivered.
Core service is the basic product or service you provide the market. Without a core service you don’t have a business. If you’re in the communications business, for example, your core services are defined by your product portfolio and include television entertainment, internet and mobile services as well as billing and repair services.
If you’re in the hospitality world, your core service includes clean rooms, interesting surrounding attractions and good food.
Core service is not a source of customer loyalty. Customers expect their internet service to work every time they use it; they are not dazzled when it actually works — I’ve never heard a customer say ‘WOW! I’ve just sent an email and it was sent through the internet incredibly well — it was delivered just the way I wrote it.’
Likewise I don’t recall anyone saying ‘OMG! My hotel room was so clean it was a Rembrandt in every way.’
Customers expect your core service to deliver on its promise and work flawlessly every time, and when it does they give you a ‘C’ on your service report card. Meeting expectations earns you and average rating and that’s all. On the other hand, when the internet service doesn’t work or the hotel room is a mess, the customer is extremely dissatisfied and quickly tell their friends and family how crummy their service provider is.
The bottom line is if you want to earn the right to build a loyal customer base, you must deliver consistent core service as your foundation.
The service experience
The service experience is the critical layer of service that must be wrapped around your core service. It’s the feelings layer that answers the question “How do you feel when you receive your provider’s core service?”
- How would you rate the experience of signing up for internet service?
- How do you feel about the cleanliness of your hotel room?
- How’s your patience after waiting 40 minutes in a call center queue for a rep?
- Do you feel honoured and respected by your financial advisor?
- Are your questions met with friendliness and charm by the service people you reach out to?
On the back of consistent core service, the source of customer loyalty is the service experience; dazzling a customer will get you an ‘A’ — or excellent — on your service report card and they will keep coming back and tell everyone else how wonderful you are.
Amaze = deliver consistent and seamless core service for each and every customer transaction and dazzle them when you do it — Roy, dazzle nut
How does an organization create dazzling experiences for their customers and amaze them?
1. Hire people who like humans
First, they need to recruit people who like to deal with other people. How can any organization provide amazing service if their people don’t like homo sapiens?
The most critical step if you want to amaze your customers is to hire people with the innate desire and ability to serve and please others — Roy, pleaser believer
Why is it that we run into service people who obviously hate their job and would rather be taking inventory or working with technology rather than real people? Why is it that frontline positions are filled with people who have a lot of seniority in an organization but basically don’t like working with other people? Ever been in a restaurant and have been afraid that the server would either throw something at you or subject your underdone steak to the germ population residing on the floor of the kitchen?
First of all, there is no more important position in any organization that one that deals directly with the public. These people should be called, as Tom Peters once called them, ‘Supreme Commanders’. They literally control all aspects of an organization that involve its brand: honesty, integrity, caring attitude, responsiveness and overall service quality.
In any call center operations, reps handle thousands of ‘moments of truth’ every single day! Do you think they could influence customer perception toward the company and subsequent decisions to buy a product or service?. No question.
Second, why would the leadership of the organization put anyone into such an important job if they didn’t have the requisite skills and attitude to serve other people? Beats me but they do. I believe this dysfunctional behavior is due to the fact that they look at these positions as entry level junior jobs rather than a career destination responsible for influencing customer loyalty and long term profitability.
These actions can be taken to make sure you get people obsessed with serving people in frontline positions.
Recruitment — Ensure the recruitment guide asks the right questions to expose this virtue. I find that there are many of what I would call hygiene questions asked, but rarely do I find that the ‘love’ questions are absent to any significant degree.
The right question — Come right out and ask the candidate ‘Do you love people?’ and then ask them to describe 3 situations that proved it. You can tell quickly if the person is suitable to turn loose on your most valuable assets (customers) or not.
The ‘lover’ will tell you a story that makes you tingle; the rest will tell stories that leave you cold. Hire the ‘tinglers’.
Leadership present and accounted for — Have a senior person (an executive leader is the best choice) in the organization to participate in the panel interview process — I did this all the time.
This achieves three purposes:
- it shows people in the organization that hiring frontliners is a critically important matter;
- the candidate understands how serious the organization is about getting ‘people lovers’ in these positions;
- it enhances the richness of the interview itself in terms of the questions senior people bring to the table.
Training — Can you train people to like people? My experience is a resounding NO! You either have an innate proclivity to like humans or you don’t; no amount of training will change that. Training might influence how you behave — talk with a smile in your voice for example — and as long as the customer interaction is scripted you might get away with it. The reality is, however that customers can’t always be scripted and sooner or later the trained frontliner will have to rely on their natural abilities to handle a challenging customer in an elegant and memorable way.
Where do human lovers hang out?
You should always have a frontline recruitment program underway to ensure that you are gathering the best people lovers you can to fuel the funnel created by employee turnover. Tag ‘em early by going to schools at all levels and spotting the chosen ones.
2. Recover from your service blunders
The second source of customer amazement is how service breakdowns are handled. Typically service breakdowns include such things as a broken promise made to a customer, a product or service that doesn’t work the way the manual says it should, billing mistakes or service repairs that need to be redone because they weren’t completed right the first time.
The solution to these missteps is called service recovery and it’s formula is simple:
Service recovery = fix the screw-up and do the unexpected.
Let’s face it when you screw a customer over, they expect you to fix it. But they’re not particularly blown away when you correct your error; they don’t say ‘WOW I can’t believe you actually remedied what you screwed up!’ This is where most companies fall short. They actually believe that by merely fixing their mistake the customer will be satisfied and their obligations will have been fulfilled.
The rule of recovery: fix the mistake fast and then blow the customer away by surprising them with something they don’t expect — Roy, happy mistake maker
If your goal is merely to satisfy a customer, you may be content with having a fix it capability that is incredibly efficient. But if you want to create the ability to consistently build customer loyalty and earn their lifelong trust you need to go further. You need to move from a positive response to ‘Were you satisfied with what we did to fix our service screw up?’ to ‘Did we blow you away with what we did to recover from our mistake?’
The surprise factor
If you choose the path of wanting to delight your customers and create memorable service experiences for them, you need to understand that the source of of an amazing experience is doing what the customer doesn’t expect. The challenge, therefore is to discover exactly what that little bit extra is and for them to do it in a way that makes their eyes bulge out with amazement.
And the key is that the surprise act must be relevant to the customer. Providing something extra for the customer that doesn’t resonate with their needs, wants and desires will leave them scratching their head. And it’s not about coming up with a boilerplate trash-and-trinket program that provides the same bland response to every customer — you’re wasting your money. The surprise must have personal meaning to the customer otherwise it will be ineffective — in fact could make matters worse!
The surprise must also be extremely compelling to the customer; it must be a high priority with them if you want to impress them. This is the emotional component of recovery. A compelling act will stir the emotions and make the customer believe you actually care about them.
Customer secrets and speed
The successful surprise requires that you need to understand what makes the person screwed over tick; what turns them on and what action on your part would most likely trigger an emphatic emotional response. You need to know their secrets — reread the ‘How to build an amazing marketing machine’.
You can be relevant and compelling in your recovery act, but if you take a week to get it done, forget it. Your investment will be worthless.
Studies have found that you have about 24 hours to get it done; after that, the ability to capitalize on the screwup and build stronger customer loyalty goes down the tube.
If you make a mistake and recover in a dazzling way, the customer is more loyal to the organization than they were prior to the screw up — Roy, surprise specialist
If recovery is such a critical element in building customer loyalty, why are there very few organizations that have a recovery service strategy? I suspect it’s because no one likes to admit that they will have a service OOPS! from time to time; they pride themselves on trying to get it right the first time. But if you know that mistakes will happen from time to time — and they will — and that there is tremendous strategic value in recovering well — and there is — why wouldn’t you have a plan on the actions to take when the event happens?
In my past role as Business Services VP with a major telecommunications company, one of the elements of our service strategy was: ‘If we fail, Recovery will be our number 1 priority’. We had a specific recovery plan that, for each customer segment, provided the range of recovery actions that could be considered to respond to an OOPS! and the level of recovery investment necessary given the value customers represented to the company — the higher the value, the more robust the recovery actions requiring greater investments. And substantial training was given to all employees to ensure they understood the power of the strategy and what to do when a screwup occurred.
5 key takeaways
Recovery = fix it and do the unexpected;
- Do something personal; make it relevant and compelling;
- Know your customers’ secrets;
- Get it done in less than 24 hours;
- Build a detailed recovery strategy.
3. Kill your own ‘dumb rules’
One of the most effective ways to create memories for your customers, amaze them and earn their loyalty is to break your own rules to favour them when it makes absolute sense to do so. This opportunity normally arises when your rules clash with what the customer wants; they simply don’t want to play by them.
‘Dumb rules’ are given birth usually by some control freak in the organization with a nonsensical purist view that a customer should behave in a certain way that serves the organizations purpose with little regard for whether or not a customer will react favourably to getting treated in the prescribed manner.
One of my favorite dumb rule stories took place at The Mirage Hotel Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. There is a wonderful deli in the casino that serves the best rueben sandwiches ever but the customer friendliness of their policies sucks. My wife and I show up late one night and asked the hostess for a booth and were told flatly that our request was not possible since it was their policy to offer booths only for parties of 6 or more. I get that management wanted to maximize the check value from these specific seats, but in this case the store was empty save my wife and me! Maximizing revenue beyond the two of us was an impossibility!
In my experience the fathers and mothers of dumb rules can be found in staff type jobs whose role is to develop and implement operating procedures to govern, among other things, customer transactions. In these circumstances the objective is to meet internal requirements like efficiency and productivity rather than ensuring rules enhanced the customer experience.
And, unfortunately where customers are not considered the prime target for the rule or policy they become collateral damage in the rule’s application; they are mistreated and tell hundreds of other people how crummy the organization’s service is.
But there is a way to both have your cake and eat it to. You can both realize efficiency gains by applying the rule to the masses and bending or breaking the rule for those few customers who don’t accept it and push back on you.
The apply-the-rule scenario gets you the productivity gains you want from the majority of your customers who are ok with it; the bend-or-break scenario avoids the pain of an unpleasant customer encounter and impresses them and makes them more loyal to your organization.
When apply-the-rule is winning
You’re in loyalty do-do when apply-the-rule is winning. If your frontline employees spend a great deal of their time enforcing the rules, policies and procedures of your organization and, as a result, are constantly saying ‘no’ to your customers nothing good comes of it — loyalty is threatened — and employee engagement is in jeopardy because being a rule enforcer is not a rewarding role to play in any job.
Job frustration can eventually lead to employees finding another organization where day to day existence isn’t so painful.
Employees can’t create delightful moments for customers when they are constantly trying to get someone to tow the line on something they don’t agree with — empower your frontline to ‘say yes’ — Roy, empowered
I’m not suggesting that a frontline person should break a rule that would violate the law, but they should have permission to bend-or-break an internal policy that has no significant negative long term consequences for the organization.
When you test your policies
Rules and policies impact people differently; each person will react to an enforce-the-rule encounter in a different way; some will be ok with having to comply with the rule while others will go postal.
One way to anticipate how your customers will likely respond to one of your rules is to ask them before it is implemented. Unfortunately I’ve never witnessed a process where detailed due diligence is done to brainstorm the negative reactions that customers may have to a particular rule or policy that is being considered, but there should be.
Given that customers are likely to respond to a rule in ways we never imagined, the only solution (if you want to protect and grow customer loyalty) is empower your frontline people to bend one of your standardized rules, policies or procedures when the customer needs a different treatment; when their needs are quite reasonable but out-of-bounds to what the policy manual says.
To those who think that empowering frontline folks will result in them giving away the shop, stop worrying. They won’t — Roy, frontline truster
In my experience, empowering them to use their judgment and determine when and how a rule should be bent-or-broken actually produces a greater degree of rule enforcement as they typically reserve flexible treatment for those customers who truly need it.
Once given the latitude to apply flexibility to policy enforcement, they actually take a more active role in advocating the company’s position behind the policy.
When frontline people are allowed to control the bend-or-break process, the organization is rewarded by a customer who is blown away by how they are being treated and how humane the organization is. And they tell others how truly great you are.
The solution: the dumb rule committee
How do you go about identifying and killing these ugly loyalty threateners?
Go ask your frontline what dumb rules they are constantly having to deal with. They know them but do you have the courage to listen and do something about them?
I created dumb rules committees in the operations areas of my organization and appointed a dumb rules leader for each committee whose responsibility it was to seek out and destroy (or otherwise modify) rules that made no sense to customers and drove them crazy.
Fun was had by all over this concept. Everyone, particularly the frontline, welcomed this initiative; they all were passionate about the purpose; we made real progress.
We had contests among the committees to see who could come up with the most dumb rules to kill, and we celebrated the winners. The committees were expected to not only identify rules, policies and procedures that annoyed customers, they were also charged with the responsibility of eradicating them by taking whatever action was necessary to get it done.
My role and that of my senior leaders was to remove any roadblocks preventing the committees from getting a rule dealt with.
Customer-friendly dumb rules
Certain rules are required by law or regulatory governance. First of all do your due diligence to make sure that the claim is real and not the posturing of a champion who doesn’t want their rule or policy removed. If the rule is necessary, however, then at least look for ways to make it customer friendly.
And reconsider how the rule is enforced with a customer; what communications strategy is used. Is it friendly and helpful or is it demanding and intimidating? Take the time to design the customer communications content to minimize an adverse reaction; it’s not always possible but it is worth considered doing nevertheless.
If you are able to expunge even 20% of the dumb rules you have in your organization, your customers will reward you with their loyalty and your reputation will soon attract new customers as well.
4. Bend your own rules; empower your frontline to ‘say yes’
Even if you think you’ve purged all the dumb rules in your organization, I guarantee there will be some residual ones that some customers will find and it’s crucial you have a strategy to deal with them.
You can’t amaze customers if your frontline is enforcing rules all the time; telling them what they can and can’t do to comply with the company’s position.
Saying NO! constantly does nothing to endear someone to you; it’s a de-dazzling event that won’t encourage any sense of loyalty.
Allow your customer contact people — and systems — a certain amount of flexibility to bend the rules when it makes sense to do what the customer wants. Most organizations limit this type of empowerment; they are unwilling to trust that their people will make sensible decisions that will favour the customer and the company.
When a rule is bent for a customer, they feel listened to, respected, honoured — and amazed, when it occurs.
An amazed customer is a loyal customer who provides a never ending stream of sales to an organization and pulls their friends with them — Roy, over and over again
If you want to amaze your customers and have them for life, do these 4 things:
Hire people who love people;
- Recover from your service screw-ups with a SURPRISE! factor;
- Eliminate the dumb rules in your organization;
- Allow customer facing employees to bend your rules and ‘say yes’ most of the time.