Yeah, it was the damned water cooler, without a sign, and without any visible indication of water. I was frustrated that I had walked past it twice. And so were those other two people.
When customer-facing employees are paid more, do customers receive a better experience?
According to McDonald's CEO, the answer is "Yes."
“We know that a motivated work force leads to better customer service, so we believe this initial step not only benefits our employees, it will improve McDonald’s restaurant experience,” said Steve Esterbrook, CEO of McDonald's, according to an article in the New York Times.
When employees are paid more, they're more likely invest more discretionary effort into their work; they're willing to go the extra mile. A 2013 study by human resources thought leader Aon reveals that pay is a key driver for employee engagement. For a customer-facing employee, this may mean working a little harder; trying a second time to satisfy a customer. The added discretionary effort can turn the corner for the customer from merely satisfied to delighted. And delight drives loyalty.
When employees are paid more, their attitudes improve. They're more positive, and this comes across in their demeanor with the customer. Higher pay reduces financial stress. While research indicates that a more positive attitude can reduce stress, the inverse is also true - reduced stress allows a better attitude to happen. A customer can smell a bad attitude from a mile away and a positive attitude from two miles. People tend to be drawn toward positive people, and away from negative ones. Positive employees attract more customers.
When employees are paid more, they stick around longer; they're less likely to move to another employer for incrementally higher pay. As a result, the work for as a whole becomes more experienced. And greater experience brings greater knowledge, more confidence in doing the work, and a reduction in training and hiring costs. As HBR points out, there are indeed high costs associated with low wages, and frequent turnover is just one of them.
There are plenty of systemically good reasons to invest more in front-line employees - those who most directly interface with the paying customer - but perhaps the most strategically sound reason of all is to improve the customer experience. Greater customer experiences lead to greater customer loyalty, an higher revenue and profits.
What's so special about seeing fresh flowers in public restroom?
I almost didn't receive a FedEx package recently, because someone screwed up the shipping information. The package was shipped to the correct address, but the recipient's name - mine - was truncated.
The name appeared as "James Wa" instead of "James Watson."
I was a guest at the Omni Orlando in ChampionsGate, Florida. The package was to be held for me at the front desk. For two consecutive days, each time I called the desk to ask if the package had arrived, I was told, "No - nothing has arrived with your name on it." But the package was there the entire time.
Techncially, they were correct. My name wasn't on the package because the person entering the "Ship to" information typed the following 39 letters on the second line of the address:
"HOLD AT RECEPTION DESK FOR JAMES WATSON."
But only 35 of the 39 letters appeared on the shipping label when it printed. That's right, the software program that prints out the shipping labels will only print the first 35 letters. In 99.9% of the cases, I'm sure that's not an issue. But in my case, it was. And that's the only case I cared about on this particular day.
So who's at fault here?
An argument can be made for each of these, but regardless of who's at fault, there was a breakdown in a "back office" process that had caused me to not receive my "Next Day" package for 2 days. And that caused me to think negatively about 3 companies involved:
The Point is This:
It's not only the front-office, customer-facing employees that impact the customer experience; it's also the back-office employees and processes that can impact the experience, the brand and the reputation.
So, what to do about it?
Carefully map out the entire customer journey, but when you do, include behind the scenes processes that can impact the customer experience. It can be something as remote and banal as the number of characters that print out in and address field that can hurt your brand and reputation. It's these invisible factors that lurk beneath the surface that can really do damage. Don't let them.
What back-office experience factors exist in your business?
What can you do to fortify them?
If you've ever been a consumer (who hasn't), you've been hit with a service charge that you felt was unreasonable. Perhaps the most notorious is the banking industry's "overdraft fee," especially when it tags an additional $35.00 onto the cost of a $2.50 cup of coffee that you paid for with your debit card.
While the institution that charges the fees often says they're intended to "cover the cost" of a customer action, the bottom line is that today, most of these administrative costs are invisible or non-existent to the institution. No human being at the bank administers anything in these situations; the process is entirely automated.
So why do these institutions keep charging these fees? Because it's become a valuable revenue stream for them. Their lack of innovation prevents them from generating new revenues through services that customers actually value. Therefore, they have to keep charging these evil fees in order to achieve their revenue goals.
A business that profits from a customer's mistake or misfortune is not worth patronizing.
So, where does Enterprise enter into the equation?
I rented from them recently, as I often do. I drove through a $1.00 toll without stopping to pay. Enterprise was billed the dollar from by the Maine Turnpike Authority. This week, I received a letter from Enterprise, passing along the $1 charge, along with a $13 "administrative fee."
When I called Enterprise to object to the 1,300% penalty fee, the agent waived the fee before I could even request that she do it. That's right, my entire conversation was less than 30 seconds. To be honest, I was ready to spend a lot more time pleading my case. But Enterprise wasn't.
Reason #1: Eliminating or waiving administrative fees saves time and labor costs.
And when the agent voluntarily waived the fee, my admiration for the company only got better. It's clear to me that Enterprise is driven to be fair and reasonable, and profit by delivering services that customers ask for, and benefit from. The experience increased Enterprise's reputation in my mind.
Reason #2: Eliminating or waiving administrative fees improves a company's reputation in the mind of the customer. And ultimately, that's the only mind that matters.
That act of customer-focus by Enterprise, and their increased standing in my mind, will cause me to rent from them again. Which brings us to...
Reason #3: Waiving or eliminating fees creates customer loyalty.
For further proof that customers like companies more when those companies stop charging for things that are outside the core value proposition, look no further than LL Bean, or Amazon. Since LL Bean has stopped charging for shipping (customers also don't like to pay for shipping), and Amazon offered the "Prime" service, they've both seen customer loyalty (and revenue) grow.
The napkin that the flight attendant gave to me had a Coke logo on it, along with the following words:
"You can't buy good taste, but you can order it."
If I the consumer think of ordering and buying as the same thing, then what's Coke trying to tell me? I found the message confusing. It may have been linguistically creative, by I'm willing to bet that linguistic creativity is hardly the hook that most catches cola buyers.
According to Andrea Hammer's blog post "5 Tips to Help Make Your Marketing Message Sing," sentences, and the messages they comprise should be simple. Andrea says, "Complexity and clutter make processing information difficult, so don't pack multiple ideas into sentences. Make your thoughts easy to digest..." In my mind, Coke's creativity made the message more complex, and harder to process.
What's ironic is that Coke acknowledges the consumers' desire for simplicity with an entire line of beverages called "Simple." In Stuart Elliot's July 26, 2012 article in the New York Times, "Paring Down Marketing Messages to a Few Simple Basics" Allison Higbie, the group director of marketing for the Simply juices is quoted as saying, “We recognized what consumers wanted early on...“We can’t even imagine how complicated and busy consumers’ lives are going to become,” Ms. Higbie of Coca-Cola said. “It’s definitely a consumer insight with staying power.”
So, what's a simple way to test the simplicity of your marketing message?
Apply the "nine-year-old child test": Ask a nine-year-old to tell you what the message means. If he or she can't, you're probably made it too confusing.
In a world where we're hit with more messages every day, simplicity matters more than ever. As consumers don't want to have to think too much. Do us a favor, and and make it easy for us to understand your marketing messages. Then we'll be more likely to buy what you're selling.
How simple are your marketing messages?
(This article was originally served in November of 2013. New links have since been added to revise and refresh your reader experience! Enjoy!)
It drives me crazy when a front-line employee can solve a problem, but can't.
They can because they see the problem, they see the cause, and directly observe the customer's frustration, as it happens. They can't, because they're not given the authority to fix it, nor incented to step outside of their area responsibilities to take action.
Here's a recent example, to illustrate what I'm talking about:
I was at an airport seated at the departure gate of a flight to Orlando, FL. The lighted sign above gate showed a different flight number, and a different city (Tampa). It was still about 40 minutes before my scheduled departure, when passengers began boarding.
Because it was still relatively early, and because the monitor still showed "Tampa" with the other flight number, I assumed that it was not my flight that was boarding. I was wrong, and so were several other passengers that were more focused on the sign at the gate, than the PA announcements telling us that the sign was incorrect.
The gate agent told me that the sign was "stuck" on Tampa; that the sign had not changed over the past two days. An easy solution, I thought, would have been for the gate agents to post hand-written signs with the correct information, next to or over the electronic sign. For whatever reason (lack of authority, lack of will or desire, etc.), nothing was done to address the root cause of the problem.
Instead, the problem persisted, because the gate agents didn't take the intiative to correct it. The result was two days of frustration for the airlines' customers, and the airlines' employees - the gate agents.
Here's the point:
Front-line employees ought to be given the authority and mindset to think and act outside their normal responsibilities to take action, particualry when that action will prevent a negative customer experience, or, create a more positive one.
There're some legendary examples of this in the business literature, like the FedEx driver in January in Minneapolis, on finding a FedEx drop box frozen shut, opted to back over the box to uproot it from the concrete so its contents would not be delivered late. Uprooting a drop box was beyond the scope of his employment, but doing it enabled his employer to live up to its promise.
There's the story of the Zappo's CSR having a pizza delivered to a "customer" at a hotel. Zappo's normally doesn't sell pizza, but this customer really wanted pizza, and the CSR got creative to make it happen.
There's the Ritz Carlton story of the employee that built a ramp so a wheelchair-bound guest could go down to the beach during his stay.
Yes, these are extreme examples because the employees were all trained to "do what it takes" to help the customer achieve the results they purchased.
These legendary customer service examples occuured, because their organizations nurture a culture of "doing whatever it takes" to correct problems, and create improvements to make for a more positive customer experience. And because the employees are encouraged, and given the latitude to take more drastic-than-normal steps to make it all happen.
Do your employees feel empowered to take steps outside their normal responsibilities, to deliver a better experience?
"One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man." -- Elbert Hubbard
We're living in an era where automation is becoming the norm. Business processes that were once performed by humans are more often performed solely by technology. If not already, human interactions will soon become the exception.
Within a ten-minute period this afternoon, I ordered a prescription refill from my pharmacy, got cash from my bank, and bought and paid for groceries at a neighborhood supermarket. That's three transactions at three different businesses without a single human interaction.
By automating those transactions, the pharmacy, bank and grocery store reduced their costs, but they also reduced my customer experience to its lowest common denominator. By removing the human touch, they eliminated an opportunity to trigger my emotions; they eliminated a chance to show me a competitive advantage.
Each time a business automates a customer touch point for efficiency sake, it should look balance the automation with a human touch for experience sake.
Think about a company like Zappo's. They sell a lot of shoes, and they do it very efficiently. But if you ask Zappo's what they sell, they won't say "shoes." They'll tell you they sell "happiness." And that happiness is created by the fun, engaging customer service reps that love to make a customer's day. In fact, these human interactions are the essence of the Zappos brand. Sure, the company runs a very efficient e-commerce business, but they don't forsake the human touch for more efficiency.
Here's the point: Before automating a customer touch point, think about how the automation will impact the customer experience. Will it remove an important point of emotional contact, and a competitive advantage?
If it does, then look to either enrich an existing human touch point, or create a new human touch point that adds value and emotion to the customer journey. A good example here is the Trunk Club...
The Trunk Club is a men's clothing service where a personal stylist handpicks a trunk of high-end clothes and ships it to you, so you don't have to shop or worry about selecting the right styles. It begins as an on-line experience that could certainly remain 100% on-line, but the Trunk Club adds a human element: After providing some After providing some information about yourself and your preferences, you're assigned a "personal stylist" who serves as your concierge. The stylist then calls you directly, to begin a human-to-human customer relationship.
Is this human conversation required to complete the transaction? Of course not. Many on- line retailers avoid this costly step for efficiency sake. But the Trunk Club uses these additional human interactions to create the emotional bond with their customers clicks can't do.
In his 1981 best seller, "Megatrends," John Naisbitt presciently advised us to balance high-tech with "high-touch" to preserve our humanness. This advice is more applicable today than it was 34 years ago, because technology is more prevalent, and more challenging to our humanness on a daily basis.
What are your competitive human touch points?
Where can you add more?
"Would you hire this person to work for you?"
That was the only question that I had to answer after a phone call with Delta Customer Service; that was the entire survey. And it was a very good one for two reasons:
Delta didn't waste my time. A one-question survey that can be answered with one word takes very little time; so little in fact, that I liked Delta more after completing the survey, because I flet they respected my time. Long surveys can actually do more harm than good by alienating customers. Show your customers some respect, by keeping your surveys short. Nobody likes a lenghty interrogation.
Delta got a lot of value in return. They asked me a very "pithy" question that drove right to the heart of the matter: The quality of Customer Service is a function of the quality of the people delivering the service. And if you ask me if I'd actually hire the person that served me, I can't hide behind a "nice guy" feel-good response. I'm put in a position to give you an honest answer - or tell an outright lie (highly unlikey for most customers, especially when they're givng the answer by tapping a number on their telephone keypad).
Too many surveys ask light-weight questions like:
"Was the representative courteous?"
"Please rate your experience on a scale of 1 to 5."
Questions like that let the customer off easy; they skirt the real issue. And the real issue is: Did the service experience leave the customer feeling like they're buying from a first-class company? (Customers never stop buying from companies they consider to be first-class.)
Don't hesitate to put your customers on the spot, because we customers don't mind telling you what we really think. In fact, we prefer it. And so will you, because you'll have feedback that's more meaningful, and more useful. And that's why you're doing the survey in the first place, isn't it?