November 28, 2014

Customer-Obsessed Service

heart-gift.jpgI have been broadcasting my Customers Rock! Radio program now for 6 months, and I feel it is time to pull together a summary of information from some of those programs into a post (or two!). The radio program is really an extension of this blog; you get to hear my voice as part of an hour-long conversation around the topics we all know and love here: customer experience, customer service, loyalty, marketing, and social media. But I can really sum up the first 6 months of the program with the title of this post: we have been talking about what Customer Obsessed Service looks like. (Note: I borrowed this term from something that Rayanne Langdon was talking about on the show; she was sharing about Freshbooks and their involvement in the Small Business Web – companies focused on customer obsessed software.) This post will discuss the operational perspective of Customer Obsessed Service – what does it take to make this happen at an organization?

Expectations

Before we can discuss Customer Obsessed Service, we need to make sure we understand customer expectations. Customers have changed, and customer expectations have greatly changed! Social media has put everything into a new light as empowered customers are taking up their mobile phones and tweeting their distress for all the world to see. Here is a typical customer service tweet:

Does anyone know if COMPANY X has a Twitter? I want to make sure everyone knows how POOR their customer service is!! I’m sooooo annoyed.

If nothing else, brands need to be using social media to listen to the customer conversation for concerns or issues. Sometimes customers may be whining, and sometimes customers may have a real problem that needs to be addressed. Customer Obsessed Service means a company is attentive to what their customers are saying via social media (and via other mechanisms as well, including surveys, comments to sales, feedback to customer service reps, etc.) and then takes action to make sure the customer’s issues are resolved to their satisfaction.

Action: Do you understand the expectations of your customers for your products, and for your customer service? If not, spend some time listening to customer conversations, talking to customers for clarification, and determining the top pain points.

Employees

Most employees in an organization don’t understand what it takes to provide great customer service, much less Customer Obsessed Service. Yet employees are a key factor in whether customer service sucks or rocks. This is true whether the employee actually works in customer service or whether they are not customer facing at all!

Customer Obsessed Service starts with hiring the right people – those who are naturally people-focused, have a passionate spirit, are empathetic, and like to think creatively to solve problems. Southwest Airlines calls this having “…a Warrior Spirit, a Servant’s Heart, and a Fun-LUVing Attitude.” I couldn’t agree more!

These employees also have to be empowered to do what is right for the customer. This doesn’t mean giving every customer a discount, or something for free when they complain. It DOES mean listening to the customer’s needs and doing what they can to make it right without always having to get a supervisor’s approval. Guidelines need to be clear, and when they are employees are freed up to get the help they need to turn around a bad situation with a customer.

Action: Start with an assessment in your organization. What do your employees think about your customer service? What would they do to make it better?

Customers as Assets

Customer Obsessed Service is also achieved based on how we measure it.

Incredibly, many companies today are still measuring their customer service based on how many calls they can process in an hour. Get the customer off the phone/chat as soon as possible in order to respond to more customers. The end result is usually customers that have to call again in order to finish getting their questions answered. These types of metrics are used when organizations look at the customer service department as something to be measured on a P&L statement. Customer service is viewed as a cost center.

Organizations espousing Customer Obsessed Service view customers as a valuable asset that belongs on a balance sheet. Each customer interaction is a golden opportunity to improve the relationship, and each customer touch could result in a customer who is so happy they become an evangelist for the brand.  Don Peppers and Martha Rogers talked about this in their book Return on Customer Companies that treat their customers as an asset create a very different approach to customer interaction; each customer contact is reviewed to see how it will add to or detract from the value of each customer.

Action: Review your customer service metrics to see how you view your customers.

What About You?

What else do companies need to get right operationally in order to create Customer Obsessed Service? Who is doing it well? Leave a comment with your thoughts, and let’s start a discussion on Customer Obsessed Service!

Recession-Proof Marketing

new-lifeWhen I was speaking at the SXSW Interactive conference last week, I had the chance to catch up with one of my good friends, Saul Colt from FreshBooks. Saul is the Head of Magic there, and he is the one who is responsible for the fabulous customer dinners that they do with their customers. These dinners are focused completely on the customers and providing them networking opportunities with each other; they are NOT about pushing FreshBooks! In fact, these customer dinners are part of the reason FreshBooks was named one of the Top 3 Customer Rock Stars for 2008!

Saul has honored me back by interviewing me on what it means to market in a recession.  Take a listen, then go listen to Saul’s complementary video on his blog. Thank you, Saul, for the opportunity!


Becky Carroll (CustomersRock.net) shares thoughts on Customer Service! from saulcolt on Vimeo.

Top 3 Customer Rock Stars for 2008

I was asked to spend a few minutes recently on the Big Biz Show (a nationally-syndicated radio program) discussing my thoughts about business in 2008 with a look ahead to 2009. I thought I would share some of those insights here at Customers Rock! to inspire you for the upcoming year.

A Rockin’ Year with Some Great Companies

This past year, I highlighted several companies where “Customers Rock!” for them. These companies have great customer focus, operate in a way that is customer-centric, or just did something really, really cool for their customers.  Before I get to the Top 3 Customer Rock Stars, below are some of the runners-up:

  • Urbane Apartments – remarkable customer experience with Urbane Loves Pets and Freedom Lease
  • Ikea – focus on the customer buying experience
  • Comcast – social media listening turns complainers into fans
  • Coldwater Creek – making customers feel like royalty
  • TurboTax – customer engagement via social media
  • Wells Fargo – WOW customer experience and corporate focus
  • Hometown Buffet – personal attention makes the difference
  • Starbucks – customer-focused coffee specials
  • Musician’s Friend – above and beyond customer service

Check out the links above for their stories – all of them inspiring. And now, with no further ado…

Rock Star Number 3: FreshBooks

Freshbooks is an online invoicing and time tracking service.  They are a Customer Rock Star because they do everything with the customer in mind. More importantly, they spend time with their customers – lots of it.  In my post “Freshbooks Rocks: Getting Personal with Customers”, I described how the Freshbooks team, including their CEO, spends time having meals with customers whenever they travel. In fact, last year when they went to SxSW to speak, they rented an RV and had breakfast, lunch, and dinner with customers along the way! The best thing about these customer meals (I would know, they invited me to one, as I am a Freshbooks customer), is they are NOT about Freshbooks pitching their products and what they do. Rather, they are about their customers getting to know each other better, as these people all live and work in the same city.  Along the way, Freshbooks employees get the chance to hear some great customer insights.

Customer listening is a focus for Freshbooks, and it is what gets them into my Top 3 Customer Rock Stars for 2008. Congrats, Mike, Saul, and team. Freshbooks Rocks!

Rock Star Number 2: Zappos.com

If you aren’t familiar with Zappos.com and you buy shoes, you should get to know them. Zappos.com is an online retailer that started by selling shoes over the web; they now also sell many other things such as clothing, accessories, and jewelry. Their main focus, however, is not the products they sell – it is customer service. In fact, their tagline is “Powered by Service”. I met Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, this past February when I spoke at the Customer Service is the New Marketing event. Tony shared with me that they don’t want to be known as a shoe company with great customer service; Zappos.com is a customer service company that happens to sell shoes. I like his focus.

One can find many, many stories on Tony and Zappos.com, as they have become fairly well known for this customer service. I have my own story from Christmas this year. I was looking to find my husband a new pair of Keen sandals, and I couldn’t find his size at Zappos.com. I gave them a call to see if they might be getting some in, and they told me they wouldn’t have any in time for Christmas. However, what happened next really impressed me! The call center rep looked up the sandals on the web and recommended a competitor’s website to me!!  She told me they had the size and color I was seeking, and they also had free shipping both ways (just like Zappos.com does). After thanking her profusely, I asked her why she recommended a competitor to me.  She said, “We want you to be happy, and we want you to come back to Zappos.”  I was, and I will!

Customer service is more than just a focus for Zappos.com; it is their company’s culture and what gets them into my Top 3 Customer Rock Stars for 2008. Congrats, Tony and team! Zappos rocks!!

Rock Star Number 1: Bungie Studios

Who? Bungie. Bungie Studios is the maker of the popular video game series Halo. They are known for treating their customers very well, but the reason they are my number one Customer Rock Star is that they take care of other people’s customers, too!

This past March, a video gamer who is a big fan of Halo had a problem with his gaming console/hardware. It was a special console because he had collected original Halo artwork and autographs on it from the team that developed the game. Unfortunately, when he sent in his console for repair, the artwork and autographs were accidentally erased.  Result: one very sad video gamer.

Bungie Studios heard about this through some blogs and decided that, although it had not been their mistake, they wanted to do something to help make it better. So they gathered up a HUGE amount of Halo-3 goodies and sent them off to this depressed gamer even though they had nothing to do with the problem. As you can imagine, he was thrilled to get this fabulous box of “swag”, as it was completely unexpected. (You can see photos of some of his gifts on my previous post about Bungie.)

In my opinion, what was even more cool was that the blog post describing his “swag bag” received over 600 comments from fans of the Halo video game, all glowing about Bungie Studios. What a great way to touch your customer community!

How did Bungie Studios do it?

- They were listening to their customers, using social media.

- They had previously built up a strong community (see their website for forums, insider information, and an open and honest attitude including Bungie podcasts, photos, and webcams!)

- They decided to “do the right thing”, even though they were not the ones in the wrong

- Bungie has prioritized customers as a critical success factor for their business – and has acted on it.

Clearly, Customers Rock! for Bungie Studios.  Way to go, Bungie Studios, on being the Number One Customer Rock Star for 2008!

Looking Ahead to 2009

This year, a focus on customers will become more important than ever as companies struggle with the economy worldwide while consumers and businesses alike become more conservative with their spending. Customer retention will be critical, as will encouraging customer advocates to share their great experiences with others.  Stay tuned to Customers Rock! for more great ideas and stories of how companies are doing it right, all throughout 2009.

(Photo credit: ussr)

Monday Musings: Video, News, and a Question

Today’s post has my first video with my new, fun video camera the Flip Minoin addition to some news to share and a question for my smart readers (that’s you!).  Speaking of Flip, welcome to new readers who have come over from Jim Kukral’s blog (he does a show called The Daily Flip), where he did a podcast interview with me called Do You Have Happy Customers?  If you like what you read here at Customers Rock!, please subscribe to my blog.  Thanks!  Now, on with today’s post.

 

Customer Engagement at FreshBooks

A while back, I wrote about how FreshBooks was engaging customers by taking a roadtrip to a conference in an RV. Along the way, they stopped and had breakfast, lunch, and dinner with their customers.  Very cool.  I was thrilled to be invited to one of their customer dinners when they made a recent stop here in San Diego, CA.  Saul sent me an email and asked if I could join them (I am a FreshBooks customer, too!).  We had a wonderful meal at Buca di Beppo, which serves Italian food family-style on big platters for sharing.  A perfect venue for customers to come together, break bread, and get to know each other.  We swapped stories about our business, about the San Diego economy, and about our new friends at FreshBooks.

The dinner attendees were kind enough to let me take a very short video with my cool new tiny camera (it is smaller than my Blackberry!) around the table, just so you, my readers, could get a feel for this group.  One customer, a friend of mine, was a little shy with the first pass, but he was willing to show his face moments later (see photo above). 

It was a very fun dinner, and I left with both an appreciation for what FreshBooks is doing to engage customers as well as some new friends.

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think about the video!  The Flip Minois really easy to use, and I think the resolution is pretty good (I promise, my videography skills will improve…).

News: Cool Customer Engagement Event

If you live on the East Coast, or want to head out there in November, you should check out the upcoming Customer Engagement and Loyalty Summit in Miami.  It is taking place November 17-19 and is focused on taking you beyond creating customer loyalty programs to helping you build customer strategies.  Sessions include looking at customer experience in a low-cost environment (Alaska Airlines), learning how Word of Mouth and WOW service go together (Zappos.com), and a panel on quantifying the benefits of customer loyalty to your CFO (lead by Best Buy).  It looks to be a great event.  Readers of my blog can get a 2 for 1 discount if they mention this code: IUS_CR_001.  If you go, let me know what you think of the event.  It sounds great!

Question: Blogging and Customer Service

My good friend Mack Collier asked a great question on Twitter the other day, and I told him I would re-post it here (as so many of you are focused on customer service). Mack is looking for examples of companies that are using their blog for customer service.  I can think of companies that try to share best practices about using their product in their blog, such as ConstantContact, and also companies that answer frequently asked questions via their blog, such as Sony Playstation’s blog.  If your company is doing this, or if you have seen a good example, please send me email to becky at petraconsultinggroup dot com or leave a comment here at Customers Rock!  I will share all the responses I get and link to you, too!  Thanks for your help!

(Photo credits: B. Carroll, piksel)

FreshBooks Rocks: Getting Personal with Customers

wagon.png One of the best ways to get to know your customers is to spend time with them face-to-face.  This method of doing business is a hallmark of a Customers Rock! company and is usually supplemented with other types of customer conversation, including traditional and social media marketing.  For FreshBooks, based in Toronto, Canada, this is not an unusual way to do business – it is business as usual!

Unique Customer Outreach

FreshBooks provides online invoicing and time-tracking for service professionals.  I had the chance to speak with CEO Mike McDerment, and he shared with me his story about their unique and effective customer outreach campaign.  Mike and a few other folks from FreshBooks were attending two different conferences here in the USA last month, including speaking at this year’s SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.  Coming from Toronto, the easiest way to get there would have been to fly – but not for this team.  They decided to take the fun path and rent an RV (see photo above), meeting and talking with customers along the way!  By the end of their Roadburn roadtrip, Mike and his employees Saul (who put the trip together) and Sunir (marketing and community development) had 11 meals over a period of 4 days, meeting with more than 100 customers over breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  The Roadburn blog above chronicles the trip, and several customers came out to it, requesting stops in their towns.

vinyl_rev01.png This was not a product roadshow.  This was a listening tour.  Mike and his team didn’t lead the conversations at all.  They merely asked a few simple questions to get them started, such as, “Hey, how are you?  What do you do?”  Rather than peppering their customers with questions, they encouraged the customers to network with each other.  By the end of these meals, many of these customers were swapping business cards and planning to do business with each other.  According to Mike, the result was “almost a mini eco-system!”  Listening in this type of environment provides fresh (get it?) customer insights that you can’t get on a survey!

I loved the way the FreshBooks team described the intent of the road trip on their site:

“The FreshBooks RoadBurn may seem like a stunt or a marketing ploy but in reality it is pretty much what FreshBooks is all about….listening to it’s beautiful customer base and getting to know them on a level that other companies wouldn’t make the effort to do so.”

Getting to Know You

FreshBooks wants to get to know customers and wants to be easy to talk to as well.  They have actually been holding these “customer meals” for about four years now.  According to Mike, every time he goes to a city he gets a list of FreshBooks customers in that city, and he invites them out for dinner to see what is going on with their business.  As you can imagine, this is pretty effective for building customer relationships, as well as for great word-of-mouth.  Mike says,

“We are conscious that there is always someone on the other end of the computer screen who is using our products.  We keep asking ourselves, how can we get closer to our customers?”

FreshBooks does it not only with face-to-face meetings, but they believe that social media really helps, too.  First of all, there is their blog, FreshThinking.  FreshBooks uses it as a way to communicate updates to their customers, as well as business tips and other tidbits.  It must be working – the blog regularly gets comments and has over 1100 readers (per Feedburner).  In addition, FreshBooks is a big fan of Twitter.  They twittered the road trip as they went across the country; Mike described it as “random and quirky” writings.  They Twitter from inside of FreshBooks as well to share with customers what is going on at the company.  It is also part of their customer support mix.  For example, the aforementioned Saul, at home on a weekday evening, sees someone using Twitter to ask how to do something in FreshBooks, and he replies and gives the answer. 

Good customer service, right?  Yes.  FreshBooks is paying attention to customer conversation and helping where needed.  Per Mike, “…we are not instigating these conversations; rather, we are being where they are.”

Caring – A Core Value

Customers are embedded in the corporate culture at FreshBooks; it is in their DNA.  Mike supports this in a few ways.  One, he hires for fit.  He describes this as hiring people who feel good about helping people out.  In addition, everyone at FreshBooks does a rotation into customer support.  This gives all employees the opportunity to hear from customers directly and to understand their pain points.

Mike says one of their core values is caring.  As CEO, Mike is always taking care of employees, making sure they have what they need for their jobs as well as looking out for their happiness and health.  Here is his formula for success:

Take care of staff –> Staff takes care of customers –> Customers take care of referrals

This works!  From customer satisfaction surveys last year, FreshBooks had a customer referral rate of 98%.  This year, the rate went up to 99%!  This rocks.  Per Mike: “There is really nothing better.  Happy customers are a great pool of positive WOM.”

I couldn’t have said it better, Mike.  FreshBooks rocks!