Do C-Suite Executives Really Want Customer Feedback?

Do C-Suite Executives Really Want Customer Feedback?In the 1970’s and 80’s I worked for ADP. The CEO for most of my tenure was Josh Weston. Josh was brilliant. He knew every financial indicator for each region. He could quote specific numbers for overall satisfaction, customer churn and profitability.

Josh was interested in customer feedback too.  Not just the numbers, but what customers were really thinking: what did they feel was good, what wasn’t working, were they confident that ADP could handle their future requirements?  At ADP I was Vice President of Client Retention and Customer Satisfaction and responsible for the National Account Manager Program.  When I returned from customer field visits around the country, I would prepare a detailed analysis about what I learned from customers and document any suggestions customers had to improve service delivery or product features. Encouraged by Josh, senior executives were eager to read the report because it contained valuable customer insights that could be turned into actionable data.

Now I find most C-Suite executives are only interested in one number. It could be the company’s Customer Effort Score, NPS, or overall CSAT. They can probably quote any of those in their sleep. But, if you ask them how customers really feel or what specific changes their company is making to promote customer loyalty, they probably don’t have answers.

When customers rate a company on customer satisfaction, they are primarily basing their overall perception on their transactional experiences. Many factors are involved: how easy is it to reach the call center; is resolving a billing issue difficult; what is the company’s return policy? The frontline associates who handle these transactions can be the catalyst to move the loyalty needle. Unfortunately, I think most senior level executives don’t spend enough time learning what’s behind the numbers and fail to invest to customer service.

Numbers are meaningless without backing them up with what customers are thinking and feeling.  The saying is, “the devil is in the details.” Customer feedback can provide the details creating the roadmap to make improvements at every point in the customers’ loyalty journey.

The Human Touch vs. Self-Checkout

The Human Touch vs. Self-Checkout Walmart is replacing their self-service checkout this holiday season.  Instead, they are employing people to provide a personal touch and customer service at the point of purchase. I’m happy to hear that at least one retailer recognizes that self-service and reducing costs are not synonymous.

Shelly Banjo, a Wall Street Journal reporter, wrote an article about Walmart execs trying to stave off further quarterly declines.  The executives have been quoted that it is well known people are frustrated waiting in long lines to pay for their purchases.  They understand that self-checkout can be a slow process when customers can’t figure out the process or the equipment malfunctions.  Often there is no staff to help.  Walmart had experimented with a program called “Scan and Go,” allowing customers to scan items on their mobile devices as they walked through the store.  Then, with a scan of their phone, the items could be purchased at any kiosk, eliminating the cashier line altogether.  The result was a disaster.  The process was complicated and confusing and the pilot a failure.

How many times have I become irritated with a long wait and left my purchases to go to another store.  I am personally pleased that Walmart is taking this step to improve their customer service.   I have some suggestions for Walmart and other retailers.  The checkout counter should not only be the place for customers to pay for their purchases but the spot where frontline associates can make a connection and create a personal relationship.  The checkout counter should not be the end of the retail transaction but the beginning of the customer loyalty journey.

Some suggestions for transforming checkout into a “Welcome Counter” include:

  • Hire frontline associates who can personalize the encounter.   Just by noticing items purchased or what a person is wearing are important first steps. I appreciate when a representative says to me, “I like that yogurt flavor, too, or that’s a great tie you are wearing.”  Of course, it has to be genuine.
  • Cashiers who introduce themselves even if their name is on their badge, helps create a connection; “Hi! I’m Mary. I’m happy to help you.”
  • Thanking customers for their purchases and using their name. Many times customers pay with a credit card. The associate knows their name. Saying: “Thank you, Mr. Smith and have a great rest of the day,” can make customers feel special.

Walmart is on the right track. The purpose of having people at the checkout counter is to reduce the wait and have fewer complaints.  Human beings are great when they act human.  If the cashiers at the checkout counters behave robotically, the process may be more efficient and the lines a bit shorter, but the opportunity to generate repeat business will be lost.

Many customers love self-service counters. I use them when I have to, but often think that a big smile from a person would make my day. What do you think?

Surprise Customers in Good Ways

Surprise Customers in Good WaysToo many companies take their customers for granted.  Appreciation is rarely conveyed.  My credo is that it’s vital to continually show customers they matter and surprising them in good ways after the sale helps to build upon the initial relationship and create repeat business.

Lands’ End, the primarily catalog mail order and online business is known for conservative, sturdy clothing and has built a solid reputation for both quality merchandise and excellent customer service for over fifty years.  The company wanted to reward their customers with a surprise to say thank you; a good idea. However, in this case, Lands’ End did not think about how their gift would be received or know what was even being given.  The entire campaign backfired.

Lands’ Ends co-partnered with New York publisher, Condé Nast, to send male customers a copy of the July issue of GQ Magazine. The company specifically wanted to include men; in the past female customers had received copies of Glamour or Vogue, popular fashion magazines. A few weeks ago, when GQ was received in mailboxes across the country, on the cover was scantily clad Emily Ratajowski, a model and actress. There was an outcry from Lands’ End customers to the company and on social media.  Customers were offended. What was intended to extend gratitude and appreciation had the opposite effect.

What was Lands’ End thinking? I don’t believe they were and didn’t do their homework and know what the cover of GQ was going to be that month. They apologized profusely, and decided in the future to send Condé Nast Traveler, with photos of far-away places and beautiful landscapes or historic buildings, not racy women.

Will Lands’ End be forgiven?  Probably.  But as with any promotion or opportunity, it’s vital that it be pursued with thought and care and the outcome considered in advance.

Surprising your customers is a wonderful gesture.  Just make sure the surprise is a good one and appropriate for those same customers whose relationship your company wants to nurture.

How have you surprised your customers in good ways or been surprised as a consumer yourself?

Where Have All The Shoppers Gone?

Where have all the shoppers gone?According to Moody’s Investor Service, sales at retail stores have declined.  There are many reasons:

  • Shift to on-line sales
  • Less impulse purchasing
  • Pre-sales research about who has the best prices/coupon offerings
  • Low income consumers who cannot afford even discounted prices

While I agree these are contributing factors, I think there is a more compelling, underlying reason why customers are not going shopping.  Customer service at the brick and mortar store has become almost non-existent.  There is no staff in place knowledgeable or capable of creating and building a relationship.  Repeat business is generated by personalized service.  Without individualized attention, why take time to visit a retail store?

When I was a teenager and worked in my dad’s men’s shop, he knew every customer’s name and if he didn’t know the person when they walked into his store, he certainly knew them by the time they left.  Even if nothing was purchased, customers would always return to buy something for themselves or a gift for a friend or relative.  My father made an impression and was remembered and people wanted to do business with him.  He welcomed everyone into his store as if they were visiting our home. He understood how to make people feel comfortable and important.

Unless more of what I just describe becomes routine, retail sales will continue to decline. Specifically:

  • Turnover is rampant.  If you do return to a store where the associate was helpful, the chance is that person is no longer there. He or she jumped ship because they weren’t appreciated or given a well-deserved raise
  • Frontline staff are more interested in their text messages than in making a connection with a customer
  • The customer is looking for a particular item and is assured by the sales person that they will call when it comes in. Rarely or never does that happen
  • Stores are understaffed, especially during peak times and lines at the checkout counters are long.  Customers drop the merchandise they had in hand and leave to look for the item online
  • Repeat customers are not recognized. Who wants to spend money in a place where their business isn’t valued?

There are many reasons why retailers are struggling. It is a complicated issue and there is no simple answer. However, when I find a retailer who values me, understands I’m a good customer, knows the merchandise and calls me periodically to share information about special sales or something that might interest me, they win my business.

Customer Service is the glue that keeps me going back. If that bond is non-existent, I will look for another store or site not only for that particular day, but for the long-term.

What’s your opinion?  Am I the only consumer who shops on-line because retailers have lost their customer service mojo?

Gimmick or Heartfelt? TD Bank “Thank You” Campaign

Gimmick or Heartfelt?  TD Bank “Thank You” CampaignLast week with over six million views on YouTube, TD Bank of Canada received tremendous press on their new customer experience campaign. They handed out more than 20,000 envelopes each containing $20 to customers, deposited surprise funds to on-line accounts and donated heartfelt gifts to people who are going through difficult times. The video can bring tears to even the most stoic.

I am a tremendous advocate of saying thank-you, not only to customers, but to employees too. I think, however, that appreciation doesn’t need to be a monetary reward or gift. In some instances, it is almost an insult when a company offers compensation for your loyalty or a dollar for providing feedback on a survey.  Your opinion is worth more than that.

For the most part, appreciation is more meaningful when it is between a specific associate at a company and the customer.  This happens over time.  In the promo video TD produced, some of the gifts were tailored to the customer’s individual circumstances. TD Bank deserves credit for the associates developing a relationship with the customers and knowing what their problems were.

However, the campaign seems to be a gimmick drummed up by a marketing team.  Video shots and background music get emotions in high gear complete with a beautiful flower bouquet, Disneyland tickets, and checks for $1000 all coming out of the ATM with the press of a button.  Every news channel carried the story the day TD Bank released it.  The real test of TD’s commitment to thanking their customers and extending customer appreciation as part of their goal to improve the customer experience, can only be evaluated over time.

Recently, I had my newspaper rerouted during a two-week summer vacation with our family.  When I received the last paper the day we left, there was a yellow sticky attached. “Thank you so much and I hope your family enjoys the rest of their summer,” signed, Sandra.  That was totally unexpected, felt sincere, and put a smile on my face.  I’m confident she didn’t need a company-wide program to know the impact of a genuine thank you.

There were many positive comments by the public commending TD Bank. I may be a bit of cynic about their idea for customer appreciation; what do you think?

Should You Incentivize Employees to Improve Customer Retention?

Should You Incentive Employees to Improve Customer Retention?There is the saying, “money talks, nobody walks.” There are many different ways to interpret this quote, but in the business world, I have always construed it to mean if you want associates to obtain a certain goal, provide a financial incentive.

In the early 1980’s, I worked for Automatic Data Processing (ADP).  ADP hired a C-level suite executive to focus on customer retention. Retention at ADP was a consistent key metric that was measured and incorporated into every General Manager’s bonus plan, which was quite substantial. The Executive VP developed a “bank book” incentive plan, company-wide, and it was my responsibility to implement the program with my account management team.

The program was a success. The account manager position was an excellent entry-level position for a person with a college degree who wanted to work for one of the fastest growing and profitable service organizations in the world. The average starting salary was approximately $25,000 a year and the incentive program had a maximum payout of $12,000. That definitely received the participants’ attention.

At the beginning of the year, each account manager received a savings booklet with a $10,000 opening balance. Every time a new account was sold in their territory, one percent of the annual revenues were added, averaging about $20 based on a yearly revenue of $2,000. However, if an account was lost, the associate had ten percent of the revenues or approximately $200 deducted from their bankbook.

The program made the account managers focus on retention.  By design, they paid a great deal of attention to their largest accounts, knowing if they were lost it would cost them $500 to $1000 a pop.  Clients were consistently called, planned periodic visits made or surprise spur of the moment check-ins.  They frequently brought their clients fresh donuts or candy which everyone appreciated. If there were an issue, the account manager would speak to every internal department and not only resolve the specific problem, but act as a detective to discover the underlying cause. When there was a particularly major complication they would sometimes send a bouquet of flowers at their own cost after the matter was totally resolved as a way of saying “sorry.”

The program was a winner! There were certainly some accounts lost that were totally out of the control of the associate, such as bankruptcies or acquisitions. However, those were few in number.

In most organizations, sales people are compensated for new revenues, but very few companies pay incentives for retention. It costs at least five to six times as much to bring in a new client as it does to keep existing ones, so this doesn’t make good business sense.  Willie Sutton, the notorious bank robber from the early 1900’s had a famous saying when he was asked why he robbed banks. He said, “that’s where the money is.”  Customer retention is where the money is too.

Set up a program to pay for customer retention. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You may have to continually tweak it to fit your needs, but that’s with any new program that you try.

Let me know what strategies have successfully worked in your experience and any advice you have for our readers.

7 Tips to Retain Your Best Talent

7 Tips to Retain Your Best TalentMy experience in the corporate world taught me it made sense to hire smart people and continue to give them responsibility so there was an opportunity to grow.  Providing financial incentives and allowing time to pursue higher education also contributed to company loyalty.  So, the question: how do you keep your most valued employees from either seeking another job, or in our age of an online presence, preventing another company from poaching your best?

LinkedIn founder, Reid Hoffman says “you are no longer in charge of your resume in an interconnected online world, but neither is your boss.”  In the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Hoffman was interviewed for an article, Job Hunting in the Network Age, where he said the idea for LinkedIn was simple. “He wanted to take the resume digital, but that was just the beginning. As in the real world he sensed your true reputation is what of everyone else thinks of you.” He went on to say, “that your identity is now constituted by the network. You are your friends, you are your tribe, you are your interactions with your colleagues, your customers, even your competitors. All of these things come to form what your reputation is.”  As paraphrased by the article’s author, Andy Kessler, “In short, you are no longer the only one in control of your resume.”

The following are my tips to retain your best talent:

1.    Encourage associates to take on additional responsibility – Tell company associates to seek additional responsibilities. This will help the company and the employee feel more invigorated. But this cannot be accomplished in an environment where everyone is overworked. Having a platform of work-life balance will facilitate people wanting to learn and do more to keep themselves challenged and their minds fresh.

2.    Travel to other corporate locations – Insure that your associates don’t work in a vacuum. Have managers visit various company locations to meet with others who do they same type of job. It’s one of best ways to learn. It opened up an entire new world for me when I worked in a highly structured corporate environment.

3.    Continue their education – Encourage your employees to seek additional college and advanced degree courses. Bring in Lunch and Learn speakers on various subjects. Find internal associates who have become experts in their field to give periodic courses to their fellow associates. It could be workshops on exercise, nutrition, travel, six sigma, etc.

4.    Foster an environment of performing volunteer or charity work – There is no better way to network and help others along the way than by giving back to those less fortunate. In general, people who like to help also make the best service oriented thinkers. Those who give of themselves make their own rewards.

5.    Let associates make mistakes – The only way to grow personally and business-wise is to make mistakes.  Albert Einstein said, “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” If people are afraid of what can go wrong, a level of greatness can never be achieved to give your company a competitive edge.

6.  Keep them involved in your business – Share results with your staff. Let them see how your department is performing against others within the company. Competitive spirit works great in sports and it can work even more effectively in a business environment. Sometimes the devil is in the details and having staff focused will help uncover new opportunities for success.

7.  Provide LinkedIn training – When I started using LinkedIn many years ago, I didn’t quite grasp the value of the tool; connections, obtaining recommendations (not endorsements), or what to include in my profile, etc. Companies should bring in outside consultants or utilize internal experts who can train their associates on how to create and maintain the ideal LinkedIn profile, connect with their network and understand the protocol of accepting invitations from people they may not know.

In my opinion, the most important and actionable component of Mr. Hoffman’s interview is included in one of his summary quotes. “ For individuals, it’s trading lifetime employment for lifetime employability.  The company should invest in you to keep you employable, by always offering more training, expanding responsibility, even if you never leave. Employees, in exchange, will work to keep the company adapting and valuable and growing over the long term. Adaptive employees keep companies vibrant, but those same employees are much more likely to stay if they know they’ll get to keep adapting, gaining responsibilities and expertise.”

Treat your employees as you would your best customers and make them feel valued. Compensate them fairly. Provide them with the utmost respect. Ensure company employees have the most prolific LinkedIn profiles based on their robust experience. This might make them prey for your competitors. But, as Mr. Hoffman has suggested, your staff will appreciate how you have taught and coached them over the years and will think more than twice about leaving an environment where their contributions have been welcomed.

Walmart is Reinventing Itself: Is Customer Service in Its Plan?

Walmart is Reinventing Itself: Is Customer Service in It’s Plan?In the July 8th issue of The Wall Street Journal, was an article, “Walmart Scrambles to Reinvent Itself as Sales Slump.”  Why the hurry?  Even with nearly half a trillion dollars in revenue, the company reported its fifth straight quarter of negative sales in the US with dwindling traffic heading into the next.

Walmart has a new CEO; Doug McMillion.  At one of the first meetings with top executives, he assigned homework.  Everyone had to read, The Everything Store, by Brad Stone about Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Amazon initially replicated Walmart’s business model of acting fast and experimenting often and now Walmart is learning from its protégé in preparation for the company’s new strategic plan.  Today, one of the basic foundations of Amazon is customer service; it is the differentiator.  Is improving customer service part of Walmart’s new initiatives?

So how is Walmart going to reinvent itself?  For the first time in its history, Walmart is going to open smaller and convenience type stores rather than supercenters.  The thought is that smaller is better.  My thought is that no matter what the size, personalized customer service is what will make a difference.  Smaller doesn’t mean better unless the formula for service delivery is changed.

About ten years ago, I went to our local Walmart in Northern New Jersey to look for plastic storage units. I found the bins, but no tops to go with them. I searched high and low for a person to help me, but to no avail.  It was like a game of hide and seek. Unfortunately not only did I lose, so did Walmart.  I walked out and thought to myself, why would I ever go back again?  I found exactly what I wanted with some assistance from a person at Target.

About six months ago, I was on vacation in a small city in North Carolina, where Walmart is the only major store in town.  I wanted to get some board games the family could play together.  I checked the aisles and found what I wanted – Clue, Monopoly, Scrabble.  But, I was unimpressed when I got to the check–out counter with my purchases. The staff was indifferent and just robotically took my money; there was no interaction, eye contact, or a smile.

A few days ago, I went to another Walmart in rural Massachusetts where the experience was a repeat performance; no one to help me and disinterested employees.  I’m still baffled.  Most of us reading this blog already know that in our competitive world customer service is and will be the primary driver that differentiates one company from another.

I have five recommendations for Walmart to personalize customer service for their new, smaller and more intimate store models. I’m sure that all of us could offer Walmart other suggestions.

  1. Insure that many of Amazon’s customer service strategies to improve the customer experience are incorporated into their strategic plans.  (just adding additional staff here and there is not enough to insure repeat business)
  2. Don’t replace people with self-service options that not every customer wants. (I love when I see frontline associates operating self-service machines that frequently don’t work.  It would make more sense to have those same staff members just check out the products themselves for the customer, thanking them for the business and loyalty too)
  3. People hate long lines (have management available to fill in when lines get too long.  A line with three people is long enough in my opinion.)
  4. Hire people who want to build relationships with their regular shoppers and treat them like neighbors and friends. (customers will return, again and again to cashiers who know their name and get to know them personally. Selling grocery products lends itself to frequent store visits which is one of the reasons Walmart stocks them. They want people to go into the store for milk and end up seeing a TV on sale that they can’t resist. I know I will go out of my way to stand in a cashier’s line who recognizes me, gives that big smile and asks about my recent vacation)
  5. Have easy to find intercoms throughout the aisles where customers can ask a simple question or get a front-line associate to assist them as soon as possible. (People get frustrated when there is no one in sight)

In a recent blog I wrote,  5 Reasons to Pay Employees to Stay, Not to Go, I was impressed with the number of thoughtful comments  people wrote. Some said I was right on target and others felt I simplified a complicated subject.  I’m not suggesting that Walmart can double their business by implementing my suggestions or any others that people like me might recommend.  But, maybe they should experiment by replicating the personalized service at one of their new smaller stores to match the service of a neighborhood coffee shop, shoemaker or hair salon. It might open some doors they haven’t envisioned. Smaller is better when the customer’s expectations for more personalized service are met or exceeded.

5 Reasons to Pay Employees to Stay, Not to Go

5 Reasons to Pay Employees to Stay, Not to GoThe New York Times ran an article on July 3rd titled:  Paying Employees to Stay, Not to Go. Its focus was that some fast-food chains are discovering the advantages of offering workers better wages and the result is less turn over. The article accented the subject of minimum wage and how Boloco Burrito restaurants in New Hampshire and Shake Shack In New York, are willing to pay more to retain associates. The article got my attention and set my blog wheels in motion.

Management in too many businesses, fast food, retail, contact center, etc., fail to see the connection between keeping good associates and bottom-line profitability.

There are many reasons why paying your staff better than your competition makes sense.  I took the liberty of quoting directly from the New York Times and added some thoughts of my own.

  • “The No. 1 reason we pay our team well above the minimum wage is because we believe that if we take care of the team, they will take care of our customers,” said Randy Garutti, the chief executive of Shake Shack.
  • Scott Newman, the restaurant’s manager, said that Boloco’s above-average pay enabled him to pick from among many talented job applicants, adding, “When you teach talented individuals, once they get it, they’ll be a rock star for you.”
  • A major benefit of paying $15, he said, is “we don’t have any turnover. We don’t have to train people constantly, ”says Harry Moorhouse of Moo Cluck Moo restaurants in Michigan. His restaurants serve upscale hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and salads, and a full meal generally costs around $1.25 more than at McDonald’s.
  • Products and services are becoming more complicated. It’s takes awhile for associates to learn about your companies specific policies and procedures and the technical nuances. Besides the costs of hiring and training new associates, not having front-line associates who are product experts will make it more difficult to deliver a superior customer experience.
  • In some many businesses, especially retail, customers go back to the same coffee shop, apparel store or restaurant because the front-line associate recognizes them, gives them that special smile, knows their buying preferences and appreciates their business. When staff leaves, customer loyalty is broken.

In 1914, Henry Ford almost doubled the minimum daily wage in his factories from $2.34 to $5.00.  At the time, other prominent businessmen thought he was crazy, but Henry understood that his factories had been plagued with very high turnover rates and excessive absenteeism. The factory jobs were monotonous and many employees found better alternatives. By offering better wages he made his jobs more competitive. The result was higher morale, lower employee turnover, and most importantly, productivity significantly increased.  As he famously said, “ employees are customers too.”

One hundred years later, what have we learned? Many businesses have failed and haven’t learned the lessons of Henry Ford or other successful entrepreneurs. Keeping valuable employees on your company’s payroll makes good business sense. It’s the best investment. It will clearly provide an excellent ROI. When your customer-friendly, knowledgeable and reliable associates leave your organization and go to your competitor, it’s a double-whammy.

The Non-Effortless Experience

non-effortless-experienceI’m going to take a short vacation and want the Wall Street Journal delivered to my get-away.  I used their website to change the address.  I have suspended and changed delivery in the past so I know the drill.  I always received an email confirming the new instructions; this time, there was no response from the Wall Street Journal website.

Concerned, I checked the site for a record of the new address, and could not find anything.  However, a chat screen popped up and asked, “Can we help?”

I’m not usually a “chatter” but thought maybe this was the time to start.  I typed in my question, hit the send button, and was informed by a bar at the top of the screen that I was number “3”in the queue.  I thought, “nice touch.”  When I’m on the phone waiting for a customer service representative, I like that sometimes an automated voice recording tells me how long the wait will be.  It took about two minutes for the “3” to become a “2” and then there was “1”.  I was excited!  Countdown!

Then, a message flashed:  “Sorry, chat is unavailable.”  What, are they kidding?  Did the agent suddenly have to go to the bathroom, take a lunch break, or was there some kind of emergency?

I was simultaneously disappointed and annoyed.  My time had been wasted and my question remained unanswered.  I called the 800 number and did speak to a representative who assured me that the system had the new address.  Additionally, he verified my email address as well.  The rep had no idea why the chat option had failed or why I did not receive a confirmation email so I wouldn’t have had to chat or call in the first place.   He reiterated that the Wall Street Journal would be delivered on the promised date to my vacation address.

The experience was unfortunate and too much time and work involved.  Am I going to cancel my subscription?  No, the newspaper is too important, but my opinion of the Wall Street Journal’s website, procedures, and technology left me unimpressed to say the least.

I am still not confident the paper will be delivered.  Hopefully all my efforts will yield the desired result.  However, it remains that what should have been an effortless experience was the opposite.