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.

@pandora_radio Knows How to Welcome New Customers

@pandora_radio Knows How to Welcome New CustomersI joined Pandora a few weeks ago; I know I’m late to catch up with modern technology as far as the music industry is concerned but certainly glad I did. As a new customer, I was pleased with the communication from the company. So many businesses don’t recognize a new customer at all and those that do frequently send a message that is robotic without any feeling. But, not Pandora.

The letter was from the president and founder, Tim Westergren.  To illustrate the perfect email, it is copied below.

Dear fellow music lover,

It made me feel like I was part of a unique and special club

We are delighted that you have joined Pandora. Welcome! 

He said they were really happy to have me as a customer

Pandora was founded by musicians and music-lovers and it has been a labor of love for us for more than ten years. A decade into this journey it continues to thrill us each time someone new chooses to make Pandora part of their day.

He said it was thrill each time they get a new customer. Pandora has over 150 million users, but they were happy to get even one more

As you explore and discover the vast trove of music and comedy on Pandora, we encourage you to let us know if you have any suggestions, comments, or complaints – we want to hear them all. Are we missing one of your favorite artists? Tell us. Know that we are single-mindedly dedicated to providing you with the best-personalized radio listening experience in the world. The feedback we get from our listeners has an enormous impact on how we develop and improve Pandora, so please don’t be shy.

He wants to hear from me if I have any suggestions.  I honestly felt like my voice would be heard

We also look forward to staying in touch by occasionally sending you emails (don’t worry, just a few) about new music available on your stations or new releases from your favorite artists, as well as tips on how to get the most out of your personalized radio stations. We read every email sent to us.

I was confident that I would not get an email everyday and feel like I would have to unsubscribe.  I believe that the communication from the company will be based on my personal taste

Thanks again for listening and for your support. We hope you enjoy your personalized Pandora radio!

I appreciated the thank you for becoming a customer

All my best, Tim (Founder) and the Listener Advocate teamPandora

Tim signed the letter, using his first name only and included his photo too.

Lastly, the email address was from tim.westergren@pandora.com, not one that said “do not reply.”

Newly acquired customers should always be welcomed and made to feel important and that their business is appreciated.

Pandora did it right.  It’s easy, but rarely done.









Learn How To Create Lasting Customer Relationships on June 25th 12 PM Eastern

Expert Interview with Richard Shapiro, President & Founder of The Center For Client Retention

Whether you need to sell a product, or influence or sell stakeholders to ‘buy’ an idea on a project you are in “customer service.” There are two types of customers, “internal” customers who are your co-workers, subordinates or bosses, and “external” customers who come to your company to purchase the product or service it offers.

Regardless, you are in “customer service.” And, this month’s expert Richard Shapiro has invested a lifetime in understanding customer behavior and more importantly the behaviors (and attitudes) of customer service personnel. Since we are all “customer service personnel” it behooves you to learn which of the 4 customer service personality styles you bring to your role and how to get even better at it.

Richard Shapiro will be interviewed by Skip Weisman on June 25th 12 PM Eastern.

During this interview, you will learn:

  • How to truly know what’s most important to your most important “customers”
  • The #1 most important “rule” that keeps customers coming back
  • The 4 personality styles of customer service personnel in your workplace
  • The 3 most important components of any customer interaction

Sign up now!


Customer Loyalty is Personal; Forget About The Brand

Loyalty is personalPeople often ask me what’s the best way to build customer loyalty. The answer is simple. It’s all about creating and building relationships.  Even if a person is loyal to a specific brand, like Nike, for instance, there are many places to purchase Nike products.  There is the Nike Store, Ted’s Army and Navy, Macy’s, Target, Walmart, etc.  Of course Nike is getting the business through their retail outlets, but what makes a customer continue to buy their favorite Nike sneakers at one store over another?  In my experience, it’s the person who is selling the shoes.

Whenever I travel for business or pleasure, or get to an appointment early, I stop in a coffee shop. It could be Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks or Melissa’s Bakery. I love to watch the interactions between the folks behind the counter and the customers they usually know so well.  It’s “Good Morning” saying the person’s name, with a big smile, and a question about how their weekend was.  Without inquiring, the barista knows how much milk, what kind of sweetener, and whether the coffee is small, medium or large.   A toasted bagel with cream cheese or a croissant comes along as part of the order.  Unless people are far from home, they will almost always go out of their way to see Mary, John, Amy or Brendan to buy their coffee and bagel because it’s like going to see a friend.

Why can’t every business replicate the coffee experience?  Real loyalty is towards the person, not to the brand. I can almost guarantee that if your favorite clerk moves to another coffee shop down the road or even to the next town, you will follow.

Customers always have the choice of where to buy merchandise.  The strongest component of loyalty is not to the brand, it’s the personal relationship.  If your business is capable of replicating the coffee shop experience, long-term success is more of a certainty.  Hire the right employees, allow them to naturally engage with customers and show that they care about them as people.  Repeat business will be here to stay.

Social Media and a Handshake – A Winning Combination

Social media and a handshakeLike most professional people today I have hundreds LinkedIn connections. LinkedIn offers us tremendous opportunities to connect with people, almost instantly, from all over the world. It’s a thrill to press the “connect” button with someone who may have something in common with you; the possibilities are endless.  The person might be another thought-leader in your field of expertise, a colleague from one of your European divisions or someone you worked with at one of your past careers.

While it’s interesting to read about a person’s background in order to determine if the connection should be pursued, one the best ways to build an even more meaningful relationship is to actually meet.  I’m very fortunate to live in the New York Metropolitan Area and many people in my network are geographically close to my office or home. Whenever I connect with someone from my area, I reach out and invite them for breakfast, coffee or lunch. It’s been an extraordinary experience, with surprises along the way.  Connections have turned into business opportunities and in several cases special friendships. One LinkedIn connection invited me to lunch so he could introduce me to one of his largest clients. Another asked me to speak at his company’s user conference. I have helped some of my new friends find summer internships for their kids, given career advice to them or their spouses. It’s a two-way street, the definition of building a relationship.

I also look up connections in whatever city I am travelling to on business. I plan my itinerary to accommodate whoever might be able to meet me either near or at my hotel.  Always makes my trip even more rewarding.

When LinkedIn first started in 2003, I remember talking to a young person about how I have made great connections at cocktail and networking parties and couldn’t imagine how social media could replace a handshake, making eye contact and having a conversation. The younger gentleman told me I didn’t get it. Frankly, I did not.  I could not comprehend the value of social networking at the time.

Now, I have come into my own and understand the enormous ramifications of social networking.  But, I am also happy to be old school and get the benefit of blending the Internet with a handshake.  It’s been an invigorating and exciting experience.

Search through your LinkedIn connections and meet those people, face-to-face whenever you can.   You are connected because they are interested in you and you want to learn more about them. It’s a winning combination.


Using Big Data and Analytics to Make Better Decisions

Today I am delighted to share a guest post by Bob Thompson, author of Hooked on Customers.

What makes big data most interesting to me is the new types of information such as website clickstream data, social media posts, video surveillance feeds, and even sensor data from consumer products. These new forms of data definitely pump up the volume, requiring new data storage techniques such as Hadoop, open source software for managing very large data sets across clusters of computers. New analytics tools have also been introduced to analyze most any kind of data you can collect.

However, what’s “big” about big data is open to interpretation. According to analytics expert Karl Rexer:

For some of our clients, we certainly have analyzed over a million US tax returns or tens of millions of bank transactions or grocery store transactions. Now, to us those seem like big datasets, and that seems in a way to be big data and big data analysis. But if you were Google, Facebook, or Amazon, or looking at web traffic, or if you’re in a scientific field looking at some astronomy data or some genome research, you might have data that’s much larger and different. Sometimes it’s wide, in terms of lots of columns, or very deep in terms of the number of rows. And so other people’s data might be far larger than the datasets that we’ve been using.

Big or small, more data doesn’t necessarily mean better decisions. The key is picking right decisions, says James Taylor of Decision Management Solutions. The biggest mistake is to start with the data or the technology, rather than the decision. “Big data projects should focus on how to improve how we run the company,” advises Taylor.

A recurring theme from industry experts is the importance of knowing what’s possible. While so-called data scientists are emerging in high-impact positions designed to mine big data effectively, I believe the real leverage is in data strategists. These are business leaders who focus on key decisions that improve the customer experience and/or increase profitable revenue.

Everyone seems to believe that “thar’s gold in them-thar hills.” I wonder, though, if the excitement around big data will follow the same path as the Great Gold Rush of the 1850s. Miners flocked to California in search of gold, but most came up empty. The companies that made money were the suppliers of picks, shovels, and what came to be known as Levi’s jeans.

To sum up, big data is a big opportunity, but the challenge is focusing analytics on the big decisions customers will care about. Otherwise, you’ll end up with fool’s gold, not the real thing.

About Bob

Bob ThompsonBob Thompson is an international authority on customer-centric business management who has researched and shaped leading industry trends since 1998. He is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, an independent research and publishing firm, and founder and editor-in-chief of CustomerThink.com, the world’s largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. His book Hooked on Customers (April 2014) reveals the five habits of leading customer-centric firms.

For more information visit http://hookedoncustomers.com

How @FedEx Lost My Trust and My Package

How @FedEx Lost My Trust and My Package I have been a loyal FedEx customer for years. I did have an experience when a display case that had been shipped to a conference was lost.  Our company was exhibiting and we couldn’t do it without our materials.  The FedEx agents didn’t appreciate the severity of the misplaced case; there is a lot of time and expense that would have been wasted if the booth couldn’t be set up.  Fortunately, I had tracked the package and knew before FedEx that it was in Las Vegas instead of San Francisco, where the meeting and I both were.  Unfortunately, there was a lot of yelling before the trailer was opened, my booth located, and delivered on time. I am a reasonable man and understand that items can be lost.  Our exhibit was displayed as planned and we continued our relationship with FedEx.

A few weeks ago, on May 16th, we placed a package in the FedEx box in our corporate offices, marked it FedEx Saver, third business day delivery.  The package contained a book I had written and promised to a person I had recently connected with on LinkedIn.  In the correspondence with my new friend Frances, I told her the book was on its way and she should receive it by the 21st.  A week later, I received a voice mail message from FedEx Customer Support that my package was confused with refuse and most likely had been shredded.  Mistakes happen but there is a problem with FedEx procedures not to know that a package had been destroyed and not delivered.

By not notifying me immediately, there are consequences.  I could have potentially lost my credibility with a new contact; certainly not a good way to make a first impression.  I have lost my trust in FedEx.  I didn’t think it was necessary to follow-up with each package sent that it was actually received.  I didn’t think that FedEx Saver was less importance than priority shipments.

A package is not just an envelope.  It contains something of value, promised to another person on a specific day.  The package demonstrates commitment, honesty and integrity.  I don’t think the agent who left the voice message understood the ramifications of how important it was for me to know that my delivery was MIA.  Is it possible that FedEx didn’t know that the package was gone or did they just not tell me?

My book has been sent again.  I hope this time it is received.  I will check.

FedEx is not just a delivery company.  It is a company that is supposed to help you keep your word.