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Customer Service and Customer Experience

The Experience Was Extraordinary Until the Housekeeper Started Yelling Down the Hallway

Extraordinary ExperiencesNote from Phil: What follows is a guest post from customer experience expert Denise Lee Yohn. I always learn a great deal from Denise, and this post is no different.

Maybe it’s because I’m in the midst of launching a new book on customer experience, but I’ve been more attuned than usual to the experiences I’ve had lately.  And that’s why I was particularly impressed with a recent hotel experience — well, until the housekeeper started yelling down the hallway.

You see, the hotel (which shall remain nameless because the point is not to shame it) is a famous, historic landmark managed by a boutique hotel company.  The hotel is a gloriously beautiful piece of architecture and design.  The operating company is renowned for impeccable service, unexpected extra touches, and distinctive personality.

From the moment my car pulled up to the front door and I was greeted by a fully-costumed doorman (in keeping with the hotel’s historic theme), the experience was remarkable.  The lobby was adorned with stunning period pieces and furniture, bicycles to rent and doggie treats were on hand, and the front desk clerk went out of his way to place me in a quiet room despite my early arrival.  My room was well appointed and clean; the fitness center, fully equipped and well-maintained.  When I spoke at a meeting that evening in one of the hotel’s conference rooms, the service was attentive, the food was delicious, and everything went smoothly.  

Everything was going great until the next morning when I returned to my room after breakfast and was greeted by the sound of a housekeeper yelling at the top of her voice to get the attention of her colleague who was down the hall.  I was annoyed by such an unpleasant sound — not to mention glad that I hadn’t tried to sleep in that morning because her yelling would surely have woken me.

As I reflected on how that one incident marred such a spectacular experience, I recognized that the woman probably hadn’t been trained that such behavior was unacceptable.  And then I realized that she probably wouldn’t have had to be told that if the hotel had cultivated its culture of service in a way that engaged her well.  Certainly the front desk and wait staff had embraced exquisite service and eschewed all impropriety — but the housekeeping staff hadn’t.  

At that moment, I decided that housekeepers’ hallway behavior may be the ultimate litmus test of the culture of a hotel.  Whether or not housekeepers clean rooms meticulously and efficiently indicates the effectiveness of the hotel operations. But how they behave in front of guests in the hallways indicates the nature of the hotel culture.  Do they look customers in the eye, smile, and say hello — or do they look away or ignore them?  Do they move their carts when they’re blocking a passage — or do they act is if the guest is in their way?  Do they try to make as little disruption as possible — or do they yell in loud voices and slam doors?  

To be clear, I understand that hotel housekeepers are some of the most underpaid, underappreciated workers in first world economies. Many of them are immigrants who are barely making a living working a dirty, difficult, and demanding job.  They may have little understanding of how behave in a certain way around hotel guests and/or little natural inclination to do so.

That’s why it’s a culture issue.  It’s the responsibility of the hotel leadership to ensure that everyone who contributes to the guest experience understands and embraces the values of the organization.   

Values prescribe the “how” of the “what” an organization does and leaders must engage everyone — from concierge to housekeeper, and even limo drivers and others who aren’t employed by the hotel — with them.  People must know what the company’s values are, why they’re important, and how they should interpret and reinforce them in their individual jobs and in their daily decisions and behaviors.  The leaders at the hotel where I had stayed should have extended to all its people the refined approach it applied to every other aspect of the experience.

Hotels, as with many other retail businesses, entail so many moving parts, and all those touchpoints and details together to create the hotel experience.  I suspect most hotel management places a lot of attention on things like check-in procedures, bed comfort, and lobby decorations — and those elements are indeed important.  But they should be as concerned with cultivating a culture that makes an impression on guests even in the few moments they might encounter a housekeeper.  That’s what makes an experience extraordinary.

Denise Lee YohnAbout the author: Extraordinary Experiences: What Great Retail and Restaurant Brands Do by Denise Lee Yohn profiles seven great retail and restaurant brands and shows how they earn customer love and loyalty by creatively designing and consistently delivering great retail customer experiences. Compelling stories and practical principles make Extraordinary Experiences required reading for all business leaders wanting a great brand.  Learn more here:

Stock your Customer Service Toolbox for Success

Note from Phil: What follows is a terrific guest post from Shep Hyken, a master of customer service. I was fortunate enough to spend a little time with Shep at a conference I attended this summer, and I’m honored he wanted to be a guest writer here on my blog. His new book is terrific too, and I know you’ll enjoy the lessons he shares below.

Stock your Customer Service Toolbox for Success

Successful businesses understand that the key to winning customers, keeping customers and increasing sales lies in customer service.

For my latest book, Amaze Every Customer Every Time, I decided that instead of sharing examples of many companies’ strategies for success, I would select just one company to serve as a role model. The company I found that rose to the top in terms of delivering an amazing customer service experience is Ace Hardware. Think about it – Ace Hardware stores face incredible competition from big box stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, but they have successfully positioned themselves as the most helpful hardware stores on the planet. I have compiled six strategies from interviews with Ace retailers. Although they may seem simple, they are powerful tools that amaze customers.

1. A Warm Welcome – Whether in person or on the phone, offer a sincere, pleasant greeting that makes the customer feel comfortable and appreciated. A good first impression will reassure the customer that he or she has made the right decision in choosing to do business with you.

2. An Open-Ended Question – Asking the standard “Can I help you?” is generally not a productive question in terms of determining how to meet the customer’s needs. Instead, ask a question that requires the customer to offer more information. For example, “What can I help you find today?” will prompt the customer to tell you the reason he or she has come to your business and enable you to provide the appropriate product or assistance. An open-ended question calls for more than a yes or no answer, giving you the information you need to serve the customer.

3. A Follow-up “Why” Question – A powerful strategy Ace employs is to ask another question after determining the product that the customer has come to purchase. The follow-up question could be something like, “Why do you need a battery charger?” or “Are you working on a painting project?” If the customer is purchasing paint, for example, the follow-up question and resulting conversation could reveal opportunities to upsell and ensure the customer leaves with all the items he or she needs.

4. Upselling – When appropriate, suggest other merchandise that the customer may require. Using the example of the customer who has come to buy paint, you might ask if he or she needs any brushes or rollers or other items to complete a painting project. Upselling is more than just trying to increase sales – it is a valuable form of customer service. Ace understands this and teaches its associates to make sure the customer has all the necessary items for a job or project. It saves customers time since they don’t have to make multiple trips to the store, so not “upselling” when appropriate is actually a form of poor customer service.

5. One More Question – Before you conclude an interaction with a customer, ask if there is anything else you can help provide. A customer may have another item to purchase – if so, be sure to go through steps 3 and 4 again – or may simply want more information or advice. Continue the process until you are certain that you have satisfied the customer’s reasons for visiting or calling your business.

6.   A Sincere “Thank You” – At the close of every interaction, offer genuine thanks to the customer. A feeling of appreciation will leave a lasting impression. That, along with the amazing service that you have provided will resonate the next time the customer is in the market for your product or service.

Amaze Every Customer book coverShep Hyken, New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and hall-of-fame speaker is the Chief Amazement Officer at Shepard Presentations. As a customer service expert, he helps companies build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more information about his upcoming book, Amaze Every Customer Every Time: 52 Tools for Delivering the Most Amazing Customer Service on the Planet, go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

Small Business Customer Experience Often Suffers With Growth

NOTE from Phil: Today’s article is from one of my favorite people, Jeannie Walters. She is a customer experience expert who lives not far from me in Chicago. Her insights always make me think hard about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it for my customers. This article is another example of that.

Running a small business and growing it are two separate ideas, believe it or not. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily business of running the business. Staffing, servicing clients, paying bills, invoicing, banking, scheduling and emptying the trash all require time.

Growing a business means planning ahead and setting a vision. Growing a business means understanding where you want to go first, then working at tasks to make that happen each and every day.

Easier said than done!

When an entrepreneur starts the business, the experience he or she delivers is based on WHO and not what.  Joe might sell widgets, but people buy them from his company because of Joe.  Joe’s concerned about EVERY customer when he starts, and the customers feel that.

Then size happens. You’re hiring fast. You’re growing with your customer base. And some customers are starting to notice some changes. These customers rarely tell you directly until it’s a problem. Here are a few things they might say:

“I understand they need to put in more layers, but I really liked working directly with Bob/Brenda (CEO). I miss that. We were buddies.”

“You know, our relationship with Theresa (Sales Manager/Account Manager/All-Around-Great-Gal) was so good. It’s hard to move on.”

 “I love those guys. I recommend them to everyone. But I’m worried they’re getting TOO big.”

So what do you do as you scale as an organization? First, you need to accept that the scale of cloning you isn’t realistic. Take the time to document and train to the customer experience you want to deliver. Saying “be nice” is not enough. You need to hire, to expand and to serve more customers. But you also need to keep your top people without burning them out.

There are entire books tackling this subject, but I’ll offer one tip to help during those days of growth.

Communicate your mission, vision and brand promise to every employee every day.

 I distinguish these this way:

1. Mission – What is your lofty goal as an organization? What’s your cause?

2. Vision – Where is the organization going in the next year to 5 years?

3. Brand Promise – What does your brand promise to your customers? What expectations are made?

This is what so often gets lost in growth. Suddenly, the unwritten rules about how you treat customers, how you treat colleagues, how you get things done and what promises you’re keeping need to be written down. But don’t get hung up on that. Just be sure that the top level is getting the word out to keep talking about these vitally important items. Hire according to them. Create processes around them. Don’t let go of passion for productivity.

There are lots of other things you can do to help with scale.

What would you offer?

Jeannie WaltersAbout the author: Jeannie Walters is the Chief Customer Experience Investigator™ and founder of 360Connext, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in the cornerstones of customer experience: customer engagement, employee engagement and connections like social media. 360Connext serves mid-market companies and larger by helping them evaluate their true customer experience. The evaluations always lead to improvements which then lead to results like increased online conversions or loyalty.

From Passion to Loyalty (A guest post by: Judi Samuels)

While I’m on vacation, I have turned over my site to some smart people to share with you their experience and business expertise!! The first of these posts comes from Judi Samuels!

judiSince 1999, Judi has focused on building relationships between brands and their audiences. From creating compelling destination marketing campaigns; to creating experiential marketing programs launching a gaming console in Canada; to playing an integral role on developing thought leadership for next generation loyalty programs – each role locked in on developing deep, long-lasting engagement. Judi believes that genuine audience engagement and dialogue is key to the development of emotional connections, and that it is through those connections that long term relationships and loyalty are formed. Judi has extensive experiential, social & digital marketing, communications and brand strategy experience working with brands including Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, the Canadian Tourism Commission, Microsoft, MuchMusic and marketing agencies: CIM Ltd. and Maritz Canada Inc. Judi holds an MBA specializing in Hospitality and Tourism from the University of Guelph, is an active member of the Canadian Marketing Association and a professional speaker on Emotional Marketing, Humanizing Business and Social Media. More about Judi and her experiences can be found on her blog: The Lemon Twist

From Passion to Loyalty…

In today’s economy, brands and businesses are reminded of the importance of consumer loyalty. The funny thing is that the notion of consumer loyalty that is being sought by companies is that of our great grandparents…


The idea of the local barber or pharmacist being an integral part of the community; these personalities were so ingrained in the culture of small towns that it was easy to do business with them. You trusted them; you believed them and sought out their expertise; and you felt that, by doing business with them, the community in which you lived would benefit from their business being successful.


Today, with the rapid adoption of social networks and the highly networked urban, suburban and rural communities worldwide, the notion of small town connections is desperately needed. Consumers around the globe feel a kinship to each other – especially as they’ve redefined the term community to reflect, not only their postal codes, but also their shared interests, values and desires. The challenge, of course, is that over 7 billion residents inhabit the planet, and there truly is no physical way possible that a single entity – whether it is an individual, a brand or a business – can cater to such a large market. Brands scramble every day to scale their relationship-building abilities, but that kind of reach seems unrealistic. The trick is to understand who, of those 7 billion people, truly make up your market. And that is where small businesses and entrepreneurs have the upper hand.


The majority of entrepreneurs go into business because they’ve felt a passion for something; they feel like they have a special skill or gift, one they’d like to share (and make a few bucks off of).


It goes without saying, of course, that if you sacrifice a stable paycheck to go after your passion, you do need to make money! No one – not even your consumer – debates the very real need for you to make money in order to survive… as a business, and as a person.

This passion, in short, immerses the entrepreneur in a community. He has discovered something he is good at. He has gotten to know the community… not just the city or neighborhood, though that is critically important too, but also the community that shares the passion!


Think tennis. The key grand slams are held in Australia, France, England and the United States, yet fans are global. They all cheer, they all love different players and they all come together during the season to share in the celebrations; across continents and time zones.


The point is that entrepreneurs know why they are in business. They know who they are trying to help. And, they know what kind of difference they can make. That is the first place where loyalty is born:


Know your audience. Intimately!


Once you know who you are going to work for, it’s time to start building relationships… or, more importantly, reinforce those relationships you already have. After all, loyalty is truly a two-way street. Loyalty is based on going deep. Think of your own personal relationships. They are not transactional. They are not based on a single moment. They are based on a series of moments, moments that matter and that demonstrate how one person understands the other. As the business owner, it is your job first to show your audience that you understand them, and can deliver uniquely to them.


Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Stephen Covey, 1989


As I mentioned earlier, no one – not even your consumer – thinks you are in business to not make money. That goes without saying! But, even Henry Ford let us know: “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” Local economies drive national economies (which, in turn, drive the global economies). With that said, it is imperative for a successful business loyalty endeavor to actually include a clear drive to deliver on business objectives. This leads us to the third step for loyalty development…


Connect your objectives to the benefits of your community.

To sum it up: a successful loyalty program for your business… for any business requires the ability to truly and intimately get to know your audience. Why? Because it is through the knowledge of the little details that make your audience tick that you will find the most relevant and valuable loyalty rewards.


A successful loyalty program stands on the shoulders of:

  • Functionality. Whatever your product or service promises it can do, it better do!
  • Connectivity. However your product or service connects to what the audience needs and wants, it better make sense!
  • Relevancy: Whatever you are doing to make your consumers come back to you, or evangelize you better be relevant to enhance their experience with you.
  • Longevity: Loyalty – like Rome – was not built in a day. Take time. Be consistent. Be attentive. And make it count!

Inviting Your Customers to Foursquare

In an earlier post I wrote about some Creative Ways to Use Foursquare to market your business.

One of those ideas was to create “Easter Eggs”:

Hide “Easter Eggs” in your products or billing statements. Print out a mini-flyer describing your Foursquare specials and hide them inside books, packaging, or include them with correspondence to your customers. Remind them that when they visit your store they are eligible for special rewards when they Check In on Foursquare.

You can include these in mailings, shopping bags, table tents or anywhere you have an opportunity to send or give your customer a piece of paper.

I have created a couple of templates for you to work with for incorporating these promotional materials into your marketing program.

A check-stuffer: download the .doc file

I used Open Office Draw to make a table tent: download the file here

Get creative! What are some other ways that you can think of to create a IRL invitation to join a virtual community?

Buttons? Imagine making a badge that the Mayor of your place of business can wear while they are visiting.

Stickers? Share your thoughts in the Comments.

Stephen P Smith

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About the author: Stephen Smith teaches Productivity and Social Media Literacy skills at In Context MultiMedia. He will be publishing a compilation of best practices based on his popular Weekly Letter called “Work.Smarter!” (special offer at the link!) in May.

You can follow him on Twitter at @hdbbstephen.

My Ford Edge Customer Loyalty Story, Part 1

Guest author Brad Shorr has agency, in-house, and entrepreneurial marketing experience. He writes frequently about social media, SEO, content strategy, and other business issues of interest to small and midsized companies. He lives in the Chicago area and has been blogging since 2005.

A Little TLC Goes a Long Way



This story contains 12 lessons on customer loyalty: how hard it is to acquire, how easy it is to lose, and how simple it can be to regain — if you know what to do.

Chapter 1: Living on the Edge

For the last 15 years, I was a loyal Toyota customer, driving pretty much nothing other than white Toyota 4-door sedans. I’m a creature of habit. But in August 2011, I impulsively decided to do the opposite, ala George Costanza. So instead of buying a white Toyota sedan, I leased a burgundy Ford Edge crossover vehicle.

Going in, my prevailing emotions were skepticism and apprehension. And sure enough, no sooner than driving off the lot I began having trouble with Ford’s MyTouch system, the computer “brain” of the vehicle. Unbeknownst to me, MyTouch (a Microsoft/Ford collaboration) was a quality nightmare that had been vexing consumers to no end.

Although my Edge — christened Bradsford — was an otherwise wonderful car, MyTouch confirmed all of my doubts about abandoning Toyota quality. My issues with the computer system ranged from annoyances to genuine safety concerns. Result: a bad case of buyer’s remorse.

Customer Loyalty Lesson #1: Doing 9 out of 10 things right doesn’t cut it.

Chapter 2: Spoiling for a Fight

You Sure Look Pretty!

After settling in with my negative attitude, I became an active brand disloyalist. I found a way to view every car feature and every interaction with Ford in a negative light. I took every opportunity to share my complaints, talking to friends, posting bad reviews on automotive websites, making snarky comments on social media — all things which normally are quite out of character.

I complained to Ford corporate, becoming ever more vexed as I worked my way through its tangled phone and email bureaucracies. And even when I made contact with an actual person who provided useful assistance, I interpreted it in a negative light. No matter what the dealer did, no matter what Bradsford did — it would never be good enough. The dealer upgraded me to the second-generation system for free; I complained that I had to rent a car. My car was transporting me reliably and comfortably all over the Midwest; I went out of my way to find and complain about every slight design and performance flaw I could find. Am I proud of this? No, but my fundamental conviction was simply this: I was paying top dollar for an expensive vehicle that was only working at 80% efficiency. This was wrong and I was unhappy.

Customer Loyalty Lesson 2: Emotions determine loyalty, not facts.

Chapter 3: Abandonment and Despair

By January, anger had given way to melancholy. My plaintive appeals to Ford on Google+ went unnoticed. Corporate was still talking to me, but it felt like they were doing me a favor just picking up the phone. The dealership’s attitude seemed to be, “there’s nothing we can do.” I resigned myself to the fact I was stuck with a car I didn’t like. The much-touted MyTouch software update, which I was told would arrive in January, was now promised by the end of the first quarter, but I wasn’t holding my breath.

All I could do was count the days until my lease ended. And all I knew was my next vehicle would be anything other than a Ford.

Customer Loyalty Lesson #3: Building customer loyalty requires you to take an active role.

To Be Continued …


  • How have you responded to situations where a product you purchased let you down, or the service behind the product let you down?
  • If you were in Ford’s position in this situation, what would you do? (Stay tuned to see what they actually did.)


Note: Brad Shorr works for Straight North, a Chicago Internet marketing company. They have many small B2C and B2B clients, including Newport Beach cosmetic dentists and a car lift repair company.

Get Some Purple Goldfish to Amp Up Your Customer Experience from @9inchmarketing

Today is the official launch day for my friend Stan Phelps’ new book What’s Your Purple Goldfish? 2 weeks ago I did a fantastic video interview with Stan to share with you today. Murphy’s Law being what it is, only Stan’s half of the audio was recorded. So rather than give you Stan answering questions you can’t hear, I read my own lips, typed them up, and added Stan’s responses, to provide you with this transcription of our conversation.

Before I share the interview, I wanted to share something: I didn’t believe Stan would ever find 1001 Purple Goldfish for his book. That’s not like me to not believe someone, but I really thought it was too ambitious of a goal. I implored Stan to stop at 200 or even 500, but thankfully for you, he didn’t listen to me. And I couldn’t be more proud of what he accomplished in finding 1,001 purple goldfish, of which he distilled down the lessons into this fantastic book. And if you buy the book, there’s an extra secret code in there that will allow you to read all 1,001 stories.

This interview (and Stan’s book) offers tips and insights to help small businesses create a consistently outstanding customer experience for their customers, one worth talking about to everyone, online and offline.

Now on with the interview.

Stan PhelpsInterview with Stan Phelps, author of What’s Your Purple Goldfish

Phil: What is a purple goldfish?

Stan: A purple goldfish is giving a little something extra to your customer at the time of purchase. It improves your customer’s experience with you. It differentiates you from your competition. And most importantly, it gives your customers something to talk about, online and offline.

Phil: What is lagniappe (pronounced lan-yap)?

Stan: The concept has acdtually been around since 1840s. It’s creole (French and Spanish). La Nappa is Spanish for the gift. Twain wrote about it in Life on the Mississippi. He said lagniappe was a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get.

Phil: What were some of your favorite Purple Goldfish?

Stan: AJ Bombers and Pizza Shuttle are 2 of my favorites from Milwaukee that you submitted. (NOTE: Links to these stories can be found at the end of this interview). But rather than use those, I’d like to share 2 or 3 others.

First, I love Double Tree Hotels. They give you a wonderfully large and warm chocolate chip cookie as soon as you check in.

Another of my favorites is the restaurant chain 5 Guys Burgers and Fries, which is not everywhere yet, but it will be soon. When you walk in, there’s a huge vat of ballpark peanuts to nosh on. Also, when you buy fries at 5 Guys, you not only get the fries in the cup, you get some “bonus fries” which is another handful or two in your bag.

Southwest Airlines is a final example with their “Bags Fly Free” program. And Southwest really does a lot with many little added values.

Phil: It seems to me that creating Purple Goldfish starts with the culture. Would you agree?

Stan: I wholeheartedly agree. A Purple Goldfish is what I call a beacon. It attracts people to it, it guides the way when things are tough, and it shines a light on the entire company.

A Purple Goldfish is really an unexpected extra without any expectation of return. It’s just that little extra. Great companies get this, and companies that are struggling don’t.

Another thing to remember: Happy employees create happy customers. Do a little extra for your employees and help them do a little extra for your customers. The more you can empower your employees to do the little extra, the more you can make all the difference to your customers.

Phil: What similarities did you see between all the companies you caught in your Purple Goldfish net?

Stan: In collecting 1001 purple goldfish, it became clear there were 2 major categories:

1) Value Examples – the tangible type of goldfish where you give extra value to your customers, like extra fries.

2) Maintenance Examples – All about the little things you can do to make it easy for the customer to deal with you. One of the categories is from the convenience perspective.

What do you do when your customers are waiting? Waiting is inevitable, so find a way to do something extra. Another one is how do you recover from a mistake?

My favorite example of service recovery is an elder care company from Canada called Nurse Next Door. When someone at Nurse Next Door screws up, they apologize and send a fresh baked apple pie (think of this as humble pie) as a sign of “Hey, we screwed up. Sorry about that.” They’ve been able to track this down to customers they’ve retained, and customers that have come about as a result of these accidental screw ups – and recoveries.

Phil: Why do you think more companies deliver Purple Goldfish to their customers?

Stan: Mainly because of this fact: 90% of customers don’t complain out loud – they complain with their wallet and go somewhere else with their business, so there’s no opportunity to do service recovery. There can be no other explanation.

Phil:What’s one easy way to provide your customers a purple goldfish?

Stan: Unfortunately, there is no simple thing. Find what your company does that’s signature and find a way to add a little something extra to that.  Think about what one thing you can do to stand out, and be sticky – to make folks love you and want to tell your story to a few friends – or a few thousand friends.

Something else: I think the biggest myth in marketing is MEETING EXPECTATIONS. Just like being on time. It’s a myth – either you’re on time, or you’re late. It’s just like that for expectations. Either you exceed expectations, or you fall short. There’s no middle ground.

Meeting expectations is like playing prevent defense in football. It only prevents you from doing one thing – winning.

Phil: How can we find more about you and the Purple Goldfish book?

Stan: The book site is easy to spell and remember: If you want more examples and marketing insights, here’s one that’s harder to spell, but is my main site,

Some final thoughts from Stan: The best businesses don’t just do one signature thing – they have a whole school of Purple Goldfish to exceed their customers expectations, each and every time they connect.

What are you waiting for? Go buy Stan’s Book What’s Your Purple Goldfish? NOW!

A Purple Goldfish from Stan and

From 1/11/12 until 1/15/12 you can get the Kindle version of What’s Your Purple Goldfish? book FREE – if you’re an Amazon prime member.

What's Your Purple Goldfish?Additional Purple Goldfish Resources:

Read about the 2 Purple Goldfish I submitted to the project:

CFOs Are The Culprits Of Bad Customer Service

From Phil: What follows is an outstanding guest post from Lou Imbriano, author of the outstanding new book Winning the Customer. This is a fantastic article with a HUGE lesson for all businesses. Hope you enjoy it!

I think most people would agree that there is much more bad or mediocre than exceptional customer service out there. Considering that everyone typically agrees that customer service is important, why is this the case? What factor influences the decision to lean more toward mediocre than spectacular when customer service is delivered? I’m here to tell you why customer service fails so often: it can be summed up in three letters ~ C.F.O.

Winning the CustomerIt’s that plain and simple. CFOs are the assassins of great customer service. I know you may be scratching your head right now because in most organizational structures, the CFO is not responsible for the Customer Service Department. Although that thought is most likely true, they do have control over the P&L statement. CFOs and their team of customer happiness bandits quite often strike in extinguishing the perfect customer service experience. The problem is that exceptional consumer treatment takes time, resources, and money. To do things to the utmost and provide the “royal treatment”, money has to be spent on structure, training, staffing, retraining, and a list of things that do not appear to add up to profits in black in white on a spreadsheet.

When I was with the Patriots, we had quarterly budget meetings and I sat at a long table across from ownership, a team of accountants, and lawyers; they grilled me on how we would reach our budget goals. Because we were not selling necessary products like paper and pens in the stationery business, or pills and vials of medicine in the pharmaceutical industry, there was no real equation that could be applied to satisfy their questions. As an example: “X” number of hospitals with “Y” number of patients, each month needing “Z” amount of medication for pain calculates potential sales of their pain pharmaceutical. There is a need for the product, and the only thing in their way is the competition’s offering. Still challenging, but because there is a need, there is a buyer. With the Patriots, nothing my group sold was an absolute necessity to the customer; it was even a luxury at times.

We sold signage, media, and hospitality; although these items could be very useful to brands and for doing business, it was not a “lay up” for our group to know who wanted to engage with us. There was no concrete equation to project sales numbers, which made our accountants scratch their heads. I told them that I did not have a formula stating that three dinners, one invite to a game, and sending their kid an autographed football would equal an end zone sign and three tailgate parties. There was no equation to closing business, just a constant, relentless effort to build relationships in order to determine what our clients needed to help them separate their brand from their competitors. Invariably, our first and second quarter budget meetings were grueling because of the lack of equation for the close, but as we got closer to the season, we always surpassed our numbers to the bewilderment of most of the bean counters.

Customer Service falls into a similar bucket. Although there is definitely an equation or roadmap to provide exceptional customer service, there is nothing you can input to a spreadsheet in black and white that shows if you take the steps necessary to provide exceptional customer service that it will lead to growth in revenues. Yet, every company that provides memorable customer service typically experiences long-term growth and sustainability.

Each year, when budget time comes around and cuts have to be made, it’s easier to make the slash in areas that do not appear on paper to be revenue generating departments. In addition, because they are not viewed as revenue producers to the organization, when customer service departments are being formed, they are typically under-funded, pay less to their staff, and skimp on essentials. That thought process is not only wrong, it also kills any maximization of long-term revenue generation and sustainability. Customer Service is a revenue generating part of an organization; CFOs need to resist the urge to cut in these areas and must properly support departments that build relationships with customers. The CFOs who can understand this principle will be the CEOs of tomorrow.

lou imbrianoAbout the author: Lou Imbriano, the Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of the New England Patriots football team from 1997-2006, is President and CEO of TrinityOne, a marketing company specializing in creating strategy for corporations to maximize revenue generation through building customer relationships and custodians of the brand. Formerly a radio and TV producer, he has appeared on numerous radio and television programs. Lou has been profiled on as one of their “Names You Need to Know” and has written multiple columns for the Sports Business Journal. Lou, who teaches sports marketing at Boston College, is based in Boston, MA and is the author of the newly released Winning the Customer. Lou can be found at

Can you create a Zappos Experience for Your Company?

Joseph MichelliIs your company looking to create better experiences for your customers, one that’s more creative and takes better care of your vital customers, and ultimately grow your bottom line? You’re in luck: Joseph Michelli, author of The Zappos Experience, and I had a talk about how your company can recreate the Zappos Experience for your company. Read on for details!

Phil Gerbyshak: What is the Zappos Experience?

Joseph Michelli: In a nutshell, I consider The Zappos Experience to be the ability to make any product or service a personal experience and, as such, even defy odds (initially by selling shoes on-line) to forge connections with customers that illicit trust and garner loyalty.

PG: How did the Zappos Experience start?

JM: Zappos was not initially an experience provider. Rather, they were looking to be a product distributor where their selection (having more shoes available than someone would encounter in a shoe store) was their competitive advantage. In the beginning the web-based company believe they would have a pricing advantage over traditional shoe stores by not having to have product in inventory and simply rely on shoe manufacturers to “drop ship” shoes in fulfillment of customer orders. Quickly Zappos leadership understood that selection was insufficient to draw customers to their website or call center for ordering. As such, Zappos stepped-up their commitment to service excellence (buying inventory directly, locating a warehouse near the UPS global shipping hub for expediency of product delivery, and developing a culture where the emotional experience of staff and customer mattered).

PG: Why is the Zappos Experience unique?

JM: Because most business leaders talk about creating “craveable customer experiences” but often fail to invest in their people (the experience creators) or the infrastructure of the business that is essentially for experience delivery. Zappos approach to the creation of their core values, the levels upon levels of screening of prospective employees to assure they fit the companies culture, the resources provided for training and employee growth, and a playful workplace dedicated to longterm business performance all summate into the unique Zappos Experience.

PG: How can other companies use what Zappos does in their companies?

JM: Throughout the book I have call out sections which I refer to as “try these on for size” which take the key lessons from each section and turn them into challenge questions. Examples of areas in which you can use Zappos is a benchmark include the degree to which your core values truly reflect what it takes to be successful in your company or how much do you really trust your employees to use their discretion to forge authentic relationships with customers?

PG: How much does it cost to create a Zappos Experience?

JM: I love the way this question is posed. Zappos pays staff at the median level but enriches their experience by short-term, mid-range, and long-term pleasure generating activities. For customers, Zappos charges full-value for their products and enriches the service experience through expedited service delivery, liberal return policies, and well-trained/engaging staff. All this leads me to answer your question almost like a Mastercard commercial – Investment in the experience nominal = benefits of the experience priceless!

PG: What’s the most important takeaway from Zappos?

JM: Know who you are, articulate that knowledge through a statement of your values, select and make all major business decisions filtered by those values, execute operationally to the best of your ability, make the customer experience as easy as possible, encourage your people to authentically care, and watch your business grow.

PG: How can we learn more about you and your work?

JM: Thanks for asking! The Zappos Experience is my 6th book so much can be learned about me through my prior works like The Starbucks Experience, The New Gold Standard (about the The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company) or When Fish Fly (about the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle). Beyond my books you can learn more concerning my consulting and speaking services at my website

10 Truths That Drive Extraordinary Employee Engagement

NOTE from Phil: What follows is a guest post from Joseph Michelli, author of The Zappos Experience, among other books on the customer experience. It’s great advice for all businesses, large and small.

When Products and Services Aren’t Enough

Just a generation or two ago it was enough for employees to arrive early at the mines, factories or farms offering their hard labor and sweat equity. As the whistle blew at the end of the day, workers would clock out and leave work behind. Then came the service economy, where we were all expected to meet the expanding desires and wishes of the customer – as technological advances made us increasingly available. The more available we were, the higher expectations for service became.

Increasingly, the line between work and home began to blur. Today we have electronic leashes that make us accessible 24 hours a day and customers have come to expect immediate gratification. Worse yet our immediate responses aren’t enough, since satisfied customers frequently move on to others who can more fully engage them.

In today’s world, employers are looking for their people to not only master customer service transactions but to produce the complete “customer experience.” Moreover, they are asking their people to not only put their physical effort tirelessly into the work but to invest their ideas and creativity to make the business better. Business trend analysts have talked about these changes as a fundamental shift from the service economy to the innovative/experiential economy.

In an experiential world, pure commodities, and even quality goods or services lose value as people seek complete emotionally engaging experiences.  Let’s take Tony Hsieh and other leaders at Zappos as our example.  Zappos is a revolutionary business that garnered success by focusing on the “happiness” of employees, vendors, customers, and other stakeholders.  The Zappos “happiness” experience is at the heart of my new book The Zappos Experience: 5 Principles to Inspire, Engage, and WOW and essentially operates from some key business truths.

Here is a quick list of 10 truths that drive extraordinary employee engagement (Zappos is ranked in the top 10 of Fortunes Best Place to Work) and customer loyalty (over 75% of Zappos purchases made daily are from repeat customers)

  1. In the age of the internet consumer information and choice make brand differentiation extremely difficult
  2. No product or service is flawless
  3. Employees often feel like they are nothing more than fulfillment objects tasked to perform a function
  4. Many consumers are cynical about the product and service claims made by businesses
  5. Leaders who authentically care about their people and live by a core set of values will increase the emotional engagement and loyalty of their people
  6. When you inspire people to see that they can do more than simply “execute a job” you can inspire staff to engage a transformational calling which translates into the creation of engaging experiences for customers
  7. When work and play are integrated at work, conversations about work/life balance often become less relevant
  8. Customer who are cared for by engaged employees tend to become customer evangelists (despite the occasional service breakdowns that will occur)
  9. More money spent on customer experiences often decreases the money needed for advertising
  10. Consumers can be “customers for life” not just short term sales numbers, when operational excellence and emotional engagement are built into service experiences

Zappos Experience book coverIn The Zappos Experience, I spend a great deal of time looking at how Zappos leadership developed their core values and how they use those values to build a family spirit at work.  There is also a considerable amount of attention dedicated to how leadership selects staff that fit the companies values, onboard those staff into the Zappos culture, and ultimately charge each employee to be a defender of culture and a champion for delivering happiness and wow at every turn. Ultimately, Zappos – like many other great businesses – understands that all business is personal. People are looking for a complete personal experience that engages them, attends to the details, wows them, listens to them, and makes a memorable difference both within and beyond the walls of the business. Have you elevated your products and services in direction of the ultimate staff and customer experience?  If not, you might want to take a lesson from the Zappos Experience!

Pick up your copy of the Zappos Experience today and learn more of the insights that can drive YOUR customer experience, and stay tuned for an interview with the author next week Tuesday!

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Lisa Gates

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