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Sorry doesn’t seem to be the hardest word any more

24 Apr

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In the good old days (for “good”, read “bad”) when a company screwed up, it was a case of wait and see who notices, deal with complaints as and when they come in, and hope that nobody goes to the press. When (or if) the spotlight was finally thrown on the miscreant, a written statement to the press would have told us that the company had learned its lesson, and that such things just cannot happen today, etc. 

Well, some things don’t change; wait and see if we get caught still seems prevalent – but what does seem to have changed is the way that companies recognise they need to be much more proactive, sincere and even ‘human’ in how they respond, and to mean it!

 Saying sorry is the new black. It’s certainly not the hardest word any more    

 Take a look then at this little collection of video apologies (or, what passes for apologies, in some cases). Some are very new, some older. Thanks are due especially to the Wall St. Journal for a 2011 article that captures some good ones (referenced at the foot of this post).    

 Eurostar

 Although it looks like it was filmed in a broom cupboard, this one scores for being timely, rough and ready and, more importantly, ‘real’. And, the compensation offer is appropriately generous! 

JetBlue Airways

Here is an apology for the logistical snafus that grounded planes and people; pretty straightforward and direct, and again reassures listeners that they will learn, but with the less than specific ‘we’re-going-to-conduct-a-review-so-we-learn’ defence. On the plus side, the choice of venue is interesting – here is the COO, a man in the nerve centre of the operations, not in an anodyne media interview suite, and with his jacket off, so maybe he’s part of the solution, rather than just the spokesman? And, like many public apologies these days (Barclays in their one page ads from last year is a good example) he reminds us that he needs to re-earn our trust.      

SSE

SSE, a UK energy provider, was fined £10.5m this month for miss-selling. Here is the Managing Director of Retail in a video entitled Sorry isn’t good enough’. And yes, he’s at pains to stress that ‘it wasn’t me’, it all happened several years ago. This seems to be a sorry tale of yet another toxic culture, where targets and incentives were designed to benefit the company concerned, at the cost of its customers.  Is he truly remorseful? You decide.

Domino’s Pizzas

For a good and ‘human’ example, look no further. Here is the CEO’s response to a stupid and disgusting prank by two (now ex-) employees in one store. The interesting thing about this video is that it tracks audience reaction to the ‘believability’ of his words. This is a man talking with sincerity, passion and anger – watch how the scores shoot up as he talks of the business “reeling” from the incident, and how it “sickened” him. And of course, extra ticks for being very specific on the actions taken.

Netflix

Two people apologising, and it’s personal, but it seems to morph into a sales pitch for the new service too. Wasn’t much liked on youtube either, but then of course, there was a lot of anger around the move that eventually prompted the apology! Check it out here

Groupon

A good one, from Groupon. Scores for a very detailed explanation for what went wrong, and it’s open and humble.

Sony

Err, what’s with the backdrop ambient music? Maybe too slick? Take a look here.  

Toyota

Again, a nice one, detailed and specific, which is good. Nice to see a freephone number throughout, too, to add to the voiceover.

BP

Enough has been said about the CEO’s “I want my life back” comment already. All I can say is, don’t bother clicking on the link in the WSJ story at the end of this post, as you get a message saying, “This video is private”! Maybe they’ve decided to move on?

What, then, makes a good apology?

From the top – we don’t want to see a PR spokesman forced to go through the motions by his or her boss. We want to see it from the boss, or if not the boss, then the person accountable for ensuring it doesn’t happen again. And we want to be convinced that he or she ‘gets it’. Let’s not forget that a good apology ought to be worth its weight in gold – commentators talk of the Domino’s apology as a classic: by showing his anger and disgust, and moving to action, the CEO repaired many bridges.  

We want to see it – Press releases, full page ads, carefully crafted letters don’t seem to cut the mustard. We want to see sincerity, humility and be convinced that lessons have been learned and that things will change.  

Be specific – we want to feel that the speaker acknowledges the real details of the problem, rather than shies away from them, or talks vaguely. Without them talking about the specifics, the nagging doubt is, do they really understand what went wrong, and what it meant for those affected?

Be timely – better to be proactive, surely, than wait till the chorus of disapproval is deafening. And especially so if the trigger for the apology is a regulatory fine, or other public censure! There, the risk is the apology is perceived as too little too late. 

Actions speak louder – we want to see that the business is taking responsibility, now, and that practical action is being taken, in order to give us some belief that the mistakes of the past cannot be repeated. ‘Root and branch reviews’, internal investigations, audit committees are not the same as actions, by the way..the fear is, they are yet more smokescreen!

 

Finally, thanks to the Wall St Journal, for a 2011 round up of 10 CEO video apologies – I’ve used a few in this post, but for the full article, and access to all 10 (well, 9 given that the BP one has been taken down) click here

Are your customers out of sight, out of mind?

11 Apr

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It’s far too easy for senior executives to be seduced by numbers, graphs, charts, red-amber-green ratings, and generally let their eyes glaze over when they hear the word, customers. Especially if you’re sitting in a conference room up on the 25th floor – customers look quite small from way up in the rarefied air of the corporosphere. 

I’m always fascinated by how companies try to get beyond the numbers on the page. This feels pretty important to me – people who forget that their customers are, well… people too, with feelings and emotions, just like them, then find it all too easy to perpetuate the language of ‘target markets’, produce ppt presentations with arrows and bullseyes in them and talk about capturing share of wallet, and ponder, in all seriousness, questions like, who owns the customer? Errm…. newsflash: I’m not sure anybody owns me, least of all a company I just happen to have chosen to do business with.

So, here then are 12 great examples of how organisations seek to remind their folk that customers are people too:

Amazon is famous for having an empty chair in executive meetings that represents the customer. Throughout the meeting, executives are reminded to include the customer in their decision making processes, and to ask, what would we do if the customer were sitting in this chair, here and now?

TUI, a leading UK based travel company went one further and for several years permanently displayed three key challenging questions on their boardroom wall – see picture. Slide1

The software provider Adobe won a Forrester Award in 2011 for its customer immersion programme (see short film) which is all about getting executives to stop thinking like boardroom automatons, and step into the customers’ shoes for a day, and build empathy.

For another example of a more interactive experience, a few years ago, CIGNA (US Healthcare) developed an Experience Room in the HQ for their people to walk through and live the customer experience. Some 80% in total went through it. It set out the ‘before and after’ for how the experience is and how it should be. It was imaginatively done, so for example, there was a scary ‘wall of paper’ that was, as intended,  overwhelming and that made the point well; imagine if it was you receiving all this paperwork, and at a vulnerable moment in your life, how would you feel? This is a powerful mechanism to force the company to think ‘horizontal end to end experience’ and not ‘vertical functional silos’. 

USAA are renowned for making their staff ‘wear their customers’ shoes’ (clearly, recruiting from the armed forces helps too). As they say “we require all of our staff to live the lives of our customers – only then can they understand their unique needs”.  So, for example, induction involves eating army rations and wearing helmets and Kevlar flak jackets. USAA calls this living customers’ lives in ‘surround sound’. If you think this is too gimmicky for you, then consider the story I heard of the lady who joined USAA many years ago during the Vietnam war – her first job was to ring up troops stationed overseas for the war. Having got the ‘job’ part of the call out of the way, she was told to stay on the line for as long as needed and simply talk to the soldiers. For many, she was a lifeline back to the ‘normal’ world, back in the US.

Office Depot, a US business-supplies chain, has a “planogram lab”, a prototype store, where it brings in customers to co-create and test new ideas. As the Economist reported, it “also uses the old trick of forcing senior managers to play the role of customers”.

Deere and company (tractors, US) invite farmers who are buying tractors to visit the factory with their families. This is a chance to cement the relationship, but also for factory line workers to meet their customers, and maybe better understand the role their products play in their customers’ lives.

Talk to the customer – yes, I know, it’s not rocket science is it? As I shared in a recent post, SouthEastern does it in person – they regularly hold “meet the manager” events at London Bridge station in the rush hour, where 10 or so senior directors gather with their clipboards, listening to their customers’ tales of commuting nightmares. Others do it over the phone. Virgin Media are strong here – resisting the temptation to just have managers passively listen to calls, and for a day only (when, let’s face it, the urge to check in with the day job will still be strong), they have every manager spend a week back on the floor, being trained up, then manning the phones and at the end of it all, reflecting back on what they’ve seen and learned.  I recall a great conference presentation from 2 years ago when David Perotta of Vodacom talked about how he ‘ambushed’ a senior management conference in South Africa by announcing that in 10 minutes each table would be joined by 10 customers, ready to talk to the executives, answer their questions and ask their own, about the products and services! As you might imagine, David said there was a fair bit of trepidation at the outset, but 45 minutes later, he couldn’t get the managers to stop talking!

Finally, my old employer, Aviva made a series of short films celebrating ‘heroic’ service. They were well made, emotional, and they had a powerful impact internally. And, interestingly, one of the principles underpinning production was that the individual who had made such a difference for the customer was reunited with the customer. Moving stuff, watch this one for example. Finally, this film, from Cleveland Clinic is also a superb example of building empathy and customer understanding.

 

Links for more information:

CIGNA source : Don’t Yield on Customer Trust, IBM White Paper, 2009 

The Economist, The Magic of Good Service

Deere and Company: How Customers can Rally your Troops, HBR June 2011, available at HBR.org

 

Business is personal. Exploring the 4 Hs : Humility, Humanity, Humour and Honesty

27 Feb

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The bigger the business, the more freedom is curtailed as governance, processes and procedures take over.

This is just one of the points made in a fascinating slideshare presentation from a few years ago on the culture at Netflix. And the upshot of all this? It becomes harder to be ‘human and the threat to freedom means you end up losing great people.

Which is ironic, really, considering that companies are mostly just collections of people. In the same way that without customers, there is no business, without workers there is no business too. And, when businesses try to put straight-jackets on great people, businesses ultimately fail. 

Introducing the four ‘H’s

So, treat people well, give them the freedom to be themselves and customers will feel the difference, and everybody wins. It may be a cliché, but it’s no less true for all that, that people buy from people, whatever the business. How then, can businesses be more like people?

Consider then the 4 Hs. Done well, they reveal real – and therefore engaging – personality and help humanise the company, for customers

HUMILITY

This is about how great companies fess up to highly visible problems and failures. Put simply, there’s the old way – hide behind Ts and Cs, never admit anything, push failure behind the scenes and starve it of the oxygen of publicity – and there’s the new human and personal way, that involves someone very senior – typically the CEO – saying sorry and meaning it, and broadcasting the mea culpa too. 

For example, check out two classic (and well handled) cases from the airline industry:  

Here is an email and website message from the Singapore Airlines CEO, following a botched website launch in 2011. (See it here). It’s well written, personal and honest, and signed by the CEO. Job done! 

In 2007, when bad weather disrupted air travel, flight delays and communications SNAFUs at Jet Blue caused a public outcry against the company. Soon after, the then-CEO issued an apology and also went onto Youtube, with “Our Promise To You”. This is the film, a very public and humble apology from the top. And the best quote? “We’ll be a better company, for the very difficult things our customers have had to endure”.

Admitting you’ve screwed up can be good for business. “Doing a Domino’s” became part of the language 3 years ago after Domino’s acknowledged that its pizzas “tasted like cardboard” and promised to do better. Read more about this classic and creative apology here at the CEB. The lesson? As the author says, “Humanize your apology. Domino’s had its CEO apologize and commit to making changes on TV commercials.  By personalizing the mistake, it seems more human, and consumers are more likely to be forgiving”.

HUMANITY

This is about a brand seeking to show its generosity and kindness to brighten up peoples’ days, in the normal course of business.

I’ve written about this before in my post on Random Acts of Kindness, and profiled the good work from Virgin Media and BUPA International. To give a couple of other good examples, my previous company, Aviva, in the US used to give away Aviva umbrellas on rainy days. They would simply head out to the city, and hand out brollies to those that needed them (and regardless, of course, as to whether the lucky recipients were customers or not). Trendwatching.com reports that Interflora did a similar thing, via social media, by sending bouquets of flowers to people in need to cheering up. For more examples, and some useful guidance on RAK 101, check out the briefing from trendwatching.

HUMOUR

It’s fascinating how social media in particular (but why only here?) gives switched-on organisations an opportunity to show their personal side in a service context (usually when it goes wrong). O2 in the UK are a past master. Consider the skill they showed in handling the anger they experienced at service outages last year:

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This example also suggests to me there’s a (very) thin line between getting the tone right and it all going horribly wrong. It hasn’t yet though for O2, and maybe that’s the key point here, that if you at least try to be human, and inject a bit of humour (and know your audience!) then  forgiveness for when someone does step over the line is probably far more readily forthcoming.

As a Telegraph article on O2 concluded at the time, “O2 used Twitter to deliver fast, professional customer service, and still maintained their brand image by adding humour and personality to their tweets.” 

HONESTY

The above examples of Humility are public responses to very public failures. My last category, Honesty, is the flip side, visible gestures that ‘correct’ or fix something largely hidden from public view, but which speak volumes about the internal culture and what the business is unwilling to tolerate. I’ve written about this before too (about Costco’s jeans pricing policy, and Amazon’s reduced pricing on Harry Potter books in China – the link to my earlier post, which includes the Amazon film, is here), so I thought I’d end by sharing a personal example of my own from LoveFilm, now an Amazon company, and in the same business as Netflix.

Here is an email I received in December, alerting me to an over-night film despatch problem.

Now my point is, chances are most people (me included) would never realise there was a problem, and we’d have carried on blissfully unawares. A few subscribers might have suspected a problem, and some of those might then have got in touch to ask or even complain.

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Now, LoveFilm had a choice; wait and see, and deal with complaints as they occurred and offer to make up for it to those contacting them. Or, be more proactive and reach out to everyone affected, regardless of whether or not they were aware of the problem. LoveFilm chose to do the latter. Why? Because they, like other businesses building themselves around the customer, recognise the business value of a positive proactive gesture, in short, of letting the personality shine through.        

This is what characterises all the examples here of the 4 Hs; the conviction that the human touch will reap rewards. After all, businesses are only people, so let good people be good people. 

‘Always give more’. Kindness and humanity in business.

6 Feb

There’s a great new post from Seth Godin on the 11 things organisations can learn from how airports screw up the customer experience. It strikes at the heart of how many organisations lose the plot in their relentless pursuit of revenue at all costs. Godin’s conclusion is that “in pursuit of reliable, predictable outcomes, these organizations dehumanise everything”.Slide1

I want to pick up on three of his 11 points, which seem to me to help identify how this ‘dehumanisation’ occurs:

  • Firstly, when no one in the organisation seems to be having any fun
  • Secondly, when delighting customers is stripped out of the system, and replaced by the desire to simply satisfy the ‘mass’, as opposed to the individuals that make up the mass  
  • Thirdly, when ad hoc action and behaviour is forbidden

In short, basic humanity becomes a hindrance, something not factored into the ‘business model’. But routine and predictable do not make for memorable and engaging customer experiences. In the world of customer metrics, it’s the difference between a customer’s being on the one hand, merely ‘satisfied’, and on the other, being so delighted that they remember, they recommend and they stay longer and buy more. 

Show the humanity

How then do organisations seek to bring back the humanity? Cue what are often called Random Acts of Kindness or Frugal Wows (ugh – ugly terminology but interesting ideas). I want to share a few good examples of these and to draw a distinction between:

  • ‘Random’ acts, which are individual responses to ‘in bound’ customer situations, and which rely on empowering the front line (and beyond) to use their judgement and bring their humanity to work, and …..
  • …the other sort of acts of kindness or generosity I see and admire, which are more ‘proactive’ in the sense that they are enshrined in the organisational culture (how we do things around here) and affect – for the good – all customers.

Random Acts of Kindness:

Virgin Media in the UK (who it is announced today are being sold) operate a RAK programme, where staff are encouraged to deliver an act of kindness when they feel it’s the right thing to do. And, of course as the slide says, the nature of the Virgin brand allows perhaps more creativity and quirkiness in what exactly IS the right thing. And that’s why they can be so memorable and heart-warming. A good example is how, on hearing that on settling down to watch the Transformers film with his grandchildren the granddad’s 24 hour hire limit on the download had expired (this was about the 4th time he’d watched it!), Virgin then sent him a DVD of the film so he could watch it anytime with the grandchildren, plus a transformers toy, to try to make up for the disappointment.Slide1

In another example, BUPA International has a scheme for all staff, whereby they have a small amount of money each year they can use to delight the customer, however they see fit. The only condition is, you cannot use it to ‘buy off’ an unhappy complaining customer. The same theme runs through how Virgin use RAKs, they are NOT to say sorry, or apologise for an error.  

The power of both of these examples is that they are a great mechanism to force the member of staff to think about how to delight the customer and to bring their humanity to work (how would I feel, what would delight me?). Indeed, the word from Sean Risebrow at Virgin Media is that the real value of the scheme lies in the internal message it sends to the whole workforce about how serious the organisation is in dealing with the customer.

Planned Acts of Kindness:

In contrast to random and occasional individual acts, there are also what I call Planned acts, that give an insight into the corporate culture, because they forcibly demonstrate its values and how it seeks to behave all the time.  Here are two examples of organisations proactively choosing to do the right thing, where the alternative is not to act, but to wait and see if anyone out there notices and then complains! 

Watch this short film, from 2010, which illustrates one of Amazon’s values, “customer obsession” with a fascinating story about delivering a retrospective and unexpected benefit back to customers. So, a proactive move to benefit all customers affected, simply because ‘that’s how we do things round here”. And, as with all of these examples, there ought to be a positive impact on the bottom line. It is interesting that in the speaker’s view, it was the best marketing activity they did that year.

Another good example comes from Evelyn Clark’s article, Around the Corporate Campfire, where Jim Sinegal of Costco tells a story about pricing jeans, which again highlights the tension between short term profits, and doing the right thing by the customer:

“We were selling Calvin Klein jeans for $29.99, and we were selling every pair we could get our hands on. One competitor matched our price, but they had only four or five pairs in each store, and we had 500 or 600 pairs on the shelf. We all of a sudden got our hands on several million pairs of Calvin Klein jeans … at a very good price. It meant that, within the constraints of our markup, which is limited to 14% on any item, we had to sell them for $22.99”. Now, they could have sold all 4 million pairs for that higher price almost as quickly as they sold them at $22.99, says Sinegal, “but there was no question that we would mark them at $22.99 because that’s our philosophy”.

Both of these Planned examples are fascinating because they demonstrate an organisation proactively choosing to act to benefit customers when it could just as easily have chosen NOT to do so, and to maybe wait to see if anyone noticed and complained. Instead, they referred to their founding principles, or brand values, call them what you will, but their accepted rules drove the ‘right’ behaviour.

Sure, it’s a leap of faith, but the financial benefit from giving more (in order to get more in return later) surely makes sense.

What would your organisation do in these situations?

Why 98.7% customer satisfaction isn’t good enough. Safelite CEO on Net Promoter.

30 Nov

It’s always good to hear CEOs talking with passion about their own business. This is a useful belt-and-braces film of  the Safelite CEO (windscreen replacements) talking at a 2012 satmetrix event about how Net Promoter has been “the catalyst for cultural transformation across the company”.

Because the film is over 50 minutes long, it’s broken up into chapters so you can browse the headings, and I’ve also produced a brief guide to its greatest hits. And, to see the videos onscreen, it’s best to press the Switch Views button:

Safelite Autoglass, Boise

(Photo credit: markhillary. via Flickr.com)

6.30 mins

Nice summary of Safelite’s old days and old ways, a familiar world of short term focus, where cost and efficiency were paramount, and where a customer satisfaction score of 98.7% just wasn’t good enough (because as all NPS folk know, mere satisfaction is a low bar and a score like this tends to breed complacency).

8.15 mins

It’s worth noting that, as he says, this is a tough business to be in. It’s hardly Apple. It’s a low interest, low frequency, low involvement and low awareness business, like say, insurance where you’re only needed (and really tested) when things go wrong, or, most utilities. All the tougher then, given this, to create real connections with customers, and as he says later, the positive feelings and goodwill dissipate quickly too.    

21.30 mins     

Some useful stuff here on their actual feedback-gathering process. The figures quoted here feel pretty good, which means large volumes and low survey costs. They manage to obtain 77% of email addresses from customers, email 100%, and achieve a 25% response rate.

23.10 mins

Everyone has a ’roadmap’ these days (in much the same way that everyone is on a ‘journey’) so here is Safelite’s. And, yes, it’s good see the twin pillars of people first and customer delight. Even though the cliché counter may be in overdrive here (sorry), just as for every other business on the planet, there is no business without people. Great customer experiences begin with great people experiences.  

26.10 mins

OK, If you’ve made it this far, you’ve got through the vision, the ambition and the nice words like focus, caring and talent. The real question is, how to make these words live? So here are the core competencies. Again, pretty familiar stuff at first glance and the real differentiation comes through actually meaning it and doing it. But, to me, the third and fourth points – have a passion for creating customer delight and understand the business and your role in it – are interesting, as is the fact that to help spread the word and connect the dots, they also use Net Promote to measure support staff internally.   

The next five or so minutes focuses on the How of how they train and embed the right behaviours, and then recognise and reward (clue: money).

Results section to 46 mins

Show me the money! As he says earlier, adopting Net Promoter does require faith and in particular, trusting that if you do the right thing by the customer, the results will follow. A 12 point increase over 4 years, to 85% NPS is impressive in anyone’s book. He then goes on to outline the financial impact. Making the connection between happy customers and the bottom line is tough, and it takes time too. But it’s the Holy Grail when it comes to getting the whole business aligned behind the Net Promoter discipline. Once you have it, it’s priceless because then everyone – the finance team, the CEO and the customer-facing folk – are all talking what is essentially the same language. This CEO clearly feels it’s working for him.    

51 mins

Let’s end on some great closing words. The key to achieving customer centricity lies in how you think, whether you think internally, starting with systems and processes, or whether you start with the customer, and think externally.  

Power to the people (and those companies that embrace this). Ten 2013 consumer trends

29 Nov
Concert Crowd (Osheaga 2009) - 30000 waiting f...

(Photo : Anirudh Koul)

Wacky names, thought-provoking stuff. Here are ten key consumer trends for 2013 from trendwatching,com. Some good insights and signals in here on how the power game between consumer and company might be played out in future.

 ‘ PRESUMERS’ is about people seeking active engagement and participation with the company, getting involved in co-production before launch. Why? Because they connect, they are extreme advocates with a connection (I love this product, I like what this company is about, I want it to succeed and make a difference).

 Hand in hand with this, then, perhaps even a pre-requisite would be ‘FULL FRONTAL’, extreme transparency to you and me. So, what might transparency 2.0 look like? Well, moving from ‘having nothing to hide’, to “pro-actively showing and proving they have nothing to hide”, supplying unambiguous and clear evidence. So, a company will have to be pretty clear then about what it wants to be famous for and it had better be something more attractive to its customers than maximising shareholder value, for example.

 Another manifestation of consumer power is ‘DATA MYNING’ where we consumers begin to trade on our own worth to the company. As the paper says, “to date, the ‘big data’ discussion has focused on the value of customer data to businesses. Now, increasingly savvy consumers will start to reverse the flow”, and seek to benefit from the value of their own data”. 

Making unhappy customers happy : it’s not rocket science. BUPA and Net Promoter.

26 Nov
Bupa

Bupa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A great reminder from BUPA International (medical insurer) that Net Promoter should be about much more than simply ‘market research’. It’s about taking action and fixing things for unhappy customers, day in day out, as this short film demonstrates.

It’s interesting too to hear about how this process challenges conventional metrics, and always nice to hear someone say it’s not rocket science. This is a phrase I probably use far too much, but that’s because it’s true. Most of this is just good old fashioned common sense, and yet that doesn’t make it easy to do, and it is especially hard to do consistently, and weave a discipline like this into the rhythm of business as usual. Enjoy the film.

BUPA Film

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