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Let’s wrap up this week’s theme on customer happiness with some discussion on creating a culture that is intent on delivering it. It’s not overly complicated, but making the decision can be.

I’ll jump right in and tell you why a fanatical customer happiness culture is hard. Math. That’s right. Math gets in the way.

More specifically, it’s about how business owners and top leaders view money.

This week I had two different encounters that robbed me of about 4 hours total. Companies that open their doors daily without any regard to customer happiness. Every day it happens. They start another day running uphill in the battle for customer satisfaction. Forget happiness. They’re not yet on square one toward satisfaction. Happiness is many solar systems away.

After running into a brick wall on a technical issue that I attempted to solve myself (something I usually am able to do rather quickly), I contact support. I’m quickly informed that what I want to do isn’t possible. Hum. Okay. I don’t think that’s right so I push back ever so slightly. Nope. Not possible.

On a lark I bail out then contact support again, this time getting a different person. I don’t know. Let me check, she says. Okay.

Nothing. She goes dark and never returns. Perhaps the Bermuda Triangle Of Sucky Customer Service snagged her.

This goes on for a bit while I’m Googling like a fiend. Somewhere along the way, I find a page produced by this same company. That’s right. It was on their website. Addressing my issue and confirming that my technical issue could be solved. Four support people had no knowledge of the issue or their own company’s website content about it. I was brand new to them (fooling with them on behalf of a friend) and I found it. But I was the customer (kinda sorta) so I had a much bigger interest in solving my problem.

And there it was. The problem staring at me once again. The same problem with pathetic customer service we all experience. Leadership sucks. Top level leaders, including their CEO and founder do not have a customer happiness focus. If they did, my experience would have been vastly different.

Here’s why it’s a math problem. A money problem.

Making customers happy costs money. Sometimes lots of money. That means reduced profits. It means lower sales. Or…does it?

Some leaders aren’t good with customer happiness math. Instead they practice the hard math school taught them. Or numbers the VC community knows by heart. But math is alive in the real world and behind the math are human beings. When you’re trying to create the next startup unicorn (a company that hits the billion dollar mark), you don’t always focus on Randy, the customer. It just doesn’t seem to scale. Or…does it?

Last year Skybell Video Doorbell founder Andrew Thomas wrote an article at Inc. entitled, “The Secret Ratio That Proves Why Customer Reviews Are So Important.”

Here’s the ratio: It takes roughly 40 positive customer experiences to undo the damage of a single negative review.

Mr. Thomas writes:

A customer who has a negative experience is highly likely to share that experience by leaving a bad review. A customer who has a positive experience, on the other hand, is unlikely to leave a good review.

The bar is high, but every CEO and business owner must clear it IF they want to build a company with a reputation for customer happiness. That’s the rub. Many, perhaps most, don’t. They’d rather pursue a financially successful company and they lack the vision to see and understand that those goals aren’t contradictory.

A culture intent on delivering customer happiness understands the seemingly hidden math that works in favor of companies who delight customers.

Mr. Thomas knows. He says so in the article.

There’s only one solution. If a single bad review can undo the value of 40 good customer experiences, then the best solution is to focus on customer satisfaction. If it isn’t already, customer happiness should be just as important to your business as the product or service itself.

It starts at the top. That’s why you, the company leader, must fully understand how important it is for you to dazzle every single customer. As much as possible.

I could enter your company and spend less than a few hours talking with your employees to unearth how serious you are about customer happiness. Your team members will readily relay to me what’s important to you. Maybe it’s sales. Maybe it’s efficiency. Maybe it’s profit margins. Maybe it’s customer happiness. But they’ll tell me.

And it will be based on what they hear from you on a regular basis. It’ll be based on what sets you off. And what doesn’t.

Your company listens to what you say and how you say it. They listen to what you don’t say, too.

Your company watches what you do and whether that fits with what you say. They know where you invest capital and where you refuse to invest. They know where the bodies are buried and they know which bodies need to be buried but are still haunting the place (dead workers).

They do what they have to do to keep their jobs. And if they’re able to keep their jobs, or even get promoted, without any focus on customers — then they’re doing what’s most important to you. And it ain’t customers! Or they’d be behaving differently.

How do you create a customer happiness culture? You make it THE priority of the company. You don’t make it the priority when it pays handsomely. You make the priority no matter what.

People see how serious you are about it when they see your willingness to do whatever it takes to make something right for a customer.

“Yeah, but some customers are just unreasonable,” you say. I hear that most often.

Yes, they are. So?

“Well, how do you make an unreasonable person happy?”

I don’t know. Figure it out. Worst case scenario you find some common ground to make them go away satisfied. Best case scenario you convert them into somebody so loyal to you that they tell everybody they know how great you are. You exhaust yourself to win them over by doing the right thing.

Because at the end of the day it’s your company and your self-respect. And it’s the self-respect of everybody who works for you. When you commit to do the right thing, even for the jerks you sometimes serve, then it makes serving all those great customers even easier (and better).

Your company culture must see your seriousness about this. They must know – deeply know and understand – how important this is to you. That means you refuse to negotiate it, for any amount.

It’s a long-term play. That’s why it’s hard. Many lack the discipline to make the commitment. They mistakenly think any commitment other than the top-line revenue or bottom-line profit is misguided. They fail to see the mathematical truth that making customers happy is like the magic of compounding interest. It may take time, but it keeps building momentum (and revenues/profits) along the way. Nothing trumps it.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

RC

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I’m a big fan of this customer happiness strategy. My wiring is such that I look for opportunities to do it. But I love terms like dazzle and remarkable. Better yet I love to deliver those kinds of experiences.

Let me illustrate what it looks like.

I once had a customer of a retailing company I was leading who was not happy. He had made an extensive investment with our company, a luxury retail company. The details don’t matter, but the product hadn’t provided him with the spectacular experience it should have. The person in our company handling this client did a proper job of trying to resolve the issue by working with the manufacturer and the client. But it was going far too slowly. And the customer continued to escalate his concerns.

For context, you should know the customer was a great customer based on the investment he made with our company. That spoke of the trust he put in us. Additionally, he was our ideal client. He lived in one of the richest zip codes in Texas (and the country). He was a surgeon. His home was often used to entertain and the people he entertained were also our clients or prospective clients.

One day his frustrations boiled over and he wound up getting me on the phone where I patiently listened. After explaining his situation – which he did without interruption from me – I paused and asked him, “Dr. ___________, I’m only interested in one thing, making you happy. What would make you happy?” He was completely taken off guard so I continued, “It’s not a loaded question. I’m being completely honest and truthful. I’m going to resolve this for you right now before we hang up, but since you’re the person who has been inconvenienced and you’re the one we’ve disappointed, I don’t think it’s fair of me to tell you what we’ll do to make you happy. I’d rather you decide.”

The doctor said, “I don’t know what to say. This is why we do business with your company because we know this is how you guys are going to work, but I don’t know how to answer that.”

I asked if he’d permit me to put him on hold for about 30 seconds while I pulled up all the necessary details on his transaction. He happily agreed. In about 15 seconds I was back on the phone.

“Let’s talk this through,” I suggested.

One item was at the heart of the problems. One of many. It was an item that was over $1,000. Closer to $1,500. We had gone back and forth with the vendor to resolve the issue, but a defective part was back ordered making the doctor’s brand new purchase – already installed in his home (that was the catch) – unusable.

It was evident the doctor knew we’d take care of him, but he didn’t have any suggestions. Mostly because the product was already installed and it wasn’t some simple installation (or de-installation and re-installation). There were a few hours of labor and a few hundred dollars of costs associated with it.

So as not to prolong the problem I offered the doctor a suggestion.

“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “Based on what I know you love that item and it’s the one you most want, is that right?”

“Yes, absolutely. I just want it to work as it should,” he said.

“Would you be happy if today – or at your earliest convenience – we uninstalled that one and replaced it with a brand new one…”I began. He interrupted, “Oh, absolutely. I’d be thrilled.”

“Let me finish…” I continued. “And…I’m going to refund you the entire purchase price of the item and the installation charge, too.”

“Would that make you happy?” I asked.

The phone went silent for a bit. “Doctor? Are you still there?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m here,” he said. “That’s unbelievable. You don’t have to do that. I’d be thrilled to have you install a replacement unit. You don’t need to return any money. That’s a lot of money.”

“No, sir. I’m happy to do it and I apologize for the problems you’ve had,” I said.

We chatted a bit more and he pressed how it had only been a few days since the installation, but he had a big party planned (something I already knew) and he admitted to being somewhat panicked about it because his wife was anxious.

“Well, let’s relieve her anxiety and fix your problem today,” I offered.

So that’s what we did.

When I informed the staff member of what I’d done, she was not very happy. I understood it. She’d been slavishly working with the manufacturer to get this problem handled as she had been directed. I had come in, and in one fell swoop, yanked the rug out from under her.

So I explained. “Dr. ___________ spent almost $20,000 with us. He entertains regularly. We’re his store of choice. I was able to do for him what we’d like to be able to do for everybody, but it’s impractical. We spend hundreds of dollars to get a customer. If we spend hundreds to get a customer, doesn’t it make sense to forfeit hundreds in profit or to invest hundreds in cost to keep a customer…particularly a high-end customer who can be made happy?”

Only a fool would have said, “No.” She was no fool.

It was the right thing to do and it was money well spent. During the doctor’s party do you suppose he told any guests the story of what happened? I’d venture to guess he told everybody. And that’s priceless.

Figure out what you can do for one that you’d like to do for many. Then go do it.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

RC

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How old is your business? It’s only relative to how bloated your systems may be. But maybe not. I’ve seen start-ups with bloated systems, too.

Over time things tend to get more complex, not simpler. We have to be very intentional to keep things simple, clean and straight-forward.

I once took leadership of a company to get it to the next level. Shortly after I arrived it was apparent there were lots of procedures and systems that had been implemented to fix a problem. The problem is you could tell the company was doing something to fix one problem, but unwittingly the company had created multiple other problems. It’s that whole law of unintended consequences thing. Fix one thing and create about three new problems. Then, some system or process is put in place to try to fix those.

One day I began to gather all the forms used by the company. Forms that involved customer interaction. Forms that directly impacted the customer interface.

At first there were 6, then 9, then 16, then 27. The number kept growing. Everywhere I looked there were systems on top of systems. Processes for other processes. The business was bloated with systems.

It frustrated me because I have an obsession with being nimble. Moving quickly and efficiently is just how I prefer to roll. All this hoop jumping was anything but nimble.

I ditched them. All of them. We burned them to the ground and started from scratch. Turns out about 3 systems took care of it all. Three.

Because we’re focused on the customer experience it’s time to take a look at the systems that may be getting in the way. Some companies put things in the way intentionally. These are the worst companies on the planet when it comes to customer happiness.

Some companies bet on breakage. That is, they make things difficult because they know a big percentage of people will just accept the status quo. Take cable or satellite TV providers, notorious companies for inching up the monthly expense for their customers. By implementing invoice creep these companies make millions in extra profit. You’ve experienced this.

Your invoice goes up. You don’t notice. Until you do. And when you do notice you’re faced with, “What can I do about this?” Only one thing you can do…enter the system designed by the company to make it as difficult as possible for you. They want this to be so difficult you give up and just accept the escalated rate.

If you are brave enough (and determined enough) to make the call, then you have to endure a long-winded wait, followed by a long-winded ordeal to get the bill down. But you’ll likely be offered a new lower rate only by agreeing to a 2-year extension to your contract, where you’re agreeing they can change their pricing at will.

It’s a pathetic business model that in time will lose because customers won’t tolerate it as better options are offered. Streaming TV services are disrupting the cable and satellite TV industry. The customers are going to win because they’ve got the power.

The companies that cater to the customers are also going to win. And big.

Wal-Mart began the trend in modern business by giving the customer what he wanted at a price he could afford. By making things straight-forward and easy Wal-Mart exploded in the ’80s and ’90s. With world-class logistic and buying power, they changed the landscape of retailing. Along the way, they made customer returns easy. Before Wal-Mart, very few retailers had a liberal return policy, but the folks in Bentonville led the way with “bring it back for any reason.” Today, it’s just how things are with nearly every retailer.

Amazon took things to a whole new level by having a focus on the shopper unrivaled in the history of retail. Nobody – NOBODY – does it better. Amazon is world-class because of it. They’re the easiest company on the planet to do business with. Nobody is easier. They’re determined to make sure of it. And they’ve got the success to prove it. And to keep it going.

Simpler for whom? That’s the issue.

You already know the answer: the customer! It’s all about the customer.

That’s not how things used to be. Businesses imposed on customers to make it easier on themselves. Otherwise, they had to sacrifice some profit. That’s AT&T’s problem. And DIRECTV. And all the other mammoth companies who think they’re too big to fail. They’re wrong. Nobody is ever too big to fail. Nobody.

If you believe customers should be squeezed for every bit of profit potential available, then you’ll design systems to accomplish that.

If you believe customers are the foundation upon which your business will rise or fall, then you’ll design systems to make their lives vastly easier.

I was quite young when I first heard a business guy talking about customer happiness versus satisfaction. “Do you want your wife to be happy, or satisfied?”

Nuff said. Flush the systems that make your customers lives miserable. Stop getting in the way of your own success.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

RC

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New information is invigorating. Especially if you’re curious. You ARE curious, aren’t you? Curious enough to figure out what you may not know? Or to figure out something a bit better that you thought you may have already figured out?

The other day I was discussing books with a friend. We were challenging each other to remember a book that really made a lasting impact. During the conversation, we both concluded that we benefited from many books with snippets of new information here and there. It’s the value of reading – the quest to learn something you may not have known before.

Reading is great for those of us who love to do it. Podcasts are pretty terrific, too. 😉 But these are quite passive. We consume them. It’s the author or the podcaster communicating to us. Highly valuable, but still very lacking.

A New Relationship With Somebody Who Has Different Experiences, Skills, And Viewpoints

Some years ago I formed a relationship with somebody new. I was attending a small conference. I didn’t know anybody else attending. But I met someone. Someone who felt like a kindred spirit, but somebody very different from me.

That was close to ten years ago.

Since that time we’ve pushed each other, challenged each other, supported each other and shared common beliefs as well as differing ones. The meeting was organic – kinda sorta – but we both leaned into it and made it intentional. We’ve been purposeful in leveraging the power we can each have on one another. It’s a one-on-one peer advantage. Just like reading, it’s highly valuable and more so because it has dynamic interaction. But it’s still very lacking.

Self-improvement is at the heart of growing great.

It’s about YOUR self-improvement, but not just yours. It’s about mine, too. And that guy over there. And that woman over there. Yes, and her, too. And him.

When you intentionally leverage the power of others you’re both giving and receiving. When you give more, you get more. Way more. And I’m not just talking about some intrinsic feeling knowing you did well. I’m talking about a real, substantial life-changing benefit.

It’s The High Energy Of Community – The RIGHT Community

Do me a favor. Think of a time when you were in a conversation where your energy was elevated. I mean a time when your energy soared and you felt the impact of instantly. If your life had an energy meter it would have hit a much higher number than normal because this conversation was different. Special.

Research has shown the positive power of community. Support groups prove the point. Alcoholics Anonymous. Weight Watcher. There are plenty of examples. But don’t restrict your thinking of community to traditional support groups. It’s much broader – and often deeper than that.

The true peer advantage is about more than taking advantage. It’s also about giving an advantage to others.

There are a few things I hear more often than anything else. Among them are business owners concerned about what they don’t know. They’re worried about the things they can’t see. Or the things they can’t see clearly enough.

Blind spots. I hear leaders fretful about theirs. And trying to figure out how to eliminate them or at least reduce them.

It’s tough to be truthful with yourself. And that may be among our biggest blind spot of all. How we see ourselves.

Where do we go to improve that?

To whom do we turn for assistance with that?

It’s The Power Of A Room. The Right Room.

“The smartest man in the room” syndrome is real. You know people like that. The opposite isn’t the dumbest-man-in-the-room, but the man (or woman) who realizes the power isn’t completely within themselves but in the room itself. It’s the power of the collective. The group of people in the room.

Let’s get back to that energy. You remember. The time when you felt energized because you were in conversation with people who lifted you up (however you care to define that). Fact is, the more we surround ourselves by other people trying to achieve what we’re trying to achieve (people all trying to train for a marathon, for example) or by other people all determined to grow and improve…the greater our probability of success. We can all do more. Together. We just have to get in the right room. The room where the power is.

What do you look for?

A few things. Trust. Information. Learning. Insight. Experiences.

Peer pressure is often thought of negatively, but it also works in the most positive directions. People helping people. People helping themselves in the presence of other people also helping themselves.

When we’re in a community focused on learning and understanding growth happens. It happens because it provides the energy necessary to grow. It’s why people achieve more and find richer success together. It’s why so many solo efforts fail. Nobody else is in the room to help us to our feet when we fall. Nobody is available to give us a leg up when we need it most.

It’s support and help coupled with intensely deep learning together – and from one another. It makes the room the most powerful room we can be in. If we’ll just go inside open to all the value we can provide for others and for the value others can provide to us.

The Peer Advantage by Bula Network is my effort to do just that for small business owners who are close to the work. Operators.

I’m now accepting applications for enrollment at ThePeerAdvantage.com. This is a paid for peer group of just 7 U.S. based entrepreneurs intent on putting themselves in a room where they can grow their businesses, their leadership, and their lives.

We’ll meet twice a month, every other week, online using a video conferencing platform. That means it’ll be super convenient and easy, reducing wasted time. Your time is highly valuable and so is mine. There are tons of positive reasons why this is your very best opportunity for growth. Go visit that website for all the details. I hope you’ll go there right now and complete the application. Only those who dare to intentionally leverage the power of others will do it. I hope you’re a person like that.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

RC

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How do you measure up as a business owner?

How do you measure up as a leader?

How does your business stack up?

People mostly gauge such things by looking externally, not internally. We look around at other people and other businesses. Then we mentally (mostly emotionally) compare ourselves and our business. We don’t feel so good afterward.

This is especially personal when we look at direct competitors. And some of us view everybody and everything as a competitor. Years ago I learned that the zero-sum game I was taught when I was young…is wrong. It’s a major distraction to becoming our best.

But today’s title isn’t quite 100% accurate. There’s often much to learn from the competition, but it’s not what you think. It’s the innovation in looking at industries and companies with a dedication to figure out how to best fix their problems. But when we do that, are we really looking at the competition or are we looking at how an industry or company can better serve customers?

It’s a powerful distraction – fixating on the competition. It leads to excuse-making, copy-cat execution and becoming average. It robs businesses of bravery and leadership.

Unless you’re looking at the competition to architect how you’re going to beat their brains in. But as you may or may not know, I’m a big fan of Jack Welch and his strategic planning.

“Our strategic plan is to ask, ‘What can the competition do in the next 18 months to nail us to the wall?’ Then we ask, ‘What can we do in the next 18 months to nail them to the wall?'”

I’m a kid from the 70’s so I was taught to be competitive and have a strong desire to bury the competition. Working in retail as a teenager though quickly taught me there was a much better way and I admit I’m a product of my experience. I learned that trying to figure out how to best the competition was a waste of time with shoppers. They didn’t care about the competition. They only cared about what they most wanted. Very quickly I realized the futility of thinking about the other stereo shops in town. Instead, I learned to pay close attention to the shoppers. I made sure to listen carefully, watch their body language and pay attention to shopper behavior. My goal was to dazzle every shopper so they’d become a customer. Then I wanted to make the customer so happy they’d become a client (a repeat customer).

By the time I was operating a multi-million dollar retail company it was well ingrained in my business DNA…

Don’t take your eyes or ears off the customer!

There’s one simple reason why it works. It’s not limiting.

Fixate on the competition and you’re instantly limiting your operation. You’ll get stuck in industry standards and traditional thinking.

Fixate on the customer and you’re free to think beyond anything ever done in your industry. All the rules get tossed out when you concentrate on the customer.

There’s another big reason worth mentioning though. Your competition isn’t paying your bills. Customers are. By thinking and looking at the competition you surrender yourself to become their servant. They’re not who you’re serving! So why look at them?

Lastly, let me encourage you to embrace quantum-leap thinking. When you look at the competition you avoid quantum-leap thinking. Instead, you tend to dwell on incremental thinking. Being just a little bit better than the competition is comforting when you’re focused on them. That’s boring. For you and for all your employees. I’ve never found a 3% improvement a very effective battle cry for the troops. But most everybody can get behind doing something nobody else may be doing or doing something most others think impossible.

Quantum-leap thinking is possible when you continue to focus on the customer, not the competition. Live and die by the questions, “What can we do to make ourselves remarkable to the customer?” And, “How can we dazzle the customer?”

Be ordinary by looking at the competition.

Be remarkable by looking at the customer.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

RC