Posts about customer service

Cater to Customers Desires to Achieve Customer Delight

Customer delight requires understanding your customers needs and desires. Often even your customers don’t understand these well. Businesses that have a deep appreciation for what their customers, and potential customers, desire and that create systems to deliver solutions that delight those customers benefit greatly from that effort.

To build a sustainable enterprise you must provide value customers will appreciate.

Your customers do not have one unified set of desires. Some customers may want as good an experience as is possible and if that costs substantially more they are happy to pay. Others want to pay the least possible while having an acceptable experience.

Singapore Airlines can cater to creating a great experience. And even within that system they can segment the offering a bit and create coach class, business class and first class. They seek to provide a great experience for everyone but have extra space and amenities offered for higher classes of service for those wanting that given the cost.

Southwest Airlines can cater to providing a friendly and inexpensive experience while passing on providing certain amenities. Southwest understands that they are creating a system to deliver value to customers that appreciate a no frills environment that still treats them with respect. treat customers honestly and with respect.

Aligning what is delivered with what is marketed is also important and something Southwest does well. Other airlines market as if they will provide what Singapore Airlines does and provides a miserable experience instead. I think it helps provide Southwest focus in marketing and operations seeing how badly many of their competitors frustrate customers continually in very visible ways.

To delight customers determine what they desire based on a deep understanding of them. Make sure you understand what they act on not just what they say.

Even if you determine what they want is to spend as little as possible don’t try to trick them with false claims about low prices. The most despised companies all seem to do this (cable TV companies, airlines, mobile phone plans, some contractors…). Essentially they play bait and switch except they don’t even offer the choice to decline once they provide the real price. They just slap on extra fees after they sold you with promises of the cheaper cost.

Instead cater to meet the importance of low price but still treat customers with respect. Yes, you might cut some corners a bit so customers have to wait longer for support or don’t have as much hand holding as they could get for a higher price. But there are many things that can be done with well designed systems to provide very good service while keeping costs low. In fact often better service can be provided at lower costs because systems designed well include less waste and create fewer problems. Those problems are costly to solve and damaging to customers.

Your customers will not have monolithic desires. A big factor in the success of providing solutions that delight customers. Sometimes that means creating product and services that delight people with a wide range of expectations. Other times it means delivering different solutions to delight the different audiences.

My mechanic is trustworthy and less expensive than my other options. He also lacks many of the amenities others might desire. But for me I am delighted with his service. I am happy to drive 30 minutes to get service from him, passing by many other options. I trust him to know what to do and act in my best interest while charging a fair price.

My dentist is very good and expensive. He doesn’t accept insurance (if you have insurance you can submit the bills yourself but his office doesn’t get involved). He does all the dental work himself, including cleaning (which is rare in my experience – often the simple tasks are assigned to others). Assistants deal with scheduling and billing. His market is to provide great service to those customers willing to pay. This is not a strategy that would work for most dentists I don’t think, but it works very well for him and his delighted customers (like me). The customers willing to pay for this level of service is limited but if you delight enough people who are willing to pay you create a sustainable business.

Knowing what your customers want and creating systems to deliver that to them is how to build a great business. It sounds easy but few businesses really do know what their customers want. And even fewer focus on delighting them by continually improving the value they offer.

Related: The Customer is the Purpose of Our Work (2012)
Customer Focus with a Deming Perspective (2013)the most important customer focus is on the end users (2012)What Job Does Your Product Do? (2007)What one thing could we do better? (2006)

Add Constraints to Processes Carefully

Take great care in adding constraints to processes to avoid doing so needlessly.

Online you will frequently find forms that have required fields that needn’t be. Certainly if you were designing with focus on what is best for customers those requirements rarely make sense. Occasionally a required field is a sensible constraint on an online form but so often they add unnecessary constraints.

I frequently find those forms even requiring a false answer since a response is required and none of the options are true. Often this is because the organization is thinking of the boxes they expect users to fit themselves into rather than thinking how to create the best user experience.

I wrote previously about a company representative that suggested a customer change their name because the computer system didn’t accept names with 2 characters. Constraints on creating a secure password are a frequent failure of web sites for the last 10 years.

Man without arms denied housing loan due to inability to provide fingerprints

because Wu Jianping has no arms, creditors claimed they could not give him a loan since he was unable to be fingerprinted.

After the case was publicized and there was a great deal of negative publicity on social media the banks modified their process and approved the loan. But your organization shouldn’t have as the mistake-proofing (obviously not mistake-proofing at all) that when the process doesn’t quite work well then rely on a massive social media outcry which is a signal to us to straighten out the issue.

Frequently I see unnecessary constraints creating the edge case excuse. By burdening your process with unnecessary constraints your create edge cases that fail and then use the excuse that each of the edge cases is rare and therefore you can’t justify the expense of fixing them.

But if you designed the process sensibly in the first place the edge case never would have failed and you wouldn’t need special work arounds for such “edge cases.” A simple example of this is unnecessarily complex web page code that fails if to submit a button without javascript. Yes, a small number of users won’t have enabled all javascript to run (today anyway) so it is an “edge case” to deal with if you don’t have the form work without javascript. But there is no decent reason to have it fail in most cases.

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Support Theatre

Support theatre provides the appearance of supporting customers when in fact it is just treating customers poorly based on a management system that disrespects customers. It is a similar idea to security theatre that has become so popular for government in the USA for the last 10 years.

Dilbert does a good job of illustrating “support theatre” in this webcast:

I have had the exact experience Dilbert does of tech support refusing to think about the actual symptoms of the problem and insisting on following some script and wasting my time – repeatedly. This is not some accident. Management has designed systems with the attitude that customer’s time doesn’t matter.

Companies that practices support theatre are usually very focused on cutting the company’s cost and not “wasting” the companies time fixing the problems they create for customers or even helping customers put on “band-aids” to cope with the injuries the company has inflicted on the customer. Those companies also don’t learn from their failures to improve and stop future customers from suffering the consequences of their poor processes.

It is painful to interact with such companies. I find that most large companies I am forced to interact with are deeply into support theatre and only very superficially concerned with customers. It is a shame that the type of customer focus that those interested in management improvement have been advocating for decades is ignored by so many companies today.

If you care about your customers and want to build an organization that prospers by delighting customers go to the customer (user) gemba. Focus on how to improve the customer experience. You likely will have many easy opportunities to improve how things operate since the experience for customers today is often so bad.

Related: Making Life Difficult for CustomersPracticing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at AppleCustomer Service is Important (2006)Simple Customer Care Strategy: CommunicateUse Urls, Don’t Use Click x, Then Click y, Then Click z InstructionsHow to protect yourself from your credit card companyVerizon Provides Lousy Service = Dog Bites Man (2008)Is Poor Service the Industry Standard? (2006)Incredibly Bad Customer Service from Discover Card

Good Startup Ideas from Startup Weekend JB (Malaysia)

I like all these startup ideas from Startup Weekend JB (Malaysia). I can’t figure out how to comment on their blog (I am guessing Tumbler just eliminates commenting?), so I started this post – and ended up adding much more than I planned on putting in a comment.

All of these ideas are not very technically challenging and pretty much versions of these businesses are already successful around the globe. But creating great user experiences (in apps or on web sites) is often neglected for doing something passable (and local conditions mean the business is a bit different here than it would be somewhere else).

To create a greatly successful startup focusing on great, not adequate, customer experiences is extremely useful. And you can leap ahead of competitors that don’t focus on customer delight.

One of the interesting things from my experience living in Johor Bahru, Malaysia the last few years is that Malaysia has way more entrepreneurial diversity than the USA (in my limited experience). Many of these businesses stay small. But you have entrepreneurs in all sorts of businesses at events in JB. In the USA the events I went to were all software focused (internet businesses etc.).

Here you have people setting up factories, printing companies, beauty entrepreneurs, construction companies, bakers, motel chain (less than a handful of motels so far) etc. going to HackerSpace meetings and Drinks Entrepreneurs, BarCamp etc.. Startup Weekend I do think was very IT focused, even in JB (it is setup to be that way so it isn’t surprising).

There are small business entrepreneurs in the USA, but they don’t go to entrepreneur/ LeanStartup etc. type meetings (in my experience). And they are more limited; so many businesses in the USA really can’t be done easily by some new college graduate. The capital and legal requirements are just so huge you need so much to start that it isn’t something considered in the cool-startup communities (in general – I’m sure there are some things like micro-brew startups etc.). In JB it seems to me fewer than 33% are IT dominated. Though I expect this will increase rapidly. I think there is a real benefit to including non-IT focused people in these communities.

The number of people outside of IT that decide to be entrepreneurs out of school is tiny (it seems to me). In Malaysia it seems much more common. But in general people don’t talk about it as being entrepreneurs they are trying to make a living and setting up their own business to do so is just a natural thing to do.

SmartDining – find local restaurants (mobile app) and order (for take out or dine in).

The app shouldn’t be too hard to do well. The challenges will be working with restaurants, marketing (so often the case) and maybe mapping (finding good suggestion). How to balance efforts well will also be a challenge – you could spend tons of time on many different valuable efforts related to this business. Vote.

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Don’t Ignore Customer Complaints

I find Paul Graham’s ideas very useful. I disagree with his recent tweet though.

tweets from Paul Graham

Update: See note at bottom of the post – Paul tweeted that his original tweet was wrong.

Base your assessment of the merit of an idea on the actual merit of the idea, not the category you place the person in that is expressing the idea.

His reply tweet addresses the problem with the first one in a very specific case. But you have “bugs” that are part of your management system, “policies,” products or services. Few customers will bother to voice those problems. Rather than ignoring some of what you hear, you should evaluate the merit of the complaint.

If the complaint is not something that should be addressed or explored fine. But that has nothing to do with the category of the person (“complainer” or not); it has to do with the merit of the complaint.

I understand some people are annoying because they make lots of meritless complaints. Ignoring the meritless complaints is fine with me. But just as I think ignoring advice because the person giving the advice doesn’t follow it is a bad practice I think having a policy of basing decisions on something other than the merit of the complaint/suggestion is unwise.

This is especially true since organizations on the whole do a lousy job of listening to customers and understanding customer desires. We need to greatly enhance the practice of customer focus not seek to reduce it. Every organization is unique, however, and if customer focus is exceptionally great, I can understand the idea of the tweet: that we are devoted to customer focus and each new insight, but we have taken it too far and need to discriminate better. I still think discriminating based on the merit of the complaint is a better than doing so based on our categorization of the complainer but in that case (which is very rare in organizations) the advice isn’t nearly as bad as it is for most organizations.

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Out of Touch Executives Damage Companies: Go to the Gemba

When your customer service organization is universally recognized as horrible adding sales requirements to customer service representatives jobs is a really bad practice. Sadly it isn’t at all surprising to learn of management doing just that at our largest companies. Within a system where cash and corruption buys freedom from market forces (see below for more details) such practices can continue.

Such customer hostile practices shouldn’t continue. They shouldn’t be allowed to continue. And even though the company’s cash has bought politically corrupt parties to allow such a system to survive it isn’t even in the selfish interest of the business. They could use the cover provided by bought-and-paid-for-politicians-and-parties to maintain monopolistic pricing (which is wrong ethically and economically but could be seen as in the self interest of a business). But still provide good service (even while you take monopolistic profits allowed with corrupt, though legal, cash payments).

Of course, Adam Smith knew the likely path to corruption of markets made up of people; and he specifically cautioned that a capitalist economic system has to prevent powerful entities efforts to distort markets for individual gain (perfect competition = capitalism, non-competitive markets = what business want, as Adam Smith well knew, but this is precisely not capitalism). Sadly few people taking about the free-market or capitalism understand that their support of cronyist policies are not capitalist (I suppose some people mouthing those words are just preaching false ideas to people known to be idiots, but really most don’t seem to understand capitalism).

Anyway, this class of protected businesses supported by a corrupt political and government (regulators in government) sector is a significant part of the system that allows the customer hostility of those politically connected large businesses to get away with a business model based on customer hostility, but wasn’t really what I meant to write about here.

Comcast executives have to know they are running a company either rated the worst company in the country or close to it year after year. They, along with several others in their industry, as well as the cell phone service providers and too-big-to-fail-banks routinely are the leaders of companies most reviled by customers. Airlines are also up their for treating customer horribly but they are a bit different than the others (political corruption is much less of the reason for their ability to abuse customers for decades than is for the others listed above).

Leaked Comcast employee metrics show what we figured: Sell or perish [Updated]
Training materials explicitly require a “sell” phase, even in support calls.

The company’s choice to transform what is traditionally a non-revenue-generating area—customer service—into a revenue-generating one is playing out with almost hilariously Kafkaesque consequences. It is the nature of large corporations like Comcast to have dozens of layers of management through which leadership instructions and directives are filtered. The bigger the company, the more likely that members of senior leadership (like Tom Karinshak) typically make broad policy and leave specific implementations to lower levels.

Here, what was likely praised in the boardroom as an “innovative” strategy to raise revenue is instead doing much to alienate customers and employees alike. Karinshak’s assurances that he doesn’t want employees to feel pressured to sell in spite of hard evidence that Comcast demands just that are hard to square with the content of the document.

So what is going on here? Most people can easily see this is likely a horrible practice. It is a practice that a well run company theoretically could pull off without harming customers too much. But for a company like Comcast to do this it is obviously going to be horrible for customers (same for all those too-big to fail banks, cell phone service providers and other ISPs and cable TV providers).

Lets just pretend Comcast’s current leadership executives were all replaced with readers of the Curious Cat Management Improvement blog. And lets say that for now you are suppose to focus on improving the policies in place (while thinking about policy changes for later but not making them yet).

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Quality Processes in Unexpected Places

This month Paul Borawski asked ASQ’s Influential Voices to explore the use of quality tools in unexpected places.

The most surprising example of this practice that I recall is the Madison, Wisconsin police department surveying those they arrested to get customer feedback. It is obvious that such “customers” are going to be biased. Still the police department was able to get actionable information by seeking the voice of the customer.

photo of a red berry and leaves

Unrelated photo from Singapore Botanical Garden by John Hunter.

Certain of the police department’s aims are not going to match well with those they arrest (most obviously those arrested wish the police department didn’t arrest them). The police department sought the voice of the customer from all those they interacted with (which included those they arrested, but also included those reporting crimes, victims, relatives of those they arrested etc.).

The aim of the police department is not to arrest people. Doing so is necessary but doing so is most similar in the management context to catching an error to remove that bad result. It is better to improve processes so bad results are avoided. How the police interact with the public can improve the process to help steer people’s actions away from those that will require arrests.

The interaction police officers have with the public is a critical gemba for meeting the police department’s aim. Reducing crime and encouraging a peaceful society is aided by knowing the conditions of that gemba and knowing how attempts to improve are being felt at the gemba.

All customer feedback includes bias and personal preferences and potentially desires that are contrary to the aims for the organization (wanting services for free, for example). Understanding this and how important understanding customer/user feedback on the gemba is, it really shouldn’t be surprising that the police would want that data. But I think it may well be that process thinking, evidence based management and such ideas are still not widely practiced as so the Madison police department’s actions are still surprising to many.

Quality Leadership: The First Step Towards Quality Policing by David Couper and Sabine Lobitz

Our business is policing, our customers are the citizens within our jurisdictions, and our product is police service (everything from crime fighting and conflict management to safety and prevention programs.)

If we are to cure this we must start to pay attention to the new ideas and trends in the workplace mentioned earlier that are helping America’s businesses; a commitment to people, how people are treated — employees as well as citizens, the development of a people-oriented workplace, and leadership can and does make a difference.

If we change the way in which we lead the men and women in our police organizations, we can achieve quality in policing. However, wanting to change and changing are worlds apart. The road to change is littered by good intentions and short-term efforts.

This article, from 1987, illustrates the respect for people principle was alive and being practiced 25 years ago; most organizations need to do a great deal more work on applying practices that show respect for people.

Related: Quality Improvement and Government: Ten Hard Lessons From the Madison Experience by David C. Couper, Chief of Police, City of Madison, Wisconsin – SWAT Raids, Failure to Apply System Thinking in Law EnforcementMeasuring What Matters: Developing Measures of What the Police DoThe Public Sector and W. Edwards DemingDoing More with Less in the Public Sector – A Progress Report from Madison, Wisconsin

Customers

Customer focus is critical to succeed with management improvement efforts. Few argue with that point, though my experience as a customer provides plenty of examples of poor systems performance on providing customer value (usability, managing the value stream well, etc.).

At times people get into discussion about what counts as a customer. Are customers only those who pay you money for a product or service? What about internal customers? What about users that don’t pay you, but use your product (bought from an intermediary)? What about users that use a service you provide for free (in order to make money in another way, perhaps advertising)? What about “internal customers” those inside your organization without any payment involved in the process?

I find it perfectly fine to think of all these as customers of slightly different flavors. What is important is providing what each needs. Calling those that actually use what you create users is fine, but I think it often just confuses people rather than adding clarity, but if it works in your organization fine.

To me the most important customer focus is on the end users: those that derive value from what your organization provides. If there is confusion between various customer groups it may be helpful to use terms like end user, but really using the term customer for a wide range or customers is fine (and modification such as internal customer to provide some clarity).

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Customer Focus by Everyone

There are many critical elements to a management system. One that is fundamental, yet still poorly executed far too often, is creating a system where all staff can focus on enhancing value to the customer every day.

If your enterprise does not focus on this, it should. If you think your enterprise does, my first, second and third suggestions are to think more critically about whether it really does. If the answer is yes, then you are lucky to work in such an organization.

Saying that customers are valued is easy. Actually designing systems to focus on providing value and continually improving to provide value more effectively is not. It really shouldn’t be obvious to a customer in 5 minutes of interacting with your organization that it is obvious customers are not very important.

It is very difficult to create a system with customer focus by all staff without several basic supports in place. Respect for people needs to be practiced – not just mentioned. If there isn’t time to work on improvements to the system, often meaning you have the equivalent of sickness management instead of a “health care system” that is a shame. The reality of most organizations seems to be to make it very annoying for customers to even bring an issue they are having to the attention of the organization and even then the gaol is to use the absolute least amount of effort for the band-aid that can be tolerated.

Staff have to be given authority to act in the interest of customers. But this can lead to chaos if a good system isn’t in place to steer this process. And without processes in place to capture (systemically) needed improvements there will be huge waste.

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Simple Customer Care: Communicate

Some management issues are hard. You are often balancing priorities. Sometimes though it is extremely simple: either you have concern for customers and take actions to back that up or you have some concern but don’t do anything about it.

Here are some examples that show you really just don’t care.

If you have invested millions in setting up computer systems to authorize, and reject, payments for say a credit card and you fail to notify customers when you reject a charge you just really don’t care. There might have been an excuse 10 years ago that it was too difficult to notify people. Today if your IT people can’t do that, hire a new CIO and have them create an IT support system that isn’t an embarrassment to any institution relying on it.

Another sign of an extremely weak IT and customer focus presence in an organization would be deleting records of your customers after 6 month or 1 year or ever. Again this is common among the too-big-to-fail financial institutions that seem much more able to design system to extract fees and justify ludicrous bonuses to executives than to provide the most basic services for customers.

Amazon, and most any non financial-too-big-too-fail institution, keeps your records available for you. The too-big-too-fail crowd though won’t keep records as well as the site you buy books from. They slap fees on customers if they want to get the paper statements they used to get for free. That is fine with me (the fees are far too high, but the concept is fine with me). The too-big-too-fail crowd wants to save money by not mailing you paper. Fine.

Then, deciding to delete your records after 6 months, or a year… is just a sign you have no interest in serving customers. Other than an organization that has no interest in customer service, suggesting such a thing would be a direct ticket to remedial training on providing value to customers.

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The Customer is the Purpose of Our Work

photo of poster with Gandhi quote

Quote from Gandhi on customer focus at the Chakra restaurant

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.

Mahatma Gandhi

A snapped this photo at the Chakra restaurant in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Ironically the food is great but the service isn’t what I would like. But I will gladly go back many times. I’d like a bit more attentive service but I love the food and that is more important to me.

I think service at restaurants is one of the tricker things to do well: different customers have different desires. I basically want great food, my water to be filled up and my bill to be given to me before I finish so I don’t have to wait around to pay. But lots of people will find it annoying to get a bill early, feeling that they are being rushed out the door.

Still there is a certain standard I share with lots of people for things like not having to wait around for a long time to get the bill after I am done. Getting water filled up as needed, pleasant decor, etc..

In Johor Bahru there are a fair number of Japanese restaurants (the food is very good and the service is also good). Several of these restaurants have buzzers on your table to press when you want service. I love Indian food. I must say I like the Japanese service (it did take me a bit to warm up the buzzer idea – it is very practical). It do believe some of the things I would see as weaknesses in customer service are partially a cultural difference (it is interesting to see the different customer service experiences at the different restaurants here).

The quote from Gandhi is great. “He is the purpose of it” is something we would all benefit from taking to heart. To do so, I think we are wise look at how we can better meet customer desires every day.

Related: Delighting Customersquotes by Mahatma GandhiPaying New Employees to Quit

Be Thankful for Customer That Are Complaining, They Haven’t Given Up All Hope

I ran across this message and liked it (by wuqi256):

My time spent in a fast food chain (factory worker on weekends and security guard at night, yes really thanks to them, i have great jobs like that) when i was young trying to feed the family and study at the same time was quite useful.

They taught me that “Customers who complain are the best customers, it shows that they have still residual faith and goodwill in the organisation hence we should sift out those frivolous complains from those genuine ones that need our urgent attention” These are people who we can and should do a lot for as a complaining customer still has a very high chance of becoming a “returning” customer.

The customers that we fear for the most are those that either have voiced out or not heard or those who have given up and moved on to another organisation. Those we can no longer do much for as they no longer give us a chance. Discontentment is one thing but find the root cause, remove the straw from the cauldron and the water will stop boiling.

I know I often don’t bother voicing my concerns when I have given up all hope the organization has any interest in customer service. Sadly this is a fairly common situation.

It isn’t easy to do, but organizations that are customer focused need to be taking advantage of those customers helping you by expressing the frustration (that many of your customers experience, but don’t express). To do so organizations need to develop a culture where everyone is encouraged to improve your processes. The tricky part is not claiming that is what you want, but actually creating and maintaining the systems that bring that about.

Related: The Problem is Likely Not the Person Pointing Out The ProblemCustomer Service is ImportantCustomers Get Dissed and Tell

The Impact of Leadership on Business Outcomes

photo of Joe Folkman

Joe Folkman

Guest post by Joe Folkman

Have you ever been part of an organization where things were proceeding smoothly, where goals were achieved, people were busy and the organization was doing well? Then, a new leader came and everything suddenly changed for the better. The energy level of employees went up substantially, pride in the organization increased, the effort and dedication of individuals jumped, bold objectives were enthusiastically accepted and even greater results were achieved. The differences were not only measurable by the accountants, but everyone could feel it.

Perhaps you had the opposite experience where things were things were going along smoothly and a new leader was introduced and things quickly began to fall apart. High performers quit, conflicts became more apparent, work seemed much less important and there was no fun. Colleagues skulked into corners, not wanting to be engaged. Overall satisfaction decreased. Grousing and carping criticism of the leaders became rampant. People receiving promotions were chosen because of politics, not performance. Management decisions felt arbitrary and unfair. Results began to slide, and employees became the cause of the problems as much as the economy or market conditions. Key employees were laid off while the remaining people were asked to carry a bigger load. Results continued to decline, and your job felt increasingly harder and you found yourself beginning to think about quitting.

Those who have experienced great leadership or poor leadership have felt the difference. Could these changes have been predicted? Are there clear correlations between the effectiveness of a leader and the success of an organization?

Case Study on the Impact of Leadership on Customer Satisfaction
A large telecommunication company was focused on an effort to improve customer satisfaction ratings. The company wanted to know which factors impacted the customer satisfaction. A group of 81 leaders received 360 feedback from their immediate managers, peers, direct reports and others. The leadership effectiveness of each manager was evaluated by a 49 item assessment. Based on the overall rating from the 49 items, managers were divided into five groups, from leaders at the bottom 10th percentile (the worst leaders) to those at the top 10% (the best leaders).

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Rude Behavior Costs Companies

Approximately one-third of consumers surveyed reported they’re treated rudely by an employee on an average of once a month and that these and other episodes of uncivil worker behavior make them less likely to patronize those businesses.

Customers rarely report such behavior to employee supervisors, and management systems are so poor they don’t deal with this problem (good systems will – Trader Joe’s or Crutchfield, for example) ensuring a relentless cycle of poor employee behavior that leaves consumers angry and frustrated and saps businesses of customer loyalty, return business and profits, according to researchers from the University of Southern California and Georgetown University. Having tried many times to report failures in their systems to organizations I can say I am either treated with we have no way to accept your feedback or obvious disinterest.

Even, long after Brian Joiner told me he stopped wasting his time for most companies as they obviously had no interest in improving systems to avoid customer hardship I keep banging my head against a wall. It is very rarely that I don’t get complete disinterest. About the best is “you are so right, this is a problem I have to deal with all the time, I have told ‘them’ about the problem but nothing ever happens, I’ll pass on your comment.” It is no surprise people don’t bother to point out problems.

A majority of the respondents went home and told friends and family members about the incident (and connected customers often speak out online to large audiences about bad customer service). Managers are unable to address the issue with employees if the managers don’t have a grasp on what is going on at the gemba. The study found that witnessing employee incivility makes customers angry. Customers are less likely to repurchase from the firm and express less interest in learning about the firm’s new services. For managers who are made aware of the offending behavior, their own harsh treatment of the employee can also prompt negative reactions from consumers.

Related: Customer Service is ImportantUnited Breaks GuitarsFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed Management

“Regardless of the perpetrator or the reason, witnessing incivility scalds customer relationships and depletes the bottom line,” report the co-authors, Georgetown University Assistant Professor of Management Christine Porath and USC Professors of Business Administration and Marketing Debbie MacInnis and Valerie S. Folkes.

The best response is a simple apology, which researchers found was a just and proper response from both the employee and the supervisor. Of course, you should also address any other issue the customer has. Once you mistreat people they often are much more sensitive to things that they would have accepted otherwise. So I believe you would be wise to apologize and ask if there is anything you can help them with. Leave them with a positive, rather than just apologizing for the negative. It would be best to avoid the problems in the first place. Training programs that foster employee civility in order to prevent harmful outbursts may well be wise.

From the abstract of the paper:
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When Companies Can Treat You Like an ATM, Many Will Do So

The End of Refrigeration

One small custom chip, some relays, a transformer, a couple of heat sinks, and a bunch of passive parts. Maybe a build cost of $20-30 or so? But GE’s price to me was $250, plus $150 for the 20 minutes it took to pull out the old one and swap in the new one.

Paying $400 for a big piece of physical gear plus a couple hours of labor didn’t bother me. Paying $400 for a primitive circuit board and a few minutes to plug it in does.

Bottom line: $400 because a $2.02 Song Chuan 832 Series 30 A SPDT 12 VDC Through Hole General Purpose Heavy Duty Power Relay burned out.

This is a combination of companies 1) not being customer focused, 2) short term thinking, 3) very ologopolistic markets (very little competition). So when you are looking at this from the view of providing the best system, for in this case refrigeration, it is not a very difficult solution. You would want to minimize loss (have parts last) and in case they don’t minimize replacement cost. You would design the entire system so the parts that do burn out are easily replaceable and cheap and ideally notify you which part is broken (without the need for expensive contractor visits).

However, if your goal is to maximize company profit it is easy to see how you would develop a system that rips off the customer (very expensive part replacement, huge text messaging fees…) and attempts to capitalize on very little competition in the marketplace and customers that cannot reasonable analyze the system to see how they will be penalized by choosing your very expensive to maintain equipment. It is what they seem to teach in business school – take as much advantage of your customers as you can get away with. I prefer the Jeff Bezos school of thinking

There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less

It is a vastly different mentality to try to charge customers less as Amazon does (rather than say the practices of: Verizon, Bank of America, AT&T or Comcast). Your organization has to focused not on your quarterly profit (and if you are think kind of company, probably your personal bonus targets) but in serving your customers well, and in continually improve the value you provide to customers. And the company takes a share of the value just as all other stakeholders do (customer, employees [not just those in the c-suite)], suppliers, society…). Not only do I want to be a customer of this kind of company, I want to be a stockholder.

Related: Drug Prices in the USAWorse Hotel Service the More You PayCustomer Service is Important$8,000 per gallon printer inknew deadly diseases (often companies rely on bad “intellectual property” policies to restrict customer options)

Delighting Customers

If you have customers that see you as adequate you will keep customers based on inertia.

But you have several big problems awaiting you. Those trying to win your customers business only have to overcome inertia – which can be very low hurdle (saving a small bit of money, some minor additional feature). If your customers are delighted they won’t leave (by and large) without significant reasons to.

Also your attempts to increase price are very likely to lead to increased customer losses (than if customers are delighted). Delighted customers are willing to pay a premium which helps profits enormously (Apple has done this quite well).

Delighted customers will refer others to you – great free marketing.

Satisfied customers leave you very little leeway for error. If you cause satisfied customers some problem (which granted, hopefully you won’t but if you do) they are not likely to be forgiving. If they are delighted they may well stay even if you have a delay, provide less than stellar customer service for some request…

There are many ways to attempt to delight customers. One of the simplest powerful tools is to ask a very simple question: What Could we do Better?

Related: What Job Does Your Product Do?It Just WorksKano Model of customer satisfactioncustomer focus resources

Aligning Marketing Vision and Management

Why do so many companies market one thing and provide something else? I know it might be easier to sell something different than what you offer your customer today. But if you decide to market one vision, why don’t you change your organization to actually offer that?

I suspect this is substantially due to the outsourced nature of large marketing efforts. It makes sense to me that when you outsource your marketing message creation it isn’t tied to your management system and the two silos can pursue their own visions.

I would imagine marketers would claim they “partner” yada yada yada (and sometimes it actual seems to happen, but not often). As a consumer it sure looks to me like companies outsource marketing to ad agencies that come up with marketing plans that are not in harmony with the real company at all. I can understand putting a positive spin on things, but so much marketing is just completely at odds with how the company operates.

Treating a marketing message as something separate from management is a serious problem. When your marking message says one thing and your customers get something else that is a problem. I think the message is often based on what the executives wish the company was (and the outsourced marketers think it should be), but it isn’t the customer experience the management system provides.

If you believe the vision of your marketing then make sure your organization has embraced those principles. I think, often, companies would be wise to follow the vision their marketers came up with. But instead they tell customers to expect one thing and manage the organization to provide something else. I just don’t see how that is sensible.

Related: Marketing in a Lean CompanyPackaging ImprovementCustomer Service is ImportantConfusing Customer FocusIncredibly Bad Customer Service from Discover Card
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Lean Inventories Do Not Excuse Failing to Deliver

Low inventory levels do not mean failing to have products available for customers. Now, if you manufacturing in huge batches and can’t respond to customer feedback then it might mean failure to predict customer demand does mean failure to deliver. But lean thinking has shown how to avoid this problem. People need to adopt lean manufacturing practices and gain the benefits of low inventory levels without the costs of failing to deliver what customers want.

Sorry Santa, We’re Out of Stock

The “it” gifts this year could swiftly vanish from store shelves, as retailers, with nightmares of Christmas 2008 markdowns dancing in their heads, have slashed inventories to some of the leanest levels in recent memory.

Retailers themselves are battle-scarred by last year’s fourth-quarter fiasco. Following the financial meltdown of September 2008 and amid the most severe economic crisis since The Great Depression, consumers retrenched.

That’s when stores hit the markdown panic button, slashing prices upwards of 75 percent. The result was the worst holiday selling season since 1970, according to The International Council of Shopping Centers.

But although leaner inventory levels should drive profit margin gains this holiday, “retailers might not have enough inventory to fully satisfy demand,” said Citigroup retail analyst Deborah Weinswig, in a research note. It is a risk they are willing to take.

“They would rather lose a sale than take the markdowns they had last year,” said Goldman Sachs analyst Adrianne Shapira.

The retailers need to design their systems with lean thinking in mind (not lean – as in cut expenses without thought). And they need to work with suppliers using lean manufacturing principles.

Related: Be Thankful for Lean ThinkingGuess What? Manufacturing in the USA is a Good IdeaTesco: Lean ProvisionZara Thrives by Ignoring Conventional WisdomOperational Excellencelean manufacturing articles

Zappos and Amazon Sitting in a Tree…

Amazon is acquiring the unique company – Zappos: we have written about Zappos previously: Paying New Employees to Quit. Jeff Bezos uses the webcast above to talk to the employees of Zappos. Excellent job. The letter from Tony Hsieh, the Zappo’s CEO, to employees is fantastic. This is a CEO that respects employees. These are leaders I would follow and invest in (and in fact I am glad I do own Amazon stock).

First, I want to apologize for the suddenness of this announcement. As you know, one of our core values is to Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication, and if I could have it my way, I would have shared much earlier that we were in discussions with Amazon so that all employees could be involved in the decision process that we went through along the way. Unfortunately, because Amazon is a public company, there are securities laws that prevented us from talking about this to most of our employees until today.

Several months ago, they reached out to us and said they wanted to join forces with us so that we could accelerate the growth of our business, our brand, and our culture. When they said they wanted us to continue to build the Zappos brand (as opposed to folding us into Amazon), we decided it was worth exploring what a partnership would look like.

We learned that they truly wanted us to continue to build the Zappos brand and continue to build the Zappos culture in our own unique way. I think “unique” was their way of saying “fun and a little weird.” 🙂

Over the past several months, as we got to know each other better, both sides became more and more excited about the possibilities for leveraging each other’s strengths. We realized that we are both very customer-focused companies — we just focus on different ways of making our customers happy.

Amazon focuses on low prices, vast selection and convenience to make their customers happy, while Zappos does it through developing relationships, creating personal emotional connections, and delivering high touch (“WOW”) customer service.

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Management By IT Crowd Bosses

John Hunter's IT Crowd badgeJohn Hunter’s IT Crowd badge (Reynholm Industries)

The IT Crowd is a great BBC show on an IT support office in a large organization. The IT staff are knowledgeable and tired of dealing with foolish users of IT. And you wouldn’t want to watch for any customer support tips (though companies like United Airlines might do just that). Anyone involved in IT know Internet Explorer 6 is not an acceptable tool in this day and age. But some IT departments don’t let that stop them from forcing it on their users. Orange UK exiles Firefox from call centres

Yes, the corporate world is taking its sweet time upgrading from Microsoft’s eight-year-old Internet Explorer 6, a patently insecure web browser that lacks even a tabbed interface. Take, for example, the mobile and broadband giant Orange UK.

According to a support technician working in the company’s Bristol call centre – who requested anonymity for fear of losing his job – Orange UK still requires the use of IE6 in all its call centres, forbidding technicians from adopting Mozilla’s Firefox or any other browser of a newer vintage.

This technician tells us that about a quarter of the Bristol staff had moved to Firefox after growing increasingly frustrated with IE6’s inability to open multiple pages in the same window and overall sluggish performance. But a recent email from management informed call-centre reps that downloading Firefox was verboten and that they would be fined £250 if their PCs experienced problems and had to be rebuilt after running Firefox or any other application downloaded from the net.

Great management. Provide only an outdated and poor tool. Then threaten to fine employees that try to get a tool to allow themselves to do their job. Yes, it makes sense to setup rules for managing IT resources in a company but it is not acceptable to provide extremely outdated tools and then instead of fixing the problem when employees can’t stand your lousy service any longer you threaten to fine them. Wonderful. I guess you could call it the punishment-by-threat-demotivation-drive-in-fear management (for those that think Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards model is too light on the punishment part of management).

Related: Stop Demotivating Me!Software Supporting Processes Not the Other Way AroundLean IT Systems – Not ERPThe Defect Black Market (another theory X IT management example)Change Your Name
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