Archives for August 2009

Customer first? I say employees first

The slogans resonate on posters in corporate break rooms across industries. “Customer First”; “The Customer is King”; “Customer is always right”. While noble in intent, I think there’s a fundimental flaw here; both in the messaging and in how this is translated in execution.

Think about who is responsible for delighting your customers? It’s the people in your organization. So, when employees continually hear “our customers come first”, what that translates to for the employee is that they, your most valuable asset, are somewhere down the line in importance. Maybe #2, but most likely even lower on the list. In practice, this creates the opposite effect as it has a demoralizing impact on the front-line workers that interact with customers every day.

It’s my experience that the most innovative, customer-centric organizations (Zappos, Ritz Carlton, Google, Apple, Southwest Airlines) whether that innovation is product, service or organizationally driven, understand that nurturing employees, the area where leadership has the most interpersonal influence, translates directly into superior customer experiences.

Think about that job you had where you couldn’t wait to get up and go to work because you loved what you did. You loved who you worked for. How can that feeling not naturally translate into your approach to that next customer interaction?

Psychic pizza – wrong topping

In a recent post “Oriental Trading Delivered my Psychic Pizza”, I referenced a concept introduced by John A. Goodman (his firm TARP called Psychic Pizza. The concept is simple. The way to win and keep customers is to anticipate their needs. So, I got a delivery the other day. And, I was prepared to give my car dealer the benefit of the doubt that their attempt was noble. But it missed the mark.

The lease on my car is up next month. As with all lease terminations, the car needs to be inspected for wear and tear in order to determine the final amount due. Good so far. My dealer, anticipating that I needed to have this done, and with what seemed like a desire to proactively retain my business through exceptional service, sent me a notice indicating the need for this inspection. The only problem is that they pre-scheduled the appointment and told me when to show up….psychic pizza with moldy cheese.

I was on board right up until the part where the appointment was set for me. This assumption left me with the feeling this was going to be more of a high pressure pitch than a genuine, transparent attempt to retain my business. I had a vision of walking into the dealership and being greeted by a full court press designed especially for me.

Cynical? Probably a little. Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong when I reschedule the appointment for a time that’s convenient for me.

A little hiccup across channels at Nordstrom?

One of my fav Tweeters, and the Managing Partner at CRMXchange (, Sheri Greenhaus (@sgreenhaus), relayed this story to me and was kind enough to allow me to pass it on. Thanks, Sheri!

To set up the context, Sheri was conducting some experiential research on how various customer contact channels respond to a customer issue. The lesson as I see it: 1) channel integration and consistency of service delivery is getting more and more complex as customers engaged through a wider set of channels and 2) regardless of your reputation for superior customer service, reputations need to be vigilantly managed through superior execution. Consistency and continuous improvement never stops.

Here’s Sheri’s story:

“The Nordstrom story was pretty interesting. I probably carried it out to more of an extreme as I am the owner of a very large customer service/CRM portal and wanted to see how the reps responded along all the ‘touch’ points.

Situation: I received an email with discounts on Ugg boots (my teenagers love them) There is a choice to either pick it up at the store or have them shipped.

Steps involved: I went on the web site and saw that the boots were not in my local store. I would have to order them and have them shipped. I tried their online chat. I had to wait over 5 minutes for a rep to be available. I chatted that I was interested in buying the boots today, but I don’t think they had them in my local store, and, I did not want to pay for shipping. She said that was my only option. Clicked off. I called the 800 number.

They answered quickly, she was very friendly, and knew the merchandise. I told her the same story. She said there was nothing that she could do. She did not try to convince me to purchase the boots. I hung up.

The last touch point was the store. I called the store and got the shoe department. I told the salesman that I wanted to buy the boots but I don’t think they had them in their store. He said there was not problem, they will ship me the boots – with no shipping costs. A few things went through my mind—The chat and phone reps are on salary and it did not matter to them if they sold the boots or not; and/or they are not given any leeway to waive shipping costs. The store rep works on commission and has the ability to make those types of decisions to enhance the customer experience. “

Final advice from Sherri: “Also as a note to the consumer – keep at it until you get your desired result”.

Touche, Sherri. Especially in these economic times, consumers have to realize their power to influence and use it…responsibly. If you’re feeling timid in this area, a great book to build your confidence – Black Belt Negotiating by Michael Lee.

It appears that Nordstrom’s famed in-store service has not translated as well to other channels. I will be doing some additional research to try to determine, organizationally, if all of these channels are managed through the same executive structure. Stay tuned.