Category Archives: Customer Experience

4 Ways to Create Trust with Your Customers

4 Ways to Create Trust with Your Customers

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

What brands do you trust the most? And why? There are certain products and companies that seem to own the trust of their customers. It stems from product quality, reliability, managing expectations, good customer service and, perhaps most importantly, consistency.

Keep in mind that consistency is related to all of the attributes mentioned. A consistently bad experience and poor quality, while still consistent, is the opposite of what you’re trying to create. And inconsistency is almost as bad. A great experience one day followed by an average or poor experience will cause customers to question what the next experience is going to be. A pattern of inconsistency kills confidence and trust.

Let’s break it down:

1. Quality and Reliability: A product or service must do what it’s supposed to do. When you think of the most successful brands, you trust them because you know what you’re going to get. That comes from confidence in the product and/or the customer service. If that confidence is broken, it can take a long time to rebuild trust—if the customer even chooses to give the company or brand another chance. For example, a popular restaurant chain had an E. coli outbreak. Even with a stellar reputation, it took years to regain the trust of its customers.

2. Customer Experience: Customer service must be easily available. Customer service isn’t a department. The best companies know that serving the customer is more than reacting to problems, answering questions and resolving complaints. It’s the way customers are treated throughout their entire journey with a company or brand.

And while you may want to have a 100% flawless experience in which the customer never has to reach out, it’s impossible. Every company is going to have problems. In the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos was famous for saying that Amazon should be so good that it didn’t need a customer support department. Maybe it was that good, but when the product left the warehouse a third party took over the shipping. And if the package was lost in transit, who would the customer blame? To the customer, it was Amazon’s fault. So, Amazon needed a support center, even for problems that weren’t its fault.

It’s not if there will ever be a customer service issue, it’s when. The best organizations recognize the need for an excellent experience combined with excellent customer support, when needed.

3. Managing Expectations: You don’t have to WOW a customer to get them to say, “Wow.” When people describe a “Wow” experience, it’s typically over-the-top. The problem is that you can’t always be over the top. The opportunities to be over-the-top or go above and beyond happen when there are special situations, such as a problem that is handled so well that the customer says, “Wow!”

The key is to not worry about trying to be over-the-top with every interaction, but to be just a little above average. It is consistent and predictable above-average experiences—even just a tiny bit above average—that make customers say, “Wow!” Speaking of consistent and predictable, we move on to the next attribute …

4. Consistency: Anything less than a consistent experience erodes trust. Consistency is where “the rubber meets the road.” As just mentioned, it is the consistent and predictable above-average experience that gets customers to say, “Wow!” What gets them to that point is when they say, “They are always so helpful … always so knowledgeable … they always respond quickly. …” It’s the word always followed by a positive comment. Often, those comments are basic expectations. Shouldn’t all employees be helpful, knowledgeable and respond quickly? Of course. Just meeting a customer’s expectations, with maybe a more positive attitude, will fuel the experience to be better than average. Consistency creates trust. Anything less erodes it!

Think of the brands you trust and why. The product does what it’s supposed to and meets your expectations. The experience is consistent, and the customer service is great. And to emphasize just how important the customer service part of this is, our 2022 customer service research found that 83% of customers trusted a company or brand more if it provided an excellent customer service experience.

If all of this seems like common sense, it is. Unfortunately, common sense is not always so common. So, be a little uncommon. Deliver quality and reliability, manage expectations and create a consistent and predictable experience that gets customers to say, “I’ll be back.”

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Pexels

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3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers

3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Most of my advice to leaders who want to use innovation to grow their businesses boils down to two things*:

  1. Talk (and listen) to customers
  2. Do something

But what if you don’t want to talk to customers?

After all, talking to customers can be scary because you don’t know what they’ll say. It can be triggering if they say something mean about your product, your business, or even you as a person. It can be draining, especially if you’re an introvert.

Plus, there are so many ways to avoid talking to customers – Send a survey, hire a research firm to write a report, invoke the famous Steve Jobs quote about never doing customer research.

Isn’t it just better to stay tucked away in the office, read reports, state opinions as if they are facts (those opinions are based on experience, after all), and make decisions?

Nope.

It is not better. It is also not safer, easier, or more efficient.

To make the best decisions, you need the best data, which comes from your customers.

But that doesn’t mean you need to talk to them to get it.

The best data

The best data helps you understand why your customers do what they do. This is why Jobs to be Done is such a powerful tool – it uncovers the emotional and social Jobs to be Done that drive our behavior and choices (functional Jobs to be Done are usually used to justify our choices).

But discovering Jobs to be Done typically requires you to talk to people, build rapport and trust in a one-on-one conversation, and ask Why? dozens of times so surface emotional and social JTBD.

Luckily, there are other ways to find Jobs to be Done that don’t require you to become an unlicensed therapist.

Observe your customers

Go where your customers are (or could be) experiencing the problem you hope to solve and try to blend in. Watch what people are doing and what they’re not doing. Notice whether people are alone or with others (and who those others are – kids, partners, colleagues, etc.). Listen to the environment (is it loud or quiet? If there’s noise, what kind of noise?) and to what people are saying to each other.

Be curious. Write down everything you’re observing. Wonder why and write down your hypotheses. Share your observations with your colleagues. Ask them to go out, observe, wonder, and share. Together you may discover answers or work up the courage to have a conversation.

Quick note – Don’t be creepy about this. Don’t lurk behind clothing racks, follow people through stores, peep through windows, linger too long, or wear sunglasses, a trench coat, and a fedora on a 90-degree day, so you look inconspicuous. If people start giving you weird looks, find a new place to people-watch.

Observe yourself

Humans are fascinating, and because you are a human, you are fascinating. So, observe yourself when you’re experiencing the problem you’re hoping to solve. Notice where you are, who is with you, the environment, and how you feel. Watch what you do and don’t do. Wonder why you chose one solution over another (or none).

Be curious. Write down everything you did, saw, and felt and why. Ask your colleagues to do the same. Share your observations with your colleagues and find points of commonality and divergence, then get curious all over again.

Quick note – This only works if you have approximately the same demographic and psychographic profiles and important and unsatisfied Jobs to be Done of your target customers.

Be your customer

What if your business solves a problem that can’t be easily observed? What if you don’t have the problem that your business is trying to solve?

Become your customer (and observe yourself).

Several years ago, I worked with a client that made adult incontinence products. I couldn’t observe people using their products, and I do not have important (or unsatisfied) Jobs to be Done that the products can solve.

So, for one day, I became a customer. I went to Target and purchased their product. I went home, wore, and used the product. I developed a deep empathy for the customer and wrote down roughly 1 million ways to innovate the product and experience.

Quick note – Depending on what’s required to “be your customer,” you may need to give people a heads up. My husband was incredibly patient and understanding but also a little concerned on the day of the experiment.

It’s about what you learn, not how you learn it

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is one best way to get insights. I’m 100% guilty (one-on-one conversations are a hill I have died on multiple times).

Ultimately, when it comes to innovation and decision-making, the more important thing is having, believing, and using insights into why customers do what they do and want what they want. How you get those insights is an important but secondary consideration.

* Each of those two things contains A TON of essential stuff that must be done the right way at the right time otherwise, they won’t work, but we’ll get into those things in another article

Image Credit: Pixabay

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How to Create an Amazing Customer Experience on a Budget

How to Create an Amazing Customer Experience on a Budget

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

With the current recession, employment issues and supply chain problems, companies and brands are struggling to provide the same experience they have in the past. Regardless of the cause, companies don’t have the budgets they once had to devote to CX.

First and foremost, if you have to cut your budget, try to do it in places the customer won’t notice. This may not always be possible, but it’s important to try. The moment you create an inconsistent experience, your customers will lose confidence. Without that confidence, repeat business—and even customer loyalty—is up for grabs.

We had a hotel client who was struggling. One of the places he cut was the housekeeping staff. The staff became overworked and couldn’t keep up with the demand, and the guests noticed. My comment was direct. “No matter how nice your hotel has been in the past, if the guests experience dirty rooms, they may never come back.” It might be smarter to have fewer rooms available than rooms that don’t measure up to their typical standards.

On the flip side, ten years ago, before labor issues were the topic of the times, a healthcare client was struggling to staff one of its hospitals with people who aligned with its vision of creating a stellar experience. They knew that the wrong people on the frontline would erode the brand’s reputation. While they weren’t forced to cut costs, the focus on customer experience meant they would only hire the best. And when the best candidates weren’t available, they chose to shut down part of the hospital until they could adequately staff. They would rather go lean on availability than go lean on the experience.

This brings me to an article by Justin Racine that appeared in CMSWire. The title of the article was intriguing: Cheap Beer and Recessions: How to Survive and Thrive with Exceptional Customer Experience.

Racine had me at “cheap beer,” not because I like cheap beer, but because I don’t equate anything cheap with an exceptional—or amazing—customer experience. He went on to explain that he was strapped for cash in college but still wanted to enjoy the “full college experience.” To do so meant a tighter budget. So, instead of drinking a premium brand like Stella Artois, he drank a lower-priced Keystone Light.

The approach the college students chose was substitution. But this may not always be a viable strategy. For example, a restaurant probably couldn’t substitute lower-priced ingredients and still present its diners with the same quality menu items. The reason the college students may have been happy is that they had a choice. They weren’t forced to experience lower quality, but they chose to do so and were happy about it.

Racine claims disruption breeds customer experience opportunities. Yes! This could be the answer.

Consider that many businesses are being disrupted for all the reasons mentioned. Rather than stare at the problem and hope things will change, you must embrace the disruption and make a move. And to the point of Racine’s article, it may be as simple as a substitution. If you and your organization are facing any of these problems (and others), it’s time to take action. Turning disruption into opportunity starts with a conversation. Here are some ideas to jumpstart the creativity:

1. List and define in detail all the problems causing the disruption.

2. Play round one of “What If?” This is where you put all the current and possible problems (not solutions) on the table for discussion. What if labor shortages (or any other disruptive problem) continue? What if we have to cut more people? What if we lose more people? What if we can’t get the ingredients (or parts, supplies, etc.)? What if we lose a percentage of customers? What if revenue drops by 25%?

3. Play round two of “What if?” This is where you brainstorm solutions. For example, if the costs of goods rise, you might be forced to pass those costs on to the customer. So, what if we had to raise prices? The discussion isn’t a decision to raise prices, but the impact it might have on the customer if you did.

4. Remember to stay customer-focused. This follows up on No. 3. Being customer-focused doesn’t mean always making customers happy with your decisions. It means you consider how the customer will react to your decisions. For example, customers aren’t typically happy when they notice a price increase. Still, if you do so with an explanation, they might not just accept that you had to do so, but also appreciate that you are being transparent in the process.

To emphasize the concept from the beginning of this article, if you have to cut, try to do so in places the customer won’t notice. But if that’s not possible, be transparent. Be prepared to tell your customers why there aren’t as many items on the menu, why there isn’t as much availability, why it’s going to take a little longer than usual, etc. The focus here is on transparency and communication. Sharing information gives your customers a sense of control. They know and understand why there are changes.

For those in the B2B space, that transparency and communication can lead to powerful conversations with customers that can deepen your relationships. Discussing problems, changes and alternatives with your customers can get them to see you as more of a partner rather than just a vendor.

For some companies, making cuts, be it budget, people or anything else, is inevitable. It’s how you approach it that can possibly enhance the customer experience. Talk about it. Brainstorm even the most farfetched ideas. Find the opportunities that are hidden in disruption.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

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Why Data-Based Decisions Will Lead You Straight to Hell

Why Data-Based Decisions Will Lead You Straight to Hell

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Many years ago, Clay Christensen visited his firm where I was a partner and told us a story*.

“I imagine the day I die and present myself at the entrance to Heaven,” he said. “The Lord will show me around, and the beauty and majesty will overcome me. Eventually, I will notice that there are no numbers or data in Heaven, and I will ask the Lord why that is.”

“Data lies,” the Lord will respond. “Nothing that lies can be in Heaven. So, if people want data, I tell them to go to Hell.”

We all chuckled at the punchline and at the strength of the language Clay used (if you ever met him, you know that he was an incredibly gentle and soft-spoken man, so using the phrase “go to Hell” was the equivalent of your parents unleashing a five-minute long expletive-laden rant).

“If you want data, go to Hell.”

Clay’s statement seems absolutely blasphemous, especially in a society that views quantitative data as the ultimate source of truth:

  • “In God we trust. All others bring data.” W. Edward Deming, founding Father of Total Quality Management (TQM)
  •  “Above all else, show the data.” – Edward R. Tufte, a pioneer in the field of data visualization
  • “What gets measured gets managed” – Peter Drucker, father of modern management studies

But it’s not entirely wrong.

Quantitative Data’s blessing: A sense of safety

As humans, we crave certainty and safety. This was true millennia ago when we needed to know whether the rustling in the leaves was the wind or a hungry predator preparing to leap and tear us limb from lime. And it’s true today when we must make billion-dollar decisions about buying companies, launching products, and expanding into new geographies.

We rely on data about company valuation and cash flow, market size and growth, and competitor size and strategy to make big decisions, trusting that it is accurate and will continue to be true for the foreseeable future.

Quantitative Data’s curse: The past does not predict the future

As leaders navigating an increasingly VUCA world, we know we must prepare for multiple scenarios, operate with agility, and be willing to pivot when change happens.

Yet we rely on data that describes the past.

We can extrapolate it, build forecasts, and create models, but the data will never tell us with certainty what will happen in the future. It can’t even tell us the Why (drivers, causal mechanisms) behind the What it describes.

The Answer: And not Or

Quantitative data Is useful. It gives us the sense of safety we need to operate in a world of uncertainty and a starting point from which to imagine the future(s).

But, it is not enough to give the clarity or confidence we need to make decisions leading to future growth and lasting competitive advantage.

To make those decisions, we need quantitative data AND qualitative insights.

We need numbers and humans.

Qualitative Insight’s blessing: A view into the future

Humans are the source of data. Our beliefs, motivations, aspirations, and actions are tracked and measured, and turned into numbers that describe what we believed, wanted, and did in the past.

By understanding human beliefs, motivations, and aspirations (and capturing them as qualitative insights), we gain insight into why we believed, wanted, and did those things and, as a result, how those beliefs, motivations, aspirations, and actions could change and be changed. With these insights, we can develop strategies and plans to change or maintain beliefs and motivations and anticipate and prepare for events that could accelerate or hinder our goals. And yes, these insights can be quantified.

Qualitative Insight’s curse: We must be brave

When discussing the merit of pursuing or applying qualitative research, it’s not uncommon for someone to trot out the saying (erroneously attributed to Henry Ford), “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a horse that goes twice as fast and eats half as much.”

Pushing against that assertion requires you to be brave. To let go of your desire for certainty and safety, take a risk, and be intellectually brave.

Being brave is hard. Staying safe is easy. It’s rational. It’s what any reasonable person would do. But safe, rational, and reasonable people rarely change the world.

One more story

In 1980, McKinsey predicted that the worldwide market for cell phones would max out at 900,000 subscribers. They based this prediction on solid data, analyzed by some of the most intelligent people in business. The data and resulting recommendations made sense when presented to AT&T, McKinsey’s client.

Five years later, there were 340,213 subscribers, and McKinsey looked pretty smart. In 1990, there were 5.3 million subscribers, almost 6x McKinsey’s prediction.   In 1994, there were 24.1M subscribers in the US alone (27x McKinsey’s global forecast), and AT&T was forced to pay $12.6B to acquire McCaw Cellular.

Should AT&T have told McKinsey to “go to Hell?”  No.

Should AT&T have thanked McKinsey for going to (and through) Hell to get the data, then asked whether they swung by earth to talk to humans and understand their Jobs to be Done around communication? Yes.

Because, as Box founder Aaron Levie reminds us,

“Sizing the market for a disruptor based on an incumbent’s market is like sizing a car industry off how many horses there were in 1910.”

* Except for the last line, these probably (definitely) weren’t his exact words, but they are an accurate representation of what I remember him saying

Image Credit: Pixabay

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7 Tips for Creating a Great Content Experience

7 Tips for Creating a Great Content Experience

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Content marketing is a sound strategy. Using email, texting, and social media, companies, and brands are taking advantage of an effective way to connect with customers. Most companies use content to deliver value-added information that gets customers excited about what they sell. That makes sense, but it’s limiting. Think beyond marketing and sales. You don’t just want people to buy your products and services. You want them to experience your company. Beyond what you sell, you want customers to know who you are, what you stand for, and more. A good content strategy helps make that happen.

Perhaps a better way to describe content marketing in this context is to rename it content experience. So, with that in mind, here are seven ways to create an experience that uses content beyond a sales pitch:

1. Get Customers Excited

This is ultimately what you want your customers to experience—excitement for your brand. Share the latest and greatest, and maybe even a sneak preview of what’s to come. Make them feel like they made the right decision to give you their contact information. Get them excited about you—and motivated to want to buy from you and evangelize your brand.

2. Educate the Customer

You might think this is about teaching the customer about your products and services, but there is more. For example, let’s say you sell sports shoes. Look beyond shoes and educate your customers about anything related to your industry. An intelligent customer makes better—and often easier—buying decisions.

3. Highlight Success Stories

Customers want a successful experience with your products, so why not share how other customers have experienced success? Showcase these examples. Turn them into case studies that customers can use to duplicate success. Let your customers tell their stories.

4. Let Customers Showcase the Best Way to Use Your Products

If you’re going to highlight success stories, consider letting your customers do the talking. In effect, these are third-party testimonials and endorsements that are worth far more than traditional paid advertising.

5. Create a Customer Support Forum Run by Customers

Create a place where customers can answer questions posed by other customers. Consumers who have problems or questions love to learn from their peers. By the way, you will want to moderate the responses and be there to comment, add information, and thank customers for their help.

6. Create Meaningful Conversations That Go Beyond What You Sell

Your content experience strategy shouldn’t be one-way. Don’t just post something (a short article, video, white paper, etc.) and walk away. Start a conversation. Ask questions that get your customers to respond and share their opinions, which will ideally lead to other customers chiming in with their thoughts. Then respond to these answers. This type of engagement can bond you with your customers.

7. Stand for Something That Creates a Bond with Your People

There are companies that are admired for their “give-back” strategies. These companies are often charitable. Or they have such a strong belief in a cause that they make it part of their publicly stated mission. It could be sustainability, diversity, and inclusion, or any other cause, charity, or important issue that might excite customers and resonate with them so much that it takes the relationship to something beyond a typical transaction of trading money for a product or service.

Content marketing becomes an experience when you go beyond sales and marketing and make it about the customer. If the content you share creates value for your customers, makes customers feel connected to you and your brand, or makes your customers smarter, you’ve crossed over from sales and marketing to the level of experience. Make your content strategy an experience.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

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Marriott’s Approach to Customer Service

Customer Service the Marriott Way

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

It was 1927, not quite a century ago, when J. Willard Marriott and his wife, Alice, opened an A&W root beer stand in Washington, D.C. Later that year, the Marriotts added some hot food items to their menu under the name Hot Shoppes. Over the next 30 years, the Marriotts honed their hospitality skills and expanded their restaurant business into food service for airlines. In 1957, they opened their first hotel in Arlington, Virginia. It was run by their son, Bill.

Over the next 25 years, under the leadership of Bill Marriott, the hotel chain expanded across the planet. Today it represents more than 30 brands, from economy-priced lodging to uber-premium brands such as The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Julius Robinson, Marriott’s chief sales and marketing officer in the U.S. and Canada, on Amazing Business Radio. Robinson started with the Marriott organization 30 years ago in the reservations center. He knows firsthand what it takes to create an amazing customer experience.

Here are six key lessons he shared in our interview:

  1. The Fundamentals of Customer Service Happen One Person at a Time: When Robinson worked at the reservations center for Marriott, he learned the power of individual customer interactions. It’s about taking care of people one interaction at a time. Every customer was a chance to start over and confirm—and even build on—the Marriott reputation.
  2. Understand Your Customers: Understanding starts with listening. A customer who is booking a family vacation has very different needs than someone booking a business trip. The secret is to listen and avoid miscommunication. A complaint from a misunderstanding is one of the worst kinds of complaints. It’s easy to replace a dirty towel in a bathroom. It’s much harder to rebuild confidence after a miscommunication.
  3. Mistakes Handled Well Can Create a Stronger Bond: When there is a problem or a complaint, the way it is handled can make the difference between a customer coming back or not. Just resolving the issue doesn’t mean the customer will come back—it’s the way you do it that can make a big difference. Robinson was excited to share, “If you handle the problem the right way, the customer surveys will often be higher than if the problem had never occurred.” Problems and complaints should be seen as opportunities to prove how good you are.
  4. Embrace the Digital Customer Experience: When Robinson started 30 years ago, there wasn’t an Internet. Today customers may call, but often they make reservations, check-in and check out on a computer. They can even get their keys through a mobile app. According to Robinson, “Technology is an opportunity for the customer to take control over their travel experience.” The modern customer is increasingly enjoying a digital, self-service experience. However, if there is a problem at any point in their journey (no pun intended), the customer must have easy access to someone who can help, be it an agent on the phone or an employee at the front desk.
  5. Employees Must Be Empowered to Take Care of the Customers: Employees must be properly trained to do what is necessary to take care of customers. Robinson shared how, from the very beginning, J.W. Marriott Sr. believed in treating employees the way you want customers to be treated. In other words, leadership and management were the role models, and their behavior showed employees the right way to treat customers. Treat the employees right, and they will treat the customers right, and then the customers will come back.
  6. The Modern Marriott Customer Experience: Every company must grow as customers’ expectations change. During the past two years, we’ve seen customers demanding more. That challenge must be met. Many Marriott customers now expect more than just a place to sleep. The result is Marriott’s shift from simply providing a nice room and restaurant to creating an expanded experience. For example, the hotel staff can help locate hard-to-get tickets to sporting events and concerts. Maybe guests want a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Marriott team is there to help. Marriott, just like any other company, must meet its customers’ current expectations and be able to anticipate what they will need next.

Throughout the interview, Robinson shared insights into the efforts Marriott is making to get its customers to feel comfortable and confident about returning to pre-pandemic travel habits. It’s not only creating a great customer experience and providing exemplary service, but also taking measures to address customers’ concerns about safety and health. Because without that, nothing much else matters.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

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Customer Experience – The Forever Gift

Customer Experience - The Forever Gift

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Nothing lasts forever … or does it?

If something could last forever, what would the business model look like? Products could include a lifetime guarantee with a marketing message that says, “Buy it today and never have to buy it again.”

Think about it. If the marketing message is true, you’ll never have to spend another dime on that product. This is a tempting proposition for the customer, but it doesn’t sound as appealing for the company that offers this lifetime guarantee. If the company keeps its promise, it will never have you back as a repeat customer. It’s a one-time sale. Or is it?

Everything I talk and write about is based on a customer experience that gets people to say, “I’ll be back.” But maybe the goal doesn’t always have to be getting the customer to come back. Maybe it’s about a product the customer buys only once. And that product does what it’s supposed to do, but the experience during the buying process was so good that while the customer doesn’t come back, they tell everyone else about it. That means one customer could equal many more customers.

Google the search term “products that last a lifetime,” and you will find plenty of them—everything from All-Clad cookware to Zippo lighters and everything in between.

These companies create products that do last a lifetime. Because the quality is so good, either the customer tells others (great word-of-mouth marketing), comes back to buy the product as a gift for someone else (so maybe there is an opportunity for repeat business) or returns to buy other products the company offers. The point is that the guarantee builds trust. The experience creates confidence. That combination makes customers want to come back.

I bought a set of Cutco steak knives. They have a lifetime guarantee. The salesperson said I would never buy another set of knives again. The salesperson was almost right. I didn’t buy another set of knives for myself, but I did buy some as a gift. Point made!

But it goes further. Cutco sells more than steak knives. It sells bread knives, paring knives, carving knives and more. I may never buy another set of steak knives, but I need other knives—and I’ve bought them, all with similar lifetime guarantees.

Speaking of Cutco, my friend, John Ruhlin, is the No. 1 Cutco knife salesperson in the world. He’s also the foremost expert on gifting and the bestselling author of Giftology. He recently wrote about the Centennial Light Bulb, which inspired me to write this article. For those not familiar, it’s the longest-running lightbulb in history. So far, it’s been on for more than 1 million hours—that’s more than 121 years! Ruhlin says, “This lightbulb is proof that manufacturers could make long-lasting products. But they don’t. Because where’s the money in an iPhone that lasts forever?”

Actually, there’s a lot of money in an iPhone that lasts forever. Let’s say that Apple did create an iPhone that would last forever. You’d still purchase accessories such as screen protectors, earbuds and more. That’s nice, but there’s a bigger picture. Apple is not going to stop with that version of the iPhone. It will make updated versions. While some people will take pride in carrying around an antique phone, others (as in most) will want the latest and greatest, despite the lifetime guarantee.

While Ruhlin’s angle is about creating a gifting experience that builds a relationship forever, I’m approaching this subject with the idea that with the right experience, you get customers to either come back or talk about you forever! As a business, even if you aren’t gifting your customers a tangible item, you are gifting them an experience. Okay, gifting may not be the right word. How about giving? The customer wants and expects that experience, and when you give it to them, they come back. Even if your product is one that lasts forever, sell it with an experience that gets customers to talk about you, and, even better, gets them to say, “I want more of that.”

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

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How the Customer in 9C Saved Continental Airlines from Bankruptcy

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

When Gordon Bethune took over as CEO of Continental Airlines in 1994, the carrier had just emerged from its second bankruptcy and was headed for their third and potentially final round.

US Department of Transportation statistics from that year show among the ten largest US airlines, Continental ranked dead last in every single key customer service metric.

Against all odds, Bethune was able to turn the company around.

He did it with outstanding leadership, no doubt, but also through the help of one very significant “customer.”

Bethune’s Litmus Test

In his book, From Worst to First, Continental’s Remarkable Comeback, Bethune describes the challenges he faced when he first became CEO of the troubled carrier, including an overwhelming list of problems with the customer experience, on the ground and in the air.

It was too much to tackle all at once, and due to the company’s poor financial performance, money was short.

If the limited resources weren’t used properly, it could mean the end.

Bethune needed a simple method that the executives and managers in his organization could use as a litmus test for what was important when making decisions.

Customer in 9C

Bethune introduced the concept of “The Customer in Seat 9C” — a composite image of their best customer segment —business travelers— who were paying a premium fare and willing to pay more if their experience could be improved in meaningful ways.

Continental analyzed, then pinpointed the key traits, preferences, and concerns of “The Customer in Seat 9C.”

When prioritizing or deciding between different approaches, employees were trained to ask, “What would make a difference for the Customer in Seat 9C? What would make them prefer to fly with us? What would they be willing to pay more for?”

Over the next ten years, with this simple but disciplined focus, Bethune “piloted” Continental out of bankruptcy and to the title of “Fortune’s #1 Most Admired Global Airline.”

Why Your Customers Are Like Snowflakes

Of course, the concept of what “The Customer in Seat 9C” wants is a massive generalization.

On one flight, 9C could be occupied by a 60-year-old bank executive and on the next by a 23-year-old running an organic farming business.

Surely, their needs are not identical.

Like Snowflakes, Every One of Your Customers is a Completely Unique Human Being. But, Also Like Snowflakes, Many Are Extremely Similar

You may very well have noticed this during your customer research.

After listening to 40 contact center interactions with customers calling to order parts, or talking to 15 brides shopping for wedding dresses, or speaking to a dozen owners of luxury cars, while you hear many unique stories, you also start to hear the same themes over and over.

Identifying these patterns is a key part of your customer research.

Once you can analyze and synthesize all of your data, then you get actionable insight that you can use to drive your decision-making.

Personas Are Powerful

Personas are Powerful

That’s why it’s so critical to have customer personas developed for your company that any employee can quickly understand and internalize. It’s great to have decks full of customer data, but a simple, easy to understand vision of who the customer is and what they care first and foremost about makes it actionable to the enterprise.

Your Turn

Do you use customer personas at your company? If so what impact have they had?

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Top Five Reasons Customers Don’t Return

Top Five Reasons Customers Don't Return

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Whatever you sell, be it a product or service, your customers expect that it will do what it’s supposed to do. If you sell a car, the car should work. If you sell a service, the outcome should meet expectations. That’s table stakes.

So, let’s assume that whatever your customers are buying from you will meet their expectations. However, that’s not always why the customer buys from you in the first place, let alone comes back to buy more. It’s the customer experience that drives that.

In our 2022 Achieving Customer Amazement research, more than 1,000 American consumers were asked, “How likely would you be to switch companies or leave a brand after experiencing any of the following bad customer service experiences?” They were asked to rate several reasons using a scale that ranged from “not likely” to “very likely.” Here are the top five reasons customers would leave:

1. Rudeness or Apathy From a Company or Brand Employee

This was the No. 1 reason, coming in at 75%. What’s interesting is that in the late 1970s a study was commissioned by the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, and the top reason for customers leaving (over 70%) was the same. It’s hard to believe that the numbers haven’t changed for 40 years, but this continues to be the No. 1 reason customers don’t come back.

2. Inconsistent Information

There is no excuse for inconsistent information. Obviously, this is very frustrating to customers, with 72% saying this would drive them to find someplace else to do business. Have you ever called a company’s customer support number with a question and didn’t like the answer? If you truly believed the answer was incorrect, you may have called back to ask someone else the same question, hoping for a different answer. And it’s amazing how many times you get a different answer.

3. Inability to Connect with Someone From Customer Support

Self-service or digital support is becoming more popular. Customers are learning that it’s often quicker and easier to visit a website, read the frequently asked questions or interact with an AI-fueled chatbot. However, there are times when you want to talk to a human. It should be an easy, seamless transition, but some companies hide behind a wall of digital support and make it difficult for a customer to connect to a live agent. Furthermore, some companies bury their customer support number on their website, making it difficult, if not impossible, to find. This third reason customers leave comes in at 71%, just four percentage points off the No. 1 reason.

4. A Bad Customer Service Experience

I would think this would be at the top of the list, but at 68%, it takes fourth place. A bad customer service experience is exactly that. It’s just bad. But survey participants considered dealing with a rude or apathetic employee worse than an overall bad experience. My interpretation is that you might get a second chance following an overall bad experience. However, if customers are treated with disrespect (rudeness and apathy), it’s more than likely you won’t see them again.

5. Inconsistent Experience

You can’t be great one day, not so great the next day, average another day, etc. Inconsistency erodes confidence. Fifty-nine percent of the customers we surveyed would walk if they didn’t know what to expect. Customers want a consistent and predictable experience. That gives them confidence that they know what to expect every time they do business with you.

Conclusion

As you look at this list, you might think, “I knew that.” Of course, you did. You’re a customer. You don’t want to deal with employees who are rude or apathetic. It bothers you to get inconsistent information, and it’s upsetting when you want to talk with someone from a company but can’t. You get frustrated when you have a bad customer service experience. And you get irritated with an inconsistent experience. Who wouldn’t?

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

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Selling To Generation Z

This is What They Want

Selling to Generation Z

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Gen-Z is not your typical generation. By the way, neither was the Millennial generation … or Gen-X, etc. Each new generation has interesting differences, desires, likes and dislikes. Each generation poses its own problems and opportunities, depending on how you view the challenge. A recent report created by Gongos (part of InSites Consulting) shared some interesting information relevant to companies that do business with Gen-Z.

Gongos surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. consumers and compared Gen-Z to older generations. Gen-Z’s were born between 1997 and 2011, and their habits, views and behaviors are quite different than the older Gen-X and Baby Boomers. The oldest Gen-Z’s are about 24 years old, and they are quickly becoming an important consumer group that will change the way brands market and sell. Here are some of the findings, followed by my commentary and additional stats and facts.

Gen-Z Wants Brands to Challenge Social Issues – Forty-three percent of Gen-Z appreciates brands that take a stand, especially in the areas of sustainability, inclusiveness and racial transparency. And they put their money where their mouth is:

  • 69% will pay more if employees and suppliers are treated fairly.
  • 66% will pay more if the brand tries to have a positive impact on society.
  • 61% will pay more if the brands use inclusive practices.
  • 60% will pay more for a business that practices sustainability.

Gen-Z Loves Personalization – For all of the marketers reading this article, note that Gen-Z will pay for personalization—not always with money, but instead with their personal data. They aren’t nearly as protective of their personal data as Gen-X and Baby Boomers. Gen-Z pays more attention to brands that create a personalized experience or allow them to create a custom product. Consider the shoe manufacturer that lets its customers design their own shoes. Or the cosmetic company that allows its customers to create their own formulas. Offer them a personalized experience, and they will go out of their way to do business with you. More stats to consider:

  • 50% pay attention to brands that offer personalization and co-creation.
  • 52% look for brands that understand them.
  • 51% allow brands to create products that reflect their identity.

Gen-Z Fights Injustice Through “Click-Tivism” – Social media has made it easy for anyone to have a megaphone that is heard by the world. Older generations (Boomers) might protest with sit-ins and picket signs. The younger generation has embraced social media as the place to call attention to what is important to them. “Gen-Z is clicking for change.”

  • 29% follow social media accounts on social justice.
  • 26% use social media to voice their opinions.
  • 15% participate in online protests.

Gen-Z Fights for Social Inequality – Gen-Z is, according to the study, the most ethnically diverse generation in history. Diversity and inclusion are not just hot topics in the HR department, but some of the hottest topics for this younger generation.

  • 59% consider racial and ethnic diversity as beneficial for society.
  • 48% consider racism a top global issue.
  • 49% recognize that gender identity can change over time.
  • 48% know someone who prefers to be addressed with gender-neutral pronouns (they, them, their, etc.)

Gen-Z Engages in Metaverse Activities – Many people still don’t understand the metaverse, which is blending the physical and digital worlds we live in. According to the study, “No generation will embrace and shape the metaverse more than Gen-Z.” Eighty-three percent of Gen-Z engages in metaverse activities. They hang out with friends in virtual worlds and spend money on virtual merchandise. They also are looking for brands that are “seamlessly integrating the online and offline worlds.” If you do not understand the opportunities the metaverse is offering Gen-Z (and other generations), you might find yourself playing catch-up with a competitor who does. Some metaverse findings:

  • 48% participate in online gaming.
  • 29% created an avatar to use on the metaverse.
  • 20% have paid for digital products.

There are approximately 65 million Gen-Z’s in the U.S., which accounts for almost 20% of the U.S. population. These are your up-and-coming consumers and financial decision-makers. They have expectations that are quite different than older generations. While many of today’s Gen-Z’s are still very young (as young as 11 years old), don’t think they aren’t making a major impact on companies’ current and future plans. The customer experience will have to change to reflect the values of Gen-Z. Their opinions and habits are going to cross over to older generations, especially with their parents, who support this young generation’s ideals. Are you ready for a new generation’s expectations? If not, it’s not too late to start to change.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

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