Audubon Magazine features annually their photography awards. This is the magazine of the National Audubon Society, the oldest conservation organization in the world for the protection of birds. Their 2018 grand prize winner was Steve Mattheis who made an amazing photo of a Great Gray Owl in Wyoming with a Nikon D850 camera. The story behind how he made the shot was fascinating. But the big deal story was about the actual bird he photographed. The owl stands almost three feet tall with a five-foot wingspan. Here is how the magazine described this amazing fowl.
“The Great Gray Owl is a superb hunter. From a perch, it watches with eyes larger than a human’s, listens with ears so keen it can detect prey beneath a foot of snow, and attacks silently, due to sound dampening feathers.”
What a great metaphor for the features of a great service provider. Now, before we go any further, let me warn you that this metaphor has its limits. Carried too far you will think I view customers as prey instead of partners. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Great service providers watch their customers in action to learn about their behavior. Moen wanted to conduct customer research for use in the developing a new line of showerheads. They hired a firm that got permission to film customers taking showers in their own homes (I just report this stuff) and used the findings in the new design. The insights contributed to the new Moen Revolution showerhead becoming a best-seller.
Great service providers listen to learn. Too often service providers listen to correct, teach or explain. When they engage in deep listening with the sole goal of learning, they change the defensive filter through which customer intelligence can be most helpful. And, they listen “below the surface,” like hotel GM John Longstreet did through conducting focus groups with taxi drivers who frequented his property to transport hotel guests to the airport.
Finally, great service providers are supersonic fast at responding to customer issues, concerns, and opportunities. When a major hospital realized that family members were anxious about leaving a loved one in a hospital room to go recharge their cell phones, they installed a courtesy phone charger in every patient room with outlets to fit every conceivable cell phone.
You probably learned this ancient verse as a child. “A wise old owl lived in an oak. The more he saw, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, the more he heard. The wise old owl was a wise old bird.” What can you do to serve like the features of the Great Grey Owl?
Two weeks ago I visited my long-term friend, Karen, in the Novant Health hospital near Charlotte in critical condition. Mounted on the wall near the couch in her hospital room where my wife and I sat for several hours was a courtesy charging station for cell phones. It had a cord for every conceivable phone on the planet and a shelf to lay your phone while it was being charged. It meant I would not have to leave to go find a way to charge my cell phone and risk missing a crucial health turning point.
A very gloomy Wall Street Journal on a very long flight left me with a very bad headache. And, I almost never get headaches! As soon as I exited the jet way at the San Francisco Airport, I headed for the nearest newsstand for some relief—Advilâ. I opened the plastic package and removed the two tablets in foil for some quick relief. Tucked behind the foil was a collapsible paper cup just big enough for two large swallows of water! They anticipated my needs even before I did.
We all know the power of responsive service. It signals we are on the case waiting for a service hiccup that we can quickly fix or a customer need we can rapidly fill. But, customer advocacy does not come from a great response; it comes for a great anticipation. In the words of a friend I heard last week speaking about his daughter’s reaction to receiving an expected gift, “I never knew I always wanted this.” Think beyond your customers’ expectations and they will respond by bringing the funds and their friends!
I have seen the future and it is Comcast. No, really! Comcast is staging one of the biggest brand renaissance comebacks ever. I predict it will be right up there with Apple, GM, Marvel, and Lego. Personally, I would add my favorite, Delta Airlines, in the “comeback kid” category.
Now, for the backstory.
I was invited, along with a dozen customer experience gurus, to spend a day with Comcast leadership in their brand-new, just-opened Comcast Technology Center in Philly. We were there to be briefed on where Comcast has been, where they are, and, wait for it…where they are going. It was awesome, enlightening, and refreshing. I was joined by such customer experience heavy hitters as Jeanne Bliss, Shep Hyken, Scott McKain, Steve Curtin, Adam Toporek, John DiJulius, and our chief inviter and host, Jay Baer along with Comcast Chief Customer Experience Officer, Charlie Herrin. Google their names and you will see the invitees write the best-sellers and dazzle huge audiences as keynote speakers.
The day began with a write-it-down line from one of their top technology people, “I never knew I always wanted this.” While the line related to his daughter’s opening a gift, it could fit the quest of any customer-centric organization. More than skating to where the puck will be, it signaled deep customer understanding, deliberate dreaming, with a heavy dose of humility. Discovery is most profound when we are open to being amazed by its wonder. Insight is most pure when we are intensely curious without an ounce of need-to-prove. We witnessed every Comcast leader bubbling over with humility and curiosity.
Now, the cynics will claim we were wined and dined so we would write pro-Comcast blogs and articles like this one. We all agreed there may have been a modicum of self-serving intent behind their generosity. After all, their customer service reputation has been a poster child for what not to do. Yet, their honest desire to succeed by delivering an experience that will grow promoters was unmistakable. Their questions were sincere; their interest in our perspectives was genuine. We might have been there for them to show but more than that, we were there for them to learn. We could feel a turnaround in the making.
So, stay tuned for big things to come from a brand that was in the intensive care unit of the marketplace. They could be an instructive model for all who lost their way and relied on their customers to guide them back.
The following is a guest post by customer service and customer experience expert, Shep Hyken.
I believe that that the next competitive differentiator will be convenience, and I’ve written an entire book on the subject, The Convenience Revolution. Offering customers convenience is essential to keep them coming back. It takes your customer service and customer experience to the next level. A few companies have made convenience part of their core strategy – including Amazon – and by doing so have disrupted not only their direct competition, but also entire industries.
Why is convenience so important? Consumers today know what good customer service is, and they have come to expect it. We could even say that good customer service is the standard, the starting point. It’s an expectation. If you don’t provide it, be prepared to be disrupted by a competitor that does. So, if that’s the standard, then how do you break out of the norm?
That’s where the concept of convenience comes in. If you are already delivering a good customer experience, you can take it to the next level by making your customers’ lives easier, or, in other words, by being easier to do business with. In the book, I explore six areas of convenience. And, I include dozens of real-life examples of companies that have used these concepts to disrupt their direct competition, and in some cases, entire industries. Those six areas include:
Reducing friction – Just be easy to do business with. This is the overarching strategy. The other five convenience strategies provide specific ways to achieve the goal of reducing friction.
Technology – Offer customers an easy app or other technology that makes doing business with you easy.
Self-Service – Provide quick and easy do-it-yourself solutions – or any other offering that makes the experience easier.
Subscription – Have your product or service just show up when the customer needs it.
Delivery – Don’t make the customer drive to your location to pick up the product. Take it to them.
Access (Location and Hours) – Are your locations and hours of operation designed to make life easier your customer?
Forward-thinking businesses are embracing these six ideas to gain a competitive edge. Some companies focus on one or two, but the best of the best incorporate them all. And, the most successful and innovative company that is leading the way is Amazon. Let’s look at what Amazon does, and hopefully you can start to see the possibility of how to do it in your business.
Reducing Friction: Amazon makes doing business easy. Once you have an Amazon account, you can shop for millions of items all in one place. One of my favorite convenience options is its “1-Click” ordering. As you are browsing the website and find something you want to purchase, just click once and it’s on its way. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Technology: Amazon is continuously developing new, innovative ways to make customers’ lives easier. In addition to its easy shopping experience, it offers the Kindle tablet for eBooks and more, the Echo voice-controlled speaker, and AI virtual assistant Alexa. And, the Dash button is like a small doorbell that automatically orders a product that you use regularly. For example, you can have a Dash button in your laundry room that is programmed to order detergent. When you’re running low, just push the button and the detergent is on its way to your home.
Self-Service: Amazon’s online shopping experience provides user-friendly, self-service options for support, tracking orders, shipping and more. A new offering, Amazon Go, is a super convenient kind of grocery store. Customers walk into the store, pick up the items they want and walk out. There are no checkout lanes! Just get what you want and go.
Subscription: For certain consumable products, Amazon provides an option for automatic delivery called “Subscribe and Save.” Just estimate how often you would purchase the product, and set it up as a subscription. For example, if you buy a 25-pound bag of dog food every month, set it up and Amazon will deliver it to your doorstep, saving you a trip to the store.
Delivery: This one is obvious. Delivery is what Amazon is famous for. Millions of people now pay for Amazon Prime and get free two-day delivery on all kinds of products. And, delivery options have been reduced to less than two hours in many locations for many items. There have been reports that have Amazon working on 30-minute delivery using drones.
Access: Amazon is always open. You can order whatever you want, whenever you want, from your computer, phone or other Internet-connected device. And, it is building a distribution network of warehouses to streamline its operation, so it can deliver what the customer wants as quickly as possible.
Is Amazon the most convenient company on the planet? I think so, but you can decide for yourself. No one can deny that Amazon is a trailblazer when it comes to convenience and customer focus. As you look at all six of the strategies, realize that every example was for the benefit and convenience of the customer.
Bella Fleck is arguably the greatest banjo player in the world. Winner of 16 Grammy Awards, his amazing repertoire ranges from bluegrass to classical. He made the news in the music world when he wrote a banjo concerto called “The Imposter” and performed it with symphony orchestras around the country to sell-out crowds.
A banjo in a symphony? Banjos don’t go with Bach and Beethoven. They belong with square dances, pizza parlors, and having-a-great-time gatherings. Symphonies are supposed to be serious highbrow sounds appreciated by intellectuals who wear tuxedos and drink manhattans. Banjos go with blue jeans, straw hats, and people who prefer a cold beer. Leave that thought on the page.
You started life as a banjo! Early in your life you giggled, took few things seriously, and assertively leaped into silly games with the single goal of having fun, not winning. You were as innately fair and kind to kids around you as you were the stuffed toy you cherished. As you entered socialization school and success institute, you realized the banjo was not a serious instrument for work life. At first, your transformation was uncomfortable and awkward. Later you forgot ever being a banjo and worked as an “imposter.” Oh, you got a glimpse of it when you played with your kids. But such folly was left in the parking lot.
Well, guess what? Your customers adore the sweet sound of a banjo. If you are in a leadership role, the same is true for your employees. They love the authenticity of its joyful spirit and invitational style. Banjo behavior makes people want to jump up and join in. It changes melancholy to magical and reserve to sociable. Banjo joy helps foster in customers the rhythmical tapping of happy feet, not the intolerant drumming of impatient fingers. Courageously be who you really are when you “play” in your orchestra.
When Bela Fleck was interviewed about his concerto, he said, “I wanted to write something honest to me and I wanted it to be classical.” Stop being an imposter. Release the honest banjo inside you and let your cheerful spirit influence and inspire the symphony of which you are a part.
Today is Friday, October 5th. National Customer Service Week has been going all week and we have been celebrating great customer service heroes. Our CS hero for Friday serves as the concierge and host extraordinaire for the Park Hyatt in Manhattan—Michael Sinatra.
It was an hour before the start of Broadway shows and the concierge desk was glutted with guests seeking help with dinner reservations, directions, shopping recommendations, and last-minute show tickets. And, it was the week before Christmas! I watched Michael deliver non-stop warmth, focus and charm. Like the serene duck swimming on a pond, you could not see Michael’s “feet paddling hard.”
The following day I stopped by the concierge desk to inquire about his technique for graceful holiday serving under pressure. He humbly offered a few ideas as if they were common sense principles known by everyone.
Focus on serving A customer. When you are around Michael he seems completely absorbed in you and you alone. Be a service choreographer. A great customer experience requires managing an amalgamation of diverse elements and he mastered the details that matter. Effective hosts know it is not the lions and tigers that usually doom service quality, it is the gnats and mosquitoes—those tiny irritants easy to overlook but often deliver aggravation out of proportion to their size.
Don’t see customers through the lens of the organization; see the organization through the lens of your customers. National Customer Service Week is a chance to start serving like a great concierge. Pay attention to the details with the same vigilance as the big stuff. Help your customers get the feeling they are your only customer. Be a great host to those you serve.