Steve is a customer enthusiast with 20 years of experience between hotel operations, sales, marketing, training and development, and customer service roles, and worked for Marriot International. His blog provides insights into the customer experience and how to maximize interactions in today’s digital world.
Last fall I traveled to Philadelphia to meet up with several colleagues at a downtown hotel. At check-in, I received a room key emblazoned with the image of a specialty cocktail. After pocketing the key, I grabbed my bag, and headed toward the elevators. In the elevator lobby I noticed signage featuring the same cocktail. […]
Two weeks ago we received a late spring snowstorm that left several inches of snow on our back deck. Because my teenage son was hosting a prom after-party that evening, I approached him at 2:30pm and asked, “Why are you gaming? You have pictures at 5:00 and you’re hosting a party tonight. There’s three or […]
After buying our first home in 2000, my wife and I spent many weekends shopping at The Great Indoors, a home décor chain founded by Sears in 1997. One of our early purchases was a Kenmore canister vacuum cleaner. For more than a decade until the retail chain became defunct in 2012, I returned to […]
Last week, in preparation for spring break in the mountains, I called my local Ford dealership to ask a couple of questions about my service plan’s coverage of replacement brake pads and to schedule an oil change and tire rotation. Today’s business climate eschews helpful, personalized service in favor of more efficient alternatives. So perhaps …
In recent years, I’ve read a number of articles that attribute the rise in B Corps to organizations’ desire to be seen as interested in both shareholder and stakeholder success. A Benefit Corporation or B Corp is a type of for-profit corporate entity authorized by 33 U.S. states and the District of Columbia that includes …
I read an article in the January 15, 2019 issue of the Wall Street Journal that pointed out the limitations of a robot-staffed hotel, the Henn na, or “Strange,” Hotel, in western Japan. As it turns out, over half the hotel’s 243 robots have been culled due to guest complaints about their ineffectiveness. The in-room …
Analysis of the newly released Wall Street Journal Management Top 250 (the Drucker Institute’s second annual ranking of best-managed companies) suggests that the possible secret sauce of seven companies that do everything well is… (drumroll) a customer-centric focus. Those seven companies: Apple Inc., Intel Corp., Accenture PLC, Proctor & Gamble Co., 3M Co., Nike Inc. and …
Over three decades of working in training and development has taught me, among other things, that many managers are skeptical about the return on investment from most training programs. So-called “soft skills” training on topics like customer service and conflict resolution are likely near the top of that list.
Some training classes are easier to quantify than others. For instance, if you provide training to restaurant staff on upselling bottled water to guests as opposed to providing tap water free of charge, then you can easily determine the effectiveness of training by assessing how many bottles of water are being sold per table cover before and after the training. I once encountered a playful server at a New York City steakhouse who sold me a $10 bottle of water by posing the question: “Which would you prefer with your meal: a bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling water or New York City tap?” I appreciated his humor – and salesmanship – and enjoyed the refreshing change from bland and ordinary tap water.
While the above illustration is simple to quantify, that’s not always the case. Consider customer service training. It’s true that many businesses evaluate customer service quality through surveys and other mechanisms, but these scores are influenced by variables other than customer service behaviors displayed by employees. For instance, overall satisfaction is influenced by customers’ perceptions of value for price paid, product quality, cleanliness, etc. Knowing this, it becomes difficult to attribute a change in customers’ perceptions of service quality solely to a customer service training class.
A friend and I were discussing this dilemma when he opened a notebook and drew a large square containing four quadrants, labeling the y-axis “Don’t Change” and “Make Change” and the x-axis “Pros” and “Cons” and numbered them in ascending order from 1-4. He titled this model “The Commitment Quadrant.” As a psychologist, he’s had extensive training in human motivation theory. He said that if supervisors would just take a few minutes and pose a simple set of follow-up questions to employees after their participation in a training class, they would almost certainly realize observable/quantifiable benefits from the class.
Supervisors are often spread thin and expecting them to embrace any form of follow up to a training class may seem daunting. Even so, almost everyone would agree that follow up is beneficial. The reason most structured follow-up measures are met with resistance – and ultimately fail – is because they are seen as too time consuming and involved, where the costs of time and energy outweigh the perceived benefits.
The Commitment Quadrant drawn by my friend requires 10-15 minutes for a supervisor to follow up with her employees and informally address each of the four questions listed below. It is vital that employees actually write their responses in the quadrants as each question is addressed. Just thinking about it or discussing it will not have the same powerful effect as writing it down. It is also imperative to follow the prescribed order (1-4). Begin with “pros of no change” because it represents current behavior, followed by “cons of no change,” followed by “pros of change,” and ending with “cons of change” because it is the most threatening to the employee.
“Based on the training class you attended:
What are some potential positive consequences of NOT applying the new skills in your role? (This question may seem counterproductive but the reality is that employees are well aware of the validity of these benefits and most supervisors choose not to acknowledge them as valid.)
Now, what are some potential negative consequences of choosing NOT to apply the new skills in your role? (This question serves to address negative consequences that typically are not discussed.)
What are some potential positive consequences of applying the new skills in your role? (This question serves to support an employee’s desire for gain.)
Finally, what are some potential negative consequences of choosing to apply the new skills in your role?” (Like the first question, this may appear counterproductive but, again, employees are keenly aware of the validity of these negative consequences while many supervisors underestimate them, dismiss them entirely, or don’t believe they apply to their work groups.)
The act of simply filling in the boxes alone in the order prescribed, with no other training or intervention, has led to significant behavioral changes in a variety of clinical studies (E.g., diet, exercise, smoking, using sunscreen, using contraceptives, etc.).
A conversation between a supervisor and her employee using this tool is structured, requires little time or preparation, and offers immediate benefits: reinforcement and retention of key training objectives; clarification of expectations; positive behavioral change; potential disclosure of fears or apprehensions; and provides the supervisor with an opportunity to discuss the employee’s professional development.
So the next time you encounter training that appears difficult to quantify and question the ROI, consider applying The Commitment Quadrant. Then use the insights from your conversations to validate, encourage, inspire, and challenge your employees’ performance.
As the day unfurled, I detected an emphasis on organizational purpose as opposed to strategy, tactics, or the daily yeoman work required to run a $160B company.
This was unique because while most organizations are very effective at equipping employees with the knowledge and skills to become competent, few seem to give much thought to organizational purpose. As a result, typical companies produce a lot of capable – if uninspired – employees who adhere to protocol while processing customers, each one like the previous one, until the end of another routine and monotonous shift. Employees at such companies may know WHAT to do and HOW to do it, but they have no idea WHY they are doing it.
It is rare to encounter an organization that has embraced organizational purpose to the extent Comcast has in 2018. To be clear: Comcast is not a client and this blog post is not intended to be a PSA on the company’s renewed commitment to customer service. I’ve heard from many company executives across industries at conferences and in other, more intimate, settings and left disaffected by their hyperbole.
While many companies boast corporate values and lofty mission statements, here’s my litmus test for determining whether or not an organization is actually attuned to purpose: Has it addressed, contemplated, and clearly answered each of these four questions:
Q1. Who are we? (What are our values?)
Q2. Why do we exist? (What is our purpose?)
Q3. Who do we serve? (Who are our customers?)
Q4. What do we aspire toward? (What is our goal?)
An organization that has invested the time and energy to thoughtfully respond to these questions has defined its values, purpose, customers, and aspirational goal in alignment with the organization’s True North – the ideal state that it continually strives toward.
In reviewing my notes, I was able to find answers to each of the questions:
Q2. (Purpose) Use the power of connection to make the world a better place.
Q3. (Customers) Subscribers, employees, partners, contractors, vendors, and the community
Q4. (Aspirational goal) Make customer experience our best product.
Finding answers to these questions is important but insufficient if merely trumpeted on the corporate website or in the annual report. It needs to be actuated: modeled by leadership, embedded in the hiring and onboarding processes, and integrated into its performance management processes. Comcast employees’ daily job responsibilities must be connected to an enduring set of organizational values and purpose. Doing so propels the culture to manifest itself.
Here are some ways Comcast is actuating its corporate ideals:
Accessibility: Comcast is committed to making its products, services, and experiences accessible to the widest possible audience, and opening new doors to independence to people with disabilities. During the tour, I tried on a set of impairment goggles that are used to obscure one’s vision. Engineers use these to design accessible menus and features for visually impaired users. I also witnessed special gloves intended to simulate diminished dexterity. These can facilitate the design of remote controls, for example, that can be accessed by customers with impaired hand function.
Empowerment: I learned of a frontline Comcast call center employee in St. Paul, MN whose suggestion to increase support for first responders and customers during Hurricane Harvey was escalated, evaluated, and implemented within 24 hours. Further, the suggestion was then incorporated into the process and executed days later during Hurricane Irma in Florida.
Contribution: I heard about a Comcast Cares Day project at Provo High School in Utah. There were 800 volunteers organized for the effort to beautify and make improvements to the school facility. In addition, Comcast ordered 20 construction trash dumpsters to aid in the cleanup and made a financial contribution to the high school in the form of a grant for each volunteer.
Inclusion: Since 2011, Comcast’s Internet Essentials has connected more than six million low-income Americans to low-cost, high-speed Internet at home in an effort to bridge the digital divide. And this program was recently expanded to include low-income veterans.
Learning: Comcast developed an internal cadre to cascade customer experience training to 80,000 employees.
Service: Comcast evaluates its performance through 11 million Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys each year. Since 2016, Comcast has seen a 20-point increase in its NPS score.
Contribution/Sustainability: There is a companywide goal of dedicating at least 500,000 volunteer hours to improving the environment by 2020.
Sustainability: Even the new Comcast Technology Center headquarters building affirms the organization’s values and purpose by achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification – saving energy, water, resources, while reducing waste and supporting human health.
Each of the above examples illustrates the alignment between Comcast’s stated priorities and what it actually does. Creating a culture that perpetuates corporate ideals – where employees detect a higher calling – requires managers and leaders to be genuinely connected to their organization’s purpose. Company leaders who do not know the answers to the four questions are disconnected from their organization’s purpose. And if they are aloof from the organization’s purpose, then so too are their employees.
While many organizations give their employees assignments to work on, Comcast has given its employees a purpose to work toward.
On June 19th of this year there was a significant hailstorm in my neighborhood that damaged dozens of roofs and automobiles. My Allstate agent texted me on the same day – impressive – and asked me whether or not we had been affected by the storm.
One thing led to another and within a matter of weeks a roofing contractor and an Allstate field rep met at my home to examine the roof. Working with an Allstate claims adjuster in Chicago remotely using a tablet that displayed images of the damage done to my roof, gutters, and screens, it was determined that a roof replacement was warranted.
The following Saturday, I received a phone call from the Chicago-based adjuster who reviewed the claim and coverage. It was during this call that I learned of a certain policy endorsement that applied to my claim that increased my portion of the repair cost. For the uninitiated, a policy endorsement refers to an amendment or addition to an existing insurance contract that changes the scope of the original policy. An insurance endorsement may be used to add, delete, exclude, or otherwise alter coverage. In my case, there were exclusions that required me to pay $8,500 above and beyond my $2,000 deductible.
Apparently, five or six years ago Allstate amended its home insurance policies in certain parts of the country with an endorsement intended to reduce its financial exposure to roof repair claims due to wind and hail damage. The endorsement effectively substituted actual cash value (ACV) in place of replacement cost value (RCV). The difference is significant. With ACV, the insurer pays to repair or replace your roof, less your deductible and depreciation for the age and type of roof. But with RCV, the insurer pays all costs to repair your roof, less your deductible, without factoring in depreciation.
Although I have been unable to locate it, I’m certain that Allstate mailed me a policy renewal document detailing my increased exposure due to the endorsement. I may have even skimmed the document before filing it away without spotting the change in coverage. I’m really not sure. What I am sure of is this: I was unaware that my coverage had changed from RCV to ACV until my phone call with the Allstate adjuster following the June hailstorm.
Rather than feeling informed, I felt duped. There are a lot of emotions that Allstate would hope to inspire in their customers and I’m pretty sure “feeling duped” isn’t one of them.
After I hung up with the adjuster, I immediately texted my agent to convey my displeasure with Allstate’s settlement offer. After more than a week passed without hearing back, I emailed my Allstate agent requesting to appeal the settlement offer and asked for next steps. That message was also ignored for weeks. During this timeframe, I also tweeted both @Allstate and @AllstateCares. On one occasion, @Allstate conveyed that they would escalate my claim. After not hearing back for three weeks, I again took to Twitter and this time heard back from @AllstateCares who said that my claim would be re-escalated.
Finally, five weeks after my initial contact on Twitter, I received a phone call from an Allstate representative named Jeremy. While courteous and professional, after our call I was left with the distinct impression that “it is what it is.” As for my local agent, the first time we connected after my original text on July 21st was on September 19th when I called to fire him.
Rather than feeling important, I felt ignored. There are a lot of emotions that Allstate would hope to inspire in their customers and I’m pretty sure “feeling ignored” isn’t one of them.
There is a science, known as Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), to determining the future spending a company can expect from its current customers. Roughly defined, CLV is the projected revenue that an average customer will generate during his lifetime. This is calculated using averaged variables such as sales per customer, purchase frequency, customer retention rate, profit margin, and time.
During the 18 years I was an Allstate customer, I estimate that I paid more than $100,000 in premiums for home, auto, and umbrella policies. And there’s no reason I would not have continued with Allstate for another 18 years or more. But in its pursuit of bad profits – a term coined by Fred Reichheld for profits earned at the expense of customer relationships – Allstate was willing to forfeit good profits on >$8,453.68 EVERY YEAR (which does not include insurance on a new vehicle that was insured with Country Financial the day after I cancelled my Allstate policies) in order to recover $8,510.47 in bad profits ONCE.
On the topic of bad profits, Reichheld expounds: “Bad profits choke a company’s growth by creating detractors whose dissatisfaction blackens its reputation. They demoralize employees and leave the company vulnerable to the competition (like, say, Country Financial). They make a mockery of the Golden Rule—that we should treat our neighbors the way we would like to be treated.” And he asks, “Why don’t more (companies) understand that filling their budget gaps with bad profits is simply turning their customers against them—and destroying their ability to attract and retain good employees, who want to be proud of how they treat customers?”
Rather than feeling prized, I felt devalued. There are a lot of emotions that Allstate would hope to inspire in their customers and I’m pretty sure “feeling devalued” isn’t one of them.
LESSONS FROM LOSSES
Communicate important changes clearly and creatively. If there are changes that impact your customer, especially adversely, go out of your way to clearly communicate these changes and reset customer expectations. Mailing a form letter is one communication method but may not be sufficient for all situations. In the case of a change to the original terms of an insurance contract that will increase a customer’s financial exposure in the event of a claim, I would send a single-page explanation using colorful, easy-to-understand graphs that clearly demonstrate the increased exposure.
Of course, the contact information for the customer’s local agent would be included for additional information and to answer questions. This is also an opportunity for the local agent to reconnect with existing customers by proactively organizing informal meetings at an area coffee shop to discuss the change and respond to questions. The agent could also reach out by phone or email to ensure the change was communicated and, again, respond to questions or concerns. While educating customers, the agent is developing trust, relationships, loyalty, and even referral sources.
Rather than slipping contract changes past customers during policy renewals, why not go out of your way to draw attention to them? This may even provide an opportunity to increase sales by selling insurance riders (to mitigate the added risk resulting from the contract change or extend coverage for items such as jewelry or firearms) or other insurance products, such as umbrella policies.
Be responsive to customers. Respond to customer phone calls, texts, emails, and tweets in a timely manner. This is Customer Service 101 and, basically, just common sense.
Convey to customers that you prize their loyalty. It is well documented that the most effective ways to boost a customer’s lifetime value are to increase his overall satisfaction and intent to repurchase. Bain & Company research reveals that a 5 percent increase in customer retention can increase profits by 25 to 95 percent. The same study found that it costs six to seven times more to gain a new customer than to keep an existing one – which is why it is so befuddling to me that Allstate would appear indifferent toward actions that made me feel duped, ignored, and devalued.