My bad

Nearly every legitimate customer complaint could be turned around right away with an immediate, forceful reply:

This shouldn’t have happened.

I’m sorry.

It was our mistake.

I’m going to fix it right now and make things better than they were before.

In other words, “I feel as bad about this as you do, because I care as deeply as you do – or more – about keeping the promise I’ve made to you as a customer.”

The power to diffuse comes from your definitive and quick response, which is only possible when the person hearing the complaint has the power to make things right.

Once a complaint has gone through four levels of escalation, no matter what you do it’s too late.

 

When it works

The line at my local Chipotle looks like this each and every day at lunchtime, with 20+ people on line and more streaming through the door.  And each time I’m there, I’m in and out in 7 minutes or less.

chipotle

Conversely, there’s a lovely little bakery across the street from my office called Amy’s Bread. Most everything there is delicious (though wildly expensive), and I’d be there once a week if it weren’t for the fact that if Amy’s has anything more than four customers working their way through the line at the same time, their system grinds to a halt and it can take 10 minutes to get a salad and a piece of bread (let alone a hot pannini – 15 minutes or more!).

What’s going on here?  The fact is, it’s easy for us to spend our time time and energy focused on what went wrong: the customer that got away, the sale that didn’t close, the photo that we sent that didn’t pop as much as it should have, the pitch meeting that got off track and ended before it really started. What about the value we can create by making sure that everything goes just right when things go exactly the way they’re supposed to go?

What do we do when we come across a funder (customer) for whom our story completely aligns with their worldview, someone who jumps in quickly with both feet ready to help in a real way? Do we go above and beyond to make her experience more extraordinary, more remarkable, and more worth talking about than her wildest expectations?  Or, right after “closing the sale,” do we run around after the next potential customer or, worse, are we too busy breaking a sweat doing backflips for our loudest, most disgruntled customer – never mind that they might be the wrong customer for us – that we don’t pay enough attention to anybody else?

Step 1 is figuring out who, exactly, we are trying to serve, what their worldview is, the emotional change we expect to happen when they come in contact with our story, and what action we would like them to take when we’ve succeeded in making that change.

*phew* we say. Success. We did ALL of those hard things.

Yes, it’s success, and it’s just the start. The most important, value-added part we can do is to make sure that our perfect customer is beyond delighted after they become our customer.

Chipotle knows exactly what to do when 10 hungry people walk through the door on the hunt for a hot, fresh burrito.

Are you also ready to delight your best customers when they say “YES, I’m buying what you’re selling”?

Try it, you’ll learn

Irrespective of how much you care, about how hard you try to imagine every little thing your customers might need or want, until you are a buyer of your own product you’ll never fully understand what pieces it has and what are missing.  This means:

Using a new app for weeks until you figure out that the slow startup time actually matters in frequent use cases.

Trying the self-checkout line to discover that buying produce is a nightmare.

Creating presentations using Powerpoint to discover that the seven commands you use the most are on seven different menus, and three of them are buried two levels down.

Having your team member pitch you as if you were a potential donor to see what questions actually come up.

And of course giving to your organization – and to a bunch of others – to see what sort of communications you get how they make you feel.

The difference between a good experience and a great one is in the little things that are just right; and these are almost impossible to see from far away.

Lifetime guarantee

18 months ago I got a fancy work bag as a gift.  Within a year, the little ring holding the strap to the bag broke; a few months later the second one broke.

I finally made my way to their store in Soho in New York’s West Village to see if they’d fix or replace it.  Sure, they said.  It would take about a month to repair, and would cost me $150…to replace two little metal O-rings.

If you’re from the US you probably remember, way back when, when LL Bean was famous for taking back ANYTHING and always being willing to repair it or replace it.  This was long before the web or Facebook or social media yet, despite a lot more friction around messages spreading, that story spread – like the one about the guy who had 30-year LL Bean duck boots that finally gave out, he sent them in to LL Bean, and a brand new pair arrived, no questions asked.

This contrast got me thinking about what we see when a customer takes the time and the effort to bring back something that didn’t work or disappointed her.  Sure you could think her as a cost to be minimized.  You could make sure that the clerk she speaks to doesn’t have the authority to make a call to do something to help her, and you could definitely write a policy that’s going to minimize unwanted returns from people trying to scam you.

Or you could see her as someone who cares enough about your product to come back, someone who’s ready and willing to be wowed or disappointed right at that moment, someone who may as well be holding up a sign that says, “THIS IS YOUR BIG CHANCE: turn me into an evangelist for your extraordinary service!”

So of course you show that person the door…?

I don’t care much about the bag.  But it did get me thinking about the rare opportunities we have to really keep our promises.   It’s hard to imagine, even for folks in the nonprofit space, cases where a “lifetime moneyback guarantee” wouldn’t win you legions of loyal fans who will shout your story from the rooftops.

It’s not just the right thing to do, it also will pay off handsomely in the end.

In the know

There’s nothing better than turning your customers into insiders.  One way is to give them the sense that they’re in the know and they are sharing in a  special secret, even if it’s small and even if it’s only sort of secret.

For example, you can get some of the best brownies on the planet at Fatwitch bakery in Chelsea Market.  After 5PM they put up a tiny sign:

Unwrapped brownies sell for $1.50 after 5PM – that’s half price.  Everything else in the store – wrapped brownies, brownie mix, etc. – remains full price, and you have to pay close attention to notice the little sign.  Just the other day I was in there buying a couple of half priced brownies while three tourists bought 30 wrapped mini brownies for full price.

There’s no subterfuge going on here – anyone who orders a brownie at the counter gets charged $1.50 per scrumptious brownie.  Then again, the whole thing wouldn’t work on multiple levels if they had giant letters in storefront window saying “BROWNIES HALF OFF AFTER 5PM!!!”

Just a little something small, a tiny secret that keeps loyal customers coming back.

Shhhhh!

Bump and grind

WordPress.com, of which I am a very happy user (cost = free, uptime = 100%, functionality = great and always improving) has one interesting limitation – the blog statistics one can easily access are “blog traffic,” meaning the number of site visits you get on your blog.  There’s no direct information about how many RSS subscribers you have or people subscribe to your posts by email (never mind stuff being retweeted, re-Facebooked, re-emailed).

If blogs were magazines, this would be akin to tracking how many copies you sold at the newsstand and ignoring your monthly subscriber base.

The thing is, monkey see, monkey do.  Seeing those on-site stats daily makes you care about their mostly random vacillations.  And while they do matter some – if you’re writing good content, others will link to it, repost it on social media sites, etc. so your onsite traffic will increase – they’re mostly noise compared to getting and keeping loyal readers.  For example, getting 25 new RSS subscribers is obviously more important than getting 5,000 hits on a single day (25 subscribers = ~5,000 impressions /year), but it just doesn’t feel that way.

So when something big hits that gets you visibility, there’s a natural tendency to thirst for the next big bump – the big sale, the big media hit, the big donor, the big something new.  Keeping your true fans insanely happy somehow seems like less of a victory than landing the next big customer, maybe because happy customers are often quiet, meaning there’s not as much feedback there as you’d like or need.

And so we get one big bump, one big new sale, one major new donor, and the moment things go back to normal we thirst for that next bump and the accompanying adrenaline.  It feels exciting to bring in someone new, to make that big pitch, to close the sale.  After all, isn’t big game hunting what this is all about?

Well no, actually.  This game is part hunting and part gathering, and, in the long-term, nurturing and feeding your biggest fans pays off a lot more than that next potential big win…in fact, looking off too far into the distance is a surefire way to make your most enthusiastic supporters feel like chopped liver.

That constant cultivation, the care and feeding, is the real work that makes a lasting impact.

Out (f-cking) care the competition

I just learned last week about Gary Vaynerchuk from Seth Godin’s Domino Project (great post, Ishita), another great example of someone who pokes the box (you mean you haven’t read Poke the Box yet?  What are you waiting for?  It’s a top 100 book on Amazon, for goodness sake, and it will help you see that you don’t need to wait for anyone’s permission.    OK fine, I’ll write a review soon).

Then just yesterday a colleague told me that Gary’s talk at last weeks’ SXSW-Interactive was one of the top three at the whole darn conference.  Besides the entertainment value of Gary’s, uh, colorful vocabulary, (2 minutes and 4 seconds without dropping the “f-bomb”) Gary’s main message was that companies are going to win and lose based on who can “out care” their customers.

Speaking of caring (and not caring), the other night I was at Magnolia Bakery, which helped start the NY cupcake craze and which shamelessly charges nearly $3 for an (admittedly delicious) cupcake.   But service is slow.  The store is set up Disney-land style (pick your cupcakes here, walk down the long counter for the chance to buy more stuff, pay at the register at the end) which might work when there’s a throng of customers but makes no sense when you’d rather just drop six bucks in a jar and walk away with two cupcakes.

I was running late for a show, so I noticed when it took me (and the other six other customers in the store) nearly 10 minutes to buy cupcakes (two cupcakes per couple, so really three customers).  Bad enough, but much worse because there were 8 Magnolia employees chatting, working, and doing everything but notice that their empty shop had a logjam.  I even asked one of them if I could just pay and go, and she said she wasn’t assigned to the register.

“Too cool for school” might be an OK customer service approach when your shop is flooded with tourists looking for a “real NY experience,” but for the rest of us chickens it’s time to think seriously about out-caring the competition.  If you don’t believe me, read the blow-by-blow Zappos story in Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, and remind yourself again and again: this is a billion dollar company with rabid fans who buy SHOES ONLINE.

While last week’s post about new humanism generated a lot of interest, some comments said that David Brooks’ arguments are old hat.  The ideas may not be new, but they’re certainly not mainstream (in business, in economics, in how we teach our kids), and I think it’s high time that changes.  It’s much more than a tweak to the old models….if you really take it seriously you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater and start afresh.

For example, the old way of thinking about customer service says that customers want the best product for the best price, and oh, yes, they want to good customer service too (read: nice-to-have, sort of like “soft skills”…can you hear the derisive sneer?).  The Zappos way of thinking says that creating an off-the-charts customer experience is the ONLY thing that matters.  For Zappos, it’s the end-all be-all.

It may be that Magnolia Bakery can ignore out-caring the competition because they serve up enough sugary, buttery goodness to anesthetize their customers (or, more seriously, because waiting forever confirms the story of cupcakes you flew across the country to try), but for the rest of us, it’s time to start out-caring the competition.

That means real relationships, every time.  It means you actually care, you don’t just act like you care.  It means you put emotional effort into everything you do.  It’s not easy to copy, which is why if you do it with abandon, you win.