Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Archive for January, 2008

Buick Reaches Out to Golfing Owners

Posted by Becky Carroll on January 29, 2008

members-only.jpg I attended the semi-final round at the Buick Invitational Golf Tournament this past weekend, held at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego (beautiful course!).  It was great fun watching Tiger Woods and other golfers tackling the rugged terrain (and managing the fans).  Something else caught my eye: the VIP tents.

We looked at the usual VIP tents, sponsored by companies for their guests (many of whom were likely valuable customers); is there any way for the average Joe to get into a hospitality area?  The Buick Owner VIP Area provided that luxury, and all you had to do to get in was show your Buick car keys!  Once inside the ropes, you registered as a Buick owner and had access to an area where you could relax.  Additionally, from what I could understand, you also had access to a VIP viewing area on the 18th fairway!  (As I am not a Buick owner, I couldn’t get in to check it out for all of you, and the security person at the ropes couldn’t tell me much… did any of you readers attend this?  Let me know if you were a Buick Owner VIP!)

I would bet that Buick customers were surprised and delighted at this offering.  Plus, the people who were “in” would feel like part of a special community.  What a great way to tell your customers you appreciate them!

Buick has been reaching out to its customers interested in golf in other ways as well.  Through their Buick Clubhouse loyalty program, Buick owners have the opportunity to purchase special tickets to premier golf events.  Their interactive Clubhouse website is actually kind of fun; Tiger Woods invites you to come in, and he prompts you to click on various areas while you are there (must have been fun for him to do!). 

The loyalty program targets new owners, but Buick is also accepting existing customers into the program.  Per an article in Promo magazine, Buick is using this to engage new demographics for their vehicles:

“Buick traditionally has had the highest loyalty in the automotive industry,” (Larry) Peck said. “Our buyer has been older, too. With this program, we are trying to get younger buyers. Golf offers younger, more affluent, more educated consumers. We are trying to reach our demographic through the Internet…and offer a premiere owner experience.”

Proceeds from loyalty program events or merchandise after expenses will benefit the Buick Open Southeast Michigan Charities.

Building Customer Loyalty

What are your customers interested in?  Where do they spend their time?  Understanding customers, their interests, and their needs helps us tailor not just products and services, but also outreach and loyalty programs.  Do your customers want to feel special?  Create a customer recognition program.  Do your customers want to have “access” to your company?  Create a community, with your key execs/programmers/personnel playing a central role.

One of the most important ingredients in building customer loyalty is consistency of customer experience.  Buick needed to make sure an owner’s experience at the Invitational Tournament was a good one in every way possible in order to contribute in a positive way to the brand experience.  The same experiences now need to occur with the Service and Parts department, with Sales managers, with any emails and marketing sent to customers, and basically, in every single customer touch at every dealer.  This requires knowing your customers, coordinating across functional areas internally, as well as collaborating with partners (in this case, the dealerships).

Is that doable?  Yes – with planning.  And flawless execution.  Customers have high expectations.  The companies that can do this have an edge.  Is your company one of them?

(Photo credit: fintastic)

Posted in Community, Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customer strategy, Marketing | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Customer Expectations and Loyalty

Posted by Becky Carroll on January 25, 2008

red-carpet-2.jpg I have long been telling clients that they need to look outside of their industry for competitors.  I shared this in a blog post last year:

Do you know who is rocking your customer’s world?  Is your competitor more focused on customers than you are?  Perhaps there isn’t anyone in your industry yet who has a Customers Rock! attitude and strategy.  However, your consumers may be experiencing Nordstrom or Southwest and their great customer service.  Your business clients may be serviced by Pitney Bowes, who have been recognized by Gartner for their excellence in CRM. 

Doug Meacham over at NextUp points out something similar from trendwatching.com’s latest briefing.  In their article on the Expectation Economy, they discuss how the increasing speed of worldwide communication among consumers, along with blogs and other online reviews, is helping to raise the bar on customer expectations in every product or service consumed.  Doug states the following:

“While consumer’s expectations are up and rising, most brands choose to not keep up with the “best of the best”. The result: Informed Consumers are Indifferent or Irritated. The briefing suggests that these states will likely manifest themselves in Fake Loyalty and Postponed Purchases.”

He describes Fake Loyalty as something which is gone as soon as something better (or sometimes cheaper or more convenient) comes along.  Drew McLellan at Drew’s Marketing Minute discussed something similar in his recent post about his dry cleaner.  Drew describes his relationship this way:

“By all impressions — I should be an easy win for another dry cleaners. 

  • I am very dissatisfied with my current provider
  • What they sell is a commodity
  • There is a low cost of entry — doesn’t cost me a lot to switch

Yet, I (so far) am staying put.

I have also called customers who exhibit this Fake Loyalty by another name: “hostages”.  Hostage customers are those who subscribe to cable because it is the only way to get certain channels they want to watch.  Or they are those customers who sign up for a company’s service plan for their machines because no one else (currently) offers service for them.  Or, as in Drew’s case, they stay with a service because it is convenient – until something more convenient comes along (Drew, what if someone offered a service to pick up and drop off your cleaning at your house, for the same price?).

All of this goes back to understanding customer expectations.  We need to begin benchmarking what is going on in our own industry, but also the other industries where our customers do their purchasing of goods and services.  I may be a business customer by day, but by night I experience Amazon or Lands’ End and their fabulous customer service.  As I stated in my previously-quoted blog post,

Customer expectations are set not just by our organizations but also by all the other organizations our customers touch, whether in their personal or business lives.  Do you want to rock your customer’s world?  First, understand their world and who is rocking it.  Then, meet their needs.  Along the way, exceed their expectations.  You will then have the building blocks for a long-term customer relationship.

Which companies are rocking your customer’s world?  If you have been a reader of my blog for some time, you will think of candidates such as Nordstrom, who focuses on people, Southwest Airlines, who is good at engaging customers via their blog, and even The Busy Bunny, who is good at thanking customers.  They are all Customers Rock! companies in one fashion or another. 

Do your customers do business with these companies, or others like them?  If so, now you know more about your customer’s expectations.  If not, you can still learn from these examples as you create your customer strategy to keep and grow business.

(Photo credit: eraxion)

Posted in B2B Marketing, Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Marketing | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Thanking Customers

Posted by Becky Carroll on January 24, 2008

thank-you-2.jpg I read a great example of interaction between a business and its customers – a pizza restaurant!  Ben McConnell at Church of the Customer blogged about HomeMade Pizza in Chicago and the experience of one of his friends there.  In response to filling out the (optional) customer contact card, Ben’s friend received an email from the store manager thanking her for her business.  She sent back a quick reply (that she loved the pizza) and then received another message, this time from a company VP, thanking her for her feedback!  (Be sure to go read Ben’s blog post for the text of the emails – they are very sincere and not at all canned.)

No where in these messages was any selling taking place.  There was simply an air of customer appreciation and open lines of communication.  HomeMade Pizza has started a conversation with their customer, and I predict that a long customer relationship will be a result of this interaction.

Why did this have such an impact on Ben’s friend?  The simple fact is, very few businesses stop and take the time to thank their customers.  When they do, it exceeds our expectations and stands out above other experiences. 

Have you thanked a customer lately?  The best companies don’t do it randomly; they make thanking and interacting with customers a regular part of how they do business.  It is baked into their marketing plans.  It is taught in their customer service training sessions.  It is modeled by managers that thank employees.  It becomes part of a company’s DNA.

What’s in your organization’s DNA?

(Photo credit: karenr)

Posted in B2B Marketing, Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customers Rock!, Marketing | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Starbucks: Getting Customers Engaged

Posted by Becky Carroll on January 21, 2008

custom-latte.jpg Here at Customers Rock!, I talk a lot about getting your customers more engaged in your organization.  One way that some consumer organizations do it is by having customers submit their own photos or ideas for corporate use.  For example, at Jones Soda, their bottle labels are actually photos submitted by their customers.

How can an organization do this more locally in order to connect with regular customers?  I saw this sign up at my local Starbucks in front of the espresso machine.  It usually has info about an upcoming event at the store or a new drink flavor.  On this day, the “drink of the day” was actually the Customer Latte of the Week: Mary’s Latte.  There was no contest for this recipe; it came from the information this Starbucks has about its customers.

This signs does two things.  One, it acknowledges Mary and her repeat business, making her feel great!  Two, it tells other customers that the baristas here know their customers well, so well that they can recommend the best drink combos they see on a daily basis.

When you have information about your customers that your competitors don’t have, that is a potential competitive advantage.  When you use that information to do something for your customers, now you are creating a stronger customer relationship.  This is the foundation for loyalty.

Kudos to my local Starbucks for reaching out to customers and making them feel special.  You rock!

Posted in Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customers Rock!, Marketing | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Customer Service Event and Call for Authors!

Posted by Becky Carroll on January 18, 2008

csitnm_badge.png Customer Service Conference in San Francisco, February 4 

In just two weeks, I am hosting a lunch workshop at the Customer Service is the New Marketing event in San Francisco, CA on Monday, February 4.  I am honored to be on a program also featuring speakers from Zappos, Virgin America, Flickr, Google, and Geek Squad (to name a few).  My blogging friend Doug Hanna from Service Untitled will also be hosting a lunch workshop, along with some other smart folks.

There has been some debate as to whether customer service is the new marketing.  I would say that everyone who is in customer service is also doing marketing, as every touch to the customer counts.  Often, it is these customer touches that make the most impact, as the customer spends more time using a product or service than purchasing it (one hopes!).  Customer service is the face of the company, and organizations that see it as only a cost are missing a trick.

There is still time to register for the conference.  The price is $495 for this fabulous one-day event being held at the gorgeous Presidio in San Francisco.  Customers Rock! readers can get a 15% discount if you use the code CRNT when registering; here is the link

Come to the event, and make sure to say HI to me and tell me you are reading Customers Rock!  I’ll even buy you a drink at the after-event bash.

ageofconversation-book.jpg Call for Authors for Round Two of Age of Conversation

Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton are at it again.  They are spearheading the effort to create the 2008 edition of the Age of Conversation book.  Over 100 authors from around the world came together to write short essays and raise money for Variety Children’s Charity; not one penny went to any of us.  The book focused on this conversation age and what it means to marketers and businesses.

Some of you expressed disappointment that you missed out on the last book.  Here is your chance!  Just email Drew and let him know you want to participate.  See his post (linked to his name above) to find out the rules.  You can even vote on the topic (on Drew’s blog).

I am going to be in again; come join me!

Update: Here is a list so far of those planning to contribute this year:

Drew McLellan, Luc Debaiseieux, Ryan Karpeles, Greg Verdino, Lori Magno, Gavin Heaton, Connie Reece, The Kaiser, Katie Chatfield, Tim Jackson, Doug Meacham, C.B. Whittemore, Becky Carroll, Gordon Whitehead, Daniel B. Honigman, Daria Rasmussen, Jay Ehret, Jasmin Tragas, Jamey Shiels, Organic Frog, Bill Gammell, Nathan Snell, Stephen Landau, Stephen Collins, Stephen Smith, Mark Earls, Steven Verbruggen, Neil Perkin, Brett Macfarlane, Dino Demopoulos, Chris Wilson, Asi Sharabi, Mike Sansone, Angela Maiers, Sandy Renshaw.

Here is the list of contributors from last year, and many of these are now friends as well.

Gavin Heaton
Drew McLellan
CK
Valeria Maltoni
Emily Reed
Katie Chatfield
Greg Verdino
Mack Collier
Lewis Green
Sacrum
Ann Handley
Mike Sansone
Paul McEnany
Roger von Oech
Anna Farmery
David Armano
Bob Glaza
Mark Goren
Matt Dickman
Scott Monty
Richard Huntington
Cam Beck
David Reich
Luc Debaisieux
Sean Howard
Tim Jackson
Patrick Schaber
Roberta Rosenberg
Uwe Hook
Tony D. Clark
Todd Andrlik
Toby Bloomberg
Steve Woodruff
Steve Bannister
Steve Roesler
Stanley Johnson
Spike Jones
Nathan Snell
Simon Payn
Ryan Rasmussen
Ron Shevlin
Roger Anderson
Robert Hruzek
Rishi Desai
Phil Gerbyshak
Peter Corbett
Pete Deutschman
Nick Rice
Nick Wright
Michael Morton
Mark Earls
Mark Blair
CB Whittemore
Mario Vellandi
Lori Magno
Kristin Gorski
Kris Hoet
G. Kofi Annan
Kimberly Dawn Wells Karl Long
Julie Fleischer
Jordan Behan
John La Grou
Joe Raasch
Jim Kukral
Jessica Hagy
Janet Green
Jamey Shiels
Dr. Graham Hill
Gia Facchini
Geert Desager
Gaurav Mishra
Gary Schoeniger
Gareth Kay
Faris Yakob
Emily Clasper
Ed Cotton
Dustin Jacobsen
Tom Clifford
David Polinchock
David Koopmans
David Brazeal
David Berkowitz
Carolyn Manning
Craig Wilson
Cord Silverstein
Connie Reece
Colin McKay
Chris Newlan
Chris Corrigan
Cedric Giorgi
Brian Reich
Becky Carroll
Arun Rajagopal
Andy Nulman
Amy Jussel
AJ James
Kim Klaver
Sandy Renshaw
Susan Bird
Ryan Barrett
Troy Worman
S. Neil Vineberg

Posted in Blogging, Community, Customer service, Marketing | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

Making Customers Feel At Home

Posted by Becky Carroll on January 16, 2008

dinner-friends.jpg At Hometown Buffet restaurant, they serve an all-you-can-eat buffet with a smile.  One of my readers, Linda, shared a great story about their local restaurant in Citrus Heights, California.  Linda goes to Hometown every Monday, and the staff has gotten to know her and her husband very well. 

For the holidays, this Hometown Buffet was offering pecan pie for dessert, her husband’s  favorite.  As the holidays began to wind down, less and less pecan pie was available (they only offer it during the holidays – “while supplies last”).  In January, the pie was only being served on the weekends and was usually gone by the time my reader went in on Mondays.

On this particular Monday, the pie was, indeed, already gone.  Disappointed, Linda and her husband sat down to eat their meal.  A few minutes later, Al, one of the managers, came out to their table – with a huge piece of pecan pie!  He said to them, “I know how much you love the pecan pie, so I set a piece aside just for you yesterday afternoon, before we ran out.”  These two customers were amazed, and thrilled!  The pie was a larger-than-usual piece on a plate which was different from the typical buffet plates.  The manager obviously knew the key to his customers’ hearts (and stomachs).  She said to me, “Al made our experience great.”

Here are some of the other things Linda told me about this restaurant:

  • Both of the managers, Al and “Bambos”, sit down to talk with their customers and see how things are going.  She said to me, “People don’t seem to do that anymore!”
  • If a customer needs anything, the wait staff usually figures out a way to come up with it.
  • The service makes customers want to come back to the same restaurant location over and over again.
  • “They don’t treat us like customers; they treat us like we are coming to dinner at their house.”

What do you do to ensure your regular customers are happy?  If you are like most businesses, not much.  The task usually falls to a few people who are very good at customer service and who implement “random acts of great customer service.”  On the other hand, treating customers like family – what a great compliment!  Companies that can create a positive experience which is consistent across customer touches (different touch points, different days) and exceeds expectations will win a customer’s heart.  Old Country Buffet, the parent company of Hometown Buffet, also owns the restaurant chain Tahoe Joe’s, and I like how they describe their customer service:

“Tahoe Joe’s provides legendary service – the unique and powerful sort of personal care and attention that guests tell stories about.” 

Organizations striving for that kind of customer service will surely achieve it; it’s in their DNA.  Nice job, Hometown Buffet in Citrus Heights.  You guys rock!

(Photo credit: Paha L)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Customers Rock! | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

The Marketing of Customization: Hilton Hotels

Posted by Becky Carroll on January 12, 2008

reserved.jpg The hotel business is extremely competitive.  What used to work to keep customers loyal to a hotel is no longer effective.  Customers expect more.  As Jonathan Tisch, CEO of Loews Hotels, stated, “chocolates on the pillow aren’t enough”! (Note, this is also the title of his book on customer experience, reviewed here).  So what will make a difference for customers?

Customization based on customer preferences is one way to build customer trust and loyalty.  Hilton Hotels has rolled out a few ideas to try and customize its offerings.  The one I encountered on my recent holiday stay at a Hilton was the Hilton Breakfast.  Breakfast makes up a large percentage of the meals eaten at a hotel, and Hilton seems to be reaching out to its customers to (hopefully) get more of them to eat it there.  They started their Hilton Breakfast earlier in 2007 with this premise: “Everyone’s idea of the perfect breakfast is different“.  In our room, there was a small marketing brochure which described it this way:

“Simply select the breakfast that’s right for you, and follow the color chosen on the Hilton Breakfast buffet.  We’ll do the rest – you’ll find that our buffet offers the widest choice of fresh and premium quality product imaginable.”

The contents of their buffet are color-coded as Low Fat & Low Calorie, Hi-Energy, High Fiber, Low Cholesterol, and Indulgence (which is, actually, everything on the menu).  This idea is an interesting one and a way to get customers to self-select their preferences.

Hilton is also using another method to try and customize the hotel experience.  I found out about Hilton On Time when I was looking at their promotions page.  It is a service that allows Hilton’s loyalty club members to request extra pillows, towels, or even drinks (that one for a fee!) ahead of time so they are in the room on arrival.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to experience that feature; we booked our room through a Park and Fly website.  However, this is a great way to understand your customer’s needs and prepare the room for them.  (Note – too bad it is not marketed more effectively, and too bad they charge for some of the requests…)

A better way would be to remember your customer’s needs for next time!  When I worked at Peppers and Rogers Group, I used to hear Don Peppers tell a great story about customization and Ritz Carlton hotels.  Don loves Diet Coke, and if I remember the story properly, one time when he stayed at a Ritz Carlton, he ordered a Diet Coke from room service.  They made a note of his order, and the next time Don stayed there, a Diet Coke was waiting for him in his room.

Organizations that learn about their customers, then use the information they have learned to serve their customers better in the future will be the organizations that win the Customer War.  They are Customers Rock! companies.  I look forward to sharing more Customers Rock! stories with you, and having you share yours with me, throughout 2008 and beyond.

(Photo credit: ynamuku)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Marketing | 5 Comments »

Back on Track

Posted by Becky Carroll on January 11, 2008

back-soon.jpg Sorry for the week-long hiatus from the blog; between travels and illness, I didn’t get back to it when I had planned.  Look for a new post later today on a Hilton Hotels experience.

Posted in Customer experience | Leave a Comment »

Musician’s Friend Rocks With Great Customer Service

Posted by Becky Carroll on January 3, 2008

cymbals.jpg Just before Christmas, I placed an order on behalf of my son for a new set of cymbals for his drumset.  These were much anticipated cymbals, as he was paying for them with money he earned himself.  We went to Musicians Friend, a great website for musical instruments, and ordered the cymbals.  Since we were getting ready to leave for the holidays and my son was quite anxious to get them in time to play them, we ordered the cymbals for overnight delivery.

On the day they should have arrived, my son was anxiously waiting near the door.  The time of arrival passed.  The cymbal stand arrived, but no cymbals.  I called Musicians Friend and spoke with a customer service agent who told me they should arrive by the afternoon.  Later that day, still no cymbals.  Calling Musicians Friend again, they gave me the package tracking number so I could see where the cymbals were.  Turns out they were still in Missouri (I am in California)!  They hadn’t been picked up by the shipping company.

Frustrated, I called Musicians Friend again.  This time, I was connected to a wonderful agent named Brit.  Brit went above and beyond for us.  He spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what could have happened.  He called the shipping company 3 or 4 times in a row but kept getting disconnected (I always wondered if that only happened to consumers or if it happened to merchants, too!).   He refunded me my shipping charges as I didn’t get the product when promised.

We had now been on the phone together for about 30 minutes.   As I understand that many call center agents are measured on talk time, I thanked him for taking the time with me to resolve the problem.  I asked him if he would get in trouble for taking so long!  He turned around and asked his supervisor that question; the answer was no – we only use call time stats when we are looking at potential raises. 

I then told him about gethuman.com, a database which tells you how to get through to a live person for assistance (which was what we needed right now).  He tried their strategy, and it worked (in this case, it was to keep repeating the word “representative”).  He finally got into the queue for the shipping company.  Afraid he would lose me, he conferenced me in to the hold queue so I could hear the conversation.  Completely silent, I listened as Brit went to bat for me.  He was very professional and made it clear he had a very dissatisfied customer who paid for overnight shipping and didn’t get it.  The next day was Saturday, and Brit didn’t hesitate to offer to pay for Saturday shipping fees so we could get our cymbals.

Brit did his best for us, and I was very happy that he went out of his way and took the time to try and make a bad situation good.  He spent nearly one hour on the phone on our behalf.  He was positive and cheerful throughout.  We actually had a great conversation!

Thank you, Brit, for making this experience better.  Plus, thanks also for your help, as we did get the cymbals on Saturday, and I have not seen my son that happy in ages.

Customers Rock! for Musician’s Friend.  Thanks you guys!

(Photo credit: stephconne)

Posted in Customer service, Customers Rock! | Tagged: , , | 14 Comments »

 
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