Customers Rock!

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

Archive for May, 2007

Citrix Online Rocks When Things Go Wrong

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 31, 2007

bay-bridge-maze.jpgWhen disaster strikes, how does your company respond to its customers?  Citrix Online comes through for theirs.

The true measure of a company can be found when things take a turn for the worse.  Recently, commuters in the San Francisco Bay Area suffered from the loss of a major traffic route when a late-night crash on the MacArthur Maze caused a fire that collapsed the freeway.  This route was a main thoroughfare in and out of San Francisco from the East Bay, and thousands of commuters struggled to either get to work or chose to stay home.  The impact on Bay Area businesses was significant.

That week, I received an email from Citrix Online offering to help.  I am not a Citrix Online customer, yet I found the email very intriguing!

I noticed that your company is in an area that may be affected by the MacArthur Maze collapse.  Due to the unexpected nature of this event and the potential loss of productivity your company may face due to employees unable to drive to work, Citrix Online would like to offer you the opportunity to use GoToMyPC Corporate free for an extended trial period of 45 days.

GoToMyPC allows your employees to work from home when they can’t get to the office.  You can use up to 20 licenses to get through this disruption. 

In case you aren’t familiar with Citrix Online, their product GoToMyPC allows a user to have remote access to their business PC, great for a time such as this when the PC is operational but they just can’t get to it!

Intrigued, I contacted Citrix Online to see how this program worked.  I spoke with Angelique Davis, the senior product marketing manager for GoToMyPC.   She told me Citrix Online has a strong focus on their customers.  She loved my blog name Customers Rock!; they call it Customer Centricity inside their company.  They consider this to be a core company value and pride themselves on it.  It is pervasive throughout their customer service as well as marketing, where they use both messaging and personas to better understand customers.  As well, they track customer metrics such as NetPromoter and have a group in the company specifically looking at the customer experience (yea for Citrix Online!).

As a result of this customer focus, they have created a team called the Rapid Response task force.  When something happens which causes a major inconvenience for their customers, the Rapid Response team reaches out to existing customers to help.  In this case, they did a select of their customer database by telephone area code and built the email (they also sent it to some prospects, which is what I received).  Their customers have responded very positively to this campaign and have stated they appreciate the efforts as well as knowing that Citrix Online is there for them.

I asked Citrix Online for some customer reactions to Rapid Response.  Tina Long, director of PR for Citrix Online (who I met at the SSPA conference where I was speaking), sent me a customer response (City University) after the London bombings a few years ago:

Dear Brian,Thank you very much for this generous offer.You are absolutely correct, I feel really pleased that we set the service up just before the initial bombings and that it was used to great effect in limiting the damage that the (now both) incidents would have caused to our School of Social Sciences.It does help us to feel that this kind of terrorist activity will not have the desired effect on our lives and work.Thanks again for an excellent service.

Although I am no longer based in the Bay Area (they found me through my phone’s area code, which was from the Bay Area at the time), I felt this offer was a great idea!  Campaigns like this are a win-win for both customer and company.  The customer wins because they get an extension of their service, for free, when they need it most.  The company wins because they are building trust as well as getting more people to try their service.

How well do you understand your customers’ businesses?  Where can you step in to make their processes easier?  Stepping up and helping when things get tough is a great way to build trust with your customers as well as grow your business.  It gives the customer the feeling that “we are all in this together”, and the favor will most likely be returned.  It may not be immediate, but when we are building long-term customer relationships, we don’t only measure today’s campaign ROI.  We measure the value of our customers as an important company asset.

Citrix Online is doing business this way.  At Citrix Online, customers rock!

(Photo credit: KCBS)


Posted in B2B Marketing, Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customer service, Customers Rock!, Marketing | 8 Comments »

Do you want my business?

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 29, 2007

car-keys.jpgSome people will tell you that half the battle is getting the customer into the store.  Once the customer is there, it is the salesman’s chance to shine.

We are in the market for a new vehicle (a truck to be exact).  While buying a car is one of my least favorite activities, the best part of it is the test drive.  One would think the car dealer would make that a very positive experience.   It wasn’t.

We walked around the lot looking at the clean, shiny new trucks.  We were interested in a long bed truck, but there weren’t any apparently available on the lot.  The salesman offered to have us drive a short bed truck just to see how it performed.   He mentioned the cars might not start, as some of them hadn’t been run in a while.  He finally found a truck that started up, and we quickly hopped in.  Gosh, were our kids excited!

The first thing my husband noticed was the lack of gasoline in the truck.  The salesman noticed it, too, and suggested we don’t drive more than a few blocks.  We couldn’t take it on the freeway as we would have liked to do.  Strike one.

Once back on the lot, we asked if there was a long bed truck we could try out.  After being kept waiting for quite some time, the salesman said they found a few in the back lot and would bring one around for us to test drive.  Twenty minutes later, still no truck, so the salesman walked us over to the back lot.  There were several long beds there, and we were anxious to drive one as by this time, it was nearly dark and we were getting chilly (and hungry).  The salesman didn’t have the key to any of the trucks and disappeared again, leaving us on our own in the back lot.  Strike two.

A key was brought out for a truck, which wouldn’t start.  They started charging the battery and went to get a key for a different truck.  Turns out that truck was out of gas (just off the delivery truck and not yet fueled up).  We discovered that all the trucks were out of gas, including the truck which was finally charged enough to try and start.  Strike three.

Needless to say, we will not be purchasing our new truck at that dealer.

Lessons For Business

An organization can have all the great marketing in the world to bring the customers into the store, but if the product isn’t available, no sale can be made.  Do you really want your customer’s business?  This dealership did not.  The showroom floor was polished.  The salesman was professional.  There was even free popcorn!  However, no trucks were able to be driven.

Crafting an ideal buying experience for customers needs to be consistently executed across all touchpoints.  Every employee plays a vital role in that experience, even the technician responsible for fueling the vehicles. 

What are the details in your customer’s experience?  Where can it go wrong?  Where is there an opportunity to “wow” the customer? 

Take your own customer’s experience for a test drive.  Map the experience from touchpoint to touchpoint and see where the journey takes you.  Don’t forget to bring your customer along for the ride!

(Photo: vladacanon)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service | 8 Comments »

Weekend reading

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 25, 2007

blog.jpgHere are a few links to keep you busy this weekend.  Highlights include some great data on the impact of customer service on customer retention and an article about employing the human touch when dealing with customers.  Plus, a bonus movie trivia question: which movie had its debut 30 years ago on May 25, 1977?  (Try to guess, then see the answer at the end of post.)  Rock on!

Survey Says Customers Aren’t Happy

There is a great post over at The Red Tape Chronicles which highlights the results of a new survey by Accenture.  The survey shows that, when it comes to customer service, the level of service companies are providing doesn’t match up with the level their customers feel they are providing.  The numbers illustrate the gap between company thinking and customer perception.  75% of executives surveyed (from 35 large consumer technology companies) felt their company was providing “above average” customer service, while slightly less than 60% of their consumers (over 1200 consumers surveyed) were satisfied with their service. 

This may not be a surprise to many of you!  More importantly, the survey revealed that 81% of customers who felt they were treated poorly would not buy again from the same company. 

So why is customer service often on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder?  I have blogged before about the prevalence of avoiding cost vs satisfying customers in this arena.  Too many cost reductions in the area of customer service have wreaked havoc with customer relationships. 

The Red Tape Chronicles also shares the flip side of great customer service experiences.  Based on the survey:

The benefits are immediate. Companies that improve their customer service experiences find consumers become immediately loyal — they are 2.5 times more likely to buy again from the same company. In fact, consumers who have a problem and enjoy a positive customer service experience are actually more loyal than customers who buy a product and never have to call the firm looking for help.

“The benefits of treating people well are pretty dramatic,” (Brian) Sprague (from Accenture) said. And so are the costs of treating people poorly.

Bob Sullivan, the blog’s author, ends the post with a few tips on getting good customer service and shares one of my favorite tips: the GetHuman database.  Go there to find out how to directly get a live person from a phone-tree hell.

Check out some of the comments to the blog post as well. 

Customer service executives, are you listening?

(Tip of the hat to my friend Ryan Karpeles of Living Lightbulbs for telling me about this article.)

Employing the Human Touch

I want to share this article from the agency Second Wind about how to build stronger client communication.  It shares a few stories about how important it is to employ the human touch with our customers.  With so many companies working hard to move to self-service, are the days of flesh-and-blood people answering phones going the way of the dodo bird?  Not if I can help it!

I think the folks at SecondWind feel the same way.

It’s time to turn back the clock and move closer to our customers. Encourage your clients to employ the human touch with every one of their current, and potential customers. They should hire a real live person to answer their phones, and so should your agency! Hire two or three people if need be. Train them well, send them to a phone etiquette class, teach them about voice modulation, and for heaven’s sake, pay them a decent wage. They can do other work and learn other positions if and when they have downtime.

Go on over and read the whole article, then do something about it at your company.  We can all use a little more of the human touch.

Bonus Movie Trivia Answer:

Which movie made its debut 30 years ago on May 25, 1977?  The answer is Star Wars!  To celebrate, Lucasfilm is holding a big celebration party in Los Angeles for its fans, many of whom helped to plan the event.  If you can’t make it, check out the Star Wars blog site for live reports.  Talk about a loyal community of citizen marketers: Star Wars fans are it!

Posted in Customer experience | 3 Comments »

Timely Advice for Graduates

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 24, 2007

grad.jpgBack in March, I was invited by Drew McLellan to share my advice for how to land your first job.  Although the focus is mainly marketing, much of the advice applies across the board.  In my response I also applied the advice to relationships with customers.  Here is one of my entries, with the customer application included:

2. Be honest at all times.

Story: I was an engineering undergrad and interviewed for a job at HP. I was told the hardest part of the interview would be the technical interview session. With sweaty palms, I entered the conference room and was asked many questions to test my technical abilities and knowledge. There was one question that was especially challenging, and I didn’t know the answer to it. I could have faked something, but I decided to be honest and said, “I don’t know the answer.” The interviewer thanked me and moved on to the next question. “Wait, what was the answer to that question?”, I said. The interviewer answered, “I don’t know, either. I just wanted to see how you would answer.” I got the job (and then worked for HP for nearly 14 years!). Honesty and integrity will serve you well as you put your best foot forward into the job market (and beyond). Go get ‘em!

(Application to customers: Be open, honest, and transparent with customers at all times.  If you truly can’t answer their question, let them know — but then find someone who can.  Customer trust is often shaken by even small mistakes.  Admit them, apologize, and do what’s right for the customer.  Building strong relationships will help your organization grow trust with your customers, but it takes time and planning.  It is worthwhile!)

Drew took all the great advice he received and has turned it into a beautiful, free eBook just in time for college graduation season!  The book is 50 pages long and is so nicely done it would make a fabulous gift (I am giving a copy to my niece who just graduated from University of North Carolina!).

 There are two download options: with or without photos.  I highly recommend the photo version, which is a little over 3MB.  If you prefer, you can download the tiny, text-only eBook, which is 300K.

Again, many, many thanks to Drew for pulling together such a fabulous eBook.  Drew, you are so generous with your time!  Below is the list of contributors.  If you send it on to a grad, let us know how it was received!

College Grad Advice eBook contributors:

Aaron Potts
Andy Brudtkuhl
Andy Nulman
Andy Wibbels
Ann Handley
Ann Michael
Anne Simons
Becky Carroll
Bob Glaza
C.B. Whittemore
Carolyn Manning
Chris Cree
Christine Brown
Darren Barefoot
David Reich
Delaney Kirk
Derek Tutschulte
Designer Mike
Doug Karr
Doug Mitchell
Drew McLellan
Joan Schramm
Kevin Hillstrom
Lewis Green
Liz Strauss
Mario Sundar
Mark Goren
Mark True
Mary Schmidt
Nick Rice
Patrick Schaber
Paul McEnany
Phil Gerbyshak
Roberta Rosenberg
Roger von Oech
Rosa Say
Seth Godin
Sharon Sarmiento
Stephanie Weaver
Steve Miller
Steve Sisler
Terry Starbucker
Toby Bloomberg
Tony D. Clark
Valeria Maltoni

(Photo credit: fozrocket)

Posted in B2B Marketing, Blogging, Community, eBooks, Marketing | 10 Comments »

Your People: The Competitive Advantage

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 23, 2007

friends.jpgOne of the many benefits of blogging kicks in when I hear great stories from my readers.  On Monday I received a fabulous email from my new friend Scott Westerman.  Some of you may remember Scott who commented on a story Sandy Renshaw of PurpleWren posted a few months ago, which I followed up on as a great example of listening to customers.  Scott is now with Comcast and is the Area Vice President for Comcast Southwest (New Mexico and Arizona); he is also a blogger!   He will be a competitive advantage for Comcast in the southwest as he is so focused on listening to customers.

Apparently, Scott liked my post so much he was inspired (his words, not mine!) to send me a Customers Rock! story from the cable industry.  Scott has given me his permission to share it here with my community; thank you!  It is a great example of how the connection with people truly makes all the difference, even to the point of creating a barrier to exit.  It is also a good example of the personal touch, which wrote about in my post on Customer Language


The Ultimate Competitive Advantage by Scott Westerman:

In three decades as a telecom guy, I’ve enjoyed both technological and price advantages… and disadvantages. I’ve learned the most about customer loyalty in the situations where we’ve had intense competitors, some of whom appeared at the time to have the better value proposition. I always found it possible to win if we remembered one thing:

It always comes back to customer service.

Here’s a great example. At one point, I had responsibility for a rural system that had been bypassed for the upgrades that would have kept it line line with the plethora of channels offered at the time by the satellite guys. Even though the competition offered more stuff at an arguably lower price, this little team seemed to have an iron lock on the market.

All you had to do was to visit the local system office to see why. About 80% of the customers paid their bill in person, just so that they could say hello to the women who worked behind the counter. Although we had a toll free phone number to a well equipped call center, the ladies routinely gave out the local office number and the customers had the technicians’ cell info taped to refrigerators with post-it notes. Our employees were scout masters, PTA officers and school board members. They weren’t afraid to wear their cable sweatshirts to the grocery store and would happily take a bill payment in the ice cream aisle. When there were questions, customers would say, “I have to call Bonnie at the cable company.” The relationship was personal.

When I asked one of our 20-year-plus front counter people why so few people went to satellite she put the secret into a single sentence:

It’s always harder to say goodbye to a friend than it is to say it to a company.

I tell that story to every new employee orientation class that comes through our doors these days and recommend that they read Bob Greenleaf’s terrific monograph, “The Servant As Leader”, to really understand what business is all about.

Like any habit, service excellence is something you don’t always get right, but if you practice it with a passion, the rest of the numbers take care of themselves.

Amen, Scott.  You rock!

(Photo credit: redbaron)

Posted in Customer experience | 3 Comments »

Thank you readers!

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 22, 2007

thank-you.jpgI just wanted to write a quick post and thank the readers of this blog who submitted questions for Jonathan Tisch and helped make the first stop on the Blog Book Tour a success!  I had so many questions sent to me that Jonathan needs to cover the rest of them after this week’s busy tour has ended.  Stay tuned for the answers in a future post.  (Update: Jonathan will be addressing these questions next week, and the answers should be posted on Friday, June 1!  Thanks to Rachelle Lacroix at Fleishman-Hillard for coordinating the responses for me!!)

In the meantime, here are the readers who sent me their questions.  The questions are listed below.

You guys rock!

Mike Wagner, Own Your Brand

Lewis Green, bizsolutionsplus

Kevin Hillstrom, MineThatData

Phil Gerbyshak, MakeItGreat!

Ryan Karpeles, Living Lightbulbs

Drew McLellan, TheMarketingMinute

Steve Woodruff, StickyFigure

Meikah Delid, CustServ

Service Untitled

Questions about vision, motivation, and metrics for employees

1. How do you infuse a sense of customer service into a staff that has not lived by that focus before?

2. Is it important for every employee to know where Loews Hotels are going, how they are getting there and what it will look like? Why or why not?

3. Are employees held responsible and accountable for creating great customer experiences? Do they know what a great customer experience looks like? Do they receive frequent training? Are their evaluations partly based on creating great customer experiences? Are their paychecks reflective of whether or not they create great customer experiences?

4. How do you work with tens of thousands of employees to create a great customer experience, when in reality, there is very little in it for the employee?  In other words, outside of doing what is ‘right’, how do you create a culture where employees earning $10 an hour are willing to go the extra mile to take care of customers?  What is the incentive for the employee to do a great job?

5. It’s easy to say, “Focus on the customer,” but what are some practical ways we can actually inspire and motivate employees (on all levels) to do this in practice? 

6. How do you reward people that do provide great customer service and then motivate others to do the same?

7. Recently I had an experience where the promise of the hotel did not match my experience. Not so very uncommon. But when I researched with the staff of the hotel I found out that they are not resourced to fulfill the promise. In this case the front desk did not have toothbrushes for guests that had forgotten their own. So here is my question; How do you discover when you (the owners and management) have failed your front line employees? And what do you do about it?

Questions about Customer Experience and Customer Service

8. When you started your business (Loews Hotels), was providing exceptional customer service already a top priority?  If so, what made you think that that was the way to go? If not, what or when was the turning point?

9. At your hotels, can you give us an example of how you ensure delivery of consistently great customer service?
10. Reacting to and pleasing customers shouldn’t be that difficult.  It just takes effort.  The hard part is thinking of new ways to benefit them that they didn’t even realize in the first place.   Where do most of these ideas come from?  Internal sources?  External?

11.  Mistakes happen.  Especially in business.  Do you have any personal examples of a time you had to address, correct, and learn from a major mistake?  Did your customers forgive you?

12. What are Top 5 most common ways companies can/do create a negative impression with their customers? (Of course, this simply allows underscoring the positive by highlighting the opposites…)

13. How would you suggest a company engage their customers in designing the customer experience?

14. What’s the hardest part about providing great customer service in a hotel? How have you and your chain overcome this?

15.  The RitzCarlton has their card and their daily meetings. What strategies did you implement for your hotel that have worked best? What did you try that didn’t work?

16. What does “great customer service” mean to you?

17.  How does great customer service in a hotel translate into the bottom line?

18. What are some “secrets” that you could let us in on that your hotels do which other companies could learn from? (Photo: jimparkin)

Posted in Book reviews | 9 Comments »

Blog book tour with Jonathan Tisch is here!

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 21, 2007

chocolates-book.jpgToday I am the honored co-host of the first stop on the Blog Book Tour for Jonathan Tisch, CEO of Loews Hotels and author of the book Chocolates on the Pillow Aren’t Enough: Reinventing the Customer Experience.  Today’s other co-host is David Polinchock at Brand Experience Lab’s blog Experience Manifesto; be sure to check out his Q&A.  There will be other Blog Book Tour stops throughout the week, as follows:

Monday: Experience Manifesto and Customers Rock! (me!)

Tuesday: The Engaging Brand (both Q&A as well as podcast)

Wednesday: Conversion Rate Marketing Blog – GrokDotCom by Future Now, Inc, Vacant Ready (hotel industry blog)

Thursday: LipSticking(podcast), Experience the Message

Friday: Customer Experience Crossroads, Experienceology(podcast)

Thank you to all of the readers here at Customers Rock! (and there were many of you!) who sent me questions for Jonathan Tisch.  They were all excellent.  For our Blog Book Tour today, Jonathan has graciously responded to my original questions along with questions chosen from those submitted by readers.  He will be responding to the rest of your reader questions soon, and I will post those responses in a future post.  Thank you so much for your time, Jonathan!!

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy these honest, thoughtful responses to our questions in my interview with author Jonathan Tisch!

1. How critical is it to an organization’s success to reimagine the customer experience?

In today’s frenetic and complicated world, the customer has many choices in purchasing a product or in using a service.  It becomes incumbent upon the business to understand that they can’t just offer a transaction but that they need to offer an experience.  Because of the consumers’ ability to differentiate one company from another, one product from another and one service from another, they have the ability to switch on a dime and use another resource if they’re not happy.  This is why customer service is more critical today than it has ever been. 

2. How much of this reimagining do you feel can be accomplished from within the organization itself, and how much do you feel needs a “fresh set of eyes” from outside involvement?

Hopefully if the company has enlightened management, the direction that comes from senior management is the prioritization of customer service.  Ideally, there should be individuals on the team that constantly revisit the company’s touchpoints to make sure that they’re offering the kinds of services a customer wants. Those touchpoints in today’s world include bricks and mortar, clicks and mortar if you translate on to the Web and 800-numbers; the organization should be constantly monitoring these and other touchpoints they have with customers.It is always valuable to bring in advisors and consultants who can help you, but once again, all companies should be placing a high priority on experiences and trying to find the kind of individuals on their management teams who can add to that discussion – from mid-level right up to the CEO’s office.A CEO needs to understand his/her company, but since they cannot witness every touchpoint, there also have to be individuals at every level of management who believe in the same philosophy and believe that, by working together, the entire organization can get to the place they need to be in terms of offering great customer experiences. 

3. It has been said you should inspect what you expect.  How do you measure the success of the customer experience at Loews Hotels?

I like to do it on a very personal, face-level engaging both my co-workers and our guests. We routinely ask guests to articulate how their visit was – Did they have any difficulty making the reservation?  Were they greeted with a smile when they checked in? – which helps me know, first hand, where we stand. The competition in my industry is so intense that it really comes down to the individuals in the front line positions – the ones with the first and direct contact with guests. There has to be a real understanding that your co-workers are the ones who make the real difference, especially in a service industry. .   In today’s world, all hotels have nice lobbies, flat screen TVs, and upgraded bedding products. The real differentiation from one company to another – from one product to another – comes from customer service.  It is incumbent upon us, as senior management, to educate our co-workers and have an open dialogue about what they expect from us and what we expect from them.  I try to engage in those kinds of conversations on a regular basis.  When people within my company say, “Well, I don’t want to bother you,” my immediate and prompt response is always, “Please, bother me!”   

4. READER QUESTION – It’s easy to say, “Focus on the Customer,” but what are some practical ways we can actually inspire and motivate employees (on all levels) to do this in  practice? 

Education and training is key. At Loews Hotels, we are committed to giving all our employees the education and tools they need to do their jobs better.  We also articulate, on a regular basis, the many opportunities available within the company for advancement.  By doing a job well they’re creating success not only for themselves, but for others around them.   We also have financial rewards for great service and an awards program – Loews Legends program – to recognized employees who exemplify the Loews philosophy of service.  Once a quarter we recognize a Loews Legend from each property in our system.  Once a year I host a banquet where the Loews Legend of the Year is chosen.  Not only is that Legend recognized in front of all his or her colleagues at the banquet, but that person is also rewarded with an extra week of vacation.    At Loews Hotels we fully understand that, with only 18 hotels, we are not the largest player in the lodging industry. But we are anxious to grow and we depend on all our employees to help get us there. The programs that we have in place really work for us and work for our culture.   

5. Please share more about the transparency concept used in Chapter 7 of your book, especially as it relates to the blogosphere.  Can organizations engage customers through blogs yet still retain some element of control?

The customer today is highly sophisticated. They have large amounts of information at their fingertips never available before.  If you look at customers’ ability to go to the large travel Web sites, or search the blogosphere, you realize that customers can almost immediately find out if others enjoyed your hotel, if they like your restaurant and if they think they got value for the service. It becomes incumbent upon the provider of any service and product to really be on top of their game in every single transaction and every single experience.   There is so much information out there. The combination of an infinite number of choices and the sophistication of today’s consumers mean every transaction must go well or else you risk the potential of losing a customer. 

6. Speaking of the blogosphere, which blogs do you follow on a regular basis?

Bill Marriott’s Marriott on the Move Blog –

Peter Greenberg’s Blog –

Howie Klein’s Progressive Politics Blog –

Seth Godin’s Blog –

GM’s Fast Lane Blog – 

7. Please share both a triumph and a challenge you have faced as you have reimagined the customer experience at Loews.

A triumph I’ve faced came from my experience of being on the television program,  Now Who’s Boss?, on TLC.  A few years back, I had the opportunity to be a front line worker in nine different positions at Loews Miami Beach Hotel.  I was re-educated to the very important notion of how critical these individuals are to the success of our company.  Having the chance to be a housekeeper, a banquet waiter, a pool attendant and a front desk clerk – all jobs that I had done much earlier in my career, but not ones that I had experienced recently – was a remarkable experience for me and afforded the opportunity to re-familiarize myself not only with these jobs, but with the impact that these jobs and these employees, have on our success.  That experience was a triumph for me because it changed how we do things at Loews Hotels.    A challenge – As a small company, we constantly face the challenge of how to operate in competition with some of the biggest names in American business.  With 18 hotels, we are up against the Marriotts, the Starwoods, the Hiltons and the InterContinentals of the world, and the challenge is how do we compete on a daily basis and at the same time also remain true to our roots as Loews Hotels. We challenge ourselves to be profitable – all the while trying to ensure that our constituencies – our customers and co-workers – are well looked after. 

8. READER QUESTION – Mistakes happen. Especially in business. Do you have any personal examples of a time you had to address, correct, and learn from a major mistake? Did your customers forgive you? 

Like any company, we’ve made our share of mistakes. The first six months after we opened the Loews Miami Beach Hotel in 1998 were a challenging experience because we did not yet have the tools in place to ensure a smooth opening for our customers. As such, there were many apologies. We learned from those mistakes though and it has changed how we open hotels that we’ve either just built or just acquired.    The Miami experience was an incredibly difficult lesson, but I’m happy to say that Loews Miami Beach Hotel is now the most profitable property in the Loews portfolio.  We overcame the initial roadblocks and clearly our customers have forgiven us. In every business, mistakes will be made but it’s all about the recovery. Responding to a mistake well can actually go a long way to winning long-term loyalty from a customer. 

9. What is the best customer experience you have ever had?

For me, attentive and unpretentious service offered with a sense of humor makes all the difference.   A few years back, during a stay at the Four Season Chicago, I put my shoes outside my room to be shined overnight.  To show my appreciation to the person who was going to be shining my shoes at 2 a.m., I placed a few dollars in one of the shoes.  When I opened my door the next morning, I was greeted by clean, spiffy shoes and a note, neatly tucked inside one of them, saying, “Dear Mr. Tisch – Thank you very much and may your feet have a happy day.”  That note impressed me tremendously, and I’ve certainly told the story many times over.  It just goes to show that even some of the smallest acts of customer service really do help set a brand apart.    

10. READER QUESTION – What are some “secrets” that you could let us in on that your hotels do which other companies could learn from? 

Be honest.  Treat people fairly and with respect.  Always listen.

Thank you!!

Posted in Book reviews, Customer experience, Interviews | 14 Comments »

For New Customers Only?

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 18, 2007

happy-sad-faces.jpgWhy is it that all the best offers are only for new customers?  I am sure many of you could come up with examples of deals that look fantastic, only to find in the small print that the price is good if you are not already a customer with this company!  A quick Google search on the phrase “new customers only” turns up offers from mostly consumer utility companies (cable/satellite, mobile phone service, internet service, etc) and financial services companies, but there are many other examples out there.

Let’s look at this practice from an existing customer’s perspective.  

I see an offer from any organization where I have had my business for a long time (months or years).  I think, hey, this price is better than the price I am paying!  I want to get it.  I call or go online to adjust my plan and take advantage of the deal.  It is then I find out (if I didn’t read the fine print) that it is only for new customers.  How do I, a long-time customer, feel about this?  Here are some words that may come to mind: angry, cheated, not valued.  I may feel that you care more about getting new customers than you care about keeping me.  I don’t want to have to leave and go to a competitor in order to get the best deal!

Is it worthwhile for organizations to be so focused on using these offers to get new customers that we upset our existing customers?  Wouldn’t it be better to use some of that budget to keep our existing customers happy, grow them into bigger customers, and have them spread the word?

Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users had a great post on this back in February.  She compared some companies to bad marriages in the way they treat their existing customers.  Her post discussed, both in words and in pictures, how customers feel before and after they start a relationship with some companies.  Check it out for a good laugh.  Some of those pictures are so true they almost aren’t funny!  I do like what Kathy said here:

Shouldn’t you treat the people you’re in a relationship with better than you treat anyone else? Shouldn’t you treat your existing customers better than the ones who’ve given you nothing?


What happens to a customer that is wooed by a “special introductory offer”?  Do they become long-term customers because they have their needs met by our products and services?  Or do they leave when the deal runs out in search of the next great thing?  Many customers who are attracted to these deals do just that.  Are they really the customers you want your business to attract?  Will your business grow in the long-term with those types of customers?

Here are some tips for organizations who want to grow their business by focusing on lengthening and strengthening relationships with their current customers.

  • Understand who your best customers are and what they need.  Make sure every company contact (including marketing and advertising) builds up the relationship with these bread and butter customers! 
  • Go out and see what you can do to make it easier for your best customers to do business with you.
  • Take what you have learned from your best customers and apply it to your other existing customers.  You may find that some of them “grow up” to be another best customer.
  • Consider how existing customers will view “introductory offers” to new customers.  Enlist their help by offering them something in return for bringing you those new customers themselves.

This is a win-win for both company and customer!  The more your company can prioritize growing your bottom line through your existing customers, either by expanding your business with them or through referrals, the more effective you can be with your marketing spend.  The more a customer feels they are rewarded for doing business with you, either by having their needs met or by bringing in new customers, they more passionate they will be about your brand.  Good feelings all around!

Reminder: If you have any questions for Jonathan Tisch and the blog book tour (I have received some good ones so far!), please email them to me (becky at petraconsultinggroup dot com) sometime over the weekend.  I co-host the Blog Book Tour this Monday!  Hope to see you there!

(Photo credit: wds2007)

Posted in Customer experience | 9 Comments »

Jonathan Tisch Blog Book Tour Stops Here!

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 16, 2007

chocolates-book.jpgYou may recall that I recently reviewed Jonathan Tisch’s new book, Chocolates on the Pillow Aren’t Enough.  Well, I had some questions for this author whose company, Loews Hotels, was recently named a 1to1 Customer Champion by the Peppers and Rogers Group

Next week, starting Monday, May 21, Jonathan Tisch will be doing a book tour across the blogosphere, and Customers Rock! is the first stop along with the Brand Experienceblog (David Polinchock’s site – David is one of the tour’s organizers).  Mr. Tisch will be sharing his own experiences from his business where customers are a passion.  The book tour will be taking place all next week across several blogs: lipsticking, theengagingbrand, vacantready, customercrossroads, experienceology, and grokdotcom.

The best part: you can be the interviewer, too!  Just send me any questions you have for Jonathan Tisch, and I will get them answered as part of my Q&A with him.  Please email them to me at becky at petraconsultinggroup dot com no later than the end of day Thursday, May 17 so there is time to get them answered and posted.

Thanks, and I look forward to co-hosting this blog book tour stop on Monday!


Posted in Book reviews, Customer experience, Interviews | 2 Comments »

A Little Too Honest?

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 15, 2007

compare1.jpgIn this blog, I always stress the importance of being authentic with your customers.  Whether through marketing or customer service, customers can tell when an organization is not looking out for their best interests. 

I also suggest appropriately setting customer expectations.

I received a message recently from a reader who was not at all excited about AT&T Yahoo! Member Services and the expectations they are setting for her (and other current customers).  She forwarded me an email from AT&T Yahoo!, which opens by reminding her about AT&T Yahoo! and their award-winning products and services she has been receiving.  It then goes on to let her know she will be getting unlimited email storage.  However, the kicker is the next paragraph:

Additionally, within the next few weeks you will begin seeing graphical advertisements in your AT&T Yahoo! Mail service. These advertisements will be integrated into the AT&T Yahoo! Mail experience, and we hope you will find the advertisements useful. Advertising such as this allows us to continue delivering new and innovative elements to our service and helps us keep prices competitive, while we continue to provide the high level of service that you have come to know and trust.

Thank you, AT&T Yahoo! Member Services, for letting us know that we will now be seeing “graphical advertisements” in our email.  Good to know what to expect, and we understand that costs are rising.  However, hoping that we will find the advertisements “useful” is a bit of a stretch.  From a customer perspective, advertisements may be considered annoying or a necessary evil (which is how they were described here), but the only people considering them useful are the websites and the advertisers themselves.

Perhaps At&T Yahoo! could have offered a choice to their customers.  If you want unlimited email storage, you will have to choose the service with advertising.  If you don’t care about the amount of storage space (or for a small fee?), you can choose the advert-free email.  For example, Electronic Arts has online games at their site.  If you don’t mind advertisements, you can play for free.  If you prefer advert-free gaming, you can subscribe to their Club Pogo for a nominal yearly fee; this also gets the subscriber additional benefits (such as special Club Pogo games, cool ways to keep track of your gaming status, etc.).

The email message closed by stating this:

We strive to provide you with the best online experience possible and to address all your needs on the Internet.

Is the addition of advertising truly a way to create the best online experience possible for customers?  Let’s hope the words “customer experience” are not becoming a meaningless phrase used by organizations wanting to look like they care about their customers.

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Marketing | 6 Comments »