It’s not easy running a business today. A single customer complaint, handled improperly, can send your business into a tailspin. At the same time, if you respond to every single customer complaint, you end up wasting time and money chasing an unsolvable problem.
You say that, “The customer is not always right. In fact, the customer is often blatantly wrong.” Share your perspective on this. How did “the customer is always right” develop and where did it go wrong?
All of your readers will have their own favorite “unreasonable or crazy customer stories.” In our experience, after complaining about accountants and management, it’s in most salespeople’s top five favorite cocktail party conversation topics.
We start our book with a list of completely clueless, hilarious, and real customer complaints.
Our favorites are:
“I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits, like custard creams or ginger nuts.”
“Although the brochure said there was a ‘fully equipped kitchen,’ there was no egg slicer in the drawers.”
“We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers, as they were all Spanish.”
Funny when you read them, but scary when you hear that these are 100% real complaints left by real customers. Is the customer right to be upset that the local store doesn’t sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts? Or a customer who complains of too many Spanish people in Spain? Of course not. In these examples, the customers are blatantly nuts.
This idea that “the customer is always right” is one of those things that’s easy for management to tell their frontline employees; it sounds good in practice, and it leads to tremendous wasted time, effort, and often burnout. Because, sometimes, you really do have to fire customers – one of the things we talk about at length in the book. Telling your people that the customer is always right is asking them to close their eyes to reality, and when you ask them to do that, it hurts your ability to ask them to do anything else. After all, with some of the complaints above, how could those customers be right? What does it mean to treat the customer as if they’re right?
Imagine a world where your customers want your organization to succeed. Where your employees are personally committed to your company’s success. Where your organization is not focused only on its own results, but on a collaborative effort that spans a community and beyond.
Co-creation. Share with our audience what it is and why it’s important.
It means collaborating with your most valuable business relationships to transform your business or revenue model. It can drive how you iterate, innovate or disrupt your market and in the process, evolve far beyond anything you could do alone.
“Introspection leads to right action.” -David Nour
You start the book by saying that, “Introspection leads to right action.” What’s the best way to do this?
Real introspection takes three critical elements:
Think Time – Unfortunately, given the hectic pace most of us work these days, we don’t get enough quality think time to set the minutia of the day aside and really consider our relevant strengths and strategic relationships, as well as personal or professional growth opportunities.
An Inner Circle – We need to surround ourselves with fewer, but more authentic and impactful, business relationships. Most of us could dramatically benefit from fewer partnerships and alliances and more thought partners who will tell us what we need to hear.
Leading Drivers – We can’t raise the bar on our intellect, performance, execution and results… if we don’t measure leading drivers of our progress—not lagging indicators of where we’ve been, but predictive insights toward where we’re headed. You can’t win a race looking in the rear view mirror. Focus your energies on the road ahead.
We think of a kaleidoscope as a creator of colorful images—like great service. But, the images are created by the way jewels are mirrored. Innovative service that is profoundly remarkable has character—core values reflected or mirrored in its delivery. The images produced may change, but the jewels never change. We do not open up a kaleidoscope and put in more gems or jewels.
“Try to be the rainbow in someone’s cloud.” -Maya Angelou
Give us an example of “innovative service that sparkles”?
It is the diner waitress who places a bouquet of flowers on your table and tells you they were sent to her the day before by her husband for their anniversary, “…and, I just wanted to share them with you.” It is a service tech in an auto dealership who programs in the radio stations into a customer’s new car from her trade-in and just lets the customer discover it. It is the flight attendant on a flight who writes you a personal handwritten note thanking you for your loyalty.
“Customer loyalty comes from making the experience unique and special.” -Chip Bell
What are some of the leadership values that are essential to creating an authentic, powerful service experience?
First, it is leaders creating a clear, compelling purpose, vision or mission—in terms that both instruct and inspire. Second, it is leaders who demonstrate (by their actions) that they have complete trust in their employees. Third, it is leaders who treat employees with the same care and attention they expect those employees to demonstrate to customers. Finally, it is leaders who constantly look for ways to more effectively resource their front line (support, training, authority, guidance, etc.).
What makes a customer loyal?
Loyalty comes from many practices. It starts with a demonstration of respect and gratitude. Customers have many options; we should thank them for choosing us. It is about promise keeping—always being worthy of the customer’s trust. It includes looking for ways to involve customers—people care when they share. It also involves helping customers get smarter. And, loyalty can also come from making the experience unique and special.
“Loyalty starts with a demonstration of respect and gratitude.” -Chip Bell
What are some of the ways the best organizations stand out and sparkle?
The best organizations decorate as many customers’ experiences as they can. Making experiences special signals you care. They care about long term relationships far more than short-term transactions. They are community-centered and work to be great citizens in the space where they do business. They promote growth—for associates and customers. And, they go out of their way to celebrate greatness (and goodness).
“Neglect is more dangerous than strife; apathy costlier than error.” -Chip Bell
The minute the video starts, it’s obvious it will be explosive. And it sure has been. It has now been viewed millions of times around the world: A man is forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight.
Most of us are offended that the man was treated like this, bloodied as he was hauled out of his seat and dragged down the aisle. Most of us have also had our share of experiences with airlines, and this hits a nerve, like a final straw breaking the collective back of the paying passengers. We’ve been hit with baggage fees. We’ve been told, “No, you can’t have the whole can of soda.” Blankets disappeared ages ago. We’re scanned, wanded, searched, and pushed along through a system full of weary travelers with suspicious glances. Our flights are canceled or delayed for hours—always, it seems, the minute we arrive at the gate, harried and exhausted from running, of course.
Watching this man pulled off so brutally, we ask, “Why was he pulled off the flight?” The answer doesn’t make us feel any better: so that United Airlines could use the seat for a flight attendant.
A customer, obeying all rules, who the airline boarded moments before, who was sitting in the seat he paid for, was chosen at random for removal.
He didn’t want to get off the plane, and so the scene escalated.
Defenders of the airline will point out that this is not only legal, but then they point to his behavior during and after the incident. They will also point out that it was security, and not airline personnel, who removed him.
My law degree is decades old, and I’ve been an inactive member for too many years to weigh in on the legal issue here except to say that it’s far from clear.
Make the Right Choices
What’s clear to me is this:
United apparently chose policy over principle, chose employees over customers, chose to save a few dollars only to lose millions.
“When in doubt, choose principle over policy.” -Skip Prichard
Worse yet is when you remember United’s motto: Fly the friendly skies. Maybe the friendliness only starts when you’re airborne?
Many PR disasters seem to worsen just when you think the lowest point is reached.
And that’s what happened when the CEO stepped in with his comments. He sent a memo blaming the passenger and defending employees, saying that they were following existing procedures. He called the passenger disruptive and belligerent.
Did he apologize? He “apologized for having to re-accommodate these customers.”
Re-accommodate? The man was bloody and seemed to be unconscious!
Only after outrage about his comments exploded online did he change to become “outraged” himself about the incident. His tone has now changed to apologetic. Yesterday he softened them further and even said it was a failure of policy and training. At least the tone is improving.
The minute I saw this video, I said the obvious: This is going to be a PR disaster for United. They better have a full crisis team working on it. When I saw the CEO’s comments, I said to a group that this would now make PR history. It has found a place in marketing classes where these types of mistakes are prominently featured. It may well be mentioned along with other great PR blunders like BP’s spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 10 minutes to ruin it.” -Warren Buffet
That’s a great point. We are mostly united against this behavior. In a politically divided nation, it has shifted the conversation from politics.
Meanwhile, the public relations problem for United reminds me of how each of us can handle our screw-ups, mistakes, and errors in judgment. I’ve made my fair share, too, though thankfully not at all like this one.
Here are a few leadership lessons from United’s….well, to be kind, should I say “lapse in judgment”?
If you can avoid a problem, that’s always the first step. It wasn’t necessary. The employees could have driven the few hours to reach their destination and prioritized the customers. United could have offered a higher amount of money until they had enough volunteers. Why allow all of the passengers to board and take their seats if you didn’t have enough seats for them? There are a number of ways this could have been avoided.
“Never respond analytically to a problem growing emotionally.” -Skip Prichard
Here’s my rule: Never respond analytically to a problem growing emotionally. Pointing to policies and legalese will satisfy only a small percentage of the public. Most people want you to connect emotionally and sincerely first. No excuses. The language initially used made it worse. “We apologize that we had to re-accommodate some passengers” was such an emotional miss that it fueled the fire of an already outraged public. Always great to think of Molly Ivins. She once said, “The first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.”
“The first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.” -Molly Ivins
Apologies are not as easy as they may seem at first. I learned this especially from the research of Jennifer Thomas and the book she co-wrote with Gary Chapman. There is a specific language of apology. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to improve their communication, but PR departments should take note.
“Genuine apology opens the door to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.” -Jennifer Thomas
I smile every time I think of one of my favorite clients from a number of years ago. What made it fun was a visionary, high energy CEO. The company’s sales came through a retail catalog mailed to customers who then placed orders largely via a call center. It was also a time the company elevated its emphasis on their customers’ experiences, not just the merchandise their customers purchased.
One component of the “voice of the customer” initiative was to hold a focus group session with a group of customers who were chosen because they had recently bought and/or returned merchandise. The first focus group was attended by all of senior leadership, including the CEO. At the end of the session customers were given a gift, and while they got a tour of the large distribution facility, the executives who watched the focus group worked on ways to translate insights gained into actions or, in some cases, a wakeup call to get more customer intelligence.
“Neglect is more dangerous than strife; apathy costlier than error.” -Chip Bell
The highlight of the focus group session was inviting the customers at the end of their tour to have lunch in the employee cafeteria. Prior to their arrival, word was quickly passed that a group of customers were en route to the cafeteria. As they entered the large cafeteria, the entire room erupted into a lengthy standing ovation. It was powerful and affirming! And, in the words of one employee in the room, “This makes my challenging work worth it.”
In the following weeks, my conversations with the CEO revealed a fascinating discovery. The standing ovation became a metaphor for the sprit conveyed by the call center employees. Instead of, “Smile more on the phone,” or “Listen more to your customers,” it became, “Give your customers a standing ovation experience.” It was code for unmistakable valuing and obvious affirmation.
“Great relationships are fueled by affirmation.” -Chip Bell