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Winning Hearts To Build Your Biz

Friday, April 1, 2011

Winning Hearts To Build Your Biz(GIFTBEAT)

Would shoppers show you the same loyalty as their best friend? If you become one of their ďbelovedĒ companies, that may just happen. Earning elevated status with shoppers doesnít happen in a flash, but it also doesnít cost your business anything to make it a goal, says Jeanne Bliss, founder of Customer Bliss (www.customerbliss.com). Sheís seen firsthand how dedicated consumers can become emotionally attached to companies, as she has worked in customer service for recognizable brands for more than 25 years. Her book, ďI Love You More Than My Dog,Ē offers advice on how you turn shoppers into your brandís fanatics.  

Q. How did you come up with the title of your book?

A. Working with my publisher, we arrived at this title while looking for something that would connect with people in a very human way ó yet also show the importance of word-of-mouth marketing. This title does both things. 

Today we know that customers make their decisions based on the recommendations of others, including friends, neighbors and even complete strangersí reviews they read on the Internet. ďI Love You More Than My DogĒ is an outlandish and highly aspirational statement you would hope to earn as a business. It also reflects the strong loyalty people feel for their pets. When consumers achieve that same kind of respect and admiration from a company, they become lifelong fans and go out and sing its praises. The first few pages of the book are filled with similar comments and accolades weíve seen be communicated to real companies.  

Q. In the book you talk about how retailers can become "beloved" brands. What does this mean and why is it a benefit for retailers?

A. The reason I use the term beloved company is because these companies have a number of thing in common that separate them from everyday companies. There are many tangible benefits to being a beloved company. These companies are prosperous financially and they also have prosperity of the human spirit. What that means is they have lower churn rates on employees and therefore have lower costs for recruitment. 

Longtime employees are also high-value employees who know the business and provide better customer service. Beloved companies tend to have lower margins overall. Their advertising costs are much lower because their shoppers do a lot of the work for them ó and they are immune to the competition.

Q. How does being a beloved business make you immune to your competition?

A. If you had an emotional connection with a company, you would tell your grandmother to go to this store. You would go on the Internet and tell others to go there and have the same experience you did because it was so fantastic. Beloved companies become immune to the competition because people will vouch for them. Thereís humanity to a beloved company that people are attracted to.

Most organizations think about themselves from a product standpoint. As an example, conventionally a childrenís cup company is likely to be defined by the style of the cup and the price of it. People shop it like a commodity. A beloved company doesnít just sell the cup but thinks of their job as supporting parenthood. They give information on how to make mealtime better, provide useful tips for parents and build the cup differently to make the consumerís life better. 

The difference comes in how they communicate and provide customer service. Parents no longer want the old way of doing business with a company because they want support and connection. This makes the company immune to competitors who donít have that connection. The experience canít be replicated. 

Q. The book's subtitle is "Five Decisions That Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad." Can you briefly explain those decisions to our readers?

A. The five decisions are: to believe, to decide with clarity of purpose, to be real, to be there and to decide to say sorry. 

The first decision is to decide to believe in customers. Thatís focused around believing your customers are good people and will do the right thing. Believing in this emancipates companies from a lot of the policies and procedures that as protection against a few people. 

For example, a company called Zanes Cycles (www.zanes.com) in Connecticut sells $13 million from one store because they really believe their customers are valuable. You can walk into the store and test-drive a bike, even a $6,000 bike, and they donít require you to put down any collateral to do it. The reason they donít ask is because they believe you arenít going to steal. They donít want to start off a relationship by questioning a customerís integrity. Zanes also knows that for them, a relationship with a customer can be worth $12,500 and they donít want to jeopardize it. 

Q. What role do employees play in a beloved business?

A. Another important decision I talk about is learning to trust your employees and hire them based on your values. Beloved companies work hard to train employees well and then get rid of the rules that pen in people and make it harder for them to give good service. 

For a gift retailer, this could mean bringing employees to shows and spending time educating them. You want them to be able to inject their own personality into your business. Owners must trust their employees and give them tools to handle a variety of customer situations on their own. 

Itís not just about empowering employees; itís also about not being cynical. Beloved companies drop the cynicism and hire more diligently based on core values. You donít want to blindly believe in someone or hire the person who seems high energy. You must put more rigor into hiring and get rid of the need for employees to ask your permission to do the right thing. 

Q. Why is it important to say sorry? Is timing everything?

A. The fifth decision I outline is deciding to say sorry. A beloved company will not only immediately admit there is a mistake and find a way to solve the problem, but also will provide a gesture to make it right in a very human way. 

A small healthcare business in Canada called Nurse Next Door (www.nursenextdoor.com) found a great way to do this. When they make a mistake, they solve the problem and contract with a local company to have a ďhumble pieĒ sent. A huge, fresh-baked apple pie literally arrives at their door with an apologetic note from the company. In one year they spent $1,500 in pies and saved themselves $150,000 worth of business. The idea really can work if itís genuine. 

A lot of companies wonít even admit a mistake, which really hurts business. What we know about saying sorry is that if you admit to the mistake and repair the emotional damage correctly, you actually gain more customer loyalty than if you hadnít made the mistake at all. But this benefit is only if you handle it correctly. If you make a mistake and donít recover well, however, you are going to have people telling others about the bad experience and possibly going on the Internet to tell thousands about it. 

Q. Where does media fit into the idea of customer loyalty? How important is it?

A. We now have customers going out with a megaphone in their hand and it has changed the relationship retailers have with them. Social media is a way to rescue customers in distress and talk to them in a real way. Some people look at social media as a campaign, but really it should be about understanding your customers and communicating with them about the things they feel are important. 

Q. If you were a retailer operating a small gift store, what would your first task be in the area of customer service? 

A. Iíd first really want to understand my customers and spend time talking to them about what they need. I would also find out if thereís a way I could give them what they need in a different way. Maybe I would hold a preview each month so they can be the first to see something. You first need to know your customersí lives to be able to serve their lives. The next thing I would do is really inventory the intersection points I have with my customers. Iíd use those points to brainstorm ways to be reliable and wow them.  

In regard to hiring, I would also plan out what my core values are and what I want my employees to value. Iíd ask, ďWho do I want to surround me and represent my company?Ē Then I would figure out how I am going to make sure I hire only people who fit my values. People have become very good at interviewing and it takes a lot to find what they will really be like in your business. 

Q. How quickly can a company transform themselves into a beloved company?

A. While it does take time to earn beloved status, it doesnít mean you canít start right away. Starting to implement the five decisions in your business doesnít cost any money. You can first take a look at the way you hire. Making simple changes there can make a big impact on the kind of people who work for you and shape your business. You can also get rid of the jargon and paperwork in your store. Make all your correspondences with customers sound like something you would write your mother. 

And make sure you have clarity of purpose when it comes to the bookend experiences customers have in your store, whether they walk in or call you. You can also create processes to anticipate problems and make it so you wonít have to say sorry as often. If you think an order is going to be late, call the customer beforehand so he or she knows whatís happening. 

Q. How can you tell if your customers are responding well to your decisions?

A. If you are doing things correctly, you will have repeat business and your customers will refer you to their friends. You will also hang onto your employees longer. Youíll find you wonít need to compete as much on price and can spend less money on advertising. If your business drops when times are tough you will know it is because your customers have less money to spend, not because they like you less. Beloved companies are the first ones to recover when things get better and people have more money. 

Note: After 25 years as the customer experience executive in five major U.S. corporations, Jeanne founded Customer Bliss in order to create actionable paths for driving the commitment to customer loyalty into business operations of all sizes. Bliss has written two books and provides speaking and coaching services on customer loyalty. For more information on Customer Bliss, visit www.customerbliss.com. You can reach Bliss at jeanne@customerbliss.com.


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