Back in the early 1980’s a US sit com hit our screens and almost immediately became a hit. Centred on a small bar in Boston the show introduced us to a series of characters who were the regulars and staff of “Cheers”. The theme song was catchy and used the phrase “Where everyone knows your name”. One character personified this tagline more than any other. A large chap with ill-fitting suits, tie almost always askew and mop of curly hair, his name was Norm Peterson an *accountant played by the wonderful actor George Wendt. *In later episodes Norm becomes a house painter.
Each time Wendt’s burly frame stepped down the stairs and came into view he was met with a chorus of welcoming voices “Norm!”
That friendly welcome became one of the most popular aspects of this hugely successful show which ran continuously from 1982 to 1993 and produced a number of spin offs including Kelsey Grammer’s “Frasier”.
But rather than offer up a history of popular US sit coms I’m highlighting this specific element as an example of how we should be looking after customers.
Business owners and managers in the hospitality sector appreciate all too well the importance of knowing the customer and making a personal connection. Restaurants, bars, hotels, clubs they all rely very heavily on the power of personal recommendation and with the advent and growth of TripAdvisor they know they cannot afford to let standards slip.
Just for a moment put yourself in the role of a customer looking to use your business to buy or enquire about a product or service. If you’re a first time customer it’s highly unlikely that the communication is going to be as warm and familiar as that enjoyed by Norm but the objective should be to get to that level. Who wouldn’t want to feel that they’re recognised, remembered and ultimately valued by the establishments they frequent?
At a time when business is becoming ever more competitive and the winning of new customers more complex and costly, it’s logical to invest time to understand their experience, their needs and without being too intrusive more about them as individuals.
Starbucks are a great example of a business that invests in exactly that element of their marketing. You can buy a decent coffee in any one of a number of nationally branded and local establishments in most towns and cities. Why would you choose one shop over another? Some may genuinely prefer the taste of Costa coffee but the vast majority of us weigh up the overall experience.
The simple task of taking your name for the cup makes you feel as though the staff are taking a personal interest in you, yes it has a functional purpose but I suspect it was introduced for more reasons than you may think. Trying to remember hundreds of regular daily customers by face for the average person is quite a task but if you take their names you are adding a neat memory aiding process to the task and chances are they’ll not need to ask after one or two visits. Then how good do you feel when your name is remembered? Would you want to return to such a store? Of course you would.
Keeping with Starbucks their attention to customer’s behaviours extends to the queues waiting to place their orders. Ever noticed what most of us do when we’re waiting to be served? We reach for our smartphones, check our social media accounts, e-mail and then when we’re ready to place that order we scrabble for a wallet or purse. Noting this behaviour Starbucks developed a function of their smartphone App which enables customers to not only earn rewards and get free food and drinks but essentially pay using those phones they already have in their hand. Just look around at your average Starbucks and count the Apple Macs and smartphone usage, they understand their market and how best to engage with them. What I like about the Starbucks example is that they took the time to consider the customer experience and find a way to improve it. I also like the fact that it’s a great combination of offline and online but at the heart is the desire to make that trip to buy your coffee and snack that much easier. Of course it doesn’t hurt Starbucks to have an app that requires your personal details to register and use it but by now you’ve built a level of trust having been a “regular” and happy to share a little personal data.
For those of you now complaining that you don’t have “Star-bucks” to throw at such projects (see what I did there) don’t worry it doesn’t need to be expensive.
The best marketing and customer service solutions are often simple, common sense and can be implemented without breaking the bank. The essential part of this process is to initiate direct action and start taking a greater interest in that over used phrase the “customer experience”.
Here are 10 suggested steps to get things underway
1. Take time to stand back and become a customer of your own company, be honest and objective.
2. Look at what you’re delivering, break down the elements into stages.
3. How are customers responding?
4. Become more familiar with competitor approaches but avoid following their lead.
5. Build on the positives of the current offering.
6. Address the negatives.
7. Adapt to take advantage of the intelligence gained from the exercise.
8. Train staff to become more aware and develop empathy with the customer.
9. Introduce communication channels to keep feedback flowing.
10. Review and refresh regularly.
If this is an area that interests you or you would like more information please feel free to drop me a line.
Having just returned from a trip to California I’m inspired to write about customer service. Not that we encountered the very best at every turn, yes it was mostly very good but my TripAdvisor reviews did include the odd horror.
Yes, even the great land of “awesomeness” and “super excitement” didn’t get it right all the time. Anyone who’s visited the USA will know that the policy of tipping can be delivered in a variety of ways depending on who, where and sometimes when you’re visiting. What you quickly realise is that “service” is very often included and if not added automatically you’re strongly encouraged by guideline % figures.
But if you don’t feel the service matches the promise it can get very interesting, almost as if the business refuses to accept they could get anything wrong.
On the downside we found attitudes were at times curt and clippy in certain establishments. The approach to customers tired and cynical. Service in a couple of restaurants started well but quickly fell away as other patrons arrived and their well of goodwill and friendliness quickly dried up as visible stress levels increased. One hotel in particular responded so poorly to my observations of their hotel on Trip Advisor that it will only serve to generate poor review number two. If a customer is not happy don’t poke them with a sharp stick. I was rather astonished at the arrogant dismissive response. If you’re running a business you need to take all feedback on board and respond in a balanced sensible way, even if you do think their experience somewhat far away from reality. The fact is it was their reality and their shoes you need to stand in.
On the upside we encountered many excellent examples of good service. The Café Los Feliz lived up to their Instagram presentation with the delivery of an outstanding breakfast. The Arch Rock restaurant in Santa Barbara who’s superb food was only matched by the excellent chat we had with the waiter and the Italian Seafood restaurant in San Francisco – Cioppinos so good we went back for more on another day. Their promise of finding a table for us in 20 minutes evaporated to 5 when the maitre d came to us whilst we were ordering drinks at their bar to say she’d loved the way we’d been so happy and polite and offered to jump us forward to the next available table.
So the US are not, in my view, the custodians of all that is “excellent” in customer service. Of course they’re still very good in so many areas but to my surprise there are a number who are clearly not as good as they should be. Not a perfect piece of research, we were on holiday after all and not handing out questionnaires or interrogating staff and fellow customers. Our perception however is real and nevertheless valid. Perhaps the recession has had its impact and service levels have as a result been adversely affected as profits became harder to find.
We did all love our Californian excursion a truly memorable experience but it’s clear you don’t have to travel so far to see excellence in customer service. This weekend we took our dog to the nearby beach at Saltburn. We stopped off for a cuppa and a bite to eat at a small café near the beach and noticed the many purple blankets at each table. The owners had considered the experience of their clientele, the UK climate and possibility of children and adults who’d taken a recent dip shivering as others decide to have a pit stop before heading home.
The blankets were a small but very important touch, showing that the Café understood its customers and cared enough to keep them comfortable whilst sipping tea and eating scones or ice cream. When it comes to customer service Camfields Espresso Bar in Saltburn have got it well and truly covered.
It’s the little touches that can make such a big difference and that’s true of any business. The result you want is a happy customer and for them to spread the word like warm butter on those Yorkshire scones.
Sunday is traditionally known as the day of rest, the day we stay away from thoughts of work and revert our attention to more leisurely pursuits. The need for rest and relaxation and diversion away from stresses and strains of our busy working lives make Sunday a perfect day but….
That’s not quite how my Sunday worked out for me.
This Sunday I spent the best part of the day harvesting dead wood from my office, organising myself and planning. It had been a little while since I’d last re-organised but I’m now determined to stay on top of all things real (paper) and virtual (e-mails and digital files).
It is quite amazing how much “stuff” we accumulate and what we regard as important one week but happily consign to the bin the next.
Staying organised takes discipline and the ability to make effective decisions. My biggest problem is fighting the inner hoarder in me – time to be more ruthless.
Of course the process and determination of what “truly organised” is will vary from person to person. They key is to feel on top of things and confident that matters won’t get overlooked and opportunities or deadlines missed.
There is a level of science and tangible evidence of the psychological benefits of having a tidy up in the office. So if you’re in need of a little more order in your life here’s a few tips to get things started:
Once you’ve finished remember you actually haven’t…being organised is an ongoing process. Keep on top of matters to avoid falling back into the bad habits of old.
The greatest advantage, once the job is done is the feeling of control and confidence you get from knowing exactly where things are. You can save a great deal of time and avoid the frustration of duplicating effort by clearing out the clutter and in so doing retain the knowledge of what you have.
For me a cluttered office results in cluttered thinking and working practices. A clean and ordered environment certainly improves my outlook and ability to cope with the ever increasing demands of the modern multi-tasking world in which we live. My weekend might feel a little shorter but the week ahead will prove far more productive as a result.
David Laud – Click Here to follow me on Twitter
Charles Darwin knew a thing or two about evolution. If I can cast my mind back to my human biology lessons, the term coined by the great naturalist was “Natural Selection”. It took a little while for this radical theory to be accepted by the mainstream scientific community but now it is universally seen as the reason we, as humans, exist in the form we do today. Of course not just humans, we can trace the origins of all living creatures through this process.
If Darwin were alive today he would no doubt be fascinated by our individual and organisational development. He might also see how his theory can as easily be applied to businesses as it can to individuals.
A sector currently experiencing a significant series of evolutionary events, shaping their structure, relationships and existence is the legal profession.
Just last week we heard of yet one more familiar north east name going into administration. The loss of 50 jobs and a history of 250 years, gone. They are not the first in this recent wave of firm closures and they most certainly won’t be the last.
Why are we hearing of so many failures? The answer, as in any scientific evaluation, is not straightforward. The truth is that the myriad of challenges that have conspired to arrive at the door of law firms in the UK are individually manageable with care but when they arrive in rapid succession, they create a chain of events that leave only the very fittest and dynamic of practices standing.
The Law Society reported toward the end of 2013 that over 400 law firms had closed in the preceding 12 month period. Last week the same organisation revealed that more than 4,500 solicitors had simply not arranged to renew their practicing certificates. Without it they are unable to carry their work.
The events that have brought about the closure of so many firms include;
These facts and more point to a series of tremors in the legal world that have built to form a seismic event. The consequence of these factors is when the dust settles the clients, both personal and business will have far less choice. On the upside, of those firms remaining we can be assured that they are resilient and very likely to be focussed on the needs and value they can bring to the client.
The conclusion we can draw using Darwin’s theory is that having survived the natural selection process those still standing will be fitter and more prepared for the future. The advantage existing firms have at this time is their opportunity to still act, adapt and ensure their survival and avoiding a Dodo dilemma.
David Laud – Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP
What lies behind the sudden increase in solicitors firms merging? Is it a need for personal partner security, succession or future proofing, fear of failing or a strategic move to build a successful business?
2013 has revealed a weekly supply of dramatic news impacting the legal profession. Jackson reforms, loss of legal aid, liquidations, economic position and client migration, inability for partners to plan ahead, ABS’s and the increasing impact of the Legal Services Act, succession issues for traditional partnerships, professional indemnity renewal……they have all combined to place the profession in new uncomfortable territory.
One consequence of these issues is the fact that there are now far fewer firms in England & Wales than at any time recorded by the Law Society.
As at September 2013 there were some 10,726 firms to be precise. It still sounds like a big number but as reported in the LSG it’s 400 less than the same month in 2012. This dramatic fall is due to all of the above factors which have resulted in:
The rather worrying state of affairs has created a rather tense atmosphere within many firms as they find themselves glancing around to find security against the pressures, the security of a merger partner.
It’s the merger activity that is of particular interest because if well thought through and executed it can deliver a very positive outcome to counter the weight of negativity surrounding the profession. Unfortunately the press releases with smiling partners shaking hands in front of newly branded and dressed offices are unlikely to convince many onlookers of the true drivers of such arrangements.
When partners start to feel the cold and their accountant or bank has that “little word in the ear” they see the one route to securing their future as that long discussed but never acted upon merger opportunity.
The firm nearby that presents less of a threat to personal control than others with domineering partners. The firm that has the client you’d always courted but failed to land. The firm who’ve just announced an investment in IT which must mean they’re “switched on” and looking to the future. The firm that hasn’t joined a national brand in a vain attempt to protect its future flow of work.
It’s not surprising that the above traits are seen as attractive to the partners of a firm keen to link arms with another. Regardless of whether it’s an arranged marriage or one that all partners consent to willingly, the success of the union will not be founded in any of those considerations but could certainly result in its failure.
As with any successful marriage having things in common helps but is not essential. Yes you need an attraction, a spark and a personality match that uses the “chemistry” to good rather than toxic effect. When joined the “personality” of the newly formed business must be a commonly shared persona. If not the deal can be blown wide open leaving space for detractors, conflicting agendas and negative views of those who were just waiting for the “I told you so” moment.
Leadership is critical and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a single person more often a team who share a vision driven by clearly stated and understood objectives.
The original cupid arrow that created the merged business is typically founded in solid logic and should have all the ingredients for a successful outcome. Unfortunately the complexity and challenge of putting organisations together can dilute and lose the benefit of economies of scale and combined resources.
Critical to the success is a clearly articulated strategy delivered consistently by an effective leadership team. The focus at all times MUST be on the customers, lose sight of that key fact and matters can start to unravel fast.
Rather than being daunted by the scale of the challenge it’s helpful to view the merger plan as a series of projects that each need to be worked on to achieve the overall desired outcome.
Not many employees relish change and mergers present plenty of new challenges and potential threats to personal job security. Keeping the talent engaged is important as is the need to motivate the business to achieve the new goals.
There are many positives to be borne from mergers but before being charmed by a suitable partner it’s worth looking at theirs and other track records. We can and should certainly learn from the mistakes of others and the legal market is peppered with them.
On the upside mergers can and do deliver, but best look at an equation that gives 1+1 = 3+ not 0. This is a marriage that needs to deliver offspring that can grow and evolve and take the newly formed business forward.
Here below are a list of projects, an example of the areas a typical merger would need to cover to deliver a positive and co-ordinated outcome. The list below is but a guide and is not comprehensive. The projects would of course be determined by the specific features of the merger.
Merger Projects Example
If any of the above issues resonate with you and your business and you would wish to explore your options please feel free to drop me a line in confidence – email@example.com
i2i Business Solutions, Management Consultancy
firstname.lastname@example.org twitter @davidlaud