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.
We all need a virtual or actual boost in our businesses now and again. It’s too easy to become complacent, comfortable or afraid of making any changes that might make things “different”.
What many successful businesses do is harness a culture of continual evolution never settling for the status quo. This can be massively helped by recruiting staff who don’t fear change and have their own streak of entrepreneurism. If this is harnessed to a leadership team with clear goals and a strategy to enable attainment of the objectives the future will look bright.
Unfortunately certain sectors contain more than their fair share of risk averse personalities and they can in turn keep a business locked into a mode that ensures it fails to capitalise on new trends and seek out opportunities.
Smaller organisations can rely on the owners far too much and expect them to feed the company through their efforts to win new customers. For a large number of proprietors the challenge of running a business alone is enough to fully occupy them and the additional responsibility of bringing in revenue gets consigned to a “to do” list that rarely gets actioned.
So what can be done for these many ambitious but largely stagnant businesses? How can they rekindle the pioneering, energetic and challenging spirit that formed them?
There are any number of resources available to the average business – but this in itself can prove to be an inhibitor as too many options can prove confusing and ultimately fail to deliver the desired result.
The same may be said of certain third party agencies who approach business owners direct and feed their anxieties. They make promises to provide the solutions sought but end up costing the company an expensive fee and wasted time in pursuing false hopes.
On a more positive note I’ve recently had the opportunity to work with the Growth Accelerator programme. The phrase “Growth Accelerator” for some seems to conjure up rather dubious pills that might be promoted via spam e-mail but I can assure you it is no quack solution. This is a well organised and effective initiative for commercial enterprises covering three core areas:
Growth Accelerator provides access to finance to assist the companies in achieving their agreed goals.
What is reassuring about this programme is the assessment and selection of coaches and clear focus on quality service and the ultimate delivery for the businesses taking part.
Growth Accelerator is available to businesses registered in the UK who have fewer than 250 staff and a turnover less than £40m. Essentially they must be looking to grow their business by 20% – turnover or profit.
The Growth Accelerator process uses template guides that are introduced by experienced coaches offering a highly visible and effective tool to help the business see their future growth over a 3 year period.
It’s certainly not the only option but it is currently one of the most popular initiatives sought out by businesses wishing to grow but to do so in a manner that is both practical and sustainable.
If this is something you would like to explore further please feel free to drop me a line and we will put you in touch with your regional Growth Manager.
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.
I’m fed up with hearing that we’re living in “interesting times” we’re not. We’re actually living in the times outlined by Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities. I’m sure you all know the opening chapter of the book word for word but just to remind us……
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – [Extract from chapter I, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)
Anyone else feel the contemporary connection with these words?
2014 has presented as a year where we are seeing economic recovery, employment levels rising and an all over feeling of optimism, well so certain politicians would wish us to think. I’m not against a healthy bit of optimism, by nature I’m drinking from the half full cup most of the time but in reality there is still an awfully long and hard journey ahead for many businesses and thoughts of instant solutions are really not helpful.
If a business is going to survive and thrive it needs to have a strong realistic vision of its future, a plan for managed growth and control over its costs. Leaders of these businesses need to retain and recruit the staff that share a passion for making that organisation the best in its particular sector/ sphere of operation. It’s not easy, it takes time. Things go wrong, deals don’t come off, recruits fail to live up to expectation and customers can change their preferences at the least expected moment. What you shouldn’t do is panic. Retain the belief in the business and acknowledge that the World is partly mad and partly sane, you cannot predict everything nor expect to be continually on the back foot.
Even though we’re in what still feels to me like a futuristic date, 2014, the words of Charles Dickens in the opening of the classic Tale seem as appropriate today as when they were first penned some 150 years earlier.
Whether you do face the best or the worst of times I see it as a period for calm heads and a return to the principles of good solid business practice with, of course, the energy, enthusiasm, creativity and originality that will deliver sustainable success.
David Laud FCIM, Chartered Marketer
follow me on Twitter @davidlaud
It’s been quite a year, busy with plenty of work, close encounter with reality TV, first appearance on Radio 4, 20 year wedding anniversary, surgery and first child in University. Blink and 2013 seems to be almost over so time to put the brakes on.
A last minute decision and possibly one of the best this year, a week in Italy.
There are times when we need to step back from the moment and take that opportunity to re-charge the batteries. After a week in Puglia with Azzurri skies, stunning scenery staying in a 400 year old Trullo villa the power levels are back to normal.
Whether it’s Italy, Indonesia, Islington or the Isle of Wight a break is a break and we all need one to put life back into perspective.
Giving ourselves that chance to leave the laptop and smartphone alone and experiencing real peace and quiet is not suprisingly a key to improving our quality of life.
Of course travelling can also deliver experiences and bonding with my flappy stick Fiat 500 was right up there but meeting new and interesting people such the fabulous Jane our American abroad tops that. There were the 3 weddings the last setting off in their classic MG, the beauty of Locorotondo, discovering the cheap local wine in plastic bottles was actually the best to buy, steeling myself in readiness for the “oh so fresh” feeling of diving into the unheated pool, truly the best Pizza I’ve ever tasted, scene from a Rock Hudson & Doris Day movie watching yachts and speedboats from the cliffs at Polignano a Mare, memories a plenty.
We deserve to give ourselves the chance to capture such moments and put them to work when we get back to the cut and thrust of the day jobs.
When someones ready to “blow the bloody doors off” I’ll just dip into those stolen treasures and get the very most from my own Italian Job. Here’s a brief flavour of that trip. Italian Job Flipagram
Are you happy with your role? Content with the position you find yourself in at this point in time? Do you encounter many frustrations in your day to day work and find it difficult to manage them?
If the answer to the above is yes, yes, no in that order then congratulations but if not or you know someone who isn’t quite so satisfied with their life you might want to consider this short blog on looking at life afresh.
For many of us work is more than a means to an end, it’s a passion and something we take very seriously but all too few of us take the time to review where we are and focus on what we truly want to achieve.
Too many of us find ourselves trapped in careers or situations that limit the scope of achieving our potential. Overlooked for promotion or unable to grow the business; frustration builds until a day arrives when it may be too late to change and the opportunity has passed you by.
But that’s far too depressing and of course it’s never really too late. What’s important is seizing the moment, identifying that you have far more to give and working through the possibilities that could lead to a rejuvenated approach to work and life as a whole.
As part of the human condition we can at times find ourselves drifting through life. Be it our own personal relationships or career, a common failing is that we settle, let things remain unchanged because change represents a challenge and a challenge can make you uncomfortable.
Rather than being caught asleep at the wheel of your life it might be time to turn up the music, open a window and see what is really happening around you.
Make time for reflection and re-assess your priorities. The past 5+ years of recession and painfully slow recovery has led many to take a bunker mentality. Keep the head down and think “hopefully when I look up I’ll still have a job and/or a business”. The risk is that whilst you’re taking this “safe” option life is moving on a pace and others are seeking out opportunities around you.
So what can be done to bring things into sharp focus? Ask yourself these questions and be as honest as you can in answering them.
• Who are the positive influences in your life and why?
• Who are the negative influencers and why?
• What is most important to you, what could you not live without?
• Who do you admire and why?
• What do you like to do? (For work and leisure)
• What don’t you like doing?
• What would you like to achieve from your life? What does success look like for you?
• What is preventing you from achieving this goal?
• What steps could you take in the next 6 months to work towards the goal?
Being surrounded by negativity can be a very draining experience and in time can turn you into a negative force yourself. Identifying positive influences and spending time in their company can be a big step in helping boost your own morale. Finding a suitable mentor to support you in the quest to find the path to your goals can also be hugely rewarding. If you are in danger of waving at life as it passes by, decide to do something and decide to do it this week. You owe it to yourself and those around you to be the best possible version of whoever you are and the positive influence you can bring to bear on others can be infectious.
Good solid support and advice in the shape of an experienced and qualified mentor can be just the sat nav you need to put you back on course.
If any of the above resonates with you and you’d like further information to help move matters forward drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org
In recent weeks I’ve talked to many business owners, partners, directors and mangers to try and gauge their confidence within their company and chosen sectors.
This has been a fascinating exercise which highlighted a number of interesting issues and quite a few common trends.
Following these discussions I’ve realised there is one area that I must highlight as a priority. There is a natural tendency for organisations to focus on costs, processes and efficiencies in times of recession and economic uncertainty at the risk of overlooking or mismanaging the search for innovation.
I too have evaluated in my business where cost savings can be made and how working smarter may deliver a better return on profits. The danger is that we become locked into a mindset that focuses on the internal mechanisms, processes and practices and don’t allow for the spark of innovation.
There are numerous examples of highly efficient CEO’s parachuted into struggling corporations to trim, tighten and improve the bottom line. When a business leader faces a change in the market, increased competition and potential threat to the customer base it can be comforting to fall back on tried and tested measures.
One such mechanism often used to great effect within process driven businesses is 6 Sigma. Originally developed by Motorola in the mid 80’s this set of clearly defined steps provides quantified financial targets for cost reduction and profit maximisation. I wish to stress that I am not anti Sigma as it has a demonstrable track record of success within many industries. The “Champions” of 6 Sigma or “Black Belts” become highly proficient in their roles constantly looking for the margin of improvement.
My concern, however, is that too many of the businesses I talked to have a 6 Sigma or equivalent focus on their business and bottom line. The long tail of our economic depression has resulted in looking inward for answers to survival rather than the “heads up” free innovative thinking that created the company.
Innovation should be a key part of every business but shouldn’t be confined to the measures and methods of 6 Sigma….some have tried this and it failed. You can measure innovation but as a process it should be allowed its opportunity to operate outside of conventional practices.
Creative thinking should also be within everyone’s job specification, not just the marketing and management staff. As humans we are naturally inquisitive and creative but often forget how to apply those aspects to our working days focussing instead on the tasks that need to be actioned but not allowing time for free thinking and putting forward ideas.
Encouraging innovation within a business is critical to its overall success and long term future, Apple, Starbucks, Red Bull and Dyson all place huge emphasis on the innovative core of their organisations and as a result reap the benefits.
But how do you encourage innovation? The obvious and rather blunt instrument is financial reward. That can work but often can prove divisive if an idea is, as is often the case, borne out of collaboration. Quite often the biggest motivator is recognition by senior management and perhaps a benefit or gift to reflect the effort.
• Set clear vision and goals
• Communicate to all staff – provide examples of innovative solutions
• Encourage participation – inject enthusiasm and make staff accountable
• Consider appropriate motivational hook
• Introduce a sense of urgency, positive stress
• Continue to communicate
• Measure the financial impact of ideas taken forward
• Celebrate and reward success and the effort even for the failures
• Maintain momentum – avoid complacency
• Enjoy the process
Senior managers should actively encourage discussion among employees around innovation and be open to the wild and whacky. Not every idea will grow legs and become the next “big thing” but the process and input of fresh thinking from all corners of the organisation will stimulate a level of creativity and engagement with the firm.
Those discussions should also focus on an overall sense of urgency or as I would prefer to term it the delivery of a level of positive stress. Without the positive stress complacency can set in and momentum quickly lost.
The hardest part of delivering an innovative organisation is in maintaining that sense of urgency and motivation beyond the first and second story of success. The business should constantly be looking for the “what’s next” and have an eye firmly set on the horizon.
What staff need to know from management is the simple outline of the direction of travel, ethos and core goals of the company. They need to know what they can expect for creating a “good” idea. They can then be set free to join the dots, brainstorm, scribble down ideas as innovative ninjas thinking and moving fast solo or in groups to invent the future of your business.
The great bonus of creating a focus on innovation is the fun you can have in developing ideas. Shot selection and picking winners is critical but the process can be and should be an enjoyable one for all staff.
David Laud – Consultant, CEO, Mentor