Jay Steinfeld, CEO, Blinds.Com
It’s hard to do one thing 100% better than everyone, but you can do 100 things 1% better. It all adds up.
Blinds.Com is the largest provider of window treatments on-line, and has revenue per employee equal to Amazon and Facebook. Their mission is to create an experience that makes purchasing complex and customizable products surprisingly easy and exciting.
To accomplish this Jay runs the business by the numbers, with a critical number KPI being Gross Margin per visit, since this reflects conversion rates and sales growth and provides a leads into where to dig deeper. But repeat business, referral rates, and Net Promoter Scores are also extremely important, and Jay uses those to make sure they can get customer needs addressed with the right priority.
Jay spent many years driving to customers’ homes before going on-line , and believes in the power of customer feedback at the individual level. In that regard, Blinds.Com establishes Net Promoter Scores around the organization, even down to the individual agent level, calculating NPS for each agent. Driving some internal competition, Blinds.Com believes in the effectiveness of transparency and publishes all scores out to everyone. This rather unique practice drives other great behaviors, including better information sharing between departments, better collaboration between teams.
Those interactions with customers have established the company’s core values: improve continually, and experiment without fear. Jay hires people that are aligned with these beliefs, asking prospective employees during the interview how they have strived to improve themselves within the last 6 months and what they did to change for the better. As a result Blinds.Com has a team of people that works together and strives to do better, especially when it comes to improving the customer experience.
Jay attributes their incredible growth over the years to those core values. In fact, the business didn’t really take off until those values were formally established and became part of the business’ DNA.
Some examples of how this manifests itself in some simple practices:
- All employees have the opportunity to present at regular all-hands meetings
- Teams maintain open whiteboards showing the things they are working on with facilitated areas for new ideas.
Jay writes a regular column on BNet.com called the No-nonsense Boss. More than worth checking out.
Closing out today at NACCM was an engaging and motivating presentation by Mike Reardon of the Disney Institute. While I’ve captured the contents here, I doubt I can capture the inspiration.
Mike started out describing Disney’s Chain of Excellence: Leadership Excellence leads to Cast (Employee) Excellence which leads to Guest Satisfaction which leads to Financial Results and Repeat Business. But there’s more: Beyond the business results that are directly tied to happy customers, the chain creates culture of people can create the right products and services that cannot be easily copied or imitated, i.e. sustainable competitive advantage.
Disney maintains 2 Fundamental beliefs:
- Everyone is creative. Ideas belong to the room.
- Your ideas are separate from your identity
The point is to enable your people to not “think out of the box”, but expand the box by bringing new ideas into the existing capabilities. Consider
- Disney Cruises: In the 1980’s cruises weren’t for families. Now cruise lines are struggling to keep up with Disney in this area.
- Wonderful World of Color: There’s limited land (space) at Disneyland. So at night the lake becomes the stage where great shows leverage what’s there.
Companies can be proactive or reactive. Think Sony and the Walkman vs. Apple and the iPod. Get in the lead and stay there.
Disney succeeds by getting their people to expand existing resources. Their leaders are all about inspiring others through the power of “story.” How? We judge ourselves based on intentions, while others judge us based on behaviors. Make sure the stories that people are telling about you are the ones that you want them to tell: A leader’s vision has to be effectively communicated by what they do because that’s the story they tell.
What would the title of your leadership story be? Walt Disney considered himself a little bee, going around the various parts of the business pollinating – inspiring and challenging people to bring ideas to life.
Corporate culture needs to be deliberate, by design, not by accident. Measureable goals then align to that. For example, crucial to Disney’s strategy was the atmosphere, and Walt wasn’t above picking up trash on Main Street since it was important to him. For Disney, “wow” experiences aren’t the big things, but instead are all the little things. These are low cost additions that are sustainable. Paying attention to every detail of the delivery, and repeating it successfully, all add up to “wow!”
And finally a few words about training, “What if you spend all that money on training and then they leave?” The answer is to consider what if you didn’t spend all that money and they stay. Even doing laundry in the hotels requires training around the experience: They know that if after spending a magical day in Disney World and then going to the hotel and resting on a dirty pillow just won’t work. So treat employees like customers, because it’s contagious.
Growing a Branded Community to Increase Engagement and Advocacy
Pesented by Rebecca (Becky) Carroll, Community Program Manager, Verizon, NACCM 2010
Moving from as tech support oriented community with forums into a more engaging business community required Verizon to realize that social media isn’t a campaign; it is a strategy to build relationships. Viral activities are fleeting – customer evangelism lasts.
Communities allow companies to listen in to conversations and benefit from the insight. And customers have the opportunity to get answers to broader questions beyond Verizon offerings. They have 12 individual customers that lead their communities (not employees), doing this work out of sheer love and passion, and selected from their contribution to the community every 6 months.
As part of the effort, Verizon also monitors and engages via Twitter, via their “Idea Exchange” site, and provides educational and lifestyle content through “Room to Learn.” These activities provide other channels for communication, since customers have different needs and not all use the forums.
And if you think this is all too expensive to do, note that Verizon has only a team of 3 plus their community software vendor. Lean and mean!
The Verizon community is open to everyone, not just customers. As a vehicle to grow their business, the communities also enable Verizon can also get closer to the customer, gain new insights, and drive improvements in customer retention. And for customers, they now are able to self-serve, learn, and have a place to be heard.
Becky recommends starting within your own community: Go into your company’s forums and see what people are saying, passing along the insight in customer-speak. You can then go to external social sites like Twitter and Facebook, using that “customer-speak” from your own forums to find the things that are the best opportunities for engaging customers on your own site.
Improving Worldwide Customer-Centric Culture & Accountability
Presented by Ines Vargas, LATAM Customer & Partner Experience Lead, Microsoft Corporation, NACCM 2010
95% of Microsoft’s business comes through more than 640,000 partners. And with 88,000 employees worldwide, Microsoft has created a very challenging environment to manage.
- Listening Systems: Windows 7 is based on millions of customer opinions and exemplifies what can be done when they listen to customers. Microsoft conducts a bi-annual customer relationship survey, transactional surveys, website surveys, submitted feedback, and even in-product submissions. All are followed-up where issues are uncovered, both individually and in the aggregate for ongoing improvement. As an example, the in-product window that appears when a Windows system issue occurs gathers critical data that is used in prioritizing fixes, establishing service packs, and communications.
- Business Planning & Performance Management: Scorecards are used throughout all levels of the organization. Everyone has commitments around customer and partner experience, measured both directly and indirectly. For example, since they know that Windows 7 has the highest and excellent satisfaction levels compared to previous versions, they track the conversion rate of customers migrating to this product.
- Culture & Accountability: In addition to corporate values, Microsoft has a Senior Executive responsible for Customer Experience enterprise-wide, and ties individual goals to compensation. Accountability is measured and monitored through scorecards, as well as well as with peer recognition and spot awards.
Microsoft maintains a website for all to see their efforts, at http://www.microsoft.com/about/cpe
Westfield Creates a Culture of WOW through Employee Engagement
Presented by Andre Harris, Westfield’s VP Brand and Employee Communications, NACCM 2010
Connect with employees to create the customer experience.
Westfield isn’t just a landlord or owner of shopping malls: they manage all aspects of the shopping experience for the properties they own, and want to make sure they deliver a differentiated experience. Westfield’s “WOW” used to be a program, and Andre has now been able to transform it into the overall culture, which includes their partners and vendors:
Way beyond the expected.
Own it personally.
Win over their hearts.
Andre shared their -steps to create a Culture of WOW:
- HEAR the voice-of-the customer: Know what customers want, expect, and value. They respond to 100% of complaints, since satisfied customers tell 3 friends but angry customers tell 3,000, and a complaint is an opportunity to WOW.
- HIRE “wow” employees: The culture is part of everyone’s job descriptions.
- Great example: A hiring manager wanted to give candidates gift bags. The thinking is that even though they aren’t hiring all these people, they are still a Westfield customer and should be treated well.
- TRAIN: They have a clear understanding of their purpose, so everyone, including outsourced employees and executives, go through WOW Training. The training details 7 critical areas, including “Make their Day” and “Represent.” Empowerment, recognition, and reward are critical success factors. Telling success stories not only makes it more real and memorable, but also provides real solutions and answers to the questions that employees bring from their daily interactions with customers.
- MEASURE: Customer, Retailer, and Employee satisfaction surveys are all part of the process. Employee turnover is a key measure as an indicator of customer experience, and of course also adds to the bottom-line.
Connecting With Customers and Measuring Results
Presented by Tom Zimmerman, GE Healthcare, NACCM 2010
“Customer Experience” starts with Marketing, not after Sales.
For GE Healthcare, excellent service means that customers are more likely to buy another $1M piece of equipment. Service and Customer Experience has to start with the Marketing and Sales process.
Marketers often want to get information from prospects, but you have to give something back first before the customer is ready to give more. Classic lead-generation criteria include Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing, but the customer may just want to speak with someone to get more information. So starting with a definition of “sales ready” leads then brought them to defining what needed to be developed.
Starting with content first, every page has a “Contact Us” area that allows the customer to engage if they are ready. Make sure that the organization is ready and able to follow-up when the customer request live contact.
Metrics are where it’s at: GE Healthcare can see the amount of spend on each campaign, and how it’s generated incremental revenue through the funnel. Since each touch has a campaign ID, they can now track the movement of the prospect through the marketing funnel, ultimately up to a sales-ready lead and establishing the value of the opportunity.
Every part of the organization brings a different perspective to the customer experience. It usually takes all perspectives to get to the optimal experience, so engage those different points of view around the organization to meet the company goals.
It’s Not About Smiling More: Creating a Measureable Customer Experience Culture at Thomson Reuters
Presented by Barbara Graovac, VP and GM of Thomson Reuters Employer Market, NACCM 2010
Use right-brain techniques to strengthen relationships with customers.
It’s not enough to be better than your competitors: Expectations are set by experiences all around us. So in 2007 Barbara went to the board and recommended service innovation. It took 3 tries to get it to stick: the language that eventually worked was around increasing profitability and revenue.
Barbara’s division was hearing that customers wanted more from them: Customers wanted broader solutions that solved business needs, delivered easily and empathetically. The issue wasn’t price. Leading indicators of client behaviors were measured: How fast does the client return phone calls? Do they invite you to critical meetings?
Presenting what would happen if they did mothering compared to what would happen if they took action, the division decided to take action. The first step was to define the gaps against what they wanted the customer experience to be. Next, a 100-day pilot was planned that would work with a limited number of customers requiring specific cross-functional issues.
A limited number of customers were selected to participate in this early program that spanned different aspects of the business. They consistently found that customers wanted “Right brain” service – “gift wrapping” products and services in friendly interactions that are hassle-free. The gap was that as a company they were more geared to “Left brain” – delivering products and services and measuring specific results. It’s the “soft side” that customers remember and value.
Internal education and awareness of “left brain” ensued. The strategy was one of “Yes if…”, and NOT “No but…” They trained staff around responding to customers with, “Yes. if [conditions could be met].” Clients are people, not organizations, and the emotional engagement proved to be very valuable.
At a structural level, the division innovated around specific customer pain points, including a new customer welcome packet that included photos, key bios, and other relevant materials. As a result the client now feels more connected with the account team.
In surveying the employees that went through the pilot in addition to their managers (which wasn’t part of the pilot), they found that managers were consistently providing higher scores and thinking they were performing better than the employees felt. Addressing these gaps helped fill in some of the mentoring opportunities for managers.
All this work resulted in both “soft” results, such as
- An increase in general excitement levels
- Recognition from customers that w=as passed around the company
And also “hard” metrics that increased across the board:
- Client engagement
- Employee engagement
- Customer renewal rates
Keeping it Real with Customers: Nationwide on your Side
Presented by Jasmine Green, Chief Customer Advocate, Office of Customer Advocacy, at NACCM 2010
Empower the front-line with empathy.
Initially born out of the CEO being tired of getting customer complaints, Nationwide started their journey by creating a single place to resolve customer issues. They were getting so much data, but being excellent at handling individual complaints wasn’t enough – Nationwide needed to get to root cause and something with this wealth of information. Some of the specific initiatives include:
- A “Top 5” report that is reviewed regularly at the executive level, providing the ability to drill into the major improvement opportunities.
- Nationwide now looks both at the Kudos and the Complaints, and also tie to employee feedback to be able to recognize employee performance and prioritize the right opportunities.
- They pass exactly what the customer says on to others in the organization: No filtering. Nationwide has found that the verbatim is critical – don’t water it down, making it more real.
- Jasmine has rolled out a comprehensive training program across all 32,000 associates for service recovery, and have shifted culture to one of respect internally that then is passed on to the customer. Empathy is emphasized – treat customers like your friend and make them feel special.
They recognize that their front-line associates are critical to providing an excellent customer experience, and therefore Jasmine view her responsibility as being on the job 24×7, not 9:00a to 5:00p. Measuring employee engagement is a big part of making it work, and correspondingly they also increased accountability of the front-line and further empowerment.
Key to their success has been the ability to tie improvements to the bottom line and show the business benefit (ROI) for various initiatives. Focusing on retention has made them able to establish the ROI for everything they do.
Presented by Josée Bourdages — NACCM 2010
Listen to be proactive.
Josée oversees service strategy and customer loyalty for Rogers’ Fido brand, which is perceived as the most caring brand in Canada’s telecom industry.
Customers consistently tell them that they want to be respected and treated nicely – as nice as a new prospective customer. To that end, every offer is considered to be provided to both new and existing customers, and the profitability analysis is important.
As a service strategy, being proactive is the key element, avoiding problems in the first place or at least informing customer proactively when issues do occur. And when customers do contact Fido they treat each customer as an individual and personalize communications, starting with thanking them for how long that individual has been a customer.
It’s no surprise then that Fido listens to their customers in pursuit of anticipating future needs. In one example, they found that customers over age 45 want to talk on the phone, while under age 45 wanted technical interfaces. So Fido is implementing interfaces that can best serve both groups, which has the benefit of reducing cost to serve while also improving customer loyalty.
There are 5 areas in which Fido listens:
- Suggestion Box: Through their on-line site, “Throw Fido a Bone,” customers can not only submit suggestions, but also see status and vote on others. Customers want to be listened to, and companies must show that customers are part of the feedback loop.
- Focus Groups: an ongoing part of Fido’s operations, from everything from products to billing statements. And while the perception was that customers wanted “bigger” solutions that could be more complex, they often find that customers want simpler solutions that do less.
- Survey Results: All agents know their own scores, the team’s scores, and overall scores. Sharing the data is critical, even if the feedback is bad. They’ve implemented a program called Fido Bravo in which agents are recognized, and they allow agents to select calls on which they are coached.
- Continuous Improvements / Quality: Josée’s process team maintains an internal site of all policies and processes, complete with a “seal of approval” that indicates that the submission has not only been received, but addressed and implemented.
- Special Projects: Since they talk to so many customers every day, front-line agents have tons of ideas and the ability to find the best solutions. Fido temporarily assigns agents to such special projects that can engage their expertise and drive employee retention.
Similar to a Customer Experience Council, Fido has a “Dumb Policy Committee,” which reviews the annoyances that come to their attention and implement solutions that improve the experience.
Bottom line: There are many ways to listen. Use them – and most importantly—act.
Valerie Foxman, GE Capital Retail Consumer Finance (RCF)
“We’re all in this together.”
Valerie manages First Call Resolution (FCR) and Voice of the Customer (VoC) for GE Capital RCF. With over 45MM accounts and $30B in assets, they handle payment processing, billing statements, and card embossing for many notable retailers. And between the 11 call centers and the customer account handling, they have over 1 billion touchpoints to manage.
- Listen: use Voice of the Customer surveys, letters, blogs, Call Monitoring, and Web Tracking. They use an IVR-based survey system to ask 3 questions and remove agent bias: Overall satisfaction, information provided, and agent’s attitude. Since FCR is clearly a win for both the business and the customer, they then correlate those to problem resolution and FCR and have powerful data.
- Act: Deliver agent empowerment and training, process improvement, system enhancements, and customer self-service. Incorporate call quality recordings with the customer survey results to get the full view and deliver improvements in FCR, and leverage 3 main pillars:
- Associate (“call-center agent”) Development: Associate-level metrics, coaching skills, knowledge tools, recognition and reward
- Process Opportunities: Robust analytics that enable deep-dives into inquiry types that drive defects and create opportunities for system enhancements.
- Cardholder behaviors: Enable customer self-service and automated alerts
- Measure: Trend customer satisfaction, FCR, Call quality, IVR usage, and other vital center metrics – don’t just report static numbers. GE Capital has seen enormous increases in FCR and reduction in call expenses – worth well over $1M – by delivering information at 3 levels:
- Real-time reporting around individual calls is important as well, since the manager is expected to call the customer back when poor scores result.
- Managers can review and segment their own data through user-friendly pivot tables
- Scores and project updates are reported to senior leaders on a weekly basis.
Their Customer Experience Council (CEC) is a critical part of their governance process. Meeting every month, the team reviews specific issues that arise and creates an action plan for how it will be dealt with. To make it work, senior management consistently reinforces the critical theme, “We’re all in this together.”
To build loyalty it’s critical to understand what’s behind customer questions, and not just answer the specific question. If a customer asks about account balance, it’s usually not enough to just answer that question. Why did they want to know their balance? GE Capital anticipates customer needs and proactively provides solutions for the associates on the front-line to appropriately handle such situations.