Revenging Of The Customer:
JUST RESPOND AND SAY “YES”
by Verne Harnish “Growth Guy”
September 21, 2010 12:36 PM ET
“The answer’s yes…now what’s the question?” Customer service doesn’t get any more basic than this, unless answering the phone (and responding) is a challenge!
It’s been a long time since I’ve ranted and raved about customer service. And just when I thought I should refrain, echo’s of management guru Tom Peters’ admonishments that it’s our patriotic duty to rant and rave kept ringing through my head. Name names, he would say. Demand that companies treat us better. Don’t accept shoddy service. Our companies can’t compete globally if we don’t beat on them locally!
Demand that companies treat us better. Don’t accept shoddy service. Our companies can’t compete globally if we don’t beat on them locally!
I’ll get to my personal customer service story along with some concrete recommendations and resources in a minute. But first…
I had the pleasure of attending John DiJulius’s customer service workshop a few weeks ago, where I picked up the opening line of this column. DiJulius, author of Secret Service: Hidden Systems That Deliver Unforgettable Customer Service, also hates the word “no” and strongly suggests it be eliminated from the customer service vocabulary. I couldn’t agree more. And he’s seeing resurgence in interest in improving service now that companies have optimized about as much as they can. I’m seeing a similar trend among the 10,000 executives we communicate with on a regular basis.
Witness what’s going on with Dell. The good news is they saw it coming and were already responding by the time the mainstream business press picked up on the story. We were at Dell in May with a group of growth company executives where they outlined their plan to spend $150 million to fix their customer service issues – issues as basic as letting a customer return a product or get a problem resolved in one phone call vs. several.
These basic initiatives have eliminated over two million calls per quarter and their ACSI scores jumped 5 points from 72 to 78 vs. Apples’ industry leading score of 83, second quarter of 2006. As we’ve witnessed Michael Dell admit himself, Dell had simply gone too far in pushing productivity vs. serving customers. And the solutions have been as simple as slowing down and helping customers resolve their problems.
Which brings me to my story. We moved to new offices this summer and figured we would bring along our phone service. It seems a certain major telco (hint – first three letters match my name) couldn’t master even the basics of answering their phone in a timely manner or scheduling an appointment they could keep. After six missed appointments and hours each time on the phone trying to find out why they didn’t show up, my team gave up and we called their wireless counterpart that goes by the same name.
Yes, we’ve gone completely wireless in the office. And the customer service experience couldn’t have been more different. It still took quite a while to get lines transferred over, again, because the land line firm kept making the most basic mistakes. However, Steve Thompson, a front line supervisor for the wireless firm, gave us his personal cell phone number and actually followed-up with us proactively to let us know how our situation was getting resolved. Wow!! Just the basics of being polite and helpful with an attitude dedicated to finding the “yes.”
To understand how powerful the basics can be in driving your company’s success, track down the Harvard Business School case study on Commerce Bank, authored by Francis Frei, the new guru on service excellence (www.hbsp.harvard.edu). At the risk of oversimplifying the case, Commerce Bank is making a killing providing outstanding service using a simple interview technique to identify the right employees and a simpler paper an pencil exercise to get new employees to make eye contact with customers (they are to note the color of a customer’s eyes – try it – you really have to look into someone’s eyes more closely to catch the color!).
I love simplicity like this. And it comes back to paying attention to the customer. Another basic is having someone welcome people on your website. Otherwise, it’s like having a store front with no people to welcome the customers. Go to Rackspace’s website (www.rackspace.com) and see how they handle this internally. Th rough their “Fanatical Support” promise (click on the link and study what they say and do), they’ve become the dominate player in the hosted server market in five short years. One key? No automated attendants and a policy to answer phones within three rings.
Another basic is having someone welcome people on your website. Otherwise, it’s like having a store front with no people to welcome the customers. Smaller firms, like my company Gazelles, can offer a similar webgreeter service via firms like LiveAdmins.com. Our customers seem to love the personal attention and guidance provided by these web greeters.
And to make sure the basics of responding and finding ways to say “yes” are executed at Rackspace, they’ve instituted a Jim Collins-defi ned catalytic mechanism – a service guarantee that has real teeth and fi nancial pain associated with failure. Travelocity has instituted a similar guarantee (www.travelocity.com/guarantee) and has seen booked travel revenues jump 59 %, including nonair transactions jumping 90 % over 2005. Spend $6 and download a copy of Collins’ HBR article entitled “Turning Goals into Results: The Power of Catalytic Mechanisms” from http://www.hbr.com and fi gure out how to institute this in your firm.
While you’re out searching the web, stop in atwww.johndijulius.com and take a look at several of DiJulius’s concisely written articles, including the one that explains which 27 store restaurant chain adopted the “the answer’s yes…” brand promise. And I’ve included a sidebar of his 10 Commandments to World Class Secret Service.
Answer your phones and website; get back to people with straight answers as quick as possible; find a way to say “yes” without giving the store away; and institute a catalytic mechanism to make it happen consistently – its time to review the basics inside your organization.
The following are the 10 Commandments that all World-Class Organizations excel at
Ten Commandments to World Class Secret Service
- 1. Service Brand Promise
An inspiration service vision that instills the service passion in all your employees
- 2. Servant’s Culture
Attract,hire and retain only the people who have the Service DNA
- 3. Non-Negotiable Secret Service System
Minimum service standards every one must follow
- 4. Anticipate Service Defects & Above & Beyond Opportynities
Company wide awereness of what to avoid and when & how to be a hero
- 5. Be Zero Risk
No hassle problem solving
- 6. Train-Train-Train, On-going & Next Generation
Standardized, consistent training for new & existing employees
- 7 .Master the Norm Factor
Profiling customers so all employees recognize and make each one feel like a VIP & the ability to constantly distinguish between New, Returning , & VIP guests
- 8. World Class in Team/Gueast/Community/Home
Walk the talk in all area of ones life
- 9. Daily Pre-Shift Huddles
Mandatory 5-minute daily communication huddles to ensure common and clear vision & goals
- 10. Above & Beyond Legacy
Constant awareness by recognizing & celebrating your succes stories
Daily Adrenaline Meeting
by Verne Harnish “Growth Guy”
It used to take days for issues to work their way to the top to get authority reallocate resources,” says Tony Petrucciani, CEO of computer services firm Single Source Systems. “Now it’s like FedEx. It’s there by 10:30.
There is one indispensable routine; one absolute essential habit more important than any other I can teach an executive team; one discipline that is non-negotiable – and that is an effective daily meeting rhythm.
Before dismissing the idea (I’ve heard every excuse over the years), consider that from the top teams at Goldman Sachs to the assembly floors of Dell Computer to the Oval Office of the White House, an effective daily meeting rhythm is at the heart of their best management practices. And I’ve not encountered a single start-up to mid-size firm that didn’t benefit greatly from initiating a short daily huddle organized around a specific agenda which I’ll detail below.
“I lead a daily ‘Adrenaline’ meeting,” explains Tony Petrucciani, CEO of Single Source Systems, Inc., a computer services firm based in Indianapolis. Petrucciani gathers his management team (five including himself ) and meets each day at 10:07 am to discuss roadblocks. Their goal is to be out in 15 minutes. The name came from the substance which makes the heart beat faster. “In our case, we wanted the business to pulse faster,” adds Petrucciani.
“Our key customers really like that we do these meetings and it has become a sales tool, differentiating us from the speed that our competition pulses,”explains Pettruciani ” It used to take days for issues to work their way ‘to the top’ to get authority to allocate re-sources – it’s now like Fedex – it’s there by 10:30.” It wasn’t always like that at Single Source. The meetings were launched when they faced a large project in overrun status and their customer was getting angry. “We implemented a specifi c Project Adrenaline daily meeting. Within a week, we were making much better progress, and had gained back credibility from the customer we told them about adrenaline. This kept a “six-figure” project from imploding,” describes Petrucciani.
Since then, his team has implemented other types of daily Adrenaline meetings (Channel Adrenaline, Sales Adrenaline) that pulse just before his management meeting. If a major issue comes up in those earlier meetings, they pulse thru to the Management Adrenaline meeting, keeping the company operating at an effective pace.
With the daily huddle, we’re much better equipped to keep our daily tasks aligned with our plan says Chuck Hall, founder and CEO of Charles Hall Construction.
“The daily huddles are particularly key when you’re the busiest and spread the thinnest,” notes Chuck Hall, founder and CEO of Charles Hall Construction in Clarendon Hills, IL. With a focus on clients with multiple projects across multiple regions, Hall has teams working all over the country. And with the economy picking up, he’s facing an onslaught of business. “We have approximately $24 million in contracts signed or under negotiations for work this year waiting to start,” explains Hall. “With the daily, we’re much better equipped at keeping our daily tasks aligned with our plan. And it has helped us keep morale high during the difficult slow months, and step by step prepare us for the tidal wave of work that will hit us in June/July of 2004,” says Hall.
The immediate pushback I get when recommending a daily huddle is “We’re too busy!” Executives can’t imagine finding the time to get everybody in the same place or on a conference call every day for one minute, let alone five or 15. And if the company is quite small and travel isn’t that big an issue, they’ll tell me, “We don’t need a meeting when we’re seeing each other all day long.”
Yet, routine actually sets you free. Teams that huddle daily find they interrupt each other considerably less the rest of the day. There’s a fixed time when everyone knows they’ll have everyone else’s attention. Meeting daily also clears up issues that otherwise linger to clog up the weekly meeting. This frees up time to focus on more strategic issues during the weekly gathering (focus of a future column).
I recommend that companies set the time at an odd time, like Petrucciani’s 10:07am. People do a better job of being on time when the time’s not on the half- or quarter-hour. Worried that you’ll forget the meeting while traveling? For a nominal monthly fee use http://www.iping.com, a reminder service which pages or phones you just prior to the daily meeting. And http://www.freeconference.com offers a free conference bridge you can use to host a daily conference call.
Make attendance mandatory and on time, with no excuses. I’ve been in intense meetings with clients. I’ve been in the midst of seeking funds from venture capitalists. It doesn’t matter; I tell them I need to take a break for my daily meeting. And it only gains one respect – a disciplined firm exudes success.
“I tell them I need to take a break for my daily meeting. And it only gains one respect – a disciplined firm exudes success.
Overall, start and end on time and don’t problem solve. This meeting is simply for problem identification. If the meeting is “face to face”, stand up to avoid going too long. And back the meeting up against other regular meetings or appointments to force an ending. If it starts to go longer than 15 minutes, people will drop the habit.
The Agenda: It should be the same structure every day, and it’s an agenda just three items long: what’s up, daily measures, and where are you stuck? In the first few minutes, each attendee shares “what’s up” the next 24 hours. This lets people immediately sense conflicts, crossed agendas, and missed opportunities. The key is to highlight specifics without simply reading one’s ‘to do’ list.
Next, review whatever daily measurements your company uses to track its progress, highlighting any unusual trends.
And the only people who don’t get stuck are those who aren’t doing anything.
The third and most important agenda item is where people are stuck. You’re looking for bottlenecks. There’s something powerful in simply verbalizing, for the whole group to hear, your fear, your struggle, your concern. It’s the first step to solving the problem, because “until the mouth runs, the brain won’t engage.” And the only people who don’t get stuck are those who aren’t doing anything. So, scrutinize the person that reports “everything is fine!” or “no stucks today.”
Important as it is, the bottleneck conversation shouldn’t be allowed to drift on into problem-solving. It’s okay if somebody wants to reply to a bottleneck by saying “Call so-and-so,” but if two people start engaging over an issue, politely suggest they “take it off line.” Remember: The daily meeting needs to be kept short.
While reading Titan, in preparation for writing the chapter on meetings in my book, I was struck by the fact that John D. Rockefeller had lunch with his top team every day, starting with his co-founders in the early days and ending with Standard Oil’s nine directors at headquarters in New York. Rockefeller insisted that this routine was crucial in the success and global reach of his company – and it will for your firm as well.