Archives For February 2013

Customer experience is a critical component of brand building. For the past few months, I have written about the importance of aligning a brand organization in support of a customer focused purpose. Companies that have a shared goal of improving people’s lives supported by a set of values that they practice and live everyday deliver stronger financial performance than competition. Consumers also feel that these brands deliver a better customer experience.

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Yesterday the Temkin Group http://www.temkingroup.com/ published their 2013 Experience Ratings. In the study, consumers were asked to rate experiences that they had with brands during the previous 60 days. A total of 246 brands across 19 industries were measured. The questions, asked on a seven-point scale covered the three components of a customer’s experience: functional, accessible and emotional. I am pleased to report that several of the brands that I have written about as examples of companies with a customer focused purpose were rated high by the Temkin study. Publix was ranked number one for customer experience followed by Trader Joe’s at number two. Amazon placed 5th, Nordstrom 13th, Starbucks 20th and Whole Foods 36th. Several of the brands that I think deliver excellent customer experiences were not included in the report.  Four Season Hotels and Resorts, Wegmans and Zappos were not rated.

The Temkin Group has identified four competencies that companies must master to build and sustain customer experience leadership:

  • Purposeful Leadership: Operate consistently with a clear set of values
  • Employee Engagement: Align employees with the goals of the organization
  • Compelling Brand Values: Deliver on your brand promises to customers
  • Customer Connectedness: Infuse customer insight across the organization

Health Insurance Providers, Airlines and Cable Companies continue to deliver some of the worst customer experiences. These ratings should be a wake up to the brands in the lower half of the index. Its time to improve your customer experience.

Who in your opinion provides the best customer experience?

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts was founded by Canadian Businessman Isadore Sharp in 1961 in Toronto. Today Four Seasons operates 90 luxury hotels worldwide. Four Seasons is a company that believes and lives by the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. The Golden Rule became a key driver of the company’s success. Their competitive edge is service. Service is the area where Four Season’s wins or loses every day. Service is Four Seasons Brand Purpose. Their goal is to provide experiences of exceptional quality. Early in their history, they determined that the best way to accomplish this was to develop a service oriented culture. Four Seasons service is delivered by frontline employees who are empowered to make decisions to provide outstanding service.

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In hiring, they gave more weight to character and personality than to traditional resumes and technical expertise. They hired people who enjoyed providing service and didn’t feel that service was demeaning. People who’d never answer a customer’s question by saying I don’t know but rather I’ll find out. They hired people who were able to respond to whatever came up, who could spot, solve and even anticipate problems. Four Seasons didn’t create rules to mechanize service. They gave their employees the responsibility to provide great service.

Many companies do not treat their employees very well but expect them to smile and deliver great service. Four Seasons took a different approach. They treated their employees the way they expected them to treat customers. Employees were given the same understanding as hotel guests. Isadore Sharp has a great quote in his book Four Season The Story of a Business Philosophy. “We are only what we do, not what we say we are”.

Four Seasons approach to employee empowerment has paid huge dividends. Four Season has made the Fortune 100 list of the best companies to work for every year since its inception in 1998. It is a simple formula. Treat your employees very well and empower them to make the right decisions for your customers.

Have you experienced Four Seasons exceptional service?

L.L Bean was founded by Leon Lenwood Bean an avid hunter and fisherman in 1912. He believed that spending time outdoors was fundamental to happiness in life. L.L Bean quickly established itself as a trusted source for reliable outdoor equipment and expert advice. The company set a high standard for customer service in 1912 and this philosophy of service is a fundamental belief that resonates through the company today. In 2012, L.L Bean was recognized as one of only 50 companies to receive the J.D. Power 2012 Customer Service Champions Award.

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L.L Bean’s personal charisma based on down-home honesty, a true love for the outdoors and a genuine enthusiasm for people, inspired all who worked for him and attracted a fanatic loyalty among his customers. The values that the company’s founder, L.L. Bean, was raised to believe in were simple and deeply ingrained. Nature is something to be revered. Family ties are a priority. Being neighborly is a matter of course. And “do unto others” is not just a saying but a way of life. When L.L. launched his company, he believed so strongly in the Golden Rule that he made it the foundation of his business.

L.L Bean’s Golden Rule “Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings, and they will always come back for more.”  He backed that up with a strong guarantee. “Our products are guaranteed to give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at any time if it proves otherwise. We do not want you to have anything from L.L.Bean that is not completely satisfactory”. L.L.Bean values of honesty, quality, dependability and a guarantee of 100% satisfaction are lived by the company today. The unlimited guarantee says to customer “we trust you”. What a powerful way to earn the trust of your customers.

L.L Bean had a passion for serving customers. His philosophy is summed up by the following statements:

  • A customer is the most important person ever in this company—in person or by mail.
  • A customer is not dependent on us, we are dependent on them.
  • A customer is not an interruption of our work, they are the purpose of it.
  • We are not doing a favor by serving them, they are doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.
  • A customer is not someone to argue or match wits with. Nobody ever won an argument with a customer.
  • A customer is a person who brings us their wants. It is our job to handle them profitably to them, and to ourselves.

L.L Bean also believed that the company had a broader purpose beyond just making money. It was about really trying to improve people’s lives. He felt strongly that as a values-based company, L.L.Bean should have as its purpose to add value to everyone who had a vested interest in the company. L.L. Bean’s success depends on how well the company meets the objectives of its stakeholders. He described L.L.Bean’s stakeholders as customers, employees, stockholders, vendors, communities and the natural environment. Today the L.L. Bean Company is a leader in environmental sustainability, community involvement and customer experience

Have you ever shopped at L.L. Bean?

Over the past two months, I have written about brands that have a compelling purpose and an ideal that positively impacts society. Research has shown that brands with strong ideals outperform businesses without a customer focused purpose. Doing the right thing helps the bottom line. Today as my nephew flies half way around the world to serve in the military in Afghanistan, I am grateful to the people in the Army who are motivated by a higher purpose other than their own individual goals. He is willingly putting the welfare of the nation before his goals and safety. He has a higher purpose protecting the freedom of the United States. That is true leadership and loyalty.

My nephew graduated from US Army Ranger School last year. Ranger Training School is 61 days of grueling physical and mental exertion. This is the ultimate leadership training course. Only about half of the soldiers who start Rangers training school graduate. Successful completion of this course is required to become Ranger qualified and to wear the Ranger Tab.

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I have also written about the importance of core values to help guide behavior in organizations. The Ranger Creed inspires Rangers to lead the way. Please take a couple of minutes to read the Ranger Creed.
  • Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor and high “esprit de corps” of the Rangers.
  • Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air. I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster, and fight harder than any other soldier.
  • Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be. One-hundred-percent and then some.
  • Gallantly will I show that I am a specially selected and well-trained soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.
  • Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy, and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.
  • Readily I will display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor.

I know that I often take for granted the safety and freedom that comes with living in the United States. Today I am thankful for the young people like my nephew who willingly serve our country in support of a higher purpose, freedom.

Do you know anyone who is in the military serving our country?

Timberland is one of my favorite brands. I have worn their boots, shoes, sweaters and jackets for years. One of the other things that I like about  Timberland is that they practice corporate responsibility. Timberland understands that a company can deliver strong business results by doing good. Their mission is to equip people to make a difference in their world. Timberland does this by creating outstanding products and by trying to make a difference in the communities where they live and work. The Timberland Brand is aligned around the values of humanity, humility, integrity and excellence. They are a group of people who have a passion for the outdoors.

Timberland was founded in 1978 when the Abington Shoe company became The Timberland Company. The Swartz family has been involved with the company since it was founded. CEO Jeremy Swartz is a strong advocate for corporate social responsibility and protecting the environment. He is responsible for their values based leadership. Timberland has won numerous awards for being a great place to work.

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Listed below are some of the ways that Timberland has positively impacted communities and the environment:

  • Introduced the Earthkeepers Product Line which uses recycled, organic and renewable materials. This eco-conscious product line represents 33% of Timberland sales.
  • Since 2010 they have planted 2.2 million trees in Haiti.
  • Timberland was the first company to obtain LEED Retail Certification for mall based stores.
  • Reduced emissions in their factories by 36% since 2006.
  • Improved their product development processes to lessen the environmental impact.

In 2011, Timberland was purchased by the VF Corporation. I hope that VF continues to operate Timberland in a socially responsible manner.

Do you think that business should be about both commerce and responsibility?

A visit to a Trader Joe’s store is a unique fun food shopping experience. You really never know what you are going to find. There is a good chance that you will discover something new every time you shop at a Trader Joe’s store.

The success of Trader Joe’s is the result of a unique business model that has built a national chain of neighborhood grocery stores. The combination of innovative products along with a service-oriented culture has created a loyal customer base that continues to grow nationally. This combination of product, people and a unique store layout differentiates Trader Joe’s from a typical grocery chain.

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Most large supermarkets carry an overwhelming number items. Large stores stock over 50,000 items. National brands represent about 80% of the assortment. A typical Trader Joe’s stocks about 4,000 items and about 80% of those items carry the Trader Joe’s name. This focus on unique fast turnover products results in sales per square per foot that is more than double that of most supermarket chains.

Trader Joe’s has created a unique service oriented culture by hiring people who are passionate about food. When I visited Trader Joe’s earlier today, I was helped by three different people before I arrived at the checkout stand. The Trader Joe’s mantra is to offer value and a dedication to quality service through warm, friendly, committed employees along with a pledge to offer quality products. Trader Joe’s pays their employees higher than most grocery store chains. They have won numerous awards for being a great place to work.

Their marketing is also different. They regularly publish the “Fearless Flyer”. They describe it as a cross between Mad Magazine and Consumer Reports. It is a newsletter, magazine and comic book all in one. It combines product information with witty tidbits.

Trader Joe’s has proven that a unique culture which is aligned with the business strategy and the values of its customers, can provide an effective defense against competition. This has enabled Trader Joe’s to build a unique and differentiated brand.

Have you shopped at a Trader Joe’s store?

One of the benefits of traveling is the opportunity to shop and experience regional or local businesses. When I visit Florida, my favorite supermarket is Publix, which is based in Lakeland Florida. Publix has over 1,000 store in five Southeastern states. They have done a good job focusing on one region of the country. Publix is the largest employee owned supermarket in the United States. Sales revenue exceeds $27 Billion. They have over 156,000 employees. One of Publix strengths is that it is a great place to work and that they take care of their employees. This translates to a great shopping experience. They have earned their tagline “Where Shopping is a Pleasure”.

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Publix goal is to be the premier quality food retailer in the United States. They are driven by strong core values.

  • Passionately focused on Customer Value
  • Intolerant of Waste
  • Dedicated to the Dignity, Value and Employment Security of our Associates
  • Devoted to the highest standards of stewardship for our Stockholders
  • Involved as a Responsible Citizens in our Communities.

This focus on the customer and balancing the needs of their stakeholders (customers, shareholders, employees, communities) has delivered impressive results. Publix is the number one supermarket in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. They have won that honor every year since 1995. Publix has made the Fortune list of the best 100 companies to work for every year since 1998. Publix has a low full-time turnover of 3.2% an unheard of number in the grocery industry. They were also recognized by Glassdoor as one of the Top 50 places to work in 2010 and 2011.
It’s a simple formula treat employees well and they will treat your customers well.

Have you ever shopped at a Publix store and how was your experience?