Jeanne Bliss discussed “extreme” customer loyalty with three beloved companies that are featured in her new book, I Love You More Than My Dog. She opened by describing 5 key decisions that beloved companies make.
1. They decide to believe
2. They decide with clarity.
3. They decide to be real.
4. They decide to be there.
5. And they decide to say sorry.
I loved Jeanne’s discussion of how companies say “I’m sorry.” It’s not just about a hollow apology, as Jeanne said. It’s about “saying it with humility and repairing the emotional connection with the customer.”Jeanne mentioned that she did most of the research for her book before the economic crisis hit last year. So, before the book went to print, she went back to re-validate that all of the beloved companies were still prospering, since that was a core tenet of the book. What she learned was that, indeed, these companies did well through the economic downturn. If fact, they continued to grow.
Chris Zane, Zane’s Cycles
It was inspiring to hear from an entrepreneur like Chris today. He described how he teaches his employees to believe in the customer. As he said, “Our approach is to provide more service than what seems reasonable. What we’ve found is that most customers take only what they need, so he can offer it for everyone.” But it wasn’t just about believing. Chris had hard numbers too…he understood the lifetime value of his customers, and put his philosophy in the context of that. For example, he lets customers take bikes for a test ride, and they trust them. No complicated paperwork. Isn’t that risky? As Chris describes, he loses about 5 bikes a year, but sells more like 5,000. What’s the impact? They have grown 23% a year for 29 years. They have 45% margins (the industry average is 38%), and $15 million in sales from a single store.
Fred Taylor, Southwest Airlines
Next, Jeanne interviewed Fred Taylor, Jr. who manages Southwest’s proactive customer service team, which handles communications after disruptions in service. Fred described how he came to this unique role within Southwest. Colleen Barrett , back in 2001, was searching for someone to take on proactive communications, and she pulled Fred from the front lines to take on this role. Fred described the daily process…They start with a morning overview meeting, where they review a pipeline of information about service delivery across their entire system of operations. Then they have criteria to determine which customers need customized follow up communication. Each communication is unique, but they have three key things in common:
1. They acknowledge the situation
2. They apologize for the experience they have had
3. They make some gesture to help regain the customer’s trust
They want to reach the customer electronically or with a physical letter before the customer has to reach out to them to lodge a complaint. He read a blog post from a customer who received one of their communications. The customer summed it up in this way: “It’s important to be ready to respond when you are not perfect. Only then can you created devoted customers and loyal fans.”
Wayne Peacock, USAA
Wayne discussed Jeanne’s key decision called “Clarity of Purpose” and what this means for USAA. This is a company that is clear on its mission…and rightfully so. USAA is a membership organization, serving over 7 million members of the U.S. military, and they are legendary for their service, not just within the military community. Wayne shared the following quote from a 40-year member of USAA:
“USAA is the best relationship (next to my wife / she’s sitting next to me) I’ve had my entire life.”
Wayne described how they keep a relentless focus on their members by integrating the life of the military into their corporate culture. Executives and employees participate regularly in events with the military, to understand their lives. They also hire their customers…almost 1 in 5 of their employees has served in the military or had a spouse or family member who has served. This helps to reinforce what they do in new employee orientation, to extend this knowledge of military life to all employees both through training and through personal connections. By understanding what military life is all about, their employees are able to “respond with empathy.” What does this empathy and clarity of mission get for USAA?
- Over 97% of their customers stay with them each year. In their insurance business, their next best competitor is 9 points behind them on this core metric. In fact, 90% of military officers who have joined USAA have stayed with them for a lifetime.
- They also have received numerous awards for customer service from industry organizations. Net Promoter is no exception on this one…When we benchmarked NPS for different industries last year (2009), USAA had the highest scores across all of the industries studied.
Wayne ended by giving Jeanne a taste of what new employee orientation is like for USAA employees. The audience got a fun break by watching Jeanne get dressed up in infantry gear. She even had a chance to taste an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat), courtesy of USAA.
What’s Your Story?
Jeanne summarized by challenging all of the audience members to decide what their company’s story could be. As Jeanne put it, “Beloved companies have a story. If your customers can’t describe, consistently, what they get from you…then you have no story.”