Ralph has been writing about great service since his first best seller book in 1986. He started with an old Chinese proverb...that says that someone who doesn't smile should not open a store. This one really woke up the crowd...he challenged the crowd about France's reputation as a country that is not particularly service focused. Wow, this guy knows how to spin a funny story. He made our own experience better for the day (now that's customer experience!) with his humor and his passion for customer service.
So what's new with Ralph? He recently decided to go back to businesses in France, and find out what has changed since 1986 when his first book came out. The big message was about just how much more choice the consumer has today...the level of competition has gone through the roof. But unfortunately, the way companies operate when it comes to service hasn't really changed.
Ralph's philosophy fits right in with the Net Promoter principles. He talked about the importance of operating at a totally new level...of thinking about service experiences that will truly "WOW" your customers. And it takes a lot of creativity to do this in an environment where consumers have access to more information and choices than ever.
But the best companies are figuring out how to do this. Ralph told a story about his Sony computer that died the other day. We had two clients from Sony in the room (including Alexandre Murat who was presenting later in the day), and I was a bit worried what he was going to say. But his answer was "WOW". The support person was great, and what's really amazing is that when the line dropped, he had the pleasant surprise to get a call back from the Sony rep while he was trying to re-dial. That tiny bit of personal service made a huge difference. See guys, it's not that hard to delight a customer!
Ralph shared some great themes from his new book, Service Gagnant (which means "Winning Service" in French). Here were some of his thoughts (and he illustrated them beautifully with examples from well known companies like Avis):
- The customer has gone from "king" to "dictator."
- Life expectancies have never been higher, but our perception of time is shorter than ever...we expect things immediately.
- We've moved from customer service to customer care...it's about making the customer feel unique and special.
- It's all about customer lifetime value, which means you need to think long term.
- The client is becoming your most important salesperson...and here he linked directly to the importance of having a holistic measure to know if you are creating happy customers, like Net Promoter.
- What used to be "excellent," is now considered "good enough". So the bar is always being raised when it comes to customer expectations.
- Finally, he stressed the importance of looking at complaints as a gold mine.
Ralph shared some data showing that only 9% of customers who had a complaint and said nothing actually continued as a customer. On the other end of the spectrum, when they complained and had their problem resolved, 80% remained as customers. So you are better off getting the complaint, because at least those customers are engaged and are giving you a chance to recover!
In fact, nothing is more valuable than having your clients express themselves, and when you can figure out how to truly listen and use this feedback, it can turn detractors into promoters, and help your company improve in ways you hadn't imagined.
What about price? Ralph made a great point here...the companies who win figure out how to innovate around service, rather than having to cut price. I couldn't agree more! Clients often ask me what they should do when their customers complain about price, and I always tell them, "Well, you may have go there. But first, ask the question about value...and figure out if there is some way to use your team's creativity to deliver better value at the price that will make you profitable." Cutting price rarely leads to a good place...
One company came up time and again today, and if you don't know it, you should check it out. Maya mentioned it in her opening remarks, Ralph mentioned it, and our presenter this afternoon told me about it during the break (because his company, Weber Shandwick, works with them on PR and marketing). The company is Nespresso, and they have created an entire business model (online and offline) that gathers coffee enthusiasts into a membership service that offers an end-to-end experience around coffee. Everything from top tier technology and products for coffee making at home, through to unique coffees to purchase, and coffee shops where you are recognized personally as a member of the community. Nespresso must be doing something pretty amazing, so I'm going to check out their megastore on the Champs Èlysèes tomorrow. Here's their web site if you want to take a peek.
Ralph had to dash after lunch, but I had the pleasure of chatting with him over lunch. His English is impeccable, and he uses a lot of well known American brands in his talk. I'm looking forward to checking out his book, which gives me another way to brush up on my rusty French. Plus, I now have a signed copy! Merci monsieur Hababou!