Utilizing New Channels to Create Unforgettable Experiences

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Dinner’s on Joe.
Illustrated by H.P.Riggs, JR.

In today’s ever changing environment it is important for companies to separate themselves from their competition by creating unforgettable experiences for members of their community (customers, vendors, friends, etc.).  The Disney empire was built on creating “wow” moments and every company strives to do the same. Wow’s are what keeps them coming back and are the cornerstone of customer loyalty. This month, while working with a local insurance agency, we came up with a unique “wow” moment for his company that we believe we should share.

The agent, we’ll call him Joe, works for a large and reputable insurance company. His agency, franchise of sorts, is located in the suburbs of Philadelphia on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River and his target market are the more than 20,000 residents residing in the three towns close to his office.

His agency is relatively new so Joe and his three employees continually seek unique ways to separate his firm from his competitors. We meet monthly to discuss his approach and to brainstorm on how he can improve his business without breaking the bank. Among the many ideas we discussed the following stood out as the most creative.

During our conversation Joe mentioned that he wanted to figure out how to work more closely with a local and very popular cheesesteak / pizza shop in order to gain exposure. The shop is located within walking distance of his agency and the owners recently gave Joe their business. Up until this point he has considered trying the traditional tactics including the ever so  popular “place your card in the bowl and win a lunch” contest. But today, a new idea emerged.

From now through the end of summer Joe will sponsor two pizzas per weekend to be delivered to anonymous customers within his target area. He will pre-pay the pizza shop and allow them to randomly select which customers (delivery only) will receive the surprise pie. Here’s how it will work and why it is a great idea.

Customer A calls on a friday night for a pizza to be delivered to his/her home. When the food arrives the driver simply tells the customer that the pizza is complementary of Joe, a local local insurance agent, who wants to build his reputation throughout the community. A pre-printed “thank you” card will be placed on the top of the box inviting the recipient to “thank Joe” on his company’s Facebook page and telling them to enjoy their meal. A simple yet powerful gesture.

Here’s why it will work.

  •  People love surprises, especially ones that save them money.
  • Eating is intimate and so is insurance. A natural yet subtle connection.
  • It screams community. Isn’t that what it’s all about.
  • The pizza shop also looks good so they will begin to sing his praises.
  • If he can successfully encourage people to talk about it online and thank him on his Facebook page then he will begin to reach people in those places every company wants to be.
  • It’s out-of-the-box, inexpensive, emotional, an experience, and fun. In other words, a homerun.
  • It’s nice.
  • It employees a new channel in the B2C relationship. Engaging the pizza shop to creates a new and unexpected carrier (literally) of his message.

There are few details to be worked out, including debriefing the staff at the pizza shop so they are clear in their message and making sure we get the responses we need, but nothing too challenging. The best part about it is the cost – we estimate an annual investment of $1,200 – $1,500.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds and we will certainly keep you posted.

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A Key to Customer Service is Keeping Your Promise

This evening our team participated in a group exercise about how we can improve customer service. We discussed the following four characteristics associated with delivering exceptional customer service: keeping promises, active listening, attitude and the power of persuasion.

Although each area drew an equal amount of participation it was the discussion around keeping promises that interested me most.  I discovered three basic elements that every person in sales should know – (1) As a member of the company, you are the expert and the curator of the customer experience (2) that the most important thing any member of any company can do is to deliver proper expectations (3) and that every effort should be made to keep any promise made to the customer.

In order to drive home the point of keeping the promise to the customer we used the following clip from a Seinfeld episode which proved to be a great way to convey the message.

Although obvious when thinking about it, keeping the promises made to your customer will differentiate your company from the rest.

Beyond Apologies

I just read a story (actually it was read to me) that I thought I’d share. It’s about terrific customer service and  the importance of creating touch points throughout an experience that in most cases can lead to lasting memories.

Friends of ours  just posted a quick story on Facebook about a recent experience they had at an area restaurant.  The evening was particularly special because it was one of her last big meals before preparing for serious back surgery. She jokingly referred to it as “the last supper,” and you’d have to know her to appreciate the humor in her comment.

The evening got off to a slow start when they were delayed forty minutes past their seating but it was a celebratory affair, kind of, and were eventually seated. Instead of simply apologizing the team at the Franklinville Inn went a step further.  In short, and following a brief explanation of the delay, our friend’s message read as follows:

Image Credit: Zazzle.com

A bottle of wine was sent over as an apology and before the end of the night my husband was all giggles. If that weren’t enough, yesterday a $25 gift card showed up in the mail. I guess they liked seeing my husband a little giggly.

Her summary, which she posted to her profile page, not only summed up two really important actions (touch points) on behalf of the restaurant, but it was positive in its delivery and tone. An organization can’t pay for that kind of delivery. (or maybe they can – bottle of wine and $25 worth)

Touch point # 1 –

Instead of simply apologizing, offering a discount off of the bill, or even presenting them with a gift card at the table, the manager sent over a bottle of wine. A nice way to enhance the evening, add value instead of removing value, and creating a memorable experience.

Touch Point #2 –

The restaurant took the time to mail a gift certificate in lieu of handing it to them while they were seated at table or presenting it before they left. This extended their experience and reminded them of the “giggling” long after the laughter subsided. Most importantly has given our friends a reason to go back for a post-op visit.

As soon as I heard this story I wanted to share it.  It’s an example of an organization that “gets” customer service.

Disclaimer: I have not affiliation with the restaurant although I have eaten there and the soup is outstanding.

Innovate & “Amplify Human Imagination”

This morning Vijay Govindarajan of the Harvard Business Review posted a fascinating blog on innovation entitled Reverse Innovation at Davos. The article examines how innovation in developing countries is contributing to unprecedented growth and what that means to their rich, developed counterparts. At the end of the piece  Govindarajan challenges “Western multinationals” to begin to shift their focus, resources and power to these emerging markets suggesting that a failure to do so will result in missed opportunities.

This article reminded me of seeing Gary Hamel deliver a keynote  at ASAE a few years back on “The Future of Management,”  which focuses on the need for organizations (nonprofit and for-profit alike) to think and act differently in order to succeed.  At the heart of his argument was the notion that organizations need to continually innovate and revisit their strategies through new and often very different lenses. This, he suggests, often means redesigning and challenging longstanding management models to accommodate for a new approach to doing business.

It’s been two years since I saw Hamel’s presentation but his message of  “strategic renewal” and a belief that every member of every organization can play a role in “continually generating hundreds of new strategic options” has always stuck with me.  With that in mind, and on the heels of a very enlightening piece from HBR, I found this presentation and thought I would share it for review.  Comments on favorite slides are listed below the presentation.

*This presentation was put together by Mark Sniukas.  His presentation can also be viewed here.

Slide 12 – Strategic Renewal  – Over the past few months I’ve been involved in several board meetings where the teams have reviewed their strategic plans through an innovative lens.  Meaning – they’re taking a look at the gaps in their plans to identify opportunities to develop new ideas, products, and processes.  This, I believe, is a product of strategic renewal.

Slide 13 – I’m not crazy over the repetitive use of the word “strategic” but I do like the idea of rebooting. In my opinion you can reboot just about everything.

Slide 14 – “Continually generating hundreds of NEW strategic options” – this is great.

Slide 28 – Continually reinforce the belief that innovation can come from anyone.

Slide 40 – Amplify human imagination.

In this day and age everyone is afforded the opportunity to innovate.  Leaders, teams and organizations alike should be taking full advantage of it.

Make Them Look Up

The Promise Land

Over the holidays I became a fan of Wegmans Food Markets, a growing supermarket chain that sat atop the 2005 Fortune 100 “Best Companies to Work for List.”  If you’ve ever been to one then you know it has outstanding food at reasonable prices and the in-house market makes you think you’re somewhere other than heading for the baked goods aisle.

As if this weren’t enough the customer service is what some consider to be the best in the industry, and perhaps one of the best in the entire service industry.  Much has been written about the “employees first, customers second” philosophy Wegmans adopted, an approach shared by the likes of Microsoft, Cisco, and Marriott, to name a few.  However, what struck me most wasn’t the free ham being doled out by the charismatic butcher (who happened to keep my daughter and I entertained for over 15 minutes), or the cheese guy with the cool accent who led me to the “brie” promise land. It was the train.

Above the heads and perhaps missed by some was a train that ran inconspicuously throughout a part of the store. I’m not even sure I would have seen it had it had not been spotted by my keen-eyed four year old. Yet when I saw it I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.  Each aisle I turned down I checked to see where it was, whether or not it was still moving, and how far it had progressed since the last spotting.  It was pleasant, fun, memorable, and brought me to another time and place although I could never pinpoint when. It was a perfect compliment to an enjoyable experience during one of the busiest shopping days of the year. So why is this the train so important and why should an organization, a non-profit entity or a for-profit company care?

The Train by Jennifer Nicholson

The train represents a pleasant escape for the customer, the unexpected and added element to whatever experience an organization is trying to deliver.  It is the intangible little thing that may not make immediate sense, or speak directly to a mission or vision, but it manages to breathe a little life into an engagement and perhaps makes an incredible difference in an experience.

For Non-Profits
During last month’s ASAE Technology Conference there was a session on how organizations should consider using online games to increase membership for their organizations.  Generally I agree with this and think perhaps there’s a real opportunity for games (or other things) to change the experience for members. It certainly can’t hurt for organizations to continue to think differently. However, what can’t be missed by nonprofits and for-profits alike are the other elements that also make Wegmans great: its commitment to its employees, to its customers, to quality product and to reasonable prices.  I also think there’s an opportunity here for organizations to over analyze and ultimate kill the idea of using games to engage (not necessarily recruit) members, especially if they think too much about the outcome and not enough about the value of  what I call temporary escape.

For Companies
It’s time for every company to continue to add elements to the experience it delivers to its customer base.  Consumers are faced with so many choices and options that it may just be the companies that concentrate most on providing an escape to their own experience that outlast the rest. By fine tuning the fundamentals (mentioned above) and figuring out how to make them look up, the experience will become unforgettable.

The Ripple Effect of Customer Service

Last week I wrote Three Tips to Transforming the Vendor Relationship, a short blog about engaging vendors and the importance of  changing your perspective when viewing business relationships.  Shortly after it was published I shared the post with my brother, Howard, who in turn, shared the following email correspondence with me.  Howard works for Netzsch Pumps – North America, a “manufacturer of specialized industrial equipment that provides proven solutions for a broad range of demanding industries.” The correspondence below represents a terrific example of how the  “thank you” process from customer to vendor can transform a business relationship and enhance the relationship.

Email to Howard –

From: Michael Taylor [mailto:mtaylor@ewprocess.com]
Sent: Monday, November 01, 2010 11:08 PM
To: Riggs, Howard Jr.
Subject: RE: Request for Proposal – Positive Displacement Pumps 

Howard,

Thanks for jumping on this so fast!  The customer service of some of the manufacturers that we represent is getting worse, while Netzsch appears to be getting better and better.  We don’t always take time to thank those who are doing a good job, so I just wanted to let you know.  Several years ago, I would not have rated Netzsch very highly in the customer service area, but they continue to get better and better.  It may not pay off immediately (or maybe it has – I don’t know), but as many of the competitors tend to get worse, you will see increases in business because of your proactive attitude.

Thanks Again,

Michael Taylor
EW Process

Once the note was forwarded to the president it became both a testimonial and rallying cry for the entire company. The president forwarded the following email to the entire company.

From: “Streubel, Thomas” <thomas.streubel@netzsch.com>
To: “NPA-Internal_Sales” <NPA-Internal_Sales@netzsch.com>
Cc: “NPA-All_Email_Users” <NPA-All_Email_Users@netzsch.com>
Subject: Distributor feedback 

Fellow employees,

Please read the e-mail from Emory Wilson. They are our Industrial Distributor in the Carolina’s and one of our larger distributors in terms of sales. Please read what they have to say. It’s a nice start into the weekend or into the new week depending when you read this. We are doing the right things and customer service will pay off. Let’s continue to do a good and even better job and let’s make the life of our distributors easy. If we help them to make more business they will start running and chase every single opportunity and turn them in NETZSCH orders and secure jobs for all of us.

Thanks to all; this is the feedback we are looking for .

Have a good weekend
Thomas Streubel
President
NETZSCH Pumps North America, LLC

The timing of the correspondence could not have been better as it really drives home the message of developing unique relationships within your business community; and how those relationships often unfold and blossom into productive, company-wide communications.  It illustrates how the actions of one sales representative (Howard) drove a customer (Michael) to write a thank you note and how that message was used by the president of the company (Thomas) to rally his team.

Today’s business environment is ever changing but in the midst of  this change fundamental business practices, such as going the “extra mile,” can often lead to a ripple effect of positive energy. The above exchange provides an opportunity to view the result of last week’s “Tip #1” from the vendor perspective, which is rare and unique. It also provides a terrific example of how one person’s commitment to customer service resulted in an unanticipated response from a customer which then created a chain of reaction within the company.

The fascinating part about this exchange is that in all likelihood the customer (distributor) has now gained company-wide recognition that will vault his company to being more than “one of the largest distributors” to Netzsch. In turn,  Netzsch is now rewarded with those qualitative returns that often  appear outside the bottom line.

The end result: Relationships are important and while “getting it done” is good, doing it great is better and there are many leaders out their that commit themselves to going the extra mile. In return they solidify business relationships and even, as in this case, elevate the relationship to a new level.

We are always looking for more stories to share so please feel free to share your story about how your actions may have played a role in transforming traditional business relationships.

A special thanks to Netzsch and EW Process for sharing this correspondence.