• Bill Leinweber

  • About Bill Leinweber

    Bill Leinweber's mission is to help businesses and organizations grow by combining efficient processes with great customer and employee experience.

    Bill is the Chief Experience Officer & Owner of Landmark Experience LLC, a consultancy, where he loves to help business leaders walk in their customers' shoes and devise memorable and meaningful experiences for both customers, guests, visitors, employees and business partners. After all, have you ever heard of customer loyalty and business growth without GREAT customer experience?

    Bill's 30 year career spans retail and office products distribution operations in both small, family-owned and global mega-businesses. He has managed customer service operations, sales support, customer on-boarding and business intelligence teams while also serving as an internal consultant and subject matter expert. Bill has helped his past employers improve their customer engagement processes and achieve their goals of customer experience excellence and loyalty.

    Bill loves to talk and speak about customer experience as well, so don't be afraid to ask!

    Bill Leinweber
    Landmark Experience
    513-227-9037
    www.LandmarkExperience.com

Don’t kid yourself – Creating great customer experience takes effort

I read two blog posts this past week that sort of ticked me off. Not because the posts were emotionally charged or offensive in any way. After all, the election is over. The blog posts ticked me off because they mislead the reader. The posts suggest that creating a fantastic, memorable, exciting, loyalty-building customer experience that delights customers is really simple and doesn’t cost a lot of money. Just do these easy steps – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and you’re done.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles & FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The thing is, if this were actually true, we’d all be having amazing customer experiences every day and everywhere we go. But that’s not the case, is it? Both blogs are written by VERY smart gals and I plan to continue reading them because, well, like I said, they’re really smart. But hopefully neither will mind if I poke a little fun at their stories.

Fido and the Pet Store

In the first post, the writer compared her pet food shopping experience, first at a big-box pet store chain and then at a local, independent mom-and-pop pet store. Guess where she had the better, more personal, warm and fuzzy, loyalty-building experience? Of course – at the small independent pet store.  The clerk at the big box pet store was polite and helpful but didn’t offer to take the extra steps to get the special dog food the customer needed. It was a policy-driven experience. The clerk at the neighborhood pet store bent over backwards to help the customer.

I’m willing to bet the local pet shop owner’s heartbeat is only steps away from the customer. In fact, the blog post writer may have actually been dealing with the store owner. When the owner of a business is that close to the customer, the likelihood that you’ll have a more attentive, personal experience is much greater. On the other hand, the shareholders of the big-box pet store chain are wa-a-a-ay far away from the customer. So are the CEO, the executive team and all the “steering committees.” Is it possible to create a personal, attentive, warm and fuzzy customer experience in a big box chain store? Yes, it is possible. But it may not be the intent of the company. The intent of the company might be to become number one in market share by serving the most customers at the lowest prices. Second, if a large company wants to create a super-awesome customer experience, it’s gonna cost ‘em! I probably can’t tell too much to a local store owner that she doesn’t already know about taking good care of customers. But a medium to large business where the customer is “further away” from company leaders – now, that’s where I can help big time.

Starbucks and Big Bucks

The second blog post talked about how delighting customers doesn’t have to cost big bucks and in fact, can be hugely profitable. The post sites as an example, a Starbucks barista who carried on a flirtatious exchange with a customer by writing notes on her coffee cups over a period of months. It’s a cute story about how the customer’s co-worker would take the empty cup back to Starbucks with the customer’s responses. This back and forth cup dialogue went on for several months until the customer herself went into the Starbucks and met her cup-pal for the first time. No, they didn’t get married and live happily ever after but the experience made for lots of great postings on the customer’s own marketing blog. I wouldn’t be surprised if Starbucks encourages their baristas to put little smiley faces on the cups and otherwise make the beverage buying experience feel personal. And it obviously works. But the Barista Romeo example was a bit over the top. It’s a great one-off example of personalizing an experience. But not a good example to hold up to businesses and say, “hey, you should do this.”

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles & FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Reality Check

It’s true; companies who focus on delighting the customer can be and are enormously profitable. However, it’s neither as easy as 1-2-3 nor is it cheap. Deciding to delight your customers is easy. Institutionalizing it is another story.

It will cost any company in recruiting and hiring the right people who naturally want to deliver a great customer experience. It will cost the company in new hire and ongoing training, performance assessment, recognition and incentives. It will cost the company by creating a culture where employees feel valued, stick around, and understand how and why they should create a great customer experience. You’ll need great leadership, a commitment to the long-term and a belief in what you’re doing. The per-interaction cost of delivering great customer service is very low. Getting to that point where hundreds or thousands of employees are delivering a great customer experience every day – that is a significant investment in time, money and effort.

Can you do it? You bet! The time, money and effort spent is a good investment in your business. But don’t let anyone fool you into believing you can decide to delight your customers on Monday and git er done by Friday.

Is it worth the effort? Absolutely!

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Does Your Service Leave Customers ‘Holding the Bag?’

The subject handbag on Michele’s arm

My friend, Michele, received a bag as a gift. But not just any bag and not just any gift. It was a Michael Kors handbag received from her husband at Christmas. And it was RED! Michele loved the handbag, she’s crazy about her husband and apparently, the red color is a big deal too. So Michele called me the other day asking for advice because she had a really bad customer experience with Michael Kors. To quote her, she was expecting a good “Landmark Experience” and instead, well it was a landmark alright but not good. Not good at all.

First, my disclaimer. If you whipped out your antonym dictionary and looked for the opposite of “Fashionista,” my picture would be there. Much to my partner’s dismay, I am not a devoted follower of fashion. What I do know is customer experience. I’m an expert on that. So I did have to ask Michele, “Who the hell is Michael Kors?” “Oh, luxury brand fashion designer.” Once I figured that out, we were ready to move on.

Now, back to the red handbag. Here’s the deal in a nutshell. After only several months of owning the red handbag, the inner lining began to fray and then tear. By summer, the lining was torn in 4 places. Michele has purchased a ton of Michael Kors products – shoes, clothes, wallets and other handbags, even her bridesmaids’ gifts. I nearly choked when she told me how much she has spent on Michael Kors. Then again, she had the good sense to marry an attorney so, good for her. The red handbag cost more than several hundred dollars. Michele also owns another Michael Kors handbag and the lining on the first bag is fine after four years of use. For the money her husband spent and for the perceived quality of the brand, the red handbag was not living up to expectations. So off she goes to the Michael Kors Cherry Creek store in Denver.

And here’s where the experience really goes bad. The Michael Kors store associate told Michele that the tears in the lining were “normal wear and tear” (ironic, isn’t it. I never took the “tear” literally before). She proceeded to say that since it was “normal wear and tear,” Michele could take the handbag somewhere to get it repaired at her own expense (even though that is contrary to Michael Kors published policy and voids the 1-year warranty) or she would have to pay for the repair if the bag was sent back to Michael Kors.

Michele was not pleased.

The store associate offered another option. She could exchange the bag for the same style bag in the store, although they had only black and brown because the red was a special, limited edition. But the cost of the bag has since gone up by fifty dollars, so Michele would have to pay the difference to exchange the bag for a color she doesn’t want.

To make matters worse, the store associate was able to find Michele in their “system” but couldn’t see all the purchases that she has made over the past several years. So while Michele’s lifetime customer value was pretty high, they couldn’t see it. All they saw was a very unhappy customer and all they offered her was their “policy.” Well actually, not even that. They weren’t living up to their policy. Here’s what the Michael Kors website says:

HANDBAGS & SMALL LEATHER GOODS

Handbags are protected from the original date of purchase by a one-year limited warranty (proof of purchase required). If the handbag or small leather good proves to be defective in material or workmanship under normal use anytime within the first year, we will repair or replace the item free of charge with same or comparable product. Defective handbags will not be returned to customer.

The variations in color and texture are the prized characteristics of beautiful tanned leather. Over time, the leather will acquire a patina and may also darken due to the oils from your skin and direct sunlight, further enhancing the natural look of your handbag. Please refer to our Product Care Guidelines for further information on caring for your handbag or small leather item.

Conditions and Exclusions:

The warranty does not cover damages arising from dye transference, accidents or misuse, or from any alteration, service or repair performed by any other party other than Michael Kors.

I’m pretty sure Michele didn’t carry around her Ginsu knife collection in her Michael Kors bag, so I’m confident we can say the bag got “normal use.” Yet there was no offer to “repair or replace the item free of charge with same or comparable product” as their policy states. Additionally, the store associate never asked Michele, “What would you like us to do for you?” She never got the store manager involved to see what could be done outside “the policy” to satisfy this (clearly) very loyal customer.

Wow. Does this sound like any way to treat any customer, let alone a luxury brand customer? The disconnect here is that the experience of OWNING a Michael Kors bag is nothing like the experience when quality falls short and service needs to recover. Inconsistency.

Hey out there, listen up. The cost of losing the lifetime value of a customer is way more than the cost of a silly handbag (sorry, Michele, I mean a stunning handbag). It doesn’t matter if you’re peddling your aunt’s secret pizza sauce or making expensive handbags. If your service falls short, then customers just feel duped. They feel like you don’t really care about them – you care only about your money and your policies. And when customers feel like you don’t really care about them, then they start questioning why they were loyal to your brand in the first place. For all your hard work, that takes you back to square one with customers.

Is it time to take a look at your brand experience? Is there consistency between quality of product, service, support, after market, re-orders, brick-and-mortar, online, phone, chat, email? Or do each of these places where your customers show up live in their own little world, disconnected from the promise of your brand and your vision? If you need help figuring that out, let me know.

Bill Leinweber

Landmark Experience

Who’s Your Objective Outsider?

Photo by estimmel

I think every business needs an objective outsider. Or two, or three. What’s an objective outsider? I mean someone from outside the company, who doesn’t live the day-to-day of your business but who can give you, the business owner a fresh perspective from another vantage point. Many times, the people in the business are just too close to the business to notice, to see, or even to hear what’s wrong.

We’ve heard recently about all the changes going on at JCPenney. First, they’re doing away with coupons and confusing pricing. Now their makeover is getting a makeover. Everyone is ticked off at the CEO. Customers are confused. Then JCP announces that by 2014 they’ll do away with the checkout counters and cashiers and move to mobile check out options using Wi-Fi and radio-frequency technology. I applaud all the reinvention. However, I offer this – they’re forgetting to feel what it’s like to actually be inside the store.

I stopped by a JCPenney today to buy some socks. Mundane, yes but I needed socks and was driving by JCP so there you have it. About half way to the men’s department, a bellowing voice came over the loud-speaker system barking out a page of some kind. “MARIE, CALL EXTENSION 227. MARIE, 227 PLEASE.” I actually don’t recall what the announcement was but it was something along those lines. I can tell you this. The volume of that loud-speaker system was so loud, the sound was actually distorted. It was difficult to make out the actual words. Once the announcement stopped, the speakers went back to playing background music at a very low, barely audible level. Then another page, “BOB, PLEASE COME TO COSMETICS, BOB TO COSMETICS.” Again, I don’t recall exactly what was said. Nonetheless, I’m standing there thinking, could I really be the only person noticing that those speakers are turned up way too loud? Do any of the employees notice? Doesn’t the manager or assistant manager notice?  Do they usually have jack-hammers or buzz saws running in the store that these speakers have to be so loud?

Next, as I’m looking through the sock choices, a polite sales clerk approaches me asking if I needed assistance. Hanging from his belt loop is some sort of walkie-talkie phone communication device. As I’m chatting with this gentleman, his phone speaker is blurting out a conversation between other  employees, “TERRY, DO YOU HAVE THE TIMESHEETS?” “NO SUE, I’M IN WILL CALL.” “HAS ANGELA HAD HER BREAK YET?” And again, the volume on the phone was ALL THE WAY UP. When the sales clerk walked away to resume his conversation with two female employees in the aisle, I noticed that all three had these two-way radio devices hanging from their waists, each one barking out the conversations taking place between employees. I frankly got distracted wondering if Angela would ever get her break and where the heck were the timesheets? Now, I’m all in favor of giving employees technology to make their job and the customer’s experience better, easier, more efficient. But this is technology being mis-used and ill-executed.

I couldn’t wait to get out of JCPenney. I wondered if it would ever occur to a manager or employee that the high decibel announcements over the loud-speaker and the banal employee conversations blurting from radio speakers in the aisles just make for a downright unpleasant shopping experience? In a store like JCPenney, wouldn’t you want customers to be relaxed and take their time browsing? I would think so but no way. My nerves were shot from all the noise. The real question is, how does it go unnoticed?

So who do you use as your objective outsider? Someone who will tell you, “Hey bud, the volume is way to loud on that. You’re bothering your customers.” Or, “Just between you and me, your customers really don’t need or want to hear about timesheets or breaks. Just ask Disney, the nuts and bolts are underground and only the Magic is visible on Main Street, USA.” If the management and employees at JCPenney are deaf to all the unnecessary in store noise then what are you and your employees too close to? Are you too close to notice?

Do you aggravate your customers over a paper napkin?

Sometimes it’s the seemingly small thing that can tick-off your customers the most. Be wary of any process improvement “guru” who tells you to cut corners without doing the necessary due diligence. I’m speaking to you McDonalds.

When did you decide that drive-thru customers don’t want napkins with their meals? Did you survey your customers? The tarter sauces still oozes out of the Filet O’Fish. The fries are still greasy. So what’s the deal? You don’t even ask customers if they want napkins – you just let them discover there aren’t any once they drive off. Not so smooth.

I can understand letting customers ask for ketchup, salt, mustard, extra ice but really, a meal without paper napkins is just plain rude. This is happening at many locations (okay, perhaps I hit the golden arches a bit too much). I’ve noticed it at other restaurant brands too. I’m sure some well-meaning suggestion came through the suggestion box and the finance department salivated at the millions of dollars that can be saved on paper napkins but at what cost? At the very least, ask before you humiliate

To all business owners out there – it is so critical to put yourselves in your customers’ shoes. What is it like to be your customer?

When Service Failures Collide

My experience last Sunday at Red Lobster reminded me of how service failures can snowball. It was a classic case of breaking one tenet of customer service after another:

Set Accurate Expectations

When you set expectations properly, you give your customer the freedom to make informed decisions. Period. Under promise and over deliver isn’t the cliché it is for no reason. If you over promise and under deliver, you’ve failed the customer experience.

The host at Red Lobster greeted me with pained interest, took our name, handed me a pager and said the wait time would be about 15 minutes. The wait time ended up being 35 minutes. Lucky for us, friends of ours arrived before us and were also waiting for a table. I was able to strike up conversation with our friends and pass the time. That said, I would much prefer the host had accurately stated the wait time. Then I can make an informed decision as to whether or not I wish to wait. Another couple I didn’t know asked me, “What did they tell you the wait time was?” “15 minutes,” I replied. “Yeah, that’s what they told us too. It’s already been 30 minutes, we’re leaving.” The couple left and so did several other guests.

Manage Perceptions

The customer’s perception is their reality so instinctively put yourself in the customer’s shoes and ask yourself, “How does this look? How will our customers perceive this?”

As 25 or so guests waited for available tables, in plain view of all of us were 3 booths and one 4 square sitting empty. We continued to wait and wait and wait and the table and booths continued to be empty of diners. A rumble of undertone passed around the waiting area. Why weren’t they seating anyone at open stations?

I approached the host desk and asked for the manager. When the manager approached, I asked her why guests weren’t being seated at the available booths? She explained that the server handling that section also had a table of 16 and couldn’t handle the additional tables. Wow. Bad planning or lousy contingency plans – or both? Hard to believe that is their Plan B.

Customers don’t care about your drama. Manage it. And manage what customers see and hear.

Harmful Damage Control

If you decide to compensate a customer for a service failure, make sure that comp doesn’t cause further damage.

The Red Lobster Manager offered my guest and I a complimentary appetizer in consideration of our longer than expected wait time. The comp was properly communicated to our waiter and was subtracted from our bill without any intervention from me. However, the appetizer we ordered tasted like it had been sitting under a heat lamp for hours.

Mind the Beginning and the End

Customers typically remember more clearly the very beginning of an experience and the very end. Pay very close attention to how a customer’s journey begins with your product or service and to the last thing they’ll remember.

In a restaurant, the guest arrival, greeting and seating functions are the beginning of your customer’s on site journey. If you botch up this part of the experience, you’re quite possibly sabotaging the rest of the experience. The customer is likely to remember mostly what went wrong in the beginning, regardless of how you tried to recover.

Check for Consistency

Your company may have separate unique brands and trade names. Customers may not be aware that your brands are all part of the same company. Nevertheless, if customer experience inconsistency exits across your brands, your could be setting yourself up to “brand damage” your entire organization.

It may not be known to all that Red Lobster is part of the same restaurant family as Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse. Ironically, this was not my first bad experience at Red Lobster. However, after a year of boycotting the chain, I thought I’d give them another chance to see if things had improved. They haven’t. Yet, I regularly have great experiences at Olive Garden and good experience at Longhorn. So why the inconsistency within the same parent company?

One can only speculate that best practices are not shared, brands are not held to the same standard, head office politics – who knows. At any rate, best in class eludes them.

So, you want to train your employees? Don’t miss these key steps.

Company budgets have been tight these past several years and that typically means businesses have cut back on training. Not always a wise choice. However, if your business has decided to invest in some form of training for your employees in 2012, that’s a positive sign for your company’s growth.

Whether you’re planning to train customer service, sales people, delivery associates or any other group, make sure you include the following key elements in order to increase your success rate and get the most return on your investment:

 In your next training endeavor, here’s what to look for in 5 key areas:

1)      Know Your Audience:

Adult learners are a unique breed. Understand what motivates adult learners and how to ensure the training is effective. Adult learners want to know “what’s in it for them” and how the training is going to help them with their goals. The focus is sometimes weighted too heavily on “here’s why this training is good for our business” rather than “here’s why this training is valuable for you in our business.” Subtle but important difference. Be sure the training starts with a) Here’s what you’re going to learn and b) At the end of this training, you’ll know how to do X. This clearly sets expectations and also establishes responsibility with the adult learner.

2)      Subject Matter Experts Aren’t Trainers by Default:

A PowerPoint and a projector don’t constitute training! The tendency in many companies is to say, “Hey, Bob’s a whiz when it comes to our SmartOrder program. Let’s get Bob to train the new customer service team.” The problem with that approach is this – Knowing how to use the SmartOrder system is one thing. Knowing how to effectively train other people to use it is something different entirely. Why do you think the teachers teaching your kids have to be trained to teach? Teaching is a vocation in and of itself. Bob showing up at your door with a PowerPoint deck is not training! It’s a presentation.

Understand the difference between a subject matter expert and a training professional. A training professional is a subject matter expert about learning. Consider hiring a professional to develop curriculum and to deliver your training.

3)      Plan Ahead:

Be sure to prepare handouts or guides as takeaways for participants. Class participants will typically take notes in class but don’t expect them to know what points are key concepts. Handouts and guides draw attention to the most important concepts so participants aren’t left guessing and the learning is more consistent across your group. A participant manual also gives the student something to review later to brush-up on the material covered through self-study.

A word about application training. Application training is unique – don’t skimp here. Some people learn by seeing, others by doing and still others with a combination of both. If you’re training employees how to use a new computer application, blend presentation training with “computer lab” activities so participants can first “see” and then “do.” If you don’t have a training room outfitted with PC’s, have participants bring their laptops or rent laptops for the training. During the lab activities portion of the training, participants can ask questions while actually performing work in the application. This ensures they’ll retain more of the learning and your program will be much more successful.

4)      Environment and Experience:

The success of your training content is directly tied to the training environment and the training experience for participants. Be sure your training room is comfortable and free of distractions. Have water and healthy snacks to keep participants energy and engagement up. Effective training includes a mixture of elements including clearly stating objectives, communicating what participants will learn, lecture, discussion/activity, debrief and assessment. Variety will fight distraction and boredom. Simple things are important like making sure everyone can see and hear the presentation, especially for larger groups of 15+ participants. Set expectations for how questions will be handled then repeat questions for all to hear. Pause periodically to validate with the class that concepts are understood. And finally, make it fun!

5)      Successful Training Is Not An Event:

The most successful employees have regular training integrated into performance management. Follow up on learning retention rates by implementing training evaluations and refreshers. Don’t make the mistake of having a 1-day training and never following up again. Include an assessment immediately following the training and then again 2-4 weeks later to measure what participants have learned and what they remember. Use assessment results to tweak ongoing training for improvement.

Training and teaching others, helping them grow and make a bigger contribution is some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

If you have comments about this article or questions about a training initiative you’re putting together for your company, please contact Bill Leinweber at 513-227-9037 by email at Bill@LandmarkExperience.com.

What’s the Advantage of your rewards program?

Sorry for the long hiatus! Since October, I’ve been working on a completely awesome project in Austin, TX and have had little time to catch my breath.

So, American Airlines sends me an email offer to join their AAdvantage Dining Program so I can “Earn Miles” when I dine at my “Favorite Restaurants.” Apparently, they think they know which restaurants are my favorites. My interest was piqued for about 10 seconds so I clicked on the link to their website and entered my home zip code to see “my favorite restaurants.” The closest restaurant to my house is Maury’s Tiny Cove and it goes downhill from there! Don’t get me wrong. Maury’s Tiny Cove is a westside Cincinnati iconic institution, a delightful place full of “regulars” and where you get the distinct feeling that Frank Sinatra or Bobby Darin are going to walk out of the men’s room just as you walk in. Of course despite nearly 12 years in Cincinnati, on the westside you’re only allowed to be a “regular” if you’re born here, but I digress. My point is, I’d only eat at Maury’s once a year at best.

The next nearest restaurant in the radius search is Willie’s Sports Cafe and then The Crows Nest. Even if you’re not familiar with Cincinnati, I think you’re getting the picture. Since I’ve been working in Austin the past several months, I thought I’d try a zip code radius search from my hotel. Similar results. Beyond one random sushi bar and The Star of India, American Airlines idea of my favorite restaurants are a bunch of pizza joints and Tex Mex. Now, American is based in Dallas so I get the strong Tex Mex influence.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m far from being a food snob. Pick a restaurant and I’ll find something on the menu to eat. Put a plate of food in front of me and I’m likely to clean the plate, just as mom implored us to do growing up. (Although, after a recent trip to the ER, I’m making completely new choices in food selections these days! Ah, the glory of passing the half-century mark).

At the end of the day, given the selection of restaurants on the “Advantage” Dining Program, it would take me 10 years to earn only enough miles to taxi to the end of a runway! So American, what’s the advantage? And, where are “my favorites.” This got me thinking about rewards programs in general, most of which are useless for all but the globe trotters and big spenders.

I have to laugh when companies have any type of rewards program but their basic service is so sub par. Guess what? That ain’t gonna work. So what do you offer your customers in terms of rewards? How about the reward of really great service rolled into an emotionally rousing fantastic experience? The customer gets rewarded and so does your business. Don’t be lured into believing you need to launch a rewards program unless you commit to truly looking at it from the customer’s perspective.

Now, eat up.