• 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

What Are You Doing to Your Customer’s Memory?

A Drive Down Dogwood Lane

I grew up on a great street in Mentor, Ohio, about 25 miles east of Cleveland. My parents picked a terrific location to raise six kids. Our street was exactly a half-mile long with long straight-a-ways and a couple of serpentine curves. Back then, we used to say it was a “dead end” street. The houses weren’t very fancy by today’s standards, three bedrooms and two baths for eight people.

The cool thing was that our house was fourth from the end of the street so the only people driving past our house were the Martinson’s, the Phelp’s, the Staebler’s, the senior and junior Douglass’s and Mr. Hockenbrach. Mr. H drove pretty fast but otherwise, for a kid on a bike the traffic was practically nonexistent. It was awesome when they re-paved our street into a smooth, asphalt “raceway.” Our lot was one of the few that didn’t border woods or a fence in back. Our backyard was like a meadow, blending seamlessly into the neighbor’s yard on the street behind us. Beyond the cul-de-sac were our elementary and junior high schools, playgrounds, football stadium and a big woods with a pond. There were tons of other kids in the neighborhood of all ages.  At the corner of our backyard was the biggest maple tree around, well over a hundred years old. And you could see it from the end of the street, even from the school yard. I have very fond memories of growing up on Dogwood Lane and I can still remember the smell of the grass, aromas of dinner from open windows, the breeze, and the feeling of safety, although at the time, I didn’t know I felt safe. I just did.

Memory Shock

About six years ago I was visiting my family in Cleveland and decided to take a drive down good ‘ole Dogwood Lane. It was nothing like I remembered. My mind’s eye contained frozen snapshots of time. But on Dogwood Lane, life marched on as it has everywhere. The trees and shrubs had grown unbelievably, to the point where once exposed houses are now totally hidden. The houses no longer looked new and fresh. In fact, some were pretty run down. One driveway had a car up on blocks. Revisiting Dogwood Lane was a shock to my system. My “memory self” was out of alignment with my current “experiencing self.” I regretted taking that drive. Maybe Dogwood Lane was never as great as I remembered.

The reminiscing drive down Dogwood Lane made me realize how different the experience may be from our memory of it. Truth is, there’s the experience and then there’s the memory of the experience and they’re not necessarily the same.

How does this translate to customer experience?

You often hear me say that the best customer experience is memorable and meaningful. Memorable. That’s critical.

Now, I get it. A single customer interaction isn’t going to etch a memory the same as 18 years of growing up on Dogwood Lane. However, THAT a customer remembers the experience at all is as important as WHAT the customer remembers about the experience.

If you have time, here’s a wonderful 15-minute TED talk by Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics, Daniel Kahneman about happiness (“experience”) vs. memory.

WordPress:

Customer Memory In Your Business

Here are 3 things to consider about the customer experience and memory in your business:

1) Design: When you design and shape your customer’s experience, are you asking yourself, “What will the customer remember?” And as part of the design of the experience, are you deliberately creating a memory at all?

Example:

At my local grocery store, they have a little “mini clinic” inside the store. You can get flu shots, have minor injuries checked, and other non-emergency treatments. Today when I walked into the store, there were several very ill patients, heads in their hands, waiting for treatment. This is not particularly something I want to see when I first walk into the store to buy my food! I couldn’t get the image out of my head. Unpleasant memory.

2) The Ending: We’re most likely to remember the very end of the experience and that memory will shade the entire experience. In your customer’s experience, what is the ending like?

Example:

At the end of her voice mail greeting, my colleague Melissa doesn’t say, “Have a nice day.” She doesn’t say “Have a good day.” Melissa says, “I hope you’re having a splendid day.” Now splendid is not a word you probably hear every day, or even every week! But Melissa came up with a way to express her wishes in a unique way that stands out. It’s different and that makes it memorable. So, you’re not  comfortable with the word ‘splendid.’ No problem, come up with something else.

3) Service Recovery: How you handle customer issues when something goes wrong cannot be understated. Whether it’s your customer service department, your sales rep, technical support or other customer-facing staff, the customer will surely remember this “ending” interaction. Here’s a hint: Better to have the memory of the bad experience fade and the customer left with the great memory of how you resolved the issue.

Example:

My colleague’s web hosting company accidentally wiped out his About Me page – and couldn’t recover the content! He had to reconstruct the content and re-load it into his website. Aside from a humble apology, the hosting company gave him a generous credit toward his next renewal which just happened to be later that week. Small cost for the vendor and left the customer with an upbeat memory.

I regularly preach that a distinguishing customer experience doesn’t have to cost a lot. Sometimes by just making the experience different, you make it memorable and better.  Just ask yourself, “When this interaction is over, what will the customer remember?”

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I help business owners improve customer service, create memorable customer experience and engage employees, through evaluation, benchmarking and training. If you have a business problem you’re trying to solve, let’s talk.

Bill Leinweber
Bill@LandmarkExperience.com
(513) 227-9037

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!

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

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.