Sunday, November 15, 2009

Turn a Customer Service Frown Upside Down - Part Two


When last we spoke, we talked about how some proactive customer focused strategies can talk irate customers "off the ledge" so to speak.  I mentioned the JetBlue winter storm debacle as well as encouraged everyone to see the now famous apology video on YouTube.  If you can believe it, I've just watched it again!

I also covered the first part of the LESTER approach (Learning, Echoing and Sympathizing) to customer winback that I picked up from this very interesting article.  And yes, if you're wondering, I read that again, too!  It never hurts to have a refresher.

This next post covers the second half of LESTER as well as point out a way to ensure that all of your winback efforts are not for naught.  Ready?  Well then please buckle those seatbelts, return your seats to the upright position and stow your tray tables in preparation for takeoff.

By now, I'm assuming you've read the article as I have and have absorbed the first three letters of LESTER.  Let's examine the rest:

Thank: If you listened closely, you will know that David Neeleman doesn't thank the customer until the very end of the video.  The entire apology, however, is essentially about how he doesn't take their business for granted and that he is aware that they need to make serious changes in order to make what happened an "aberration" as opposed to routine.  His tone, his time bound promise (7 days) and a reference to penalties if they don't hit  targets shows some understanding that consumers have choices and they can choose to no longer do business with JetBlue.  

Evaluate: This is about absorbing what went wrong and making it right.  In the video, he very directly says that he had two options: ignore what happened or evaluate (his words) how they can be a more efficient and better company.  As he goes through the Customer Bill of Rights, he explains how each element is based on the major aspects of what went wrong (e.g., the employee ID tags were in response to poor staffing and access at the airports, etc.).   

Respond: This last step is demonstrating to your customer that you've heard the issue, assumed responsibility for it and are ready to implement the necessary changes to be a better partner/provider of goods and services to customers.  The entire apology video is essentially JetBlue's response with the icing on the cake starting at the 2:19 mark and continuing through to the end.  These last 32 seconds are its commitment to turn things around in order to earn customer confidence and trust - two things they are taking great pains to show they do not take lightly nor for granted.

Great stuff?  Absolutely!  Can anybody pull that off?  Absolutely!  Assuming, of course, they have the skill and, more importantly, will to do so.  How do we ensure success?  TEA is what I would add onto the fabulous LESTER:

Touchpoint: This is essentially asking "How am I doing?" of your customer.  After a commitment is made to make changes for the greater good, some sort of measurement would be helpful.  My view would be to let the changes steep a bit and then revisit with the customer at a predetermined time based on how you have your business metrics set up.  Some models require more frequent touchpoints than others and it may make sense to have some other algorithms drive when and how you address these customers.

Evaluate (Again): There is no harm in seeing how your remedies play out in the real world.  Review your committed response and determine if what you promised has solved the issue.  If it's great news, congratulations!  However, this might be an opportunity to uncover more nuances so you can have a more refined approach going forward.  Whatever comes out of this, even if it's unexpected, is always good information for you.

Adjust: If you've heard good news from the first two steps, that's great.  The thing to do at this point is to continue to socialize and evangelize this new approach throughout your organization from the top down.  It is so important to reinforce how valuable the customer is and your commitment to making things right.  If you've identified some areas for improvement, make those changes immediately and take a more aggressive approach. It's true you've a bit of homework to do but as long as there is a supportive environment and a team based approach, it will be possible for you to earn customer trust, confidence and business.

What are your thoughts?  How has your organization approached righting wrongs and its commitments to do better by its customers?  It would be great to have your real life experiences to enrich mine.  Please feel free to contact me.  I would love to hear from you.

Until Next Time,


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Turn a Customer Service Frown Upside Down - Part One

Hello Again!

It's been a while since my last post but I've had a great time listening to your feedback and ideas (thanks!) and also researching this next topic.  My last couple of posts covered the power of Thank You and recognition in the workplace.  The next two posts talk about how recognizing a job poorly done and reassuring your customers can mitigate damage or even further engender loyalty.

If we take a stroll down memory lane to February, 2007, we can recall a horrible winter storm that severely impacted Jet Blue's operations such that many flights were cancelled, travelers stuck on airplanes for up to eleven hours, pilots and flight attendants were stranded and the operations staff were completely overwhelmed.  It was truly a Perfect Storm any way you look at it - pun intended.

What did then CEO David Neeleman do?  He apologized in a big way which was unprecedented for a CEO.  He went straight to Youtube and expressed remorse and regret to his customers - also unprecedented.  It was a mea culpa of epic proportions.  Really - did the Lehman leadership apologize when it went down in flames?  I recommend a quick viewing before I go further.   

Pretty amazing, no?  There was generally a hearty round of applause for the (perceived) sincere apology. So what is my point in bringing this up lo these 2.5 years later?  The way they handled this debacle was so masterful that it is an asterisk in their history (a costly one to be sure) as opposed to the thing that defined it, or worse, destroyed it.  

Why?  Well, in my readings this week, I came across an interesting acronym from this article about Customer Winback.  The author suggests using LESTER the next time you deal with an irate customer.  Let's use Jet Blue as the active example:

Listen: This is twofold: hearing what someone has to say and then absorbing.  We often do the former but forget to do the latter.  In this case, there clearly was a lot of feedback to Jet Blue during the storm and the days following.  David Neeleman clearly heard and absorbed it.  While he doesn't explicitly say he's listening, the fact that he posted the video infers it.

Echo: This is a tool to assure the customer that listening actually took place.  By repeating what you've heard, you can assure your customer that you have absorbed the message and are engaged in their complaint.  In the video, he acknowledges the operational failures and the severe discomfort the customers endured.

Sympathize: This needs no explanation, really.  We have to demonstrate to our customers that while we don't know what it's like to be in their shoes, that we can appreciate their discomfort.  In the Bill of Rights, his promises to improve the reservations system is a tacit admission that the difficulty customers had in talking to a "live" person to rebook a flight or get more information as well as the awful frustration that went with that.

In the next post, I will cover the rest of the LESTER acronym: Thanking, Evaluating and Responding.  We will also chat about what I think is missing from LESTER.  I will introduce you to my acronym: a refreshing cup of TEA!

As always, I welcome your feedback and thoughts!



Sunday, November 1, 2009

How most people have no idea of utilizing LinkedIn effectively

It's sad to say but that is truth of the matter that most people don't know how to use LinkedIn effectively. Here is a conversation I had with a friend of mine about his LinkedIn profile a few days ago.

As a result of my advice, my friend recently dropped over 100 people from his LinkedIn connections. He took a list of his existing connections and wrote a simple email trying to find a time to re-connect and catch up(the whole point of networking, don't you think?). He asked some of his old connections for a chance to re-connect due to the fact that his personal network had grown since the last time they spoke. He thought to himself that he might be able to make some new introductions and be able to help everybody in his network. He was absolutely shocked at how many people were willing to take up his offer due to time or other reasons. He was convinced that most people really didn't understand what he was trying to accomplish despite the simple email. My personal feeling was that he had added the wrong contacts in the first place.

Here is what I advised him to do next. "Ask your connections the following question via an email": It would be great to catch up since we have not spoken in several months. 20 minutes over the phone would be sufficient. My circle of connections have grown and I would like to find out if any one of these service providers can help you or your business in some way(i have met some great connections and I am convinced that they would be a great compliment to you and your business). If connections don't respond or if they say, I don't have the time, you know where you stand.

This request is pretty straight forward and as a rule of thumb, you should be requesting this from all of your connections(say once a quarter). You should give them a reasonable amount of time to respond (2 weeks is plenty) and if you don't hear back, you should  remove them. In this day and age I think 2 weeks is ample time to give your LinkedIn connections time to respond and book a 20 minute phone conversation. If you are unsure on how you can help them and most importantly how they can help you, you should not be connected. Its not about showing people you have 10,000 connections(Of course I am exaggerating since I see people with 500+ contacts but you get the picture). That is something I talk about during my LinkedIn monthly webinars. You should not be proud to have 500+ connections(you are actually not productive with that many connections). This is not a race to get more people to connect to you(as most people seem to think so). Simple mathematics tells me you cant have an effective relationship (2 way) with more than 100 connections/professionals/people. If you are really good, you might have 200+. It really depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

Way before anyone knew what LinkedIn was(let alone arrival of social media), I had a profile (you can blame it on my computer science background). During last year, I used it pretty effectively to meet new people in Chicago after moving from southern California(built over 200 new connections). The number one question I got was, how do you know so many people having been here under a year? Its pretty simple actually. I contact professionals from CPA's, attorneys, advisors, insurance professionals and closely help business owners (and also corporate business executives) with an offer of helpful thoughts/strategies to help them do 2 simple things(amongst many others):
1) Drive new revenue
2) Reduce costs

What amazes me the most, is the fact that most people (after all these educational webinars, online help and other tools) still do not know how to utilize this tool.

Summary and some useful tips:
1) LinkedIn is for business networking. Its not a social site. Get a hold of this concept pretty well as it will help you to be very efficient. Its a phenomenal tool to help meet the right decision makers for your product or service. If you spend any time on this platform you will see that its the most comprehensive and complete platform (most of it available for free) giving you access to everyone that you need, at a touch of a button(Isn't technology great?).

2) Don't just add anyone. Get to know them. How do you do that?
Ask a lot of questions to learn more about their business. If you dont know much about your connections, whats the point of connecting with them in the first place? The whole point of networking should a be 2 way street (not one way as many people think). Surround yourself with a good number of people who can work with you. The presence of competent professionals in your circle should help your career development too.

3) Reach out to your connections regularly(once a quarter). Show interest in what they do. It gives you a chance to re-connect again. How well do they know what you do and vice versa, how well do you know what they do?

4) Recommend some of your good strategic partners. Ask your contacts what do you have to do (3-6 month goal) to see if they can recommend you?

5) Make sure you are using slideshare(some 80% of LinkedIn users still don't have slideshare).

6) Utilize the events tab for your events or see what events are good to attend(I recently talked about how to network without wasting your time and going to useless networking events).

7) Make sure you join the right groups(most executive and senior VP's from companies are not part of many groups). That trend is changing rapidly with over 80,000 people joining LinkedIn every day(with over 2 million users on LinkedIn in the US already). Picking the right groups requires strategy and thought. I actually do these on a one on one basis with certain strategic partners(inquire directly with me via email).

8) Don't join your college alumni groups unless you are using them to create new contacts. I talk to a lot people(every week) who never have or will reach out to their alumni colleagues. Whats the point????

9) Are you utilizing You Tube in your presentations?

10) Put a professional picture. Don't have pictures of paintings or buildings. This is your profile.

11) Thank someone if they recommend you or make an introduction for you.

12) Be very clear who you like to network with and who should be introduced to you. Spell that out clearly.

You dont have to spend 2 hours a day on this tool. If you know where to go and what to look for, your job  (on a daily basis) will take no more than 30 minutes to an hour(depending on how advanced you are).

Want to know more? Register for the webinar!

Building a professional profile on LinkedIn(Nov 4th)

Have a great week and till next time be safe!

"Helping America one business, one non-profit and one family at a time"

Amir Homayoun Rafizadeh, MBA

Private Business Advisor email)

It Takes More Muscles to Frown...


Thanks to all for the positive feedback and the food for thought!  They are much appreciated!  It seems that I have struggled with "user error" and the interesting continuous loop I wanted you all to see has gone missing.  It still can be found on the Towers and Perrin white paper on Turbocharging Employee Engagement that was published in September, 2009.

This next post discusses what happens when we don't foster and encourage positive work environments and/or when we contribute to environments where people are made to feel like they or their contributions are not valued.  In other words, we have all seen someone pull the proverbial rabbit out of a hat only to have his/her manager complain that the bunny wasn't cute enough, the hat's brim wasn't wide enough or the magician wasn't wearing a cape.

It's hard to get the wind taken out of your sails but it happens all the time and we have all been witness to it.  We could spend hours discussing what would be worse: a) sin of omission or unknowingly being a "buzzkill"; or b) sin of commission or knowingly raining on your direct report's or peer's parade because someone's just done the same to you.  Frankly, you could go either way but the net result is the same: that person who has gone the extra mile willingly and often selflessly is left with the same feeling that a good deed never goes unpunished.  

I was recently told of a work situation where consistently high performers were seeing their mid year and annual review scores diminish over time.  It was puzzling to them - how was it that their efforts and ingenuity to get things done (much like MacGyver) were less and less appreciated or valued over time?  It should come as no surprise that these individuals are less motivated and resentful of the positions in which they are in.  To keep their jobs, especially in a down economy, they have to comply with outrageous requests but at the same time they know their work will not be acknowledged.

On the last page of the same Turbocharging study by Towers Perrin, they reference other research that covers just a phenomenon.  When managers fail to celebrate success or diminish "pulling the rabbit out of the hat", they have a very serious negative impact on employees' emotions and sense of security with unsurprising results: absenteeism, turnover, etc.  It also showed that in troubled economies, especially this brutal one, managers need to turn up the dial on formal employee engagement/recognition and the heartfelt "thank you" that I mentioned in my previous posts. When employees get the acknowledgement of a job well done even if just in passing, they respect their managers more, have more stake in the success of the business and will work harder and or go out of their way to be a winner.

Which takes me back to the title of this post...  It takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile.  Keep that in mind when a colleague or a direct report has just finished up some important work.  That simple "thank you" that you remember to say goes further than you think.

The next post will discuss how utilizing "thank you" and "I'm sorry" help to keep customers happy.  In the meantime, thank you for your continued feedback and posting ideas.  I appreciate it!

Until Next Time,