Monday, June 14, 2010

My Big Fat Greek Customer Service Manifesto


We've spent a couple of posts (here and here) talking about my funny Budget car rental experience -- more to come on that -- as well as the notion of accountability and responsibility.  I'd like to talk about live examples of companies that "walk the talk" and how they are reaping the benefits.

So what's with the Big Fat Greek Wedding reference?  Well, there's a scene in the movie where Toula's mother comforts her and explains to her that the man might be the head of the house but the woman is the neck.  We may think that our fortunes ultimately rest with us but it's truly the customer with whom we have to move to survive in the long term.  They are our neck... and if we do not do right by them, they can strangle us.

We can't bend to every impossible whim and I'm not suggesting that we try.  My point is about our orientation and what informs our business goals and strategies no matter what role we fulfill in our respective companies.  From the top of the chain down, do we act with our customers in mind: solving a problem, delivering value, providing good service, etc.?  Or do we act in ways which benefit us primarily with nary a thought towards how we might be inconveniencing others?

In other words, are we truly walking the talk or are we just saying that we are walking the talk?  There are two very good examples of walking the talk which we've heard about quite a bit lately: JetBlue and Zappo's.  I'd like to touch a little on each in a couple of posts...  I was going to put them together but they are too good for just one!

Remember my JetBlue posts from last November (here and here)?  In those two posts, we talked about JetBlue's disastrous 2007: customer service provided bad information, passengers were stranded on planes and there was a general state of operational confusion.  Many of us never thought they could rise from the ashes of such a miserable experience.  But, then CEO David Neeleman issued an unprecedented apology along with clear steps of how they would improve.  It bears another look, really.  Here you go:

As I said previously, this has helped the airline to stay in business.  That said, you can't rest your fortunes on a mea culpa video.  You have to commit yourself to constant improvement all the way down to day to day transactional interactions.  In a recent Experience Matters post, Bruce Temkin shared JetBlue's values and "Jetitude" which includes: Be in Blue always, be personal, be the answer, be engaging, be thankful to every customer.  Jetitude defines the customer experience and is what envelopes the customer as they go through every touchpoint with the airline.  

What's significant about Jetitude?  Well, all of it.  The reason is that it's action and goal oriented but in the form of how the customer is treated by every employee.  It is about living and delivering company expectations in a form of the "Golden Rule" or similar.  They are all great but I think my favorite is "be the answer" because it's specifically about accountability.  It says, in a nutshell, that the employee has the trust of peers and management and is empowered to take care of whatever customer need that arises.  Like Southwest, it means that employees are trained with the brand promise in mind and encouraged to live and breathe the brand promise.  Contrast that with "The machine did it" answer that I got from Budget the other day!  Night and Day.

What does Jetitude mean for the shareholder?  Puh-lenty!  JetBlue recorded profits in 2009 and ranked third on the 2009 Airline Quality Report.  The report includes things like on time performance, customer complaints, lost baggage and the like.  JetBlue just announced that, for the sixth year in a row, they have been awarded highest honors in airline customer satisfaction by JD Power and Associates.  These high rankings show that Jetitude works.  And, as we know, happy customers are loyal customers!

Curious about how AvisBudget (Budget's parent company) did in 2009?  Losses.  We could blame the economy for hampering travel but then, as JetBlue is in the same industry, there's got to be another story in there as well.  Voila: Avis and Budget brands ranked fifth and sixth respectively (out of nine) in a JD Power and Associates survey published late last year.  Both of them scored lower than industry average.

Certainly food for thought, no?  We're going to talk about Zappo's next...  In the meantime, thanks as always for sending me your comments!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

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