Make a Difference in the New Year

Dennis Folden, Industry veteran

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How will you differentiate your business in 2013?

We begin the year with the best of intentions, wanting to make significant improvements. For instance, on your list of objectives you may have goals such as becoming customer centered, using more statistics for your business, starting a developmental program for employees or focusing on a long-term succession plan. If these have been on your list as long as your pledge to lose weight and exercise, now is the time to examine your expectations.

Successful business goals must be SMART, which stands for specific, mea­surable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. The goals must be composed of your highest priorities to avoid a slip if easy success isn’t attained.

Let’s take becoming customer cen­tered as an example. We know customers drive our success. The loyal customer who shops our stores multiple times a week is extremely valuable. This customer selects a store because of location, conve­nience and the products offered. How­ever, he or she stays because of service.

Offer Exemplary Experiences

As a retailer, we all desire more customers, and we want them to be more frequent and spend more per visit. But how can we go about achieving that goal? Right now, many of us spend freely on loyalty programs, discounts and advertising. Yet have we considered how much to spend on training, measuring progress and cre­ating a great experience?

Online shoe company Zappos has built a reputation for extraordinary service. It has a loyal following that buys shoes from the company and continues to be surprised and delighted with great service. So what can we learn from Zappos and how it differentiates itself in an impersonal business segment? Instead of making the business like the channel, the company separates and becomes different.

Zappos has a call center with trained staff. The employees live and breathe a customer-centered approach. Such a commitment can help us become bet­ter because we are in a business that can be impersonal. Just think about our customers paying at the pump. We also sell products that are tangible items and can be bought anywhere. Sometimes we convince ourselves that our customers are interested only in deals or product prices.

But what would happen if we commit­ted to being different? What if we focused on becoming a true convenience store that makes a difference for our customers by providing exemplary experiences?

I purchased a pair of New Balance running/walking shoes last year, and they were great. I wanted to replace them with the same model. When I started my search, I discovered that the model was discontinued. While I was searching the Zappos site, a pop-up message asking if I needed help came up on the screen. I explained what I wanted, and the person got back to me almost immediately, saying he had found a pair of the model I was looking to buy. I read later that Zappos will fill an order with the shoe you want even if it needs to buy it from another source. Customer satisfaction was first priority, and I had the shoes in 48 hours. I also got a message asking if all was OK with the purchase. I got what I wanted and the price was competitive. Getting what I didn’t want for less was not an option Zappos offered, nor one I would have considered. Customer satisfied.

Ways to Be Different

So how can we become different?

  1. Make customer service the focus of our industry.
  2. Hire employees who are passion­ate about providing excellent customer service.
  3. Measure customer satisfaction on a regular basis.
  4. Analyze and respond to the mea­surement information
  5. Recognize and reward employees for being customer centered.

It’s important to consider how focused efforts are on making the customer not only satisfied but also delighted. For example, are we letting other factors take priority over the cus­tomer? Is shrink more important? Is all the emphasis being placed on margins or labor expenses? How much empower­ment is given to the store employee to correct a service failure?

If your answers are unclear, here is a simple test to see whether you and your team members are truly focused. Just ask, “When I walk into my stores or open a company meeting, what is the first discussion item on the agenda?” If it is not about the customer, then you may be sending the wrong message, or a lesser issue is taking priority.

Know the Score

As an industry, we invest in tests and interview techniques to select employees. Frequently the tests gauge reliability (i.e., how long will people stay), honesty or other factors. What if we identify the best customer service employees and develop tests to seek out those characteristics? It is possible and it makes a difference. Would anyone hire a person who is a terrible ser­vice provider but shows up every day and is honest? Why not get the person who is great with the customer and is an honest, reliable person? That is an approach for making the customer the priority.

Let’s say that your customer service is a strong competitive differential. How do you measure customer satisfaction? In my opinion, the most important aspect is that you establish a baseline and then regularly measure the change while avoiding exces­sive costs and confusing data. I’ve seen numerous methods on measurement such as intercepts, online surveys and phone calls. A consistent scoring system allows you to move from a 75% to a 90%. I had a mentor who used to say, “Know the score, keep the score, and the score will improve.”

I am a huge fan of the Net Promoter Score (NPS). It’s a system created by Bain and Co. and detailed in the book “The Ultimate Question” by Fred Reichheld. The ultimate question is, “How likely is it that you would recommend this com­pany to a friend or colleague?” on a scale of zero to 10. It creates a score based on the percent of promoters 10 or 9, minus the detractors (the percent of 6 through zero). The consistency of tracking the score pro­vides a realistic perception of customers’ experiences.

Once the score is secured, the real work begins. It is important to ask why the customer gave you a particular score. You may find that the answers involved employees, restrooms, speed of service or general cleanliness. The only difference is the 10 says how great the employee service was and the detractor emphasizes how disappointing the service was.

What are your goals for 2013 and beyond? Do you have the right priorities? We all face challenges, such as swipe fees or operating costs. By making customer service your No. 1 priority, it is possible to build the loyalty that will overcome those challenges.

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