Wednesday, April 08, 2009


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· Customer Experience--A Competitive Edge?
· Experience and Social Media Strategies
· Resources--Tom Blogs and More
· The War of Inflight Entertainment!
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Tom Peters Times, April 2009
Customer Experience--A Competitive Edge?
Customer Experience--A Competitive Edge?
A client huffed to me recently "I sent four email requests out to different suppliers. I heard nothing back from two, one referred me to their website, and only one took the trouble to give me a full response!"

I confess that I have never understood how any business can afford to be so noncommittal to their customer service. I don't believe that stakeholders ever set out to offer indifferent service or to risk losing precious revenue. Yet in today's environment of deficit language, it is still a rare pleasure to be on the receiving end of an exceptional customer experience. We all know that businesses that deliver "wow" customer experiences will be winners in the future. But knowing and doing are quite different things.

There is overwhelming pressure on managers these days to review the value added by each area of their business and to use the data to target cost reduction initiatives. This all seems quite logical, but, in my experience at least, where the cuts are made largely depends on how "value added" is measured. Areas like customer service and employee care are extremely vulnerable to the cost cutter's knife, but hasty cutbacks can and do have a serious long-term impact on how a business is regarded by its customers, especially in today's oversupplied markets.

On the other hand, companies that are smart enough to stay in touch with what their customers value in these changing times can target their spending in those value adding areas, reinventing product lines and service delivery systems alike. Taking this thought further, new value streams can be set up with the express purpose of offering exceptional customer service to their most valuable customers.

Zappos, the successful shoe and clothing retailer, is an illustration of this philosophy in action. Their structure, processes, and culture are all focused on ensuring their customers' experiences are "wow!" Zappos uses the modern networking tools (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and other social media, including the telephone!), to "develop more personal, emotional connections with customers and employees." Zappos is able to act quickly on customer intelligence received and to implement changes. For example, they are currently working on offering web pages where customers can create their own bespoke shopping experience. Zappos is thriving in the current tough economic climate through their emphasis on customer experience excellence.

The Zappos story is nothing new for contemporary business thinkers. Successful organisations are all about engaging people, employees, partners, and customers. So, why does the cost-cutting mindset still dominate most management agendas today? I would add one more factor to my earlier "knowing-doing" remark, and that is being! I think it has to do with a "knowing-doing-being gap."

In their excellent book The Knowing-Doing Gap, J. Pfeffer and R.I. Sutton explore why organisations find it so difficult to convert what they know into actions. These days, we've all read the books, heard the talks, struggled with the latest models and theories, and tried to apply the correct strategies to maximise our business position. But, after all is said and done, more is said than gets done! After an initial burst of change, things all too often revert to their previous "natural" state.

To genuinely make things different, to create a sustainable change, we have to change our way of looking at ourselves relative to our work. In the immortal words of Ghandi, one of Tom's favourite quotes, "We have to be the change we want to see in the world." People being the change is what makes real change possible in organisations.

Managers have to take a fresh look at what the organisation values most and how that value added is measured. Management job #1, then, becomes to create a work context where talented people in the business can work together to deliver exceptional value added for customers, as defined now and redefined in the future. There isn't a fixed ten-point plan to do customer experience; rather the best strategy is to make the necessary changes so that your people can be different and act differently to different customer preferences and requests, depending on the nature and requirements of your business.

If more organisations approached things this way, perhaps more of their people would feel able to respond to incoming customer requests?

Ruth Smith
Tom Peters Company, UK

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Experience and Social Media Strategies

Start-ups aren't the only companies using social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and blogging to improve customer experience.

Southwest Airlines used its very popular blog, Nuts about Southwest, to connect with customers and collect feedback about their unusual open seating policy. As a result of this feedback, they changed the boarding procedure from first come, first serve (which created a bit of chaos as passengers struggled to board first) to a more orderly numbered system based on the order of check-in. By listening closely to customer feedback, Southwest was able to retain some of its brand's originality by keeping the open seating policy while improving the experience of boarding their planes.

Perhaps the most dramatic turnaround in customer experience as a result of using social media tools can be found with Comcast. In 2005 and 2006, the cable company was repeatedly in the news with tales of customer service nightmares (Remember this video of the service technician who fell asleep while he was on hold with his own technical support office? Or this poor woman?)

Today, through the efforts of Frank Eliason--his customer service team monitors what people are saying on Twitter about Comcast and step in quickly to resolve issues--they've become a paradigm of using social media tools to create remarkable customer experiences.

People ARE talking about their experiences with your organization. Are you listening?

Shelley Dolley

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Resources--Tom Blogs and More

If you'd like to read Tom's observations on Experience, you might find these blog entries of interest: I'll Miss You! (I Already Do) and its follow-up, Success Tip #120. Another on the topic is Sorting Out Causes and Effects.

On tompeters.co.uk, you can find a practical tool, a way to measure the importance of experience in the culture at your organization, titled "The Smell of the Customer." (You'll have to download it to find out the meaning.)

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The War of Inflight Entertainment!

The Experience of traveling with Southwest Airlines (love 'em or hate 'em) has become legendary. John O'Leary recently pointed tompeters.com readers to a video of a flight attendant rapping to put his own unique spin on the statutory pre-flight safety announcement.

When this same item was picked up by the UK's Economist newspaper, a flurry of comments appeared on their blog, including a competitive retort from an unnamed European airline. Irish rugby fans returning from an away match in Paris were treated to the cabin crew's performance of the same safety announcement set in a Macarena dance routine!

What a great way for employees to express their creativity, and also to create great experiences for customers!

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