Operations

How Do You Know if Your Company Is Beloved?

Tom Halligan
Posted on July 20, 2016

Jeanne Bliss, renowned expert on customer-centric leadership, advised operators on the business value of fostering an emotional bond with customers. (Photo by LCT)
Jeanne Bliss, renowned expert on customer-centric leadership, advised operators on the business value of fostering an emotional bond with customers. (Photo by LCT)
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — What’s the difference between an everyday company and a beloved company? Consider this: Lands’ End, the successful clothing catalog company launched in a Wisconsin cornfield in 1983, decided from the get-go it would not be just another run-of-the-mill mail order company. Its foremost mission was to provide an emotional bond with its customers.

“We thought about what it felt like for the UPS driver to hand you a package that held your child’s Christmas gift. We thought about what it felt like to pull that turtleneck over your head for the first time. We started with the memory. We started with what customers talk about: How did it feel? How was I treated? Was there a memory at the end of this?”

That story was the foundation gleaned from a May 24 presentation by Jeanne Bliss at the May LCT Leadership Summit in Miami Beach. Bliss, who started her career at Land's End, is the founder and president of CustomerBliss (www.customerbliss.com), and the co-founder of The Customer Experience Professionals Association. Bliss is a leading expert on customer-centric leadership and pioneered the role of the Chief Customer Officer, holding the first ever CCO role at Lands’ End, Microsoft, Coldwell Banker and Allstate corporations.

Speaking before the annual gathering of industry operators, Bliss’s presentation, “How to Build Your Customer Growth Engine,” honed-in on tactics, strategies and, most importantly, an organizational mindset that can transform operators from just being “people movers” to companies that “support and enrich people’s lives.”

Bliss cited the early days of Gerber to underscore her point. “The company decided clarity of purpose was not to sell drinking cups, but to support parenthood. Because they had an elevated approach to how they would grow their business, they were able to move from drinking cups to multiple categories and weren’t shopped on price anymore, but rather shopped based on supporting the lives of families. There are lines of children’s companies who tried what they did, but if your clarity isn’t aligned with customers’ lives, you’re just selling cups — you’re being sold by price. You’re in a big box with everybody else.”

Bliss also noted it’s important to be “human” as a company. “A lot of companies decide to be real. They create an environment where people are able to show who they are as humans, where they create an environment where your employees, your front line — your drivers — are able to make decisions that they’d make for their grandma, wiring in humanity.”

For example, Bliss shared a limousine story that hammered home her point. ”I got in a car one day after my dad died and the driver stopped at Walgreen’s to get some things I needed. It was like I had a friend at the end of the ride. If your people are on timers, they are not able to extend those kindnesses. I know these things are important for business, but you need to find a way to weave in a little bit of exception.”

Bliss realizes many people think her message is all feel-good, “blue sky fuzzy stuff,” but she emphasized it as a growth strategy for the industry. “In the highly competitive Uber and Lyft world you live in today, customers need a reason why they should stay with you. They need an emotional connection to you. They need to have a memory that pulls them back,” she explained.

Trusting Environment
“So what’s your story?” Bliss asked. “What’s the story customers and your employees say about who you are and about what you value?” She explained operators need to understand that rules, regulations, policies, and procedures sometimes deter building a trusting relationship with corporate clients.

“By believing customers can be trusted and by deciding employees can and will do the right thing, management oversight and reviewing every action is replaced with energy, innovation, and employees who stay — and clients who stick around.”

For operators and their customers, Bliss said the word “loyalty” is abused. “We want to get a higher survey score from customers. Give me a 10!” But if you create an experience customers want to repeat, they’re going to tell other people and return. That’s what I call desire — the cha-ching emotion — desire, not loyalty, will grow your business.”

Bliss also talked about advocacy. “Think about this as the ‘you know me’ experience: What are you doing special because you know them? What can you do more for them that maybe has nothing to do with them riding with you, but something you can do because you know them and their family? If you start rethinking about your business, you will be a different kind of company. My question to you is: Can you make every interaction memorable?”

Customers: Asset of Cost Center?
Regarding customer relationships, Bliss asked: “As you’re bringing in a first-time rider, a first-time passenger, or when you’re talking with a new corporate account, is it all about the contract and your rules and what has to happen, or do you think about the long-term assets they are over time? Has your customer asked you to make an exception? Or is it always about the rules, or are you thinking about what they are and the value you bring to their business?”

Bliss recalled a personal situation that made her point. “I travel a lot and my driver — my guy — who had told me I was his most valuable passenger picked me up at LAX one day and miscalculated the amount of time it would take to get me home. He dropped off his most valuable customer on the side of the road before reaching my house because he had another pick up. I cut him off for three years. Are you giving your drivers the leeway to understand who they have in the car to make exceptions for, to take care of customers when they need things and understand you’ve got somebody who’s a repeat rider?”

Bliss advised operators to consider getting rid of the “fine print” — moving from the “we got you” moments to the “we got your back” moments. “Clarity of purpose, as I mentioned earlier, is about uniting your organization to deliver an experience the customer wants to repeat and have again — improving customers’ lives.”

Bliss asked operators if they know what kind of water a client likes, and “if I’m in your car 200 days a year, are you doing anything special for me?” I expect to be picked up on time, but are you doing anything to create a memory? What are you doing to drive the experience from hello to goodbye to earn the right to keep my business?”

Related Topics: building your clientele, client markets, customer service, How To, industry education, keynote speakers, LCT Summit, leadership, VIP service

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