OUR SEARCH: Customer Delight in Europe.
Are you European and have you ever travelled to the USA (or to Singapore, Japan, Thailand)? Did you ever think to yourself, “Nice. The way clients are treated here. Everybody is very polite, people are interested in me and they are service minded, even at take away restaurants. What a pity that the cashier at my bank doesn’t treat clients like that”.
Or, are you American (or Japanese or Singaporean or Thai) and have you visited some countries on mainland Europe? Have you thought to yourself: “Oh my, people are quite rude here. Don’t they want business? Wasn’t Paris the capital of luxury brands? So why is it that most personnel don’t seem to care?”
We asked ourselves this question: Why is it that most benchmark companies are based in the US and Asia? In Europe too, enterprises need and want to distinguish themselves from the competition. How come they haven’t succeeded in implementing a customer oriented approach?
We have embarked on a very interesting intellectual journey to find out the secrets of success of benchmark companies when it comes to Customer Delight. In this chapter we will keep you updated on our findings.
United States of America June 2013
Another very interesting trip. We were happy to meet so many friendly and interesting people. Thanks everybody for your kind cooperation.
Nobody is a stranger at Lexus in Tulsa
For the Don Thornton Automotive (7 car brands, various other businesses) excellent customer service is more than a tool or a part of a single car brand, it is at the heart of their corporate culture. This customer centricity is part of their recruitment process, training and day to day operations. When asked how they keep the idea alive, they stare blank at you “This is just the way we do business”, no tricks, no reward schemes, just a culture and employees that fit in that culture. Everybody you speak to tells the same story: “We are here to create a relationship with the customer, sales are consequential”. They consider themselves as a car center providing information allowing customers to make a wise decision. Even if he or she chooses another brand (because that corresponds better to their needs), that’s no problem. « Even if you don’t buy with us, the relationship we have with you is valuable. » And with this strategy they sure do meet volume objectives set by manufacturers!
The clients of the City of Tulsa
The city of Tulsa understands focus on improving the relationship with their citizens, whom, by the way, they call « clients ». A major project is the call centre operation, usually the first point of contact. To impact customer care (online and on the phone) they are working on the integration of the call centre, registrating the lead times, duration of calls and the number of cases the operator needs to forward a request. In order to create motivated and committed employees, input from staff is asked on topics like quality processes. This collaborative approach helps the director of customer care, (and the call center manager) to create buy-in. Recruitment, training, bottum-up feedback, team building activities and the creation of empowerment for their team, all should lead to better and immediate solutions for citizens that call in.
Leadership Tulsa brings people together
Leadership Tulsa is an initiative of the Chamber of Commerce and the Junior League. Aim is to identify, develop, and connect diverse leaders, who impact the community through service. A 9 months development program is offered, introducing the participants to local leaders and organizations. The program focusses on developing leadership capacities to be a NGO board member at local communities. Leaders that are successful should be able to listen; …. to their peers, their “clients” and their sponsors. Having an open mind is essential, as are altruism and the desire to make a difference.
Zappos delivers happiness, all around
Zappos (selling shoes and clothing online in the USA) chose the route of Customer Delight over 10 years ago, due to lack of a marketing budget. It happened to be a blessing in disguise, and they made an art out of it. Their true conviction is: happy employees make happy customers. And so they do everything to make their employees happy. How do you know what will make them happy? Let them decide! The trick is to bring in the right kind of people (recruitment) and from there let them be part of, and contribute to, a corporate culture: let them become “Zapponians”, the Zappos family.
Actions undertaken to let this corporate culture thrive and develop are amongst others: change teams and locations every 6 months to stay fresh and get to know new colleagues, create a working environment that satisfies personal needs (office decoration, personal coach, high empowerment, creative outings at every corner (in the office and meeting rooms) and last but not least: after hours activities allowing for bonding, like pot lucks, free lunch in the canteen, sports day, bowling competition, teams defining their own goals (like to have their manager dress up as a garden gnome). Employees talk about Zappos like: ‘It’s my family’, ‘Working with all my friends’ and ‘I don’t consider it work’.
Maritza Ramirez gives respect to earn it in return
This VIP hostess of Circus Circus MGM Hotel in Las Vegas was elected as « The person of the Year» by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. She won the award because she took care of an elder lady that stayed in the hotel and drove up and down to Arizona for medical treatement. As her family wasn’t with her, Maritza urged her to call, even when late in the evening, while on the road, to be sure she wouldn’t fall asleep behind the wheel. “When I look at a guest, it is as if I look at myself. I treat them like I would like to be treated.”
“My employer asks me to contact the relations I am responsible for every month, but he doesn’t need to, because I contact them anyway. I am just interested to know how they are doing.”
“I try to make the day of a guest. When I succeed it makes my day too.”
This sincere interest in other people has made Maritza very successful in the hospitality business.
Laura wants to be friends
Laura Fairchild won a golden award -one of many she received over the years- of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. She and her husband Kevin own a franchise of Storage West. The other day, during Laura’s day off, a customer was waiting for a taxi to the airport, that didn’t come. So Laura jumped in her car to bring this customer herself. Laura doesn’t think ‘business’ or ‘private’, but she just wants to make friends.
“I want to make as many friends as possible. I go over to people just to say “hi”. They appreciate that attitude and in the end it will result in doing business.” All activities Laura undertakes focus on creating relationships. Is it at the chamber of commerce, out in the theater or people coming in at Storage West in Las Vegas. “We want people to feel welcome here.” Laura says. If somebody is in doubt between a small or a large storage, both Laura and her husband Kevin won’t hesitate to advise the best option, even if it is the cheaper one.
JAPAN March 2013
During our journey we were welcomed and invited in an exceptional way by our counterparts. Thank you very much all, for the valuable information and your kindness. Arigato Gozaimasu!
While interviewing, we came across some aspects of Japanese cultures that are linked to Customer Delight.
One important concept in Japan is “Kaizen” which means continuous improvement.
Term invented by Toyota but widespread throughout the country. At all three companies small improvements are sought on a daily basis.
This Kaizen is the responsibility of everybody, from executive direction level unto frontline employees. This means that, especially, ideas of frontline are heard and eventually integrated in the -always improving- standards. It helps everybody to identify with the company… Teamwork is therefore crucial.
Another important notion is the long-term vision all three of the companies we have interviewed pursue. They rather have long-term relationships with clients than short-term profits.
A final concept is ‘Ometenashi’. This is described as “when the host anticipates the needs of the guest in advance and offers a pleasant service that guests don’t expect.” Or: “Reach out in the heart of your guests”.
Progressive Luxury at Lexus
Since 1989, « At Lexus our aim is to be the benchmark of Progressive Luxury – measured not by the highest sales volume or market share, but by winning the hearts and minds of individuals, like you, one at a time.»
Lexus focuses on four criteria to realise this. First is a high quality product. Second are solid processes like Kaizen en service standards. Third is business structure with dealer network (if they are profitable, they will be willing to invest in the long term client relationship) and fourth: the right mind set of people at front line. For showrooms that means that « ometenashi” is put in place, to surprise clients with pleasant service. Staff is encouraged to come up with ideas. They are then in charge of realising and testing the idea. Once every two months all good ideas are shared worldwide.
Okura : Raising the bar of Japanese hospitality
The founder of the company, Baron Okura, had a dream of creating the hotel with best accommodation, best cuisine and best service. The best facilities and the best cuisine come into their own only with the very best service. In order to deliver this great service the spirit of « Wa » is used. « Wa » meaning « harmony » and « collaboration » ; being kind to your guests and to your colleagues. Only with teamwork, sharing of information and mutual support, exceptional, personalised service can be delivered. Relationships with clients are built by great service upon arrival but seeing a guest off is even more important because the leaving experience is a lasting one.
transcosmos : people and technology
(Indeed, transcosmos in lower case).
transcosmos provides IT services globally, 36.000 employees in 7 countries. Ever since 1966, the company has as vision : « Client satisfaction is the true value of our company, and the growth of each of our employees creates the value that shapes our future. »
In Japan people are always important for a business. However, the way transcosmos educates and manages them is different. At transcosmos high importantce is given to employee satisfaction and extensive training programs. In call centers, operators attend 3 days training per quarter. Service objectives and attitudes are recalled on a daily basis.
MIE stands for the company’s three core values: Meaning, Inspiration and Effectiveness. MIE PROJECT offers “Exceptional & Organic” Food. These products all excel in taste & quality and, beyond that, have additional benefits such as being natural, organic, fair-trade, and/or healthy. They continuously introduce new exceptional products onto the market, sourced from around the world. This is further supplemented by strong service support, which is the reason why they are chosen by their partners to be supplier. It is understood that the costs of non-quality are much higher than the costs of investing in quality By taking time, working hard, and being reliable partnerships are created.. Once partnerships are established it will protect you, as customers will not change suddenly when competitors have lower price.
SINGAPORE October 2012
We would like to sincerely thank all the helpful people we have met during our trip, for their invaluable information, visions and insights. Thanks!!
Singapore Government: Promoter of service
When researching in Singapore, it soon became obvious that the government plays a tremendous role in promoting customer service Singapore, being a city state, is a service economy. However, according to most of our interviewees, service is not a natural attitude of Singaporeans. The government set its mind to it and surprisingly started by implementing it at the civil service. The government sees itself as a partner of corporate businesses and, according to our counterparts, there is a real dialogue. 4 companies are invited to be examples as Customer Centric Initiatives: Ion (department store), Wing Pei retail, Sentosa Leisure Island and Changi Airport. In 1995 the Public Service for the 21st century movement was created, nurturing a culture of change within the Public Service organisations. More information can be found on: http://app.psd.gov.sg/data/Corporatebook/psfor21stcentury.html. Furthermore agencies are created to provide training and support, as well as several kinds of awards to honour those that are outstanding when it comes to service excellence.
Singapore Philatelic Museum
Joseph Chung, one of the museum’s educators, was the recipient for Singapore Experience Awards 2011 : Customer Service – Visitor Attraction. This gentleman, 75 years old, was on leave when we visited. In writing, he explains: ”Every stamp tells a story. As a guide or a docent in the museum, I love to share with my customers (local and overseas) most of these amazing stories. ….. I have made many local and foreign friends this way. “
The person in charge of public communications explained that the museum is a National Heritage Board museum that is under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. To establish a consistent level of quality service across government agencies, there are guidelines on service-related areas such as public relations, feedback and communication with the public. She furthermore related how museum staff are always happy to answer queries from visitors including giving recommendations on what to do in Singapore. The genuine interest in helping visitors over time allowed visitors who started out as guests become friends.
Sentosa Leisure Island
One of the examples appointed by the Singapore Government is “Sentosa : Asia’s largest playground.” All 19 million visitors per year, come to the island to have en experience in one of the numerous attractions. For Sentosa: leadership is key to the service attitude. The former (coming from Disney) and current CEOs belief that service brings in money: happy people make happy people. There is no service department made responsible for the topic, it should be everyone’s responsibility. They call it a kampong (village) mentality. All island staff should treat visitors like inviting them into their home (thus act as an island host).
Singapore Management University: A holistic approach towards education.
According to the provost, in Singapore education is a state religion. End of 90s Tony Tan (minister of education) took the initiative to establish a new university with a different approach; teaching young graduate’s attitudes and skills needed in the corporate world of Singapore. SMU is thus committed to an interactive, participative and technologically-enabled learning experience. The dialogue between government and business is also found at SMU; between faculty and the students. Lecturers are rated anonymously mid-term and end of term in order to improve programs. Many initiatives for business process improvement come from students, like 4-year fixed tuition fees and starting times of courses.
Changi airport: Exceptional people, connecting lives.
Several years in a row elected best airport in the world, Changi, handles 47 million passengers a year. They don’t consider themselves an airport company but rather a service company providing the Changi experience. They don’t use the word “service” very much anymore as it is rather transactional. They “engage with passengers” referring to interaction. Changi is not a transit area but it wants to be a destination in itself. These ideas and focuses are cascaded throughout the whole organization and the 200 partner organizations at the airport, by training, KPIs, awards and communication. With this philosophy Changi realizes 13,4% return on equity.
ISES: The think-tank for service excellence
The institute was founded to benchmark service excellence using the US developed index. Ises works with the model that customer satisfaction is determined by customer expectations (branding), perceived quality (meeting expectations) and perceived value (price quality ratio). It is explained that closed-loop feedback is very important to create service excellence. Companies can learn what and how to improve and furthermore create the opportunity to turn unsatisfied customers into delighted ones.
Aman Resorts: True hosts
With 25 resorts around the world, Aman resorts was elected best worldwide hotel group in January 2012. The hotels offer intimate experience combined with exceptional service. To be able to realise this, recruitment is key. The service mindedness should come from the heart, not because it is a standard. Aman teaches General Managers to be a host, both to their guests and to their staff. They should be busy with guests, not with reporting. A General Manager thus has only one financial report to make per month. Of course earnings are important, however “if profits become priority they’ll cut corners”.
To be continued……..