Customers give clues every day as to what will make them raving fans. Are you listening closely enough?
Customers often won’t make downright requests for everything they want or need. But they say a few things from time to time that hint at something that would make their experiences outstanding.
“Frankly, when customers approach you with … over-and-beyond, spur-of-the-moment requests, they don’t expect to hear a yes,” says Joseph Michelli, author of Driven to Delight: World Class Customer Experiences the Mercedes-Benz Way. “They’ve gotten used to hearing no, and whether from cynicism or resignation, that’s what they’ll expect from your organization, too. If you can surprise them pleasantly, you’ll delight them, build loyalty and stand out from your competitors.”
Front-line customer service pros probably can’t act on every whim customers have. But they can listen for cues that customers want or need more — and either do something immediately or share the information through a formal channel that collects customers “wishes.” With that, customer experience leaders can watch for patterns or even breakthrough ideas that will positively impact all customers.
Clues customer give
Front-line customer service pros want to listen closely when customers say these phrases as lead-ins to new or changing desires:
- Oh, by the way …
- I wish …
- Company X always …
- I once was at a place where they …
- It’d be great if you …
- You know what’s really great?
Then, to help improve the customer experience, Michelli offers these best-in-class ideas from Mercedes-Benz, which jumped from the number six spot in customer sales satisfaction on a J.D. Power survey of the car industry to the top position in just two years:
1. Know where you are
Many well-intended efforts to improve customer service go to waste because companies don’t understand where their customer experience stands.
Mercedes-Benz USA realized that leaders, staff, front-line employees and customers all had different perceptions of the customer experience when it wanted to create a plan for a new, better one. So they started with a visual map of what they wanted the improved customer experience to look like. They repeatedly shared it with everyone so they fully understood where they were and where they were going.
Mercedes asked all employees to fill out a “What’s Holding You Back?” form to identify any personal or organizational barriers that would get in their way of delighting customers under the new experience initiative.
It helped the company “get a 360-degreee picture of resource misalignments, efforts and initiatives that do not hit the mark, and actions that aren’t valued by the customer,” Michelli says.
2. Set sights really high
Sometimes it’s not enough to just aim to be better. Real changes happen when everyone works together to become the best — perhaps in the industry or neighborhood.
For Mercedes-Benz, the global standard for excellent customer experiences was the goal. To help it reach toward that goal, the company studied other companies in a variety of industries — such as Ritz-Carlton, Zappos and Starbucks — that are known for outstanding service. In all those organizations, Mercedes recognized that the concept of providing excellent customer experiences came from the top-down.
3. Ensure buy-in
One mistake some organizations make when trying to overhaul or just improve the customer experience is confusing communication with buy-in. Just because they have initiatives with customer-focused mottos, meet with everyone on how to get better and keep mentioning it, that doesn’t mean employees will follow through with it.
Mercedes-Benz wanted everyone at every level to understand the what and how of the initiative and buy in to the why. To make sure the vision resonated with everyone, employees were asked to sign a commitment card pledging they’d go beyond satisfying customers and would be “driven to delight those they served.”
“This is the difference between employees who go through the motions and employees who enthusiastically look for opportunities to say, ‘Yes, I can help!'” Michelli says.
4. Tie the experience to a paycheck
Mercedes-Benz rewarded employees for taking the customer experience to the next level. Rising customer satisfaction scores and positive feedback were rewarded with bonuses.
Increasingly, companies are linking customer satisfaction levels to bonuses — much like salespeople’s bonuses are based on sales quantity.
5. Grow training opportunities
Making the customer experience better isn’t something that can be taught from a book, manual or generic rah-rah presentation alone. Instead, Michelli suggests helping employees understand what it’s like to be a customer. Then they can work from that mindset.
At Mercedes-Benz, employees spent several days in the Brand Immersion Experience. They toured a manufacturing plant, test drove cars and participated in interactive seminars.
6. Share real examples
Stories are powerful teaching tools. That’s why Mercedes-Benz regularly shares examples of real employees delighting customers. They collect the stories and turn them into videos.
For instance, one customer said something like, “By the way, if you find an earring on the floor, keep a hold of it for me.” A technician went the extra mile and pulled out all of the seats in the customer’s car in an to attempt to find it — which he did. When he handed it to the customer, she burst out in tears. It was a special, lost gift from her husband.