Harley tattoos, smoking Cinderellas and customer service

Updated Mar 21, 2014

Do your best customers proudly wear tattoos of your brand?

The cult-like following enjoyed by Harley-Davidson is an extreme example, of course, but in an increasingly competitive marketplace sustained success depends on customer loyalty. And the critical first step, often neglected when managers are focused on internal tasks, is to see your business through “the lens” of customer, explains consultant Dennis Snow.

Snow was featured at the recent Work Truck Show, and his seminar, “Creating a World Class Service Organization,” packed a large conference hall.

“People have a lot of choices,” Snow says. “The product has to be great – let’s assume that. But that great experience is the differentiator.”

Indeed, customers have come to expect products or services to deliver as advertised.

And so, he emphasizes, your entire organization must shift from “a task mentality” to “an experience mentality.”

“You can go into any business and tell when the employees are focused on doing the task, and they can be doing it very efficiently,” Snow says. “But as the customer, we fell processed. It’s difficult to feel that loyalty when you feel processed.”

Dennis Snow runs through the basics of creating a great customer experience. (Click the image for a short video)Dennis Snow runs through the basics of creating a great customer experience. (Click the image for a short video)

And that scale between feeling “processed” on the one end and feeling “valued” on the other is how any business can measure a customer’s loyalty. So Snow proposed four key steps to create the great experience that will bring customers back time and time again.

As I already mentioned, Snow’s key first step is to take a good hard look at your business through the eyes of your customer. You should be especially attentive to things you’ve been doing the same for a long time. Just because the process seems to work effectively from an operational standpoint doesn’t mean it’s customer friendly.

“The longer we do what we do, the greater the likelihood we think our customers know what we know,” Snow says.

The solution is an exercise he calls “customer mapping,” in which every step in the customer relationship is reexamined, from first contact forward. There are “always opportunities” for improvement, and there is often a reaction like of “why didn’t we think of this before?”

Snow suggests asking yourself, and your team, what would mediocre service look like at each step, and what would great service look like? While not every idea can be implemented (after all, if you already have a successful business, you’ve had to make choices on costs versus benefits), there should be numerous opportunities to improve the customer at very little or no cost. It just takes taking the time to identify these.

Snow’s management background comes from a long career with Walt Disney World, where he started driving Capt. Nemo’s sub at the Orlando park, and he sprinkles his presentation with examples.

To show “the power of one idea,” he recalled a hotel staff meeting where one of the housekeepers mentioned that she’d propped up assorted Disney character stuffed animals in front of the television, with a note saying they’d been lonely all day and couldn’t wait for the family to come back to the room. An idea that was quickly adopted and became a trademark of hotel service.

Not only the guests love it, the idea proved popular with the housekeeping staff as well.

“Don’t say ‘no’ to excellent service because of cost or even regulation,” he says. “Describe the bar high, and be creative. Don’t shut down the discussion too early. Somebody’s going to manage the interaction: Is it you or the customer?”

Second on his list of key steps to better customer loyalty: “everything speaks.”

“Every detail is either enhancing or detracting from your company’s brand,” Snow says. “What we intend makes no difference; it’s what the customer perceives.”

Again, using Disney World, he cites the example of the Cinderella character trying to catch a quick smoke in a quiet corner – but someone always sees.

What are the “smoking Cinderella behaviors” in your organization? Dirty or damaged trucks with your logo all over them? Employees on the phone, even with customers, while another customer waits unacknowledged at the service counter? A field crew out of uniform?

At Disney World, every employee – no matter the title – was expected to pick up any piece of trash they saw, making for 60,000 custodians, Snow explains.

“Hold everyone accountable,” Snow says. “The difference is compliance versus commitment.”

Third, “Create moments of ‘Wow.’”

He uses a pyramid to illustrate the levels of customer service: “Accuracy” is the base –  simply, does your product do what it’s supposed to do; next is “availability” – can you be counted after the sale?; then comes “partnership,” a growing bond based on how well you’ve managed the pyramid’s foundation; and finally,  “advice” – the level at which the customer comes to you for input on matters that may not even be directly related to your previous business.

“When you’re getting great service, watch what’s going on,” Snow advises. “I guarantee it fits somewhere in the pyramid.”

Last in Snow’s steps to improving customer loyalty: “Know what frustrates customers – and do something about it.”

This step ties up the loose ends you’ve created in the first three.

As an example, Disneyworld has gone to great lengths to make the time visitors spend standing in line part of the attraction experience.

Similarly, the locksmith staff is trained to respond quickly and cleverly divert the blame from the guest who locks his keys in the car – and, as Snow points out, this costs nothing and it gets the paying guests into the park sooner (and in a better mood for spending).

The bottom line: No one can afford to ignore their customers, and few managers believe that they do. Yet you can’t be sure unless you take the time to thoroughly review your current interactions. There’s no time like the present to be a difference-maker for your customers.