"Customers admire the beloved companies for how they are treated, not for how they are handled."
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I Love You More Than My Dog is more than a job title, it’s a statement that acts as a lofty goal for companies of all sizes. The concept of a customer truly, passionately loving your company may be a difficult one to imagine. And yet there are loyal, rabid fans of many of the brands we know (and love). When airlines were struggling financially after 9/11, Southwest Airlines received hundreds of envelopes from their regular customers; envelopes stuffed with cheques, flight vouchers and notes of encouragement. People who travel Southwest regularly aren’t the same people who are doing price comparisons online. People that stand in line for 8 hours to get the latest and greatest Apple gadget – even though they know they could buy it off the shelves a few weeks later – love Apple. Are people waiting in line for hours to buy from you?
The difference, as Jeanne Bliss points out in her book I Love You More Than My Dog, is that Apple is more than a computer company. Southwest is more than an airline. These companies and others, what we call beloved companies, create community. They treat their customers with respect and understanding. And they do it deliberately.
I Love You More Than My Dog is a book about decisions. Decisions, often challenging ones, that we make as leaders, and how committed we are to sticking to them. Author Jeanne Bliss outlines five choices that beloved companies make:
Decide to Believe; in the inherent goodness of our customers and employees.
Decide with Clarity and Purpose; on the impact you want to make in your customers lives.
Decide to be Real; authenticity over slickness.
Decide to Be There; to show up in our customers lives in a way that makes sense to them.
Decide to Say Sorry; genuinely and without excuses.
When these decisions are made publicly and embedded in company culture, companies can separate themselves from the competition and make genuine connections with their customers.
The Big Idea
Who do you trust?
"Do you trust the majority of employees to do the right thing? Or do you manage the minority?"
Who is your employee manual written for? What about your internal “policies and procedures”? Do they provide the basic framework that will allow your people to thrive? Or do they lock out independent thought, for fear that your employees might make a mistake if not micro-managed?
As we’ve discussed in past articles, the abundance of choice that consumers face mean that price and quality are no longer unique selling propositions. For every high quality, well priced widget on the market, there are dozens of competitors waiting in the wings. What differentiates companies and products now is experience; how interacting with the company makes the consumers feel. Certainly, a well designed and well packaged product can have some impact on consumer experience but, ultimately, real engagement comes from human interaction. And, as we’ve all experienced with tele-marketers, scripted interaction is typically underwhelming.
If we want to stand out from our competitors, we need to allow our people – the face(s) of our company – to flourish and be real. People go to Starbucks for the experience, not for the coffee.
Share purpose, not direction
"If you create an environment where people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it."
Companies thrive when their entire teams understand and share a common purpose. It can be so easy as a manager or team leader to zero in on specific challenges in behavior or process and work to “fix” it at a micro level. The challenge with taking this approach to leadership is that we’re constantly in “catch up” mode, only seeing opportunity for improvement after someone or something has gone awry.
The other approach – the scalable approach – starts with being so explicitly clear in your organizational purpose that there can be no confusion amongst your staff. Understand what experience you want your customers to have, make sure everyone on your team understands it as well, and then trust them to find their own ways to create those experiences. Beloved companies trust that their employees want to do good; to make a positive difference for their customers, their teammates and their companies. Beloved companies provide their people with a clear sense of purpose and then get out of their way.
Does your team know with explicit clarity what your company wants to be known for? Do they have the freedom to realize that vision in their day to day interactions?
How long does the warm feeling last?
"Memory creation is the currency of your brand."
How do your customers feel after they’ve bought from you? Do they leave with nothing more than a transaction, or do they have an experience? A story they can’t wait to share with their friends, family and colleagues?
There’s a company I buy from as often as I can called CD Baby. If you haven’t interacted with these guys, I highly recommend it. There must be a 100 places online to buy CDs. CD Baby doesn’t have the best pricing, and they don’t have the fastest delivery time. But interacting with them is fun. Here’s the confirmation email I received from them on a CD I bought in 2007:
Thanks for your order with CD Baby!
(1) The Kitchen: The Kitchen (2006)
Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.
A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing.
Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.
We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved “Bon Voyage!” to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, October 7, 2007.
We hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. In commemoration, we have placed your picture on our wall as “Customer of the Year.” We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!
Now, how much does that beat, “Your order has been confirmed”? CD Baby gets it. Keep in mind I’ve had this email in my inbox for over three years, because I think it’s so excellent. CD Baby clearly made the decision to be real; to have fun with their customers and to turn a typically boring interaction and make it memorable.
What do your confirmations say about the decisions you’ve made? Sometimes the “boring bits” of the business are exactly the right place to inject some personality.
I Love You More Than My Dog is a great book written on a topic we could all benefit from thinking about a little more often. In a world of abundant choice, customer experience is king. And truly excellent customer experience never happens by accident. It comes from clarity of purpose shared throughout the organization and engaged by all staff, from all departments, at all times. It comes from decisions made with confidence and conviction. Excellent customer experience comes from teams and team leaders who aren’t willing to settle for being mediocre, but instead strive for unique excellence. What are you striving for?