Your Premium Marketing Resource: Employees

iStock_000006680981SmallWhen marketing to women, your challenge is to wiggle your way through all that brain wiring in order to plant your brand in the reward behavior area of the brain.  Whatever you do, it’s gotta be memorable.

Last week, when I wrote about how New Balance threw me for a loop, I mentioned that I’ve challenged a couple of my clients to try an idea for upping the ante on customer experience.

Here’s how it works:

1.  Make a solid decision to give every employee the authority to add to a customer’s delight factor. Some of the most profitable companies in the U.S. have embedded this philosophy into their culture.  It’s at the core of the Ritz-Carlton brand (they’ve even created a training program for business owners just like you), and has garnered immense brand loyalty for Zappo’s.

2.  Show them the money. Suddenly bestowing power upon your employees with a rah-rah session will do little.  Most employees won’t believe you (and will therefore do nothing); a few will take it to extremes and cost you a fortune.  You need to have clear boundaries.  I have one client, a small retail store chain, that has started a program by giving each employee $50 per month with which to delight customers in unique ways.  It’s not a lot of money, but it’s enough to play with.

3.  Budget for the program with marketing dollars. Work a pilot program into your marketing budget.  You could even split the cost between your marketing and staff training budgets, because it’s a tool to keep customers coming back AND build employee buy-in.

4.  Create some friendly competition. Offer some kind of reward each month to the employee who thinks of the most creative way to wow a customer.  The best rewards are the ones that have nothing to do with your own business – it could be a Visa gift card, dinner for two to a nice restaurant, etc.  Make it worthy enough to create friendly competition.

One of my favorite examples involves a shoe retailer that had a customer come in complaining that her new puppy had just chewed up one of her favorite sandals.  After the transaction, the sales person stopped by a pet store on his way home. The next day, he put a rawhide bone and a chewy toy in a box with a handwritten note that said, “Thanks so much for stopping by yesterday, and for doing business with us. We hope this little gift for your pup will keep his mind (and his teeth!) off of your shoes for awhile, anyway!”

Now, that’s a winner – stories like that will inspire other employees to get creative.  And no one said they have to use all $50 on one person – if employees can spread the wealth across 2 or 3 customers, all the better.

If you have the patience and attention to build a simple program like this, the money and time you invest will have an exponential ROI.   Remember to budget for it, and give it several months for the power of the program to sink in with your employees.  I guarantee you, once your staff realizes that you really are giving them authority and they see and hear inspirational stories, it will become addictive for them.

Try it for yourself and see if your customers – and employees – don’t start to fall just a little bit more in love with you.

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10 Responses to “Your Premium Marketing Resource: Employees”

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  1. Chris Busch says:

    Michelle – great post. There really aren’t that many companies that consistently strive to provide customer delight instead of customer satisfaction. Businesses who follow your advice here will be doing some key behaviors to set themselves apart from the rest of the rat pack. A few weeks ago Linda and I were at a local eatery and surprisingly the food was below par. We mentioned it to the waitress and other than an awkward apology, there was no response. In a similar situation at another establishment, when I mentioned a small problem with the meal, the waitress insisted on a replacement plate, told us right there that they would comp the meal, brought us a free dessert and also a coupon for a free meal on our next visit. She was obviously empowered and trained well.

    Guess which restaurant is closer to top of mind when hunger gnaws?

  2. It sounds so simple. Why do so few do this? With downward pressures on external marketing budgets, this must be done to succeed in the new economy.

    I guess it goes back to hiring and training. Do we have confidence in the people we are hiring? Are we teaching them exactly how we want them to treat our customers?

    In my experience poor customer service usually traces back to the owners and managers.

  3. Great story, Chris – thanks for sharing it! I think that many business owners get overwhelmed when thinking of instituting a program like this because they see big cult brands doing it and it seems so complicated. It’s not! With a bit of work up front the payoff can be BIG.

  4. You’re right, Dennis – it’s so simple. I think that in times like these, many businesses revert to the “default” they’ve always know – cut down on marketing and if you do pour any marketing dollars into a strategy, it should be in advertising. The smart business owners know that investing from the “inside out” has a much bigger pay out. Incorporating this kind of program and authority into a staff training program is key.

  5. Joe Oram says:

    Michele,

    You need to spend some time at the other side of the airport. You will see exactly what you are talking about here going on every day at the small FBOs (Fixed Based Operators) that are the heart and soul of general aviation in America.

    I would say 99% of the personnel who are involved with aviation at this level “get it” when it comes to customer service. It’s not about the flash or cash, its about being true to your customers and yourself.

    So, homework: visit at least 2 small airports and report on what you see. You’ll need to spend some quality time and the language barrier may scare you but I assure you you will not be disappointed.

  6. You know, that’s interesting, Joe. I have a big soft spot in my heart for the local Scottsdale airport. We have flown on trips up to the Grand Canyon, hung out with staff at the airport, and every year when the vintage aircraft come into town for a fundraiser, we talk it up like crazy (my ride in a B-17 was one of the highlights of my life). And it’s all because we have this respect for the folks who have such a passion for what they do. You’re right – it really rubs off. Thanks for the prod to make me think about this.

  7. Tom Wanek says:

    “Make a solid decision to give every employee the authority to add to a customer’s delight factor.”

    This one is HUGE for me.

    I recently had an awful experience flying United when they cancelled my flight in Chicago. I stood in line and watched the company squander several opportunities for the company to turn a bad situation around and delight the customer. One customer simply needed her medication retrieved from a bag that was checked. The United customer service rep told her that that nothing could be done, she didn’t have the “authority to make that decision.”

    Are you kidding me? Then find someone who does.

  8. Tom, I had a similar experience awhile back, but on Delta. Someone I was traveling with needed their medication, and I was amazed at how accommodating Delta employees were. More often than not, I read stories like yours and think, “These companies deserve to go under.”

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  1. […] It all had to do with what I’ve written posts about in the past: giving your employees the authority to grow your business. […]

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