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Required Reading: Can Your Customer Be Your BFF?
A new book examines what it takes to engender the strongest kind of customer loyalty.
For the rest of the July 2010 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Ever wonder what truly passionate customers might say about the companies they adore? Well, the hardcover edition of Jeanne Bliss’s new book, I Love You More Than My Dog, wastes no time highlighting some of those real-life raves: The inside cover is festooned with quotes from people thrilled by companies they do business with. (“If CustomInk were a woman,” begins a typical example, “I would marry her!”) Bliss, whose subject of customer bliss just happens to coincide with her real-life married name, calls the raves earned by these companies “outlandish quotes,” but says she chose to highlight them because the fact that the praise is truly earned is what matters most. CRM spoke with her about what it takes to become a customer’s best friend. 

CRM magazine: In each chapter of your book, you pose what you call “challenge questions,” and then you answer each with a real-world example. How difficult was it to find those examples? 

Jeanne Bliss: Each of the case studies was a lot of work. Talking to Southwest Airlines, Zanes, Zappos[.com], Zipcar, Zara—the Zs have it for some reason. 

CRM: How did you come up with the challenge questions? 

Bliss: I wanted to tell people in very clear, simple terms how companies get to being beloved. It’s not accidental. You can’t just decide one day that you’re going to have lovely people talking to customers. You can’t say, “We’re going to believe in our customers and believe in our employees,” and suddenly have that happen. It’s in the decision process: what informs [companies’] decisions, how much angst they put into decision-making, and how much they look at decision-making as [a sign of] who they are. How committed they are to their businesses is represented by how they steer decisions in one direction or another. 

CRM: That point is pretty evident by the fact that you conclude each chapter with “The Decision Is Yours.” 

Bliss: I wanted to be [as] repetitive and as simple as I could be. The five decisions [outlined in the book] are also principles that drive decision-making. Every case study started to coalesce around these five. 

These companies don’t have blind belief—they enable belief. The Container Store believes it’s a good idea to share its board-level financials with all employees. If you trust people at that level, that elevates their purpose and drives them to not look at it as a 9-to-5 job—they’re part of something bigger than themselves. 

Wegmans hires people it believes in, and provides them the support, education, and development [they need] to do the right thing. [Executives] don’t just bring people off the street and say, “We believe in you—do whatever you want.” They know the characters, qualities, and values of people they want to believe in and then they continually trust them and train them. 

Back to the customer side of this: Zanes knows every customer’s lifetime value is $12,500. Why would you put that relationship at risk by questioning the integrity of the customer at the beginning of the relationship by asking to collect the customer’s identification or any type of collateral [before a test drive]? 

CRM: It’s amazing that, at Zanes, only an average of five bikes get stolen a year. 

Bliss: That’s the other thing that was important to me. This isn’t a “kumbaya, we-are-the-world, we’re-going-to-hug-customers” kind of thing. All of the companies in this book either made money [during the recession] or did not fall down…and these decisions are what make them prosperous. The two key words in this book are beloved and prosperous. 

CRM: The dog analogy is interesting—it can apply to a customer loving a company more than a family pet, or having a customer be as loyal as a dog. 

Bliss: We wanted to create an emotional reaction to the book. The reason I inserted the quotes at the endpapers of the book was because they’re the kind of outlandish quotes these companies earned from their customers. 

In the world of social media, it’s not surveys that are going to sell your company, it’s customers voting with their feet and their mouths. They’ll tell the story of who you are and what you value, but you need to earn the right to that story in the marketplace—good, bad, or indifferent, they’re the decisions that steer the outcome of your actions.

When you make decisions that honor customers and employees, you’ll earn their story[telling]—but you have to earn it, earn the right to that megaphone.

[These days,] everybody is about getting the rave, with social media: “We need to have a blog, have our customers talk to us.” Well, guess what: They’re not going to talk to you if you’re not real and human, and [if they] don’t feel like you’re going to respond. You can’t just get the rave. You have to earn the rave. 

CRM: And if companies “bite” them, customers are going to be pretty upset. 

Bliss: That’s why it’s important to say sorry. It’s inevitable that at some time in your business you’re going to make a mistake, but there’s research that says if you make a mistake and recover, you’re in better stead with your customer than if you had never made a mistake. 

That chapter took a lot of time and research to write because I wanted to prove the point, not only financially, but in highly litigious businesses like healthcare. A cup of coffee and an arm around their shoulder trumps the legal system every time. 

CRM: At what point does answering all these questions and thinking about the right decision become a case of analysis paralysis? 

Bliss: This is about operationally relevant actions, not research. The challenge questions are supposed to be disruptive: What does that question say about you? 

What are your customer experience bookends? Do you [deliver a] purposeful experience when your customer first interacts with you? What’s the final experience when your customer walks out the door? You should operationalize this. Do you dare to bare what your customers share? Are you editing customer feedback? Are you reading it, believing it, taking action on it? 

It’s a heart- and gut-wrenching kind of evaluation of the DNA of your company. By looking through the lens of companies that are earning these [customer] quotes, it’s supposed to jar you into saying, “Are we doing this? Are we there?” It’s supposed to clearly say, in very specific [terms], “Here’s what they do and how they do it. Are you doing it?”

For example, at Ikea they always design the price tag first. It doesn’t matter what you design first, but do you have a set of things that says “go or no go” as it relates to employees or customers? Are you that deliberate in releasing a product or releasing a process, or in reviewing how you’re going to resolve a bad situation? Or do you just let happen whatever happens? These companies have deliberate processes.


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