Executive Sponsorship… is the Golden Ticket!

A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days in a conference room with the top Executives of my division. Our discussions where wholly focused on our loyalty programs, the data, action items, and how we can leverage our data to further improve our customer’s experiences and therefore increase our loyalty. I had a light bulb moment realizing that I am particularly fortunate to have the ears of these key leaders and that they are fully engaged in the loyalty program. They view the loyalty info as fundamental, rather than an afterthought or a bright shinny object that they can point to.

These meetings got me thinking about how many loyalty programs are destined for failure… or at least they’ll be marginalized in their success because of their lack of top Executive Sponsorship. Having the top Executive sponsorship allows countless synergies that cannot be listed here, but here are a few top benefits:

1) The Executives set the standard for the focus of the company. If they are really focused on customer loyalty and are using the data… ultimately so will everyone in the organization.

2) The Executives have the larger broader view of the business economics and can bring a valuable perspective to the loyalty data. In the end this will make the program much more successful with increasing loyalty.

3) The foundation of a great loyalty program is not collection and dissemination of the data, but rather the operational and strategic changes we make in our business based upon what the data is telling us… you NEED Executives to drive these changes!

4) When customers know that a loyalty program is being utilized by the Executive Team to drive operational and strategic changes, they are more likely to:
a. Take the survey and therefore increase sample response rates
b. Provide in-depth verbatim responses that help make the statistical information more actionable.
c. Respond when asked for more in-depth interviewing of their experiences.

Over the years that I have been running loyalty programs, I have had a mix of whether the programs were appropriately sponsored at the Executive level, but now that I have had exceptional Executive sponsorship over the last 2 years… it has convinced me of 2 things:

1) Having Top Executive Sponsorship…. is the Golden Ticket!
2) I really don’t want to run another loyalty program… unless I have the golden ticket!

Chris Antonelli

Auto Zone… going above and beyond

Recently my car had a problem starting in the morning and I had a friend give me a jump start. The car stayed running so I figured it probably was the battery not excepting a charge anymore rather then it being an alternator… which is good because my cars alternators are not cheap 

I decided to find the closest auto parts store and have them test to ensure it was the battery. The closest auto parts store was O’Reilly Auto Parts and so I drove there and walked in to get some help. The store was pretty empty with a couple of customers here and there and all the employees seemed busy doing other things, when I asked from some help the person looked and sounded annoyed and said “what do you need??!” when I explained I wanted to have the battery tested because I was having issues … they responded “oh well, we can’t do that cause we won’t be able to start your car again.” They didn’t stop and ask any questions, they didn’t try to figure out a way to help, they just shut me down with a nasty attitude… so I decided to go down the street to “Auto Zone” and see if I had any better luck.

When I walked into Auto Zone there were a good number of customers in the store and the employees seemed to all be helping people. I stood in a short line to be helped and within 5 minutes got someone to help me. He asked how he could help and when I explained the situation he said no problem he would help test the battery and if we had to shut off the car he would get me restarted. We went out to my car. He put a tester on my car and he determined it was the battery, he removed the battery for me and saw it was a brand they carried, and looked in his system to see if I bought it from Auto Zone. He informed me that I did buy it from them and that it was still under warranty for another month, so he replaced the battery for no charge and then helped me put it back in as well.

He did such a good job I decided to ask for his manager to praise his efforts. When the manager came over she was very thankful for the positive feedback and informed me that the district managers number was on the front door if I wanted to let them know as well. I went outside and to my shock she was right… the District Supervisors and the Regional Vice Presidents numbers where right on the door with a sign that said, “We want to know how we are serving you” … so I decided to give the VP a try and within 24 hours got a call back from them too. I let them know about my experience and praised their efforts to stay in touch with the customer loyalty.

I must say that it was refreshing to have this experience at a retail store… needless to say, I will be going back to Auto Zone anytime I need something for my car because they are going above and beyond to service me as their customer and the management team obviously understand the importance of customer loyalty.

Chris Antonelli

My Customer Loyalty Roots

This blog entry is a tribute to my Dad, Skip Antonelli, who taught me the importance of caring for people and caring about Customer Loyalty.

I have been working my entire life with customers one way or another. I love working with customers because I have a passion for amazing customer service and how it builds customer loyalty. I get this passion from my Dad (Skip Antonelli) who lived and breathed customer service every day of his life while he managed and operated the family nursery (Antonelli Brothers Begonia Gardens) in Santa Cruz, CA.

My Dad was an amazing man full of love, passion, forgiveness, and a very quirky sense of humor! He worked most of his life, 7 days a week at the nursery… and although he really loved the Begonias and Fuchsias’ very much, I saw him get the biggest thrill/satisfaction when he talked directly to the customer’s one on one, or even when he did teaching seminars at the nursery. He loved to engage with people on many levels.

He would help customers troubleshoot diseased plants they didn’t even buy from him and help them troubleshoot their garden issues, he would surprise people and give them unexpected discounts when they bought multiple flowers, and when I was a youngster he would have me carry out plants to people’s cars for them… just to go above and beyond. I got to see my Dad in action for many years and the bottom line is… he cared! He cared about people, he cared about family, he cared about friends, and he cared about helping customers by providing them great customer service!

My Dad’s customer service focus taught me something very important in my life and it has been the foundation to my career for many years… Yes, the nursery sold amazing Begonias… but the success of the nursery was due to the exceptional customer service that my Dad provided every single day and that his employees understood this and strived to the same standards as well.

Many things changed when my Dad passed away in January 2003… and I continue to miss him dearly and think of him often. I hope to honor him in my life by continuing to care about people, care about relationships… and I hope to carry on his legacy of providing exceptional customer service and teaching others how to master this art as well.

In closing, I want to reiterate that Customer Service and Customer Loyalty are not gimmicks or after thoughts, they are foundational and can’t be faked…it has to come out of a reservoir of “loving one another” and caring enough to go above and beyond!

Chris Antonelli

Can Customer Loyalty be Cyclical?

Do you think Customer Loyalty can be cyclical?

Definition of cyclical: A group of events that happen in a particular order, one following the other, and which are often repeated”.

My wife and I are loyal customers of our monthly maid service because the same 2 ladies come each time and they have always provided excellent service. They are friendly, fast, and our house looks and smells clean when they are done. We have been with this service for about a year now and so this is our first Christmas season with them.

They have done such a great job each month that we decided to give them a small Christmas Bonus as a thank you… They were very appreciative and left smiling ear to ear… this got me thinking… If I give my maids a Christmas bonus for their excellent service throughout the year… does that make them even more loyal to me as their customer and therefore they do even a better job or at least continue to provide the great service that made me a loyal customer to begin with? I believe it can! I believe that Customer Loyalty can be cyclical because encouragement and affirmation are lost art forms in the world today… we are so used to negative reinforcement, complaints, and dissatisfaction…not encouragement and positive affirmation when things go right.

I have to admit I am a pretty hard customer to please… mostly because I expect people to care about the service they are giving. I have asked for a manager many times in my life to complain about bad service, but I also cannot count the number of times I have asked for a manager because I want to give them some positive feedback about my experience… the response is always the same… The employee looks at me with a horrifically concerned look in their eyes and then goes to look for the manager… and then the manager comes over with the same horrific look, but trying to hide it through a fake smile. I always try to eliminate the pain as quickly as possible by telling them “I wanted to tell you what a great job your team is doing”… and then go on to affirm them with what their employee(s) did to impress me with their service. They always seem so shocked to hear the positive feedback, but they seem even more appreciative that someone would take the time to provide the positive feedback!

We so often think people must know how we feel about them and therefore we can miss out on this important way to use the power of our tongue to encourage and affirm those around us, especially those serving us in our day to day lives… I once heard someone say “Catch someone doing something right, and tell him about it!  Better yet, tell him about it in front of others!”

Let us make ENCOURAGEMENT and AFFIRMATION a goal this holiday season… If we are open to it… I am sure we will have plenty of opportunity! … and who knows we might even be starting our own loyalty cycle!

Chris Antonelli
FantasticFailures.com #fantasticfailures

Nordstrom Service Failure becomes Loyalty Maker! – FOLLOW-UP!

I decided I wanted to send my recent “Nordstrom Service Failure becomes Loyalty Maker!” blog to the General manager of the Nordstrom branch so they could pass on the praise to the employees that helped me, so I called and asked the switch operater for the GM’s name and email address… There was no histation and the person told me that Julie Schindler was the GM and then gave me her email address. I thought “WOW that was almost too easy” and figured I may or may not hear back from her once I emailed her because of the holiday season rush… but a few hours after I send Julie an email, I got the following response:

“Dear Chris,

I took the opportunity to read your blog and I have to admit that it was quite a roller coaster we took you on.  In the end, I am so pleased that we were able to take the initiative to correct our mistake in such a pleasant and efficient manner.  I do have to give you credit as your kindness and patience with us during this whole thing was honorable.

What a fantastic compliment to Jerry and Marisa that their service was, to you, a “Loyalty Maker”. It will be my absolute pleasure to share your blog with them both along with my personal thank you for a job well done.  I also had the treat of sharing your blog with my management team today.  I was a true testament of the empowerment we give our people to take care of their customers at all cost. 

I appreciate you taking the time to share your feedback and story. It provides me with the perfect opportunity to not only praise, but coach my team as well.”

What a great response and it really is refreshing to have people care about Customer Loyalty, especially in the retail world during Christmas time!

If you have any good or bad customer experiences this holiday season tell me on twitter and Hashtag them with #fantasticfailures or shoot me an email.

Nordstrom Service Failure becomes Loyalty Maker!

I recently endeavored on a 2 week business trip to Boston, Massachusetts. Growing up on the West Coast and working in high tech companies my whole life, I have very little formal wear in my wardrobe.  I actually only have 3 dress shirts, 3 ties, & 3 dress slacks for when I have to do “executive level” presentations, go to weddings, etc. Although I had never been to Boston, I did know that my minimal “business attire” would not be sufficient for a 2 week trip to the East Coast.  Thus began my search for some updated clothes.

Wanting to look sharp and have the clothes fit correctly, I bought some dress shirts and took them to Nordstrom in Tukwila, Washington to be tailored. I also took a new leather jacket to have the arm length tailored. When I walked into the men’s suit department, I was greeted by Jerry Stellick, who asked how he could help me. I explained that I bought these dress shirts elsewhere, but I would like to have the sleeves tailored for my arms. He said “no problem” and took me into the tailoring room and got a tailor to come pin my shirts.  Jerry was very professional, accommodating, and provided the perfect customer experience from start to finish. He even gave me his card with his cell phone number on it, in case I had any questions or issue.  The experience reinforced what I had heard many times about Nordstrom’s excellent customer service!

A few days later, I got a call from Nordstrom’s saying that my shirts and jacket were ready to be picked up.  Since she was already in the area, I asked my wife to pick them up for me.  She brought them home and hung them in our closet.  Since I did not have to pack for a few days for my trip, I did not bother to look at them.  The next afternoon I decided to put on one of my newly tailored long sleeve dress shirts for a meeting I was going to.  I put the shirt on and as the sleeve slid up my arm it just kept going all the way up to my elbow,  I asked my wife if there were pins holding back the sleeves and she said “No honey, that is the length of the sleeves”. I checked the other shirts and all of them had wrong lengths and to various degrees.  My leather jacket sleeves were also a bit too short and had a weird curve in the sleeve.  I started freaking out because I only had two days before I had to leave on my business trip.  I was having visions of wearing these shirts in Boston and assuring people “This is how we roll in Seattle”.

I called Jerry right away on his personal cell phone and got his voicemail.  So I called the Nordstrom store and talked with a gentleman that asked me to come in ASAP to see what could be done. On my way to the store, Jerry called me back and said he was not working that day, but he assured me that anyone in the department would be able to help me.

When I arrived at the store I was greeted by Marisa Johnson in the same professional manner that Jerry did the first time. I explained what happened and she was apologetic and asked if I could try on one of the shirts so she could see the problem. When I came out with the sleeves half way up my arm, she looked like she was going to pass out; her eyes got really big and she said “Wow I have never seen something like this before.  I am so sorry Mr. Antonelli.”  Her reaction was about the same with each shirt I showed her and with the leather jacket too. She said she had never seen this type of problem before, but they were committed to fixing the issues. I explained I had to leave for Boston in two days and needed to figure out what to do. She asked where I had bought the shirts and as I told her I thought, “Here we go with the typical ‘not our product, nothing we can do’ excuse” – but the exact opposite happened. Marisa asked for my receipts for the shirts and the tailoring fees.  She credited me the tailoring fees and found a shirt that was the same price as what I paid for mine.  Then, Marisa returned the new item three times in her system in order to credit that amount to my card as well. She asked if I could go down the street, repurchase my shirts, and bring them back to her.  In the meantime, she would make sure one of her senior tailors was available to assist us. I went and bought the shirts and brought them back to Nordstrom’s.  The tailor immediately fitted my shirts again and said he would get them to me the next day. She also took my leather jacket to ask the head seamstress what could be done to fix it also.

The next day I came back and was honestly holding my breath.  When I arrived, I was greeted by Jerry and Marisa as well as another lady, who I later found out was the head seamstress, Coco. They had me try on each of my shirts.  All of them fit perfectly and so did my Jacket which now looked great. Coco explained the jacket was not sewn correctly the first time and the shirts were not pinned correctly. She said she was able to go back to the tailor who helped me the first time and re-train them on how to properly measure, pin, and write the order so it would be done correctly for future customers.

All three of them apologized again for the failure.  They also commented on how patient and nice I was throughout the entire ordeal. I explained that I was only patient and kind because I was handled perfectly throughout the entire process by all of them and that they went above and beyond to make sure that I was satisfied. I also explained that I am not a very nice guy when I get terrible service and there have been many other customer experiences where I have talked to multiple levels of staff, managers, and even demanded at times to speak with executives until I find someone who cares enough about my bad experience to make it right! This was the most opposite experience to those bad experiences that I could imagine. Even after there was a devastating failure of workmanship at Nordstrom, Jerry, Marisa, and Coco were instrumental in recovering with flying colors and have converted me to a Nordstrom customer – for life!

This reinforced my long standing belief that even when our customers experience those “fantastic failures” with our products and services, that it can actually be turned around and end up creating customer loyalty… IF… it is handled correctly, every level of employee goes above and beyond the customers’ expectations, and we all care about the customer being satisfied. An old saying goes “Your heart will be where your treasure is”… well more companies should realize that the treasure is in our customer’s loyalty.

Chris Antonelli

There are three kinds of lies…

The phrase “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” was popularized in the United States by Mark Twain (among others), who attributed it to the 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli… I actually heard it from one of my lifetime buddies Ben Hamilton who is probably one of the biggest geeks I know :)

Regardless of who the original author was of this quote, it is 100% true! I run multiple Satisfaction and Loyalty/Relationship Surveys for my corporation and we are always looking for new ways to slice and dice the data in-order to get to the most meaningful and actionable data. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great practice for sure, but I do find myself searching sometimes for what the REAL answer is in all of the data… if there were just ONE lever I could pull in our business to increase our loyalty… what would it be? Yes we can do multiple regression analysis, trends charting, correlation analysis, etc… but what does it all mean as a bottom line?

The data is really good, but I find the most powerful and meaningful data we get from our surveys is in the comments analysis and categorizations, closed loop calls, & customer interviews. These interactions provide us the raw, uncensored words of one of our customers. If we read and/or listen to the comments… and then look at the scores… it makes the entire survey come alive with so much more foundation/context because it adds a “human connection” aspect that is otherwise sanitized by data.

Yes, let’s keep surveying our customers and looking at the data in great detail, but let’s make sure we “listen to our customers and make sure we are connected with their voice… after all… it is called “Voice of the Customer”!

Quote Source: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lies,_damned_lies,_and_statistics)

Fantastic Failures

Have you ever failed in your life? Have you ever made a mistake that you think you could have or should have avoided? Do any of those failures, mistakes, and miscues define who you are and how you operate in your daily life? … Even more importantly how did you recover from those failures and have they lead you to a better future? Failures do not make you a failure… unless you choose not to learn from the failure point… and the recovery from a failure is the most triumphant victory of all. Thomas Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”… That is what I call a Fantastic Failure!