Autodesk has two really big events each year: Autodesk University (AU) where our customers gather to learn about how to use our products and services, and One Team Conference (OTC) where our dealers and resellers gather to learn about how to sell our products and services. AU is now a distributed event held in many locations, but the basic intent is the same for each geography. At last years' OTC, our CEO, Carl Bass, told the crowd that some customers say to him "I love your products and services, but I hate doing business with you." With that dose of strong medicine, it's no surprise that as a company we are focusing on the Autodesk experience this year.
With this in mind, I elected to read the summary of Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit, because it was on the popular reading list at getAbstract. The key take-aways from the summary include:
- Loyal customers don't worry about price and are largely immune to your competitors' enticements.
- Sustain customer loyalty by delivering outstanding products on time, providing excellent service, and quickly resolving any problems.
- Put your money into quality, service, training, and problem solving.
- The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., known for great service, empowers every employee, at any level, to spend up to $2,000 on the spot to solve a client concern.
- Train your staffers to care; make sure everyone commits to exceptional service.
- Teach them to use warm, friendly, customer-oriented terminology.
- To establish customer loyalty, learn everything you can about your clients.
- Track information about your customers' likes and dislikes.
- Provide anticipatory service by solving problems before they happen.
- When problems do erupt, apologize first and ask questions later.
- The benefits of exceptional service far outweigh the costs.
The summary provides a lot of information with its well-selected, illustrative anecdotes. For example:
A hotel's maintenance engineer perches on a ladder in the lobby, changing a light bulb. He notices a guest coming in from the adjacent pool area. She is wet, wrapped in towels and carrying numerous beach bags. With her hands full, she has trouble opening the door to the lobby. When he sees her fumbling with the latch, he climbs down from the ladder to help her. "Welcome back to the hotel, ma'am," he says. "Let me help you with your bags. How was the pool?" He then carries her bags to the elevator and punches the button to her floor.
Admirable service? Sure, but what if:
The engineer had climbed down to assist the guest immediately, when he first saw her coming and realized her plight? Then, instead of providing reactive service, which involves spotting a negative customer experience and fixing it, he would have provided anticipatory service, which prevents the negative experience from happening in the first place.
To engender customer loyalty, the book recommends that companies teach their employees what type of terminology to use. The kind of language they employ is far more important than the words in marketing materials. Employees' conversations with customers have tremendous power to make customers' experiences rewarding, reinforcing and positive. The right words can make service breakdowns bearable, just as the wrong words can quickly dismay even the most satisfied customers. Autodesk has a wide collection of employee blogs where each blog provides its own voice instead of solely relying on marketing materials.
Something that the book recommends but we don't often do at Autodesk is include salutations in all emails. The book notes that you would not send out a standard letter without a "Dear" or a "Hi." At Autodesk we should be as polite in our emails as we would be in a letter.
Despite any company's best attempts, problems will occur. When they do, the book recommends 4 steps for recovery:
Apologize and ask for forgiveness -- Make your regret personal, believable and sincere. Acknowledge the customer's grievance. Be careful with your phrasing.
Review the complaint with the customer -- To find out exactly what happened, ask some pertinent, basic questions.
Fix the problem and then follow up -- Use the opportunity to establish a tighter bond by offering the client something additional, for example, a free upgrade.
- Document the problem -- This is the way to learn from any mistakes and to track the causes of a problem.
The summary includes another great anecdote that describes, Mr. BIV, the name a group of Ritz-Carlton employees gave to their quality-control program, stands for: breakdowns, inefficiencies, and variation in work processes. Employees who find a Mr. BIV issue immediately inform the person who can solve it. To learn why such missteps happen, Ritz-Carlton employees keep asking why until they find the core problem. Then they solve that issue. For example:
When a customer complains that room service was late, ask the waiter why. Well, his waiter's elevator was delayed. Why? Housekeeping held it while seeking more linens. Why? The hotel doesn't have enough linens. Solution? Buy more linens.
In Carl Bass' TEDx Berkeley talk on The New Rules of Innovation, he talked about hiring the right people to foster innovation. The same can be said about hiring the right people for providing exceptional customer service. The book suggests that employers look for the following traits:
- Genuine personal warmth -- Everyone wants to deal with welcoming, kind people.
- Empathetic skill -- Employees who can relate to people will deliver better service.
- An optimistic, upbeat attitude -- No one wants to be around a pessimist.
- A team orientation -- People should have a positive impact on their work groups.
- Conscientiousness -- Employees who are proud of their work strive to do it well and follow through on all tasks.
Using the summary as a guide, this does not appear to be my favorite book. It did get a 10 out of 10 rating on getAbstract, but other than using salutations in email messages, I think I had heard it all before.
Service is alive in the lab.