It's often the little things that can make a big impact on the customer experience.
If you travel a lot, and stay in a different hotel each night, it can be easy to forget your room number, especially if your more of a visual person; a person who remembers pictures better than numbers.
That's why I really appreciate what Hampton Inn has done with the room numbers in their hotels - they've added a unique black and white photograph next to the number. So if you have trouble rembering if your room was 323 or 332, you'll probably find it a lot easier to remember the photo of the farmer riding the tractor. I had the room with the adirondack chair on the sun-drenched lawn.
When I go to sleep in a hotel, I like to keep my cell phone on the night stand, and use it as an alarm clock. And I also like to keep it plugged in, to begin the next day with a full charge. But I've found that most hotels don't have enough outlets for charging all our digital stuff.
But this particular Hampton Inn mounted a cluster of outlets and USB charging ports right above the nightstand.
Visual room numbers andU SB ports by the nightstands aren't exactly big enhancements like hot breakfast bars or state-of-the art fitness centers. But they're big in two ways:
They're simple solutions to common problems - USB ports by the nightstand may not be glamorous, but they're exactly what I needed.
They're memorable - black and white photos may not transform the Hampton Inn into a luxurios hotel, but they do trigger memories, and stir curiosity - I dare you to walk down the hall to the elevator, without looking to see what photos accompany the other room numbers.
Here's thet point:
When designing your customer experience, ask yourself if each element fits at least one of the following:
1. Is it useful to the customer?
2. Is it memorable for the customer?
The only thing worse than a company that delivers a bad experience is a company that appears clueless that they've done it.
Last week, I placed an order with FTD to deliver roses to my wife's office on Valentine's Day. The roses were never delivered, and FTD never told me.
When I learned from my wife that she never received the roses, I called FTD Customer Service. The customer service rep matter-of-factly told me that a shortage of roses meant that they'd be delivered the following week. Since the following week was no longer Valentine's Day, I cancelled the order, and opted for a refund instead.
Two days after cancelling my order, and expressing my dissatisfaction to the FTD Customer Service Representative, I received an email from FTD. It wasn't an email to apologize for their poor service, or a coupon as a gesture to rebuild my trust. Instead....
It was a survey asking me to tell them about my recent purchase... Was I satisifed with the flowers? Were they delivered promptly? Will I order from them again?
It was bad enough that FTD didn't communicate with the customer, when the order fell through. What's worse is when FTD sends a satisifaction survey to the customer, as if the error never occured.
So what's the point here?
Every business needs to have in place a method of systematically capturing instances of customer dissatisfaction, and a process for acting on it, and closing the loop with the customer.
When a customer tells you they've had a bad experience, they're giving you the kind of feedback that will help you improve your operations, to improve the customer experience, to improve business itself.
When customers complain, don't act clueless. Show them that you're listening.
Valentine's Day came and went. But the 12 Long-Stem Roses that I ordered through FTD on Tuesday to be delivered to my wife's office on Thursday were never in fact, delivered - even though I received a confirmation email on Wednesday, essentially telling me to rest assured - my wife will receive her flowers, and be reminded how much you love her. I put my faith in FTD.
So on February 15, I called FTD Customer Service. Here's what they told me:
"Sir, the local florist that was filling the order ran out of flowers. So your order will be delivered on February 18."
Ok, stuff like that can happen. I can understand how a florist might run out of roses on Valentine's Day. But that's not what I'm mad about.
Here's the problem:
So I was the foolish husband eagerly awaiting that call from my wife to tell me how beautiful the roses are, and how much she loves me for sending them.
Instead, she was wondering, "That's strange - my husband hasn't given me a card, or flowers or anything."
Meanwhile, somewhere someone knew that roses were in short supply in southern Maine, and that orders would go unfulfilled. But nobody told anybody. Or at least, nobody told the customer.
The point here is simple:
Communicate. Don't leave customers in the dark. Be sure that information is intentionally flowing from the back office to the front office, and that customers are being kept in the loop. Communication is an absolutely critical part of the customer experience.
If FTD had notified me once they knew they couldn't deliver, I could have gone out to a local florist, or picked up something to have waiting at home. But they didn't tell me, so I couldn't do anything about it.
But here's the good news: I've requested a full refund from FTD (Roses on February 18 just don't say "I Love You" as well as they do on the 14th), and will use it to buy my wife a brand new pair of red shoes - a gift that she'll cherish - and remind her that her husband really does love her - long after the roses would have become compost!
When the lights went out during this year's Superbowl, my immediate thoughts were, "New Orleans will have a hard time convincing the NFL to let it host another Superbowl."
I immediately thought of Jet Blue, and its systems failures on Valentines Day in 2007, causing thousands of flights to be cancelled, and stranding more thousands of customers. How does a company restore its reputation, after such a public catastrophe?
Entergy New Orleans did what Jet Blue did: They handled the situation in a way that will not only restore any lost trust, but potentially increase the level of confidence among their customers. They were candid, specific, and put forth a plan for resolution.
Entergy New Orleans was open and honest in taking the blame. They openly said, "It's our fault." Too often, a company will offer statements that show some remorse, but don't explicitly say, "We're the ones to blame." Customers need to hear statements of ownership. That's the first step in rebuilding trust.
Identify the Root Cause
Once you've taken the blame, explain exactly what caused the problem, and be specific.
David Neeleman, founder and CEO of JetBlue identified specific factors within outdated information systems, that prevented the airline from taking steps to adjust to the storm.
Similarly, Entergy New Orleans identified a relay setting within the switching gear, as the ultimate cause of the power failure. Offering detailed, plausible explanations for what went wrong change the focus from emotional finger-pointing, toward problem-solving.
Present a Plan for Resolution
You need to give customers a concrete reason to believe that things will be better in the future; that the problem won't happen again. David Neeleman vowed to replace the outdated systems, and immediately established and communicated a new "Customer Bill of Rights."
Going public with a specific plan to prevent the issue from recurring will be the next step for Entergy New Orleans, and SMG, which manages the Superdome.
Execute on the Plan
A plan is just a plan, until it's put into action. That's when real change happens, and that when future potential problems are prevented. Once a clear plan is established, Entergy New Orleans anad SMG will need to carry out that plan, and communicate to their consitutents what's been done.
Jet Blue is a stonger company today for having endured t he Valentine's Day Massacre in 2007, because of the way they handled the situation. Entergy New Orleans will likely be stronger, more trustworthy, and supplying the power to more Superbowls, by continuing down the path of candor, causality and action.
When I checked into a Marriott hotel in early December, I inadertently gave the receptionist my debit card for indicentals. When I checked out of the hotel four days later, I paid for my stay with a company credit card.
Unfortunately, the debit card number was still in their billing system.
Three weeks later - the Saturday before before New Years, to be exact - a large charge suddenly appeared against my checking account - and the charge came from that same Marriott.
I called the hotel, and explained the situation. The hotel staff listened, and politely informed me that nothing could be done until at least Monday, when the bookkeeping staff returned.
That was a problem - my wife and I had big plans for the weekend, and a billing error by the hotel had virtually drained our checking account!
Without expecting any results, I sent out the following Tweet:
Within 5 minutes, I received the following text on my cell phone - at first, I assumed it was just another marketing text, until I read what it said:
After sending my reservation number, I received the following:
And resolve it they did. Within an hour, a Social Media contact at Marriott was on the phone with my bank to be sure that I would have funds available for the weekend. I didn't expect this level of personalized service, but I was absolutely pleased to receive it!
I learned that at that time, Marriott's entire social media team consisted of three people. But that staff was plenty big to resolve my issue, and resolve it quickly. So I wondered: How could such a large company have such a small yet effective social media group, particularly when they're marketing and selling into such a large global customer base?
As far as I can see, there are at least two factors at Marriott that make this possible:
1. They have a Clearly-Defined Process for using Social Media:
They're tasked with "listening" to Twitter, and the other Social Media for mentions of Marriott. Any mention that in their judgement, requires follow-up, is assigned to individuals inside or outside the Social Media group, for resolution.
2. Their Social Media agents are Empowered:
These social media people are granted authority to make customer-focused deicsions without consulting a manager. And they are empowered to assign issues to other people outside of their reporting structure, to "make somethign right" for the customer.
For this particular customer, a small social media staff can have a big impact on the customer experience, and cumulatively, on the brand and reputation of a company. Like any other business tool, success is all a matter of how you use it.
I've re-told this story many times, and remain impressed with the way a large company can leverage a small social media staff to drive huge results. As my travel begins to pick up in the new year, guess what hotel brand I'll be choosing more often?