Last month, Delta Airlines announced it was moving its India-based reservations center back to the U.S. They joined Chrysler as the second major American brand in four months to make the move home. Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta put it bluntly: “The customer acceptance of call centers in foreign countries is low. Our customers are not shy about letting us have that feedback.”
And Delta responded by going back to a more costly, but customer pleasing system in this country. At a time when they would rather be cutting costs, Delta sees this as the right choice for their business and their brand. From here it looks like a smart move.
By way of disclaimer, I should note that I personally have had very good, average and very bad experiences with call centers based in India. This is not a diatribe against global competition. But what Delta Airlines has done is put the brand experience ahead of the cheapest alternative. They are betting this investment will help their business.
Shy is not the word that comes to mind…
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Many Americans are not exactly patient or understanding, especially when they have a problem with something they spent a lot of money on. We expect fast service, answers to our questions and not having to repeat the same information over and over (whether to a person or, even worse, to some voice-o-matic system). And we expect the world to speak English.
So we can kinda be jerks sometimes.
But we’re still the customers. Delta is listening. So did Chrysler in the midst of all their problems. In businesses where there is people to people contact between the company and it’s clientele -and that’s most, but not all companies-a company’s customer service people are riding on the leading edge of the brand experience.
Many brands have CSR systems that are status quo, a balance of service and cost savings. But some brands see the person-to-person moment as a huge opportunity to be different. And like anything exceptional, it takes a special effort to achieve this. Anyone who has been to a Nordstroms department store has likely experienced its exceptional level of customer service. It defines their brand and they work hard at training their employees to maintain exceptional service levels and a superior brand experience.
Practice what you preach
Before its merger with Bank of America, MBNA was a monster credit card company with more than 30 million customers. The internal slogan for its employees was posted everywhere in their buildings and read “Think of yourself as the customer.” That’s a pretty standard stuff. But each and every employee from the CEO on down was required to spend four hours a month monitoring customer contact center calls. They were told to evaluate each call and make recommendations for anything that could be improved. The penalty for missing even one hour a month? Not eligible for promotion for two years. Do you think MBNA employees were focused on the customer? Do you think every employee there could tell you what was bugging their clientele from month to month? You bet. And MBNA remained one of the more profitable credit card companies throughout its existence.
So using your people to express your brand means more than being polite and perky. It means having a real understanding of what your brand is about and how you can express that in each interaction you have with a customer or prospect.
Here’s what some of the best companies do to ingrain their brands into the people experience:
Continuing education: How often do you remind employees of your basic brand tenets? For most companies it’s not often enough. Many will rebrand, hold a kickoff meeting/party and be done with it. The best brands continually come back to their core values and find ways to reinforce them. After the Ode to Coke in this space a month ago, a former Coke employee wrote to say how Coke was constantly preaching the brand to their employees and promoting their products aggressively from within. This person still considers himself an ambassador for the brand long after he stopped working there.
Find creative ways to measure it. All call centers are timing calls, speed of answering, problem resolution percentage. But not every company or brand is calling customers after the sale to gauge their satisfaction, or sending a personal note or email. Adding a personal touch and a gracious appreciation of their patronage can easily set a brand apart. And these events can be measured. How about counting how many unsolicited thank you messages come back from the customer base?
To be exceptional, be, well, exceptional. I know a person who called Diners Club customer service to complain about an aggressive telemarketer who had called his house pushing their card. The CEO of the company called him back to ask about what had happened. Obviously a top executive can only do this on a limited basis, but it spoke volumes of how that company viewed its customers and prospects.
Not every brand relies on personal contact to conduct business. (Amazon.com comes to mind.) But for those that do, there is a major opportunity waiting to be realized. Making changes to your person-to-person contact approach can make a big difference in brand experience. Just ask Delta Airlines. Better yet, ask your customers.