This is the second of two posts on the Fast Company Magazine´s October cover story announcing its "Customers First Awards." In part one of this post I listed five suggestions for you to use in building your own "legendary customer service" as the late Sam Walton called it.
In this post, I´ll mention three more"?¦6. Give them something free. Panera Bread, a chain of bakery-cafes, provides free Internet wireless access to its patrons. Not only does Panera attract hungry customers, it also attracts customers who want a chance to go online and are willing to purchase food or drink while they´re there. (Similarly, in my hometown of Austin, TX I´ve noticed complimentary marketing "partnerships" springing up between fast oil-change businesses and nearby restaurants and coffee shops. Coupons from one are good in the other.)
Kiehl´s Cosmetics gives away more than 12 million free tubes and packets of makeup each year. Yes, it´s expensive, but it´s paying off. According to the article, they also emphasize training their employees to be knowledgeable about the products they sell.
7. Invest in your employees. Whole Foods Market lets the employees design their own health plan and then vote on the various components. USAA provides its customer service agents with bonuses, pension plan, tuition reimbursement, and more. These benefits may be impossible for small businesses, but there are other ways you can invest in your employees. Merit pay, recognition, promotion, and opportunities for feedback can raise your employee´s morale. Walter Robb, Whole Foods Market co president is quoted in the article as saying, "Happy team members make happy customers. Our job as management is simply to make that a reality."
Back at USAA, customer service agents are empowered to suggest new ideas that will benefit the customers and the company. (Many of the other companies mentioned in this article also incorporated employee empowerment into their cultures.)
8. Be an advocate for your customers. Travelocity launched a "customer championship" initiative that goes to bat for customers when they have a problem with one of Travelocity´s suppliers.
You may find that some of the ideas are "too expensive" for your business. But use these ideas as a jumping off point to brainstorm for innovative ideas that can benefit your customers and your bottom line. To me, the lesson learned from reading Fast Company´s article is: Create your vision, and then bring it to reality through planning, talking, listening, innovating, and empowering.
It also occurs to me that having a subscription to Fast Company might be an excellent return on your investment.
"But there´s no substitute for getting smarter faster. And the way you get smarter is to screw around vigorously. Try stuff. See what works. See what fails miserably. Learn. Rinse. Repeat."
–Tom Peters, quoted in "Fast Company" Dec. 2001.