Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Crusade

In analysing what customer obssessed organisations have in common, it seems that there are a few underlying themes that reoccur:

There is always a crusade - there is something stronger than a vision, a crusade, around which the entire organisation is driven. This could be about anything from creating customers for life to wanting to change what an industry stands for, but it's theren and organisations are almost cult-like in looking to achieve it.

The People Agenda is not downplayed - getting the right people and treating them fairly rings out clearly.

The Spirit to Serve plays out, but through people focus, not necessarily customer focus.

Leadership style must support to allow the points above to play out.

Relentless communication - go further than you think you need and it will be appreciated and leveraged.

Appreciate your thoughts.

Why is the Ritz Carlton the exception?

You can't have a blog called "That Little Extra" without talking about Ritz Carlton. It is constantly cited as an organisation that truly puts customers at its centre, delighting them through a plethora of unexpected ways. There are enough examples of truly great experiences to ensure the cynics that the myths and stories shared at conferences are indeed everyday occurrences.

So what is it that drives such a model of excellence? What engages the employees in such a way? It is purely this engaged employee workforce or does the entire business circle around the customer? From what I can glean, it is the following:

The staff are not paid over the odds - it is not financial benefit for which employees do magical things for customers. While there is an exchange system whereby staff can work all over the world, the monthly take home is not the reason for it. However, staff do talk about working at the cream of the crop in the hospitality industry.

Values are lived, not forgotten - there are different ways to embed a set of values into organisational culture. Some are simply "the ways things are", and staff would find it difficult to articulate them. Others are far more overt. Ritz Carlton has a set of 12 service values. Each employee and manager has a laminated card with these services values (an example of one: "I build strong relationships and create Ritz Carlton guests for life").  Each day, in a 15 minute line up, once housekeeping issues are addressed, time is taken to reinforce these values, through storytelling.

Share Stories - I must admit to never having stayed in a Ritz Carlton, but I have heard countless stories of customer delight. One story sticks of a simple task - a doorman who opened the door to a seemingly new guest, who realised that she had approached the wrong hotel and was actually staying across the road. Nonetheless, the doorman took her luggage and, in the rain, accompanied and protected her to the correct hotel then bid her farewell by name (where do you think she'll stay next time? Guest for life?)

Beware the enemies of great service - not sharing the big picture with the team, a bad attitude, not celebrating and blame are all highlighted as barriers to delivering high customer service.

Recovery is everything - not everything goes right 100% of the time. We're all human. How you recover from a glitch or mistake is the moment of truth for customer advocacy. One guest told of a story of when his surname was mispronounced on first arrival, and from then on never again.

Systemise - while much is driven by people, some things have to be systemised. The last example is driven by sophisticated software where staff can record how names are pronounced, to be shared across a hotel and chain.

Ruthlessly interview - I have heard that all employees are interviewed by the General Manager, for which there is one key purpose: to check attitude. Many firms say "skills can be taught, attitude can't", yet then go on to hire through evaluating skill. It appears Ritz Carlton takes attitude very seriously in its recruitment process.

Empower and mean it - employees are given up to a certain amount ($2,000 I believe) to take control of a situation and remedy for any recovery required. It doesn't take 3 chains of command and a day to sort things out.

There are probably more things to share but you get the point. If you are serious about delighting customers, then the accompanying philosophy must be embedded across a company's entire operating model and transcend any conflicting metrics in order to do so. Hats off to you, Ritz Carlton for being the exception to the rule and truly embracing this. I'll look to see if I can try out one of your hotels myself at some point...

Sunday, 14 February 2010

iPhone apps to keep my life ticking over...

There are some great iPhone apps I have seen this year that have tapped into consumer need to date badly fulfilled. My iPhone 3GS now has 108 apps on it. Within a very short time, I've come to consider my iPhone as a gateway to my world and my can't-do-without piece of kit. Over and above basic communication, here are the "need states" I find myself using it for most, with some specific apps to complement it:

To capture my life: As with most PDAs, being able to quickly capture a moment, be it unexpected, sad, funny, etc. especially with my kids, is priceless. I find I use other cameras much less. As a result, I have four camera apps to improve the basic built-in camera, one for zooming, another to add a flash, etc. My favourite add on is Sepia Camera, which turns your pic to a professional, sepia colour, and Animoto, turning a montage of your pics into great music vids.

To keep the kids quiet in restaurants: both my 2 year old and 4 year old are now adapt touch screen iPhone users. Even the younger one can deftly swipe to find his favourite app, turn it on and keep himself amused. Success in ensuring lunchtimes on the odd trip to a Strada or Pizza Express now go without meltdowns has now meant me having to also buy my wife an iPhone! In all seriousness, there are some fantastic educational apps for kids. I have two pages of kids' apps, but the favourites seem to be:

For the 4 year old:
CuteMath: for our 4 year old, an interactive set of maths games for basic addition and subtraction.
Suzy Dress Up: more for girls, an interactive app to allow Suzy to be dressed up in hundreds of combinations of clothes. My daughter loves this one.

For the 2 year old:
Old MacDonald: widely-acclaimed app based on the song, with interactive scenes.
iTot Cards: flashcards showing pics of shapes, animals, food, etc. In English, Spanish and French.

To organise my world: As well as Calendar, etc. I use three others:
PassKeeper: there are just too many user names and passwords these days. This is a nice easy app to store them all in one place rather than search through your contacts
Things: a great task manager.
Shop Shop: quite a nice interface for shopping lists. My daughter loves to strike things off as we go around the supermarket (when we haven't used the Ocado app!)

To keep in touch with news:
My day tends to begin with me walking down to the station while listening to Radio 4, via Radio Box, a nice app covering thousands of radio stations. Once on the train, it's then a newspaper app, either:
The Telegraph, Sky News, BBC Reader, or to check other areas of interest, El Mundo, Catalan News, and to keep my now basic level of Japanese, Aratanisu, which pulls various Japanese newspapers together.
Also like a different perspective on the world, through Engadget, keeping up to date with technology news, and TED, showing conference clips of some of the world's most fascinating people.

To communicate:
The usual of Linkedin and Facebook apps, Skype and Twitterific. Also have Whatsapp, which allows free smartphone to smartphone texting.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Another Friday night in A&E with the kids

From conversations with friends, we are not the only family to spend the odd evening in London's A&E. The mix of a lack of vocabulary to inform you exactly what they're feeling, a non-stop energy that can sometimes lead to accidents, and a body that's not had much time to build its defences, create occasions for immediate help when the UK's GP system clocks off at 6pm (at least my GP surgery).

So when my 2-year old son developed a soaring temperature that we couldn't appear to control over a period, we decided it was best to get him checked out. Having left my parents baby sit our daughter, we set off at 8pm on a Friday night to the local A&E (Accident & Emergency) unit. There is a Pediatric unit, allowing children to be seen and wait away from the wider adult population. Once our details had been taken, we waited around 30 minutes to see a nurse, then a further hour to see a doctor. The problem was found through a general inspection and after around 2.5 hours we were leaving.

While the problem for which we went was resolved. I came away feeling disgruntled. Admittedly a free service to all UK citizens with impressively dedicated staff, nonetheless you can't help notice that:

- there is a distinct lack of communication with waiting, anxious parents, when up-to-date communication is paramount
- the environment needing a good lick of paint and updating does not help inspire confidence in the level of health advice.

Considering patients as customers has much room for improvement within the UK A&E arena. The fantastic job that doctors and nurses are doing can't be supported by environments, resource levels, and processes that drive such deep customer dissatisfaction. I understand the difficult situation in terms of budget, an underinvested system in which we are slowly being re-invested, and a system that was designed for a far smaller population. But as marketers know, it is sometimes the small cost, high-perceived value items that can make all the difference. For example:

- a nurse constantly checking on families to update them on queue situations
- an area for babies to lie down while they wait, rather than parents holding them for hours on end
- a water fountain (!)

I appreciate that this is a controversial area. Yet, the staff within hospitals could find themselves meeting with slightly less stressed parents, leading to improved dialogue when they meet.

Appreciate your thoughts.