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Rosanne D'Ausilio, Ph.D. Editor and Publisher
Volume XXIV, Issue 12

Date: December 1, 2015 - Top CEOs Share Their Secrets Of Legendary Customer Service*

Dear Subscriber,

Following is from Forbes - Leadership - October, 2015.

Sam Walton, the founder of the world’s largest company, Walmart, once summed up his business philosophy by stating, “The goal of a company is to have customer service that is not just the best but legendary.”

As leaders aim to achieve legendary customer service, I thought it would be fascinating to hear from CEOs of top companies in financial services, healthcare and retail their secrets of service. So on September 22, 2015 I had a discussion with these three service leaders about their service model, culture, and leadership philosophy:

·        David Nelms, Chairman and CEO, Discover, which ranked highest for credit card customer satisfaction among U.S. credit card companies in 2015, and pioneer known for reinventing the entire credit card business

·        Sharon O’Keefe, President, University of Chicago Medical Center, one of the leading academic medical centers in America known for its groundbreaking therapies to patients

·        John Venhuizen, President and CEO, Ace Hardware, the industry leaders with nearly 4,900 locally owned and operated stores all across the world and winner of nine consecutive J.D. Power awards

To kick off the discussion, Jose Martinez, a customer experience expert from North Highland shared, “Top organizations are now spending 2% of revenue on customer experience, as it increasingly becomes leaders success engine.”
 
Robert Reiss: What’s the secret behind your customer model?

John Venhuizen: We call great customer service our weapon in the world. And we take it quite seriously. In an effort to simplify, we seek to operationalize this into three buckets. First we take all non-customer facing daily tasks and streamline them operationally like a lean manufacturing process, but apply that to retail. By simplifying we reduce the amount of non-customer facing time so we can increase the amount of customer facing time. Second we develop a bottoms-up schedule for our people where we align store talent with our projections for customer visits that day and tasks required to operate the store. Third is our most important bucket, which we call “operationalizing helpful.” Our customer service is everything to us and we don’t believe in leaving that up to chance. So simplification through systematized operations, but always within the framework of never letting local stores lose their own local autonomy and personality, which is where the real magic can happen.

Sharon O’Keefe: Here are two things we do. On the IT side, we have patient portals so a patient can connect directly to their medical record and interact with their clinician through emails or secured texting. They can schedule appointments and view their own test results. Connecting patients to their own clinical information makes it easier for them to navigate the complexities of healthcare. A second thing is “meds-to-beds,” where when someone is discharged before they leave we will fill every prescription on the spot, saving a trip to the pharmacy, and provide the patient education and instructions on how to take their meds. In fact the nursing staff within 24 or 48 hours after discharge actually calls the patient and family member to check how everything’s going and if there are any questions. This really reduces anxiety and makes people comfortable.

David Nelms: We have found a key to customer service is about customers being able to connect with the right person immediately. Many years ago, we pioneered 24-hours a day, 7 days a week customer service for the credit card business. And today, when most companies make it hard to reach a person, we do the opposite. If you’ve got Discover card, the very first option is to connect with a Discover employee located in the U.S. In fact, we still house all our own employees in the U.S. Then, we empower our customer service representatives to completely take care of the customer.

 Reiss: How do you build a culture that delivers your customer model?

 Nelms: I agree with John, it starts with values. We also have a set of eight values and it’s not just something printed on the wall, it’s something everyone lives.  The very first value is do the right thing, which covers a lot of ground on its own. One way our culture delivers new customer innovations is through our feedback loop system of getting positive feedback and collecting complaints. We get feedback from all different sources, so we look for patterns to improve our operations and products.

Here are two examples of how customer feedback has helped us develop important initiatives. We started the rewards category in credit cards many years ago and are a leader in cash rewards. In fact, we gave more than a billion dollars in 2014 in cash back to our customers. Recently our customers told us through feedback loops from our representatives, that they wanted a simplified system where you never lose rewards. So, we created a new system where customers can now redeem their earnings at any time and never lose the rewards. A second is we heard a concern that customers will sometimes lose or misplace their card or leave it at a restaurant. The whole process was a real pain for customers, so earlier this year we launched an on/off switch for a credit card.  We call it “Freeze It.” If a customer has misplaced their card, they can use their mobile device to turn the card off and then back on when it’s found.  It’s simple innovations like these that start with the culture, start with doing the right thing, go through feedback loops and manifest themselves in service or product features to consumers.

Venhuizen: Our vision is to be the best most helpful hardware stores on the planet. We focus on communications, values, and behaviors. With communications, we try to permeate service into everything we talk about at Ace with aspirational language that we’re fanatical about customer service. Nearly all of our 4,900 stores around the world are locally owned and operated; because of that, patrons of our stores are more than customers, they’re neighbors. Ace store owners live and work, and go to church alongside members of the communities they serve. We like to say our company was built on bedrock and that bedrock isn’t our brand or supply chain; our bedrock is the values of our owners. We believe in integrity, gratitude, humility, teamwork, and love. And yes, a 90-year-old company that sells hardware, has our highest value as love. We think when we’ve got people that love what they do and who they do it with we’re going to outperform our competitors.

 O’Keefe: We’ve reduced the concept of great culture down to just two simple things: respect for people and continuous improvement.  And what we want to do is engage all of our employees, the clinical staff and the non-clinical staff in coming in every single day and looking for ways to improve services to patients. The respect for people is respect for each other, respect for the patients, respect for the diversity of patients we serve, respect for their families.  It really permeates everything.  It creates a platform on how we expect our employees to interact with our patients or our customers. We also have behavioral standards which we call, “PRIDE Values.”  We reward participation, respect, integrity, diversity and excellence in everything that we do. And we celebrate those wins and tie this into ways to show respect for people and continuous improvement.Reiss: What is the core of your leadership philosophy?

 O’Keefe: It’s all about respect for all people and spend every day trying to humanize healthcare.

Venhuizen: I would say our local Ace owners prove every day that from a leadership perspective, a servant heart is not the enemy of a profitable business but it’s the enabler of it.

Nelms: It’s pretty simple. Understand your customer and do the right thing for your customer.  And sometimes, the P&L may look negative but if it’s the right thing, you still do it.

Regards,

Rosanne D’Ausilio

Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph.D.
President – Human Technologies Global Inc
3405 Morgan Drive – Carmel, NY 10512
845/520-6432 fax 928/223-6165

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*http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertreiss/2015/10/19/top-ceos-share-their-secrets-of-legendary-customer-service/