Friday, October 9, 2009

The Vertical Relationship Channel (Ch. 2)

Some time back I asked a teaching colleague, Marty Flynn, what book he thought was the best book he had read or taught from on customer service. Without hesitation, Marty recommended, The Service Edge by Ron Zemke and Dick Schaaf. It is a great book and I can understand Marty's support of it. By nature of the fact that it was published in 1989 and is still considered by some to be the bible of customer service may be a comment in itself on the value of some of the books written more recently to provide business guidance. My big issue with so many authors is that to sell their books, they have to disparage any book written over ten years ago. However, I have made that point before and will not dwell on it here... at least not right now.

Now, you may be asking, what does a book (even the best book ever written) on customer service have to do with branding? Everything. Simply everything. And let me tell you why.

Remember in Chapter 1/3 ( we talked about the top 10 strongest brands in the world? What did they have in common? One thing they each had in common was that their employees simply loved working there. Many of these companies consider their own employees as the first group that needs convincing of their value as a company and brand. These companies (Google, Ritz-Carlton, Netflix, Costco) know the value of treating their employees well. And when employees are treated well, they treat every customer they come in contact with well also. Makes sense.
What's customer service got to do with branding? Simply everything.

The other characteristic each of these strong brands have in common is that their employees are empowered to solve customer problems as they surface. Three out of four service issues are solved by the person who initially hears the problem. There is very little "Let me speak with my supervisor" or "I'm sorry our policy..." In short, the large majority of issues that can detract from the brand reputation are handled immediately by the first employee who hears of the problem. Smooth, huh?

So, how do organizations that work this well in brand-building by providing extraordinary customer service accomplish this task? Zemke and Schaaf noted five factors present in organizations with exceptional customer service:
* They listen to, comprehend and act on the evolving needs and changing expectations of their customers.
* They establish a clear vision of what great customer service is, communicate if to all of their employees and ensure that the quality of service is personally important to everyone who works there.
* They establish firm standards of customer service and regularly measure themselves against those standards.
* They hire good people, train them adequately and then empower them to work for their customers.
* They acknowledge and reward customer service "wins" when they happen, ensuring that everyone in the organization understands the priority that customer service has in the organization.

That's commitment, isn't it? Does your small business follow this 'best practices' model? As I have detailed in Chapter 1, most organizations do not or the state of customer service would not be in such sad shape. You better just hope that your competition isn't using this model, either.

In this chapter we will talk a lot about how your employees can build your brand in powerful ways.

Thanks so much for reading. More to come.


  1. Brad I didn't go back and read your top 10 list but two that stand out most quickly in my mind that meet your criteria is Chick-fil-a and Disney. Last night I picked up something from Chick Fil A. The lady introduced herself by name, thanked me for choosing them and then thanked we again an wished me a good evening. You hire this you can only strengthen it through training, not instill it if it's not there.

    The Disney experience was reinforced when a friedn recently went there for the first time as an adult. She kept commenting on how clean and neat evertyhing was, how well they managed 10s of thousands of people in a manner that looked effortless. Finally and her is the litmus test. At more that 100.00 per person per day she said it felt like a 'Deal'!

  2. Hi Brad,

    Really enjoyed reading your posts about branding. Not a topic that I have considered a lot about in the past, but it certainly seems to weave itself into almost every aspect of our lives.

    I also like the e-book that you are creating. Do you have a timetable for completion? Will it be available through your blog once complete?

    Look forward to reading more!