Sunday, September 30, 2007

Free samples make for "sticky" customer service!

In a previous post, I asked "Whose job is it to create a great experience?" I'd like to tip my hat to Jeffrey DiMichiel of The Binding Source for going above and beyond his job to provide a great customer experience for me.


I contacted The Binding Source a while back to locate some industrial-strength double-sided tape to fix a door panel in our car that had become unglued. I simply asked for guidance on which of their products they thought might work. Here was his friendly, personal, and helpful response:
Stephanie,
I am sorry to hear about your car. If you are interested in fixing your door panels inexpensively, you may want to try our 3M 5952 VHB tape. No guarantees here, but if I had to try one this is the first product I would test.

Here is where he went above and beyond, explaining what I would need to do so his product would work most effectively:
Clean off as much as the old adhesive as possible, maybe try a Scotchbrite 7447 pad or sandpaper, then clean the surface with an isopropyl and water 50/50 solution. Apply the tape with firm pressure and if there is memory to the panels you may want to hold it in place for an hour or so with a clamp mechanism of some sort, maybe a removable tape.

And here is how he earned this blog post:
If you only need a small amount send me your address and I will send you a sample. If you need a lot, the tape and specs can be found here.
Good luck,
Jeff

I'm happy to report adhesive success with the samples he provided by 2nd-day air—that is some way-sticky tape from 3-M! Thanks, Jeff, for giving me a great example of customer service as well.

Tip of the day: How can you go above and beyond? Can you explain how a product works so that your customer will have success? Can you provide a free sample so they can test it out? Even when you don't know whether they'll turn into a customer?

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Los Angeles entry: Great Experiences Contest

It's not too late to enter: win your own copy of Creating Great Visitor Experiences by sending in an entry by September 30, 2007.

Intelligentsia Coffee
Intelligentsia is a Chicago based importer, roaster, and wholesaler of specialty coffees who recently opened a storefront in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles.

They offer hospitality at coffee houses in Chicago Pittsburgh, Detroit, Los Angeles, Boston, and Vancouver. Besides coffee, they offer 25 flavors of tea and pastries. Intelligentsia buys from socially and environmentally responsible growers in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.

I opened a coffee bar in a past incarnation of my career, so I feel that I am a good judge. Also, coffee bars are as plentiful as convenience markets, so having one that distinguishes itself is amazing. Intelligentsia stands apart from the competition in many ways.

First: their location.
Silver Lake, in Hollywood's East District, has many sub-groups of people who bridge many cultural points of division. It has a street vibe and an amicable atmosphere reminiscent of the 60's. The street is peppered with independent stores and restaurants, and there is an active "walk-and-linger for discussion" vibe similar to that of Seattle... without the rain. In a town known for vapid neighborhoods, this is a rich area. A wise place to situate a coffee bar. Doug Zell, CEO of the company as quoted as saying that Silver Lake is particularly "food forward" and is a "neighborhood that feels like a neighborhood."

The storefront has 68 seats between al fresco seating and two inside coffee bars. Outdoors has misters for really hot days and shade from a stucco roof. The inside is bright, airy, and quite large. A nice touch that we have yet to see embraced by anyone—a standing bar reminiscent of a European wine bar.

Nicaraguan blue and white tile bridges the patio into the store. White Carrera marble bar is the staging area where Intelligentsia’s internationally recognized Baristas work their espresso magic.


Second: the staff.
Among the friendly and competent staff is at least one finalist at the World Barista Championships that I am aware of. Baristas have moved to Los Angeles from around the country specifically to work with Intelligentsia. Many do not know this, but pulling an espresso shot is technically demanding. It's not just a matter of roasted beans, but also of a practiced and meticulous attention to detail and timing. High turnover in your staff doesn't leave you with a chance of turning out good espresso. They have wisely invested in building a staff. There is a nice chemistry between staff members, and there is a sincere and authentic relationship with the customer, unlike some places where the banter is flirty with all the sincerity of a used car salesman.


Third: attention to detail.

Comments about the espresso later... the rest of the operation shows great care is taken for details. Porcelain cups and demitasse spoons all feel good in your hands with a weighted balance of the item that makes picking them up and using them a subtle pleasure. An elegant experience in a down-to-earth place.

Branding is done in a tasteful manner. But, surprising as well: I watched a delivery of regular shipping boxes arrive at the store - but they all had a stylish version of the Intelligentsia logo printed on them in a 35 degree angle that was artistic. Printing creatively on your brown cardboard shipping boxes?


Last: the espresso.

A true taste of Italy. An authentic drink. Throughout Italy, espressos and cappuccinos are the preferred drink. These drinks are delivered in flawless perfection, the extraction is impeccable. They employ a custom-made espresso machine made to Intelligentsia’s specs. The espresso has a chocolate tone and a wide variety and complexity of fruits and spices and a natural sweetness. A smooth start and a satisfying finish. Milk is steamed to a creamy perfection and delivered in exquisite and variant "latte art." Customers are delighted to see what pattern of latte art the receive—you never know what pattern they will execute. Pastries are chosen to enhance the coffee experience. We shared a blueberry scone—its light, lemony pastry was a nice juxtaposition to the heady, chocolately espresso.

The company plans to open a Los Angeles roasting facility in Echo Park before 2008.

Intelligentsia
3922 West Sunset Boulevard, Silver Lake
Open Monday-Sunday, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Thanks to Kim G from Memorable Gatherings for the Great Experience!
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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Upcoming Bathroom Blogfest 2007

We're busy planning for this year's Bathroom Blogfest, where we examine the importance of great bathrooms in the customer experience. To date, we have 14 bloggers from around the globe signed up, as well as the National Kitchen and Bath Association. Click here to see what last year's fest offered.

I got some great pictures last year from readers. So, I hereby invite you to submit pictures of your most and least favorite bathrooms, with a short paragraph explaining your submission. My favorite bathroom submission, received by October 24th 2007, will win a signed copy of my book, for you or the organization of your choice.

I'm still looking for submissions for this month's Great Experiences Contest. Have a business or organization that you'd like to nominate? Send me up to five photos and a short description by September 30, 2007. My favorite entry will win a signed copy of my book, for you or the organization of your choice.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Favorite blogs you may have missed

I don't have a huge blogroll on my blog, as I find them visually overwhelming. Instead I feature "Five Faves" in my sidebar that I'm currently reading. I just updated them today, and encourage you to check them out. I most certainly appreciate being mentioned in other people's blogrolls or lists, like the Magical W List and Drew McLellan's conga line. Today I'm going to share some of my favorite blog posts from other bloggers I read regularly, and thank some people for their mentions.

First up, a referral from one of my e-newsletter subscribers. This is a great post from Larsen Idealog about Terminal Confusion, a perfect example of signage not being user-focused.

Thanks to Nate Burgos for including me in his Design Feast list of blogs worth reading. This site offers a wealth of design-related information for you to check out.

I had a nice chat this week with consultant Doug Fleener, who writes a great blog called Retail Contrarian. Doug has a wealth of experience helping retail stores (especially big chains) get in touch with their customer experience, having grown the Bose Stereo store chain from 3 stores to 100.

I was excited to receive my advance copy of Pine and Gilmore's new book, Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want. Thanks to Doug Parker and Joe Pine of Strategic Horizons for the speedy delivery. I'm looking forward to interviewing Joe for my October podcast. The book includes a nice mention of Jeff Kallay, who writes the Experience Evangelist. Jeff travels the country helping college campuses improve their campus tour experience for prospective students and their parents.

If you happen to work for a Main Street or a heritage tourism district, sign up for Marianna Hayes' blog Results Revolution. She offers timely and specific advice for small towns trying to attract tourism dollars through better experiences.

Adam Lawrence, currently in Dominica on holiday but still managing to produce a featured comedy video on YouTube, writes consistently engaging posts from a theater-experience perspective. Read his Heaven Is Hard Work post and you'll be hooked.

I adore Sara Cantor, who writes all-too-infrequent jewels of posts at The Curious Shopper. Watch her I Got Engaged! video post and fall in love with her, too.

What can I say about C.B Whittemore? Her posts on Flooring the Consumer are always packed with thoughtful details and generous links. Two of my favorites are her tale of exhilaration after a challenging four years with her company being in Chapter 11, and her insightful eye sharing a business trip to Disney.

Church of the Customer celebrated a milestone, reaching 100,000 subscribers or thereabouts (Feedburner giveth, and Feedburner taketh away). Read this post recapping their "40 cities in 40 days" book tour and see how hard they worked to make their second book Citizen Marketers such a big hit.

Design Observer is always great; Michael Bierut's posts are must-reads, witness You're So Intelligent.

Andrea Learned, Learned on Women, will tell you everything you need to know about marketing to women, including how to sell us beer.

I never know what useful tidbit I'm going to get from Adaptive Path, like this post on tips for speaking engagements.

I'm still missing Mark Hurst's This Is Broken blog; his Good Experience blog fills the void. Having problems in a big-box store? Call the store.

Earlier this summer I enjoyed meeting face to face with San Diego bloggers Tim Jackson, aka Masi Guy, and Becky Carroll of Customers Rock! Just wish Maria Palma of Customers Are Always had been able to join us. It was great to swap blog stories and I appreciated Becky's prompt response recently when I was looking for a great book on telephone customer service.

And last but not least, my first blog friend Susan Abbott of Customer Experience Crossroads, whose post on blog etiquette sparked today's post. She led me to Seth Godin, who I can't imagine not reading. I envision His Baldness as permanently attached to a Blackberry. I can't imagine how else he writes so much great stuff. Here's a fun one, the finger moustache "virus."

Thanks again to all my wonderful blog friends, contributors, and readers. Send me a favorite experience of yours, including 3-5 pictures, and you could win a free signed copy of my book. I'll choose a winner from entries received by September 30, 2007.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Book review: How to Talk to Customers

How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC®
Diane Berenbaum & Tom Larkin
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007

I just finished reading this book while preparing for a customer-service training workshop. I appreciated the authors' concrete suggestions—based on 25 years of consulting work—to help empower front-line staff. Thanks to Becky Carroll from Customers Rock! for the helpful book referral.

The book is all about being proactive: making a choice to improve the situation and bringing the customer closer to a solution by collaborating with them. See what I wrote about the importance of being proactive here.

The acronym MAGIC stands for:

M - Make a connection: build the relationship

A - Act professionally: express confidence

G - Get to the heart of the matter: listen and ask questions

I - Inform and clarify what you will do

C - Close with the relationship in mind

They give specifics and examples for each step, and the book is loaded with stories of both “magic” and “tragic” interactions. While I don’t think the acronym works... without looking at the list I couldn’t tell you what the “G” stands for... overall this book is a great tool for front-line staff empowerment and training. The idea of creating magic for customers, however, is great and clearly works in all the examples.

The helpful exercises sprinkled throughout the book will be useful to anyone managing or training staff, especially in call centers. I especially liked this factoid:

A good personal telephone interaction has twenty times the impact of an ad both on customer opinion and referrals.

They also back up their recommendations with research studies they’ve found. Many people wrongly believe that call center staff should be short and to the point in order to be more efficient. But the authors cite a study that shows that expressing empathy shortens call center interactions, solves the problem faster, and leaves customers less likely to need to call back again to resolve their problem. Not to mention it provides great word-of-mouth advertising and increased customer loyalty.

As a side note, this book is beautifully designed and a nice, slightly unusual size, which increased my enjoyment of the reading experience. Definitely worth purchasing if you need a nuts-and-bolts training book.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Creating Great Visitor Experiences going into 2nd printing!

I am very excited to announce that the first print run of my book is nearly sold out. Books in the nonprofit field can take several years to sell out a print run, so this is big stuff for me and Left Coast Press, my wonderful publisher.

I'd like to share some quotes from readers:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Creating Great Visitor Experiences! I especially liked how you mixed in terrific non-museum examples—a few even I didn't know about—with the museum examples in a way that both could be applied by the reader.
B. Joseph Pine II, author—The Experience Economy and Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want

Thank you for writing such a wonderful, holistic approach to the museum experience. I really appreciate your framing of the experience as starting the moment a person decides to “do something” to the moment that they leave a site following their visit. Your work is inspiring. After passing along the book to my colleagues, we are ordering 25 copies for all of our senior staff, and hope to have a staff seminar using the book. It engages the entire staff, not just the upper-tier management or exhibit designers. I think that it will really bring us together.
Kevin M. Bartoy, Director of Archaeology, The Hermitage

I’ve been meaning to write to let you know how much I love your book! It’s making the rounds at the Atlanta Botanical Garden now; I need to make a point of getting it back soon so I can finish it myself! I’ll be recommending it to all the museum folks I know in Atlanta.
Tracy McClendon, Director of Education, Atlanta Botanical Garden

I ordered one copy, and then ten more to hand out to our marketing and properties areas. The next step will be to implement one of your study group plans.
Cathy Garison, Frost Bank Consumer Sales

I find Stephanie Weaver's book to be insightful, succinct and full of great "big picture" ideas for organizations of all sizes. She captures the essence of the visitor experience and analyzes it from a variety of perspectives—all critical to successful customer relations. This is a book that you can return to again and again—a "must read" for capturing and increasing audiences.
Marie Andersen, Director of Development, San Diego Archaeological Center

I have gotten approval to purchase the book and will be putting it on order tomorrow. We are very excited to carry it!
Jamie King, Membership Manager, National Association for Interpretation

Essential reading for those tasked with keeping their visiting public satisfied and engaged. It distills the principles of marketing, communication, and museum planning and presents this information through case studies, tips, and thought-provoking exercises. This book belongs on the bookshelf of every nonprofit institution—better yet, it belongs in the staff meeting room, next to a pad of chart paper, and ready to be put to use.

Jennifer Rigby, Director, The Acorn Group and Acorn Naturalists

A practical system for nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies to integrate remarkable and unique visitor experiences —from first impression to final memories. We have ordered 120 copies, one for each of the parks in our region.
Tom Richter, Chief, Interpretation and Education, National Park Service, Omaha

Want to read more? Download the first three chapters free. Better yet, win a signed copy. Send me your favorite great experience, with 3-5 pictures and a short description of what makes it great. I'll choose a winner from all the entries received by September 30, 2007.

Friday, September 07, 2007

How do you turn around an airline?

US Airways just announced that they are hiring an airline veteran as COO. Read the full story here. His name is Robert Isom; his last airline job was at Northwest Airlines when it was in bankruptcy. Most recently he worked at GMAC Financing, where he was "chief restructuring officer."

I don't know Robert Isom, or his skills. But if I were trying to fix a failing airline with a dismal customer service history, I wouldn't hire someone from my industry that had gone bankrupt. I'd try to steal someone from Southwest.

Or, I'd bring in someone from Apple, or Starbucks, or another company in a different industry that really gets customer experience. I'd hire someone from IDEO to rethink the entire airline travel experience.

There are probably plenty of people at US Airways who could tell the company how to improve its on-time record or solve its baggage-handling problems. Those are fixable technical problems that money can solve. They could do roundtables with front-line staff members, and/or set up a place on their intranet to submit ideas with a $50 reward—both will yield great ideas.

But a customer experience mindset? That's much trickier.

Tip of the day: Look outside your industry for staff and ideas if you need a dramatic change in the way you do business. If you must hire from within your industry, get someone from the company who is trouncing everyone else.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Artist's eye creates Zen shopping retreat

Tucked in a quiet part of Coronado, California is a unique shop called Zazen. Owner Kate Stromberger has created a haven that's part women's boutique, part home decor center. The common denominator? Items of quality that please her discerning eye, arranged with meticulous care into artful vignettes by Kate or her talented associate. Everything in the store is for sale. Customers come regularly—whether that's weekly, quarterly, or once a year for a special something.

Kate has never advertised; the shop's location spreads by word of mouth. If a customer comes in wearing something unique, Kate gives them a card and asks them to pass it along to the artist. She began as an artists' rep and expanded from there.

One might assume that a store with this type of merchandise would be adults-only, and super expensive. But Kate has always welcomed children, and carried a few special (and affordable) shiny things that appeal to kids. She believes that kids' behavior will rise to your expectation, and talks to them about putting things back where they find them. Her price range is $4 to $2,500, so anyone can afford a piece of Zazen.

The store is like Kate herself: quiet, restful. pleasing. She made sure to provide a seating area in the center with a huge full-length mirror at hand, and a roomy dressing room. (Items that her architect, landlord, and contractor—all men—completely advised against.) She wanted a place where friends could relax, spouses could rest, and community could naturally occur. She commented that some people visit the store just for the atmosphere, and she considers it her gift to the community to provide a peaceful, beautiful place. (Zazen, not coincidentally, means "sitting meditation" in Japanese.)

Every single purchase is gorgeously gift wrapped, to "honor the artist's work and the customer's attention."

As one customer said, "Every time I need something special or every-day, I come here."

Tip of the day: Ignore any advice that runs counter to your gut. If you create something unique you may never have to advertise. Having an underlying desire to serve others pays off.

I found Zazen through a friends' recommendation. Want to nominate your favorite customer experience? Send in 3-5 pictures and a description and you could win a signed copy of my book. (I'll choose one entry from every one received by September 30, 2007.)

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Experienceology hits Main Street: Coldwater, MI wins free book!

I wrote an article for the National Trust's Main Street Foundation publication Main Street News. At the end of the article, we gave away a free copy of my book Creating Great Visitor Experiences: A Guide for Museums, Parks, Zoos, Gardens, and Libraries. The winner had to submit an entry for my blog. Here it is—from Barb Rosene, the Executive Director of Coldwater Michigan's Downtown Development Association:

Downtown Coldwater has been making great strides to create a better experience for all who visit. We offer free wireless Internet access throughout the entire downtown. For over 10 years the City of Coldwater has had its own broadband internet and cable television network, so it was quite easy to get the routers and have them installed throughout the downtown. The cost to the Coldwater Downtown Development Authority is $2,500 a year. This has proven to be a great service and well received.

The Downtown Coldwater Historic One-, Three- and Five-Mile Walking Tours have been a great asset, encouraging all to get out and exercise more. A brochure is available with routes as well as a description of 40+ historic sites along the way, available at downtown locations and the Visitor Bureau's website. Our new DDA website will have the printable brochure as well.

Keeping the downtown area clean, safe and attractive is always a struggle. Flowers are planted and cared for by area garden clubs and individuals. Here are some of the flower displays in front of North Woods Coffee Company. (All photos courtesy of Barb Rosene.)

We have worked very hard to introduce the many varied art forms this community has to offer. Art Walk is on the first Fridays in May and October—visitors can go into 12-15 different businesses, view the art, and have light refreshments. We also have an Art At the Park each year featuring juried art which has been very well received.

Also each Tuesday in July we have Entertainment Under the Stars featuring local bands—folk, blues, swing, rock and roll, and dixieland—with large crowds attending. Here is performer Jim Stout.

Thanks Barb!

Want to win your own signed copy of Creating Great Visitor Experiences? Send me an entry describing an experience you've created, or one you feel deserves recognition. Include 3-5 pictures and a description I can use in my blog. I'll choose the winner from all entries received by September 30, 2007. Experiences from any type of location, nonprofit or for-profit, are welcome.

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