Seven brands that have improved their customers' lives - and how they did itby
From First Direct to the Cleveland Clinic, how do the world's most admired brands make their customers feel cared for?
The most admired companies remove practices that might curb the extension of care, or limit employees to act in good conscience. They work to remove boundaries and pressures that prohibit customer-driven decision making. And they challenge themselves to walk away from practices that aren’t congruent with their values.
They honour the human at the end of their decisions, establish a balanced relationship with customers and partners, and put employees in a position to act at work, like they’d act at home. Like they were raised.
Companies that grow from admiration for improving lives tackle the processes that get in the way of people delivering good experiences. People are trained and invested in. Care is foundational to how they grow. Human needs prompt innovation. Teams unite. The frontline is prepared and trusted to extend grace when warranted. People hired for their values, empathy and ability to make a good decision, and are rewarded for doing just that. They nurture memory creators who take joy in their work. And enable people to thrive.
They take the time to know where it’s hard to be a customer and do the hard work to remove experiences they don’t want customers to have. These are the moments that make it hard to be a customer: waiting, complexity, uncertainty, and sometimes fear and concern. These companies work to show up more humanely where customers have to put in an inordinate amount of time and effort to get what they need. They turn these moments of struggle into ones of reliability, respect, and caring.
These admired companies prove with their actions, that they have their customer’s best interest in mind. This is at the heart of companies that grow most organically, earning ardent admirers. Operating at this level remains elusive until the paradoxical realisation kicks in. Which is that: To achieve your goals, you need to help others achieve theirs.
To take this approach to growth means opening everyone up to a new order of design and decision-making. In practical terms, this means building a ‘peace of mind’ experience for traveler customers or crafting a welcome experience to your services. Building deliberate moments of trust based on customer needs. It goes well beyond “whack-a-moling” problems away – to imagining the people and the emotions and the lives that you serve. Then starting with that – designing those life moments.
Admired companies take the road less traveled to earn honour-bound relationships with customers, partners and employees. They are celebrated because they overturn or resist one-sided business practices. These companies are choosing to reverse the trend on business practices that have defined their industries. They establish balanced relationships where both sides win, where both customer and company are better off because they are in each other’s lives. They honour customers as assets. They work to flip “Gotcha!” moments to “We’ve got your back” moments. They applaud accountability. They practice reciprocal trust. They seek for customers to prosper.
These companies grow through:
1. One action can open the door.
For example, The Cleveland Clinic’s began with a commitment, accompanied by an investment in training and communication, that everyone in the organisation was considered and given permission to act as a “caregiver.”
Years of actions later, that built upon that commitment, they are rated the number two hospital in the United States by US News and World Report.
2. Actions for hiring and development set the tone.
Admired companies craft deliberate and well-orchestrated to hire people with values and behaviours in sync with their own. Pal’s Sudden Service, a drive through restaurant based in Tennessee with 26 stores enlists a 60-point psychometric survey to decide if the teenagers who will deliver food to your drive-in window or make your burger will sync with the values of the company and team they will join. They then receive over 120 hours of training and ongoing mentoring.
Their turnover is one-third the industry average, and they have lost just seven general managers in thirty-three years. Pal’s enjoys one of the highest revenue per square feet in the quick serve restaurant industry.
3. Human and mindful actions create joy.
The most admired companies take actions to enable their people to take spirited actions, to be authentic in their personality, and to just be real and human. First Direct Bank took the action to have a human available every day 24/7. And the humans you reach have your back, and permission to do what’s right for you. Every person customer’s reach is trusted to change processes, procedure and policies to improve their situation. 92% of First Direct Customers commit that they would recommend the bank to someone else.
4. Acts of trust are necessary.
Lemonade Insurance took the action to have claims fulfilled first, by having people film and sign an “honesty pledge.” On the Lemonade App you chat with Lemonade’s bot “AI Jim” who first asks about what happened and why the claim. Next he asks you to sign the “Honesty Pledge” on the app – vowing not only to Lemonade, but also to the other members in this with you, and the charities who benefit from fairness in reporting.
Finally, this oh-so-smart company asks you to look them in the eye, and record a video giving the reason for your claim. Less than a year after launch, they published a blog post that shared that Lemonade had captured 27% of policyholders who are newcomers to insurance in their current limited New York market area. There is power in truth and trust.
5. Actions that give clarity of purpose multiply.
REI generated an estimated 6.7 billion media impressions as it fearlessly closed its doors to encourage everyone to #OptOutside on Black Friday. Starting with the simple question, “How do we want to show up during the holidays?” – REI’s purpose steered them easily to this action heralded the world over, and recently winning the highest honour at Cannes – the Titanium Grand Prix. Over 700 companies banded together in their movement, and hundreds of state parks offered incentives to get people moving and out on Black Friday. Financially, REI continues to grow, where its comparable competitors are struggling.
6. Acts of fairness earn word of mouth and growth.
Virgin Hotels decided to act with fairness, by eliminating nickel and diming at their hotels. There is no charge for wifi. “Bandwidth is a right, not a revenue stream,” Virgin communicates to customers. You also won’t get pinged for room service fees or add on service charges. And there are no fees for early or late check-in. What’s getting them most word of mouth and buzz is their “street pricing” mini bar items. They won’t penalise you for that hunger strike in the middle of the night by charging you ten times what you could get at the corner market. What you’d pay there, they charge you in the room.
“We shouldn’t feel like ‘we’ve got you,’” Leal says in rebuffing fees customers often feel imprisoned by at other hotels. After only its first year of business, the Virgin Hotel in Chicago was named the number one hotel in the United States by the Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Awards. Conde Nast also named the Virgin Hotel in Chicago to the sixth spot of the top fifty hotels in the world.
7. “High road” acts earn advocates who grow the business.
The Columbus Metropolitan Library took the action to get rid of late fees. They want kids to meet their summer reading goal, not worry about those ten cents a day fee. The first library in the United States to do this, their action focuses the organisation back to their mission. There is a bit of tracking – you’re asked to get that book back in twenty-eight days. Reasonable. Automatic renewal has been put in place so instead of calling your book late, it is renewed back to you. The library actually now gives you ten renewal periods to get back that book – so think of that as 280 days of grace. Because of this act and many other, Columbus Metropolitan Library, is one of the most progressive and acclaimed libraries in the United States. (Watch an interview with Alison Circle, chief experience officer of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.)
In our lives, we remember the companies, the people and the times when we were honoured…as a friend, as a partner, as a customer. Two-way trust, open and honest communication and fearless sharing are cornerstones of the relationships that come to mean the most to us.
These feelings hold just as true in the relationships we have with the people we hold dear in our lives, as the people that we do business with.