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Ken Blanchard: How to save your firm from a customer service crisis

14th Oct 2010
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Ken Blanchard explains where firms are going wrong with their customer service strategies - and how to solve these issues.

When Ken Blanchard's influential book Raving Fans hit the shelves back in 1993, the internet was still very much in its nascent stages. While the business management guru's book sermonised on the kind of service excellence that turns a customer into a lifetime customer and advocate of your products or services, few would have guessed that its message would take on even great significance as the internet evolved.
Even Blanchard admits that he has been taken by surprise by the power of the internet as it has matured into Web 2.0.
"Raving fans are people who are so blown away, so amazed by the way that you have dealt with them that they want to brag about you. The research originally said that if you had a raving fan experience you would tell 20 other people. Nowadays you can tell thousands of people!" he says.
“The reason Obama won the last election was because Hillary Clinton and McCain were running 1990s campaigns and he was running a 2010 campaign and he was using social media. So it is an exciting time. And you can really create raving fans online now and it is important."
But while the benefits of raving fans may be greater than ever, thanks to the advocate accelerant of social media, the process of creating fans remains very much the same as when Raving Fans was first written, according to Blanchard, who suggests there are three steps to this level of engagement.
1)      Decide what kind of experience you want your customers to have. "When Jan Carlzon wrote his book Moments of Truth, he said that when he was running Scandinavian Airlines they realised they weren't going to beat the competition because they had better airplanes and they weren't going to beat them on lowest prices, so they thought they would beat them on moments of truth. Moments of truth are any time a customer comes in contact with you in a way that they can get an impression. So you need to go through those moments of truth, those customer touchpoints, and decide what the customer experience should be."
Example: "One of the things I've always hated about airlines is calling them to change a reservation. They say ‘sorry, all of our agents are busy, we'll be with you as soon as we can, you're very important to us'... and then the music starts! With Southwest Airlines, you get the same message but at the end they say 'at the beep, please leave your name and your telephone number and we'll call you back in 10 minutes'. And it just blows your mind. I asked the president of Southwest Airlines how they do this, and she said all the airlines can do it because they're all on the same system. But the point is that they don't think about it, they don't think about the experience."
2)      Discover what the customer wants. "The customer can't create the total image of customer service, they have certain things that they like and don't like. So if you first decide what experience you want your customers to have, then you talk to the customers, then you can decide whether to include that in your whole customer strategy. But you need to listen to your customers."
Example: "I got a letter from an owner of three fast food restaurants who had read Raving Fans. He had a customer strategy and decided to talk to customers. They didn't get a lot of senior citizens in the restaurant so he asked them why they didn't visit more. They said they hated waiting in line, ordering the food, then standing around waiting to collect it. So they said from 4-5.30 in the afternoon, why don't you have staff come out from behind the counter, put tablecloths on the table and wait on the senior citizens, bringing the food to them. They've done this and now you have all these senior citizens in the restaurant. A wonderful example of listening to your customer."
3)      Deliver the experience by empowering your people to make decisions. "The key to customer service is having a servant leadership and there are two parts of this. There is the leadership part – what is our vision; what are our values; what are the goals and all of that. If you want to have a great service culture you have got to have the right top management who understand how important it is and what they're trying to do, and the hierarchy is responsible for that. But once that is done, in order to deliver, you have to philosophically turn the pyramid upside down to do the servant part of servant leadership so that your people are the ones that have all the power and the top management is supporting everyone who eventually goes to the customers."
Example: "Pulling into San Diego airport I realised I had forgotten my official identification. The only book I ever wrote with my picture on it is Everyone's a Coach, with Don Shula, the famous Miami Dolphins coach. So I ran into the airport bookstore and bought a copy and when I was asked for identification by the Southwest Airlines team I said I don't have a licence or passport but I have this – and I show him the book. And he shouts “this man knows Don Shula, put him in first class!” And one of the other guys gets me through security without identification. Now the next airline I went through, I showed them the book again, and they said I had to talk to the ticket counter, and then they directed to the supervisor and before I know it I'm talking five levels up. I tried to say that I flew over here and that it was fine with Southwest and they said 'well you're not allowed to here!' You can't say that customer service is important to your firm and then tie up your staff with lots of rules and regulations."
Service crisis
However far from creating raving fans, businesses are presently struggling to even create satisfied ones. When Blanchard wrote Raving Fans, America was in the midst of a service crisis that left a wake of disillusioned customers from coast to coast. Fast forward to 2010, and there are once again shortcomings - a recent survey in the UK by the Institute of Customer Service found that four out of five consumers believe that customer service standards have declined over the last year.
And to make matters worse, just as raving fans can voice their approval to thousands of contacts across the social web, so they can now also communicate their displeasure if they are unhappy with your brand.
So where are we going wrong with our customer service? Blanchard believes that far from deciding what experience they want customers to have, and listening to customers, businesses are turning their attention to another target.
"What has happened is that the stock markets around the world have caused a major problem because all of these managers are thinking about the bottom line instead of thinking about the customers," says Blanchard. "We've got too many self-serving leaders around the world. Making a profit isn't a worthwhile goal. Profit is the byproduct of looking after your customers, being a good corporate citizen in your community and motivating your people."
And while Blanchard has also spent years emphasising the importance of employees and the empowerment of staff to delivering the customer experience, he concedes that service levels are suffering because many firms are also still coming up short in this department. Ken Blanchard Companies research reveals that less than half of businesses polled say that their customer-facing employees are truly empowered to take action to resolve a negative customer experience. "Profit is a result of serving the customer," he says, "which can only be achieved by serving the employee."
Along with empowering staff to utilise their scope of authority, Blanchard's research has identified three other critical service improvement skills that need to be addressed by businesses:
  • Developing systems and processes that make it easy to do business with the organisation
  • Improving the skills of customer-facing employees to diagnose the customer issue
  • Improving problem solving skills
Strategies such as training, managing performance and creating a recognition culture can all also help businesses develop employees as the organisation's most critical customer service asset. But Blanchard also believes that smart hiring from the outset - identifying those individuals that fit with your company's vision of the experience it wants to deliver to the customer - is also of vital importance.
"Southwest Airlines has three values that it wants its people to engage in every day as they interact with external and internal customers. One is a warrior spirit, which means if you have to do something, do it. Get really involved and go do it. Second, is it wants them to have a servant's heart, it wants you to be more concerned about your people's needs than your own. And then finally it wants staff to have a fun loving attitude. They hire good people and then they ask them to be just as good and nice as they would be to their family to their customers. Because the customers are their family. So I'm not sure that it is as much training that people need as much as hiring good people and committing them to be just as nice and good as they possibly can be."
Blanchard concludes: "People ask me what the key is to effective customer service and I say it is the belief that it is not all about you. You want people who care more about satisfying other people's needs than their own. Find people who really care and have that mindset.
"I had a friend who went to Nordstrom to buy some perfume for his wife but the girl behind the counter told him that they didn't sell that brand. However, she said she knew where she could get it – the mall. So she asked how long he was going to be in the store and said she'd return with the perfume and have it gift wrapped by the time he left. So she got the perfume and charged him the same price she paid in the other store – the store didn't even make any money. But what did they get? They got a raving fan."

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By adrianhalley
14th Oct 2010 18:35

Ken is absolutely right. It's so important to listen to your customers, and it's those "moments of truth" that will define the relationship.

Adrian Halley
CEO, Feedbackify

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By rodneys
26th Oct 2010 12:27

Saw him speak at event in London a few years ago. The audience was hanging on every word. What a legend.

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