Search This Blog

Monday, October 26, 2009

Two Great Corporate Cultures

Most recently I blew off some steam about a problem my wife and I had with Sears, Nordic Track and a third company whose name I don't even know. Since then, we visited our newly married daughter and new son-in-law in St. Louis this past weekend and they were sharing their frustration concerning their brand new, inoperative refrigerator that they had bought from-- guess where? Sears, of course. And the story was eerily similar.

All this got me to thinking about how it must be that Sears had dropped a refrigerator ball in St. Louis and a tread mill ball in Indianapolis for the same family in the same couple of weeks. And the answer came to me. Somehow, Sears has gotten its SERVICE CULTURE in this area all messed up. I understand that Nordic Track knows more about the machines than Sears does. But the company that SELLS you a product should stand behind it and not pawn it off on a third party delivery partner and then expect the customer to do all the legwork when the product doesn't work. And Nordic Track needs to work on its service reps' telephone skills!

I recommend that the folks in charge of customer service for Sears check out two of my favorite books on Customer Service Culture. These books feature two of my favorite companies-- Nordstrom and Southwest Airlines.

THE NORDSTROM WAY by Robert Spector and Patrick McCarthy is subtitled "A Handbook for Implementing Great Service in Your Organization". It begins with an exhortation by a Nordstrom Exec concerning culture: "You can't TEACH culture. You have to LIVE it. You have to EXPERIENCE it. You have to SHARE it. You have to SHOW it" (p. 3).

The book also shares one of my favorite business concepts-- Nordstrom's INVERTED organizational pyramid (p. 124). Suffice it to say that this organizational pyramid puts customers at the top, those who serve them next to the top and the Chairman and the Board at the bottom. Somehow Sears' handling of our tread mill purchase and my daughter's refrigerator purchase didn't make us feel like we were at the top of the Sears chart.

Finally, Chapter 7 is entitled "DUMP THE RULES" and quotes former co-Chairman James Nordstrom on rules: "The minute you come up with a rule, you give an employee a reason to say no to a customer. That's the reason we hate rules." I LOVE THIS!

Southwest Airlines has a great culture that, like Nordstrom, puts customers and employees first. There are two books about Southwest and I recommend them both. The founder, Herb Kelleher, wrote NUTS several years ago. It's a terrific read on culture. That was followed more recently with DO THE RIGHT THING by Kelleher's successor, Robert Parker.

Like Nordstrom, whose overriding rule is "Use good judgmnent in all situations," Southwest has one basic rule, emphasized on page 3 of the new book. "When in doubt, just do the right thing." Southwest tries to do this with their employees and their employees try to do it with the customers. The chapter on how the company treated employees and employees treated customers the week of 0911 is a textbook example of how this works and it might bring tears to your eyes.

Chapter 20 is entitled "Interview for Attitude." The Nordic Track employee I described as "less than empathetic" in my last entry was NOT interviewed for attitude OR somehow his employer RUINED his attitude. Either way, it's not good!

I recommend EVERYONE who cares about his/ her company's service start with these two books-- and don't stop there! Sears and Nordic Track-- you could use these books and more. You have great products and great track records but your culture is breaking down in this former customer's eyes!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sears and Nordic Track/ Process over People

It all started when my wife Rita bought me a Nordic Track tread mill at Sears in Castleton Square. That was Valentine's Day, 2002. Great product. It worked until we decided not to renew the service contract. That's when the frustration began. Two weeks ago (September 30), the tread mill expired.

After several calls to the Sears store, it was determined that we'd have to call Nordic Track. Frustrastion began to build when Sears' computer generated phone system gave us one choice-- the "Fitness Department" and it took several calls with lengthy waits to get anyone to pick up. Bad system to start. It got worse.

When we finally got a human, we were given a toll free number for Nordic Track, who is supposed to service the equipment. I hoped to get the original tread mill repaired. I was told by a less-than-empathetic Nordic Track person that it would cost $155 for a service call (since I was no longer under warranty); THAT THE SERVICE REP. WOULD GIVE ME A NUMBER AND I'D HAVE TO CALL IN THE PARTS ORDER MYSELF; and that it would be another $55 to come back and install whatever. I understood.

My wife and I decided to go back to Sears and get another tread mill, which we did on Saturday and Sunday, October 3 and 4. Sears agreed to deliver and install the tread mill on Thursday, October 8.

I found out on the 8th that Sears contracted yet a third company to deliver and install new Nordic Track equipment. When the delivery team arrived at the very end of the two hour window, they installed the tread mill but it was defective. Either that or the installers didn't know how to do it. The main guy called Sears, put me on the phone with them, then bolted, saying he was late for the next delivery. You guessed it. After he'd left, the Sears Service Rep. informed me I'd have to go through Nordic Track, left me a number and left me hanging.

We tried calling Sears to talk to our salesman but, again, no one in "Fitness" answered several calls. Checkmate! Rita, sensing my utter frustration, took over. Abandoning the effort to reach "Fitness", she asked for the Business Office . No answer. So she called back and asked for the Store Manager (it was 8:00 P.M.). She got a recording but left him a fairly caustic message.

Finally, today (October 14) the people that Sears contracts showed up with a new machine (not the same crew as before) and the tread mill is installed, one week after it was supposed to have been.

Rita's message to the Store Manager said, in part, "We have almost $1100 on our Sears charge with a faulty piece of equipment in our home. We've dealt with Sears, Nordic Track and whatever company you contract. We can't talk to anyone at Sears. I don't usually get angry. Stuff happens. But boy, am I irritated!"

Have you had it up to here with this type of service? If so, let me know about it by replying to this blog. It's time We the Customers fight back!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


One of the big problems in the world of Customer Service today is that too many companies do not trust their employees to take care of the customers. Since the employees are the ones who deal with the customers, not empowering them is the customer service "kiss of death".

Mary Kay Ash, when asked why her cosmetics business had been so phenomenally successful, answered, "I try to hire really nice people and I try to let them be as nice as they can be." Sounds simple but it isn't. Companies must first start with HIRING. And it's hard to find "really nice", competent people. But it's worth the effort for companies like Mary Kay's.

Another great Culture of Service is on display at Nordstrom's. Too many companies specifically and too many industries generally (Google Customer Service Hall of Shame) have too many rules. Nordstrom V.P. James Nordstrom had this to say: "Rules give employees another reason to say 'no' to a customer. That's why we hate rules!" In the book THE NORDSTROM WAY, I was able to find one rule: "Use good judgment in all situations!" Seems like one dandy rule to me!

Here in Indianapolis and in several other mid western cities, Mike's Car Wash sets a terrific Customer Service standard. I've never pulled into Mike's, no matter how hot or cold it was, when the employees weren't very friendly and professional. I know Mike's President Bill Dahm personally and I know his commitment to hiring the best, training them best and finally EMPOWERING them is second to none.

Being able to empower employees means a company has to make a huge commitment in time, money and resources to hiring, training and empowering. And the commitment must be ONGOING. You must constantly remind even the most senior employees that Customer Service must be JOB ONE. It's not easy. You can't empower without paying attention to these basics. "Hats off" to the minority that do. "Brickbats" to the majority who don't!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Short Term Planning Can Kill Service

The unintended results of short term planning? As it relates to Customer Service? In the “macro” view, it is almost always disastrous in this context. Giving good service requires CONSTANT attention and emphasis to the topic of customer service. When companies think in the short term, customer service gets short shrift. It’s not part of the company’s culture—it’s a mere afterthought or platitude.

Want a specific? Let’s talk about product availability in the grocery business. Short term thinking (prevalent in larger, publicly traded companies) demands strict attention to keeping inventory levels at the lowest possible level—especially when that dreaded quarterly inventory comes around. So pressure is brought to bear on Store Managers and Department Heads to lower inventory to levels that will cause excessive (and maddening) out of stock conditions.

The short term result FOR THE COMPANY? Because inventory levels are temporarily low, profits look good. Shareholders are happy (for now).

The short term result FOR THE CUSTOMER? He/she must go to another store to find the product(s). He/ she is probably angry. He/ she is likely to buy more than that one product at the new store. And, since the new store HAD the product, he/ she is more likely to switch his/ her shopping pattern.

The long term result for the company? Likely a loss of a CURRENT customer. Since, to quote Dick Schaaf, “The best customer is the one you already have,” short term thinking and planning and policy are anathema to Customer Service. And very damaging to the long term BOTTOM LINE as well! And that will lead, in the long term, to dissatisfied shareholders.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Return That Phone Call... NOW!

To give great customer service, a company must build a CULTURE OF SERVICE. That’s what the late Joe O’Malia did at O’Malia’s. That culture of service must permeate everything throughout the company. And IT STARTS AT THE TOP. If the boss sets the tone, everyone else will follow. If not, you know how that turns out!

And one of the basic tenets of building a great customer service culture is to teach everyone to return every phone call or e-mail. Not just to return it but to return it UNBELIEVABLY FAST. Because it’s the right thing to do. And because you’ll be one of the few companies doing it, which is truly sad. I don’t know how often I returned a call from a customer in my days at O’Malia’s and the first reaction was, “I can’t believe you actually called me back!” or “Thanks for calling back so quickly!”

How many times have you, as a customer, been ignored when you called a business? What has your reaction been? I get angry and then I tell lots of other people, “Bright House failed to return my call!” See? I just did it again!

When a business returns a call in a timely and helpful manner, it’s done the right thing. It can learn a great deal about how it’s doing for its customers. If the call is a complaint, it’s an OPPORTUNITY to “make lemonade out of lemons.” That increases customer loyalty. And it enhances its CULTURE OF SERVICE. How’s your business at making sure EVERYONE returns EVERY call? If you don’t know, you’d better find out!

What Did My Clients Say?

Very worthwhile…highly recommended to anyone who values customers.” -Julian Peebles, Ruth Lilly Health Education Center

“Thanks again for the wonderful presentation. It was exciting that our employees were fired up and began to think forward and place themselves mentally into some of the situations they may encounter at Victory Field.” -Randy Lewandowski, Assistant General Manager Indianapolis Indians

“…the overall attitude of our management team is much more positive…and the team is much more aggressive in tending to clients ‘and guests’ needs.” -Chuck Lazarra, President, Ritz Charles

“Danny is an excellent presenter who understands the benefit of high quality customer service. He relayed heartfelt stories that translated to our business and reinforced the impact that each of us has on customer service and its effect on our success.” -Doug Ruggles, Corporate Training Director, F.A. Wilhelm Construction Co., Inc.

“Your talk was very insightful and right on point. It also was entertaining and a lot of fun. The points you made were simple but highly effective. Your expertise in the area of customer service was obvious.” -Chad Wilke, Senior Event Coordinator, Indiana Convention and Visitors’ Bureau

“Danny is a delight—so full of energy—you feel inspired after spending just a few minutes with him. And there were several great pearls that I walked away with.” -Pam Bales, Consultant, Benefit Associates

“We have worked with many consultants over the years, but none more energetic than Danny. He worked diligently with us beforehand to model the program to our specific needs… From the President to the newest supervisor, we are all excited to begin implementing what we learned tomorrow morning! …..” -Rick Roberts, Vice President, Engledow Group

“I am also conducting the first Team Leader Training Class tomorrow. With a little help from the Danny O Experience I think it will be a hit! Thanks for being such a great motivator!” -Michelle Nichols, Corporate Trainer, Ossip Optometry

"I know some of you have brought in speakers in the past to inspire your staff. As you probably know, I’m difficult to impress. Well, Danny impressed me. For one thing, he’s one of you and not just another speaker. He made me wish I was working back in the stores. And for you wholesalers, he’s would be a great motivator for speaking to your independents. He got huge applause from the WGA retailers. I definitely see you having some quick payback having him speak." -Dave Livingston, DJL Research, LLC