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Friday, November 17, 2006

Hugs or Relentless Customer Focus!

Jack Mitchell and Pamela Miles extended a huge hug to me in response to A Good Hug is Worth and invited me to visit them. So, on September 21st, I went to Richards of Greenwich, CT and spent an inspiring morning experiencing firsthand the power of hugs!

Jack Mitchell - if you remember - is the author of Hug Your Customers and CEO of Mitchells/Richards/Marshs. Pamela Miles is his most gracious Director of Business Development, and an excellent 'hugger'!

Everyone I met was intense and focused. I arrived early in the day on a Thursday. The weekend was ahead and the pace was about to get much busier. The sales associates were relaxed, interactive, but busy. Busy doing followup with their key customers. Busy getting product together for upcoming customer meetings. No one was lounging about!

From reading the book and hearing Jack's speech, I knew that database systems were important to the tracking of customer information and I was curious to see the 'playbook'. Well, the playbook is essentially a printout of information that captures the play cues for the week: who to call about birthdays or a golf outing, or a special trunk show. Whose garments would be ready for pickup, for alteration... In essence, the golden nugget reminders to followup with key customers based on information gathered from previous interactions [i.e., this is the Client Accumulation Program - inspired by Michael Yacobian who works with Nordstrom on training], sales history, new product arrivals, etc... Each person had his or her own style for making use of those nuggets. That part didn't matter. What did is that the organization empowered its folks to focus ruthless attention on their customers and then got out of their way.

What a concept! To have the organization do the tedious detail work so the associate can shine with the customer, using technology to automate the non-value added work by taking chunks of data and turning those into meaningful and actionable bits of information. [A wonderful resource - Blue Lacuna - has helped us do some of that.]

This retail organization uses the retail cycle to its advantage. More specifically, we all know that peak retail times are during the weekend. Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be yawners; things get a bit more active on Wednesday; on Thursdays things start chugging along and then - bang, it's Friday, watch out for the weekend! Well guess when Richards/Mitchells/Marshs conduct many trunk shows or special events? That's right - on the slow days. The day before my visit [i.e., Wednesday] Richards had had a special Italian chamber of commerce event. It yielded great results!

Given the hug strategy, consider this 7/28/2006 article from Business Week online titled Ruthless Focus on the Customer by Jeneanne Rae. It discusses how critical the customer experience is in ensuring loyalty, profitability, referrals and brand zealotry.

In addition to referencing "Moments of Truth" [a concept that Disney focuses relentlessly on; i.e., all of those critical points of consumer interaction where -if any one goes badly- she can choose to leave you], Rae addresses "Brand Values" ["In a world of competing alternatives, brand values provide the guidance and constraints for creative teams to design appropriately." ], "Technology & People", "Co-Creation" ["The next level of value for product and service companies is not only mass customization, but co-creation of the entire experience." ], an "Eco-System Approach" [i.e., think how Apple has put a personal entertainment delivery system [a.k.a. iPod] into so many consumers' hands by reinventing the whole category and experience], and "Start With the Customer". Think about and like the consumer, experience what the customer experiences, and try Walking in Her Shoes: the insights will be priceless!

In the "Technology AND People" section, the article refers to the role of technology in enabling ruthless focus on the consumer: Link information-technology strategy with human-resource models to create mass customization. ... we have found that companies whose systems are turbocharged to deliver sophisticated insights regarding customer behavior and lifestyles have an edge in developing great customer experiences... to drive better, more personalized, experiences for customers, and more profit for the corporation at the same time. Studies have shown the highest return on operational investments comes from fostering repeat customers—making training, and incentives for front-line staff of critical importance.

Good advice, right? Well, also totally practical. That's what makes the Hugging Strategy so powerful. It's ruthlessly and relentlessly focused on the customer. Any action that isn't about the customer has no reason for being. It is ALL ABOUT THE CUSTOMER!

Yes, you do need information systems [your brain and a manual tickler system will go so far] to empower your people, to arm them with knowledge and make them smarter and quicker and more thoughtful than normal. But, that information MUST be about the customer. Your brand value represents your commitment to your customer's experience and how consistently you implement that day in/out. If you are serious about your customer's experience, you will even encourage her to customize her experience with you [a.k.a. co-creation]. Pamela shared the example of a valued customer caught between a rock and a hard place with work obligations and needing to go shopping for her daughter. Her Richards sales associate solved the matter by taking the daughter shopping. Wow! I bet that customer is not only loyal beyond belief as a result, but has also told everyone she knows!

Maria Palma at Customers Are Always captures these actionable and practical 10 Ways to WOW Your Customers. They are all about showering your customer with hugs. As you consider all of the retail choices that your consumer faces, how will you choose to differentiate your retail experience? How will you demonstrate your unflagging, ruthless and relentless commitment to her experience?

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