It’s often said that to be the best, you have to learn from the best. This holds true even in the field of customer experience.
Brands today find themselves in a hyper-competitive marketplace owing to the fact that customers have more choices and have upped their expectations.
Delivering truly memorable customer experiences has consequently become harder. But what many companies don’t realize is that it’s not rocket science. You don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel.
Instead, what you can do is simply learn from the best. Observe what some of the most popular and renowned customer-centric companies are doing, and see if you can adapt those practices to your business model.
Doesn’t that sound a whole lot easier?!
But, which companies do you look at? And what exactly are they doing that makes them so special?
In this post, I’ll be taking a look at some companies that exude customer-centricity and what you can learn from them.
An Amazon-owned shoe retailer, Zappos is considered by many to be synonymous with customer-centricity. That’s because the brand is relentless when it comes to delighting customers.
It doesn’t take long to notice how customer-focused Zappos is. Head to their website and you’ll find a prominent top banner that has their call center details. The best part about this banner is that it’s there on all their pages. There’s also a dedicated customer service portal that you can access anytime when you’re on their site. The key takeaway here is that Zappos has made it extremely easy for customers to contact them.
And when customers do reach out to Zappos’ support team, they are greeted by extremely warm and friendly agents on the other side. So much so that you’d forget that you’re interacting with a brand and feel like you’re just chatting with a friend.
Empathy is in abundance for Zappos’ support staff. They make it a point to always place themselves in the customer’s shoes — irrespective of the touchpoint and communication channel. And they’re helped by the fact that the top management empowers them to do what it takes to resolve customer queries. When I say ‘do what it takes’, it’s not a hyperbole. If you’ve heard about the 10-hour customer service call or the time when a Zappos employee delivered pizza, you’d understand how serious they are about delivering customer happiness.
The late Tony Hseih had this to say about Zappo’s philosophy of humanizing customer interactions:
“Most call centers are set up by policies and so the actual person that’s answering the phone doesn’t really have the ability to do anything. If you…call most customer service places, if you ask for anything that’s not normal they have to talk to a supervisor or just say ‘oh our policy doesn’t allow that’ and whatever. So we generally try to stay away from policies, we just ask our reps to do whatever they feel is the right thing to do for the customer and the company.”
Zappos, in many ways, revolutionized customer support – by making it more human – at a time when most companies were looking at it as something transactional.
One of the main reasons for Hilton’s longevity – this chain of hotels and resorts has been around for over a century – has been the emphasis it lays on customer experience.
Hilton’s CX philosophy is quite simple. Empowered and engaged employees = Happy customers.
All new frontline staff are seamlessly onboarded into a culture of “people serving people” that forms the basis for all customer interactions. Chris Silcock, EVP and Chief Commercial Officer of Hilton, terms this concept Service Value Proposition – which means treating your staff the same way you treat your guests.
“At Hilton, we know that how we treat our team members affects how they treat our guests — which is why we are so proud to have been named the #1 Best Companies to Work For in the U.S. by Fortune Magazine the past two years,” said Chris Silcock, EVP and Chief Commercial Officer of Hilton.
The latest numbers, taken from the Great Place to Work Trust Index Survey, show that 93% of employees recommend Hilton as a great place to work.
When you have such happy employees, it becomes a lot easier to delight customers. Consider this scenario where a customer has a special request – wanting a picture of Johnny Utah and Bodhi from the classic movie “Point Break” waiting for him in his room upon arrival.
In most cases, this request would probably be chalked down because there’s no transactional benefit to doing this. But, not at Hilton. Here’s what ensued:
I have asked for this about 15 times.— Mark Nagi (@MarkNagi) July 11, 2018
Well... finally, it happened. Well done, @HiltonHotels... pic.twitter.com/q6gnSRhGrR
Check out the replies to the tweet as well. That’s some great word-of-mouth marketing Hilton got going for them.
Hilton is also known for proactively addressing customer needs. The hospitality brand makes intelligent use of historical data to create personalized experiences for its guests. For instance, if a guest has ordered a particular beverage on two previous visits, the staff ensures that this beverage is kept in the guest’s room in advance the next time.
In the hospitality industry, delivering a great guest experience is only one part of the puzzle. How do you engage with them after their stay? How do you ensure they keep coming back? Customer retention is surely one of Hilton’s strong suits. Through their Hilton Honors loyalty program, the hospitality brand has found a way to keep customers hooked — the program has not only racked up over 60 million users, but has garnered a lot of love from customers.
3. Warby Parker
If there’s a brand that has disrupted customer experience in the eyewear space, it is Warby Parker.
International keynote speaker Steven Van Belleghem attributes Warby Parker’s success to three factors: flawlessly automated interactions, frictionless experiences combined with warm human interventions.
What’s really inspiring about Warby Parker’s story is that they see themselves as more than an eyewear and sunglasses brand. They want to make a genuine difference in people’s lives through the products they offer – which explains why they’re slowly moving into the healthcare segment and offer a pair of glasses to those in need through their ‘Buy a pair, give a pair’ initiative.
That being said, Warby Parker gained a lot of traction for their unique in-store experience. When you enter any of their stores, there’s a greeter right at the entrance, who makes you feel comfortable, and assists you depending on what you’re looking for. First impressions do matter, don’t they?!
The brand also puts a lot of thought into making its in-store experience effortless and friction-free. If you ever head to a Warby Parker store, you’d notice that all frontline staff carry tablets with them — this is to help customers make purchases on the go. You don’t have to stand in long queues and wait for your turn to pay the bill.
Warby Parker’s dedication to improving customer experience is evident in the way it manages customer feedback. When the eyewear brand first started out, the founders wanted it to be an exclusively online platform. But then they received a ton of queries from customers asking if there was a physical store that they could visit to try out the glasses, Warby Parker listened. Today, they have expanded to over 100 stores across the US.
4. Southwest Airlines
Customer experience in the airline industry has always been bumpy (no pun intended). And you can imagine why. Delayed flights, exorbitant ticket prices, extra baggage charges, and unempathetic staff have all contributed to some form of anger and frustration amongst passengers.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. One airline company is setting the gold standard for customer experience and that’s Southwest Airlines.
This is a company where the mindset to delight customers starts at the very top. The late Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest, said that they are in the “service” business, and that they simply happen to fly planes.
It’s no surprise then that Southwest is very diligent about the kind of staff they hire. They hire people who are warm, friendly, and empathetic. The kind of person you are is as important as what’s in your resume.
“We will not hire a person who isn’t friendly but has been in the industry for 20 years,” says Teresa Laraba, Vice President Ground Operations at Southwest Airlines.
A good portion of Southwest’s rise to becoming a CX leader can be attributed to its frontline staff. At Southwest, frontline employees are encouraged to take ownership of situations and make on-the-spot calls. As long as it’s within reasonable limits.
Like once a passenger approached a flight attendant, saying he’s going to propose to his girlfriend. The attendant immediately decided to get a bottle of champagne – without charging the customer for it – and even taught him how to use the intercom. Then another time, a young boy lost his teddy bear on a Southwest flight. In this case, the airline decided to send him a new one. They even built a heartwarming story around how the new teddy bear decided to be with this boy!
At Southwest, company culture is everything, and this culture is oriented towards customer happiness. But the airline also knows that happy customers are a result of happy and engaged employees. Which explains why Southwest’s ex-President and now Senior Advisor, Tom Nealon, meets every single new pilot during onboarding. This not only makes the pilots feel like they’re part of a family but gives them a true sense of what the company stands for and what it expects from them.
Southwest even has a separate department called Culture Services, whose aim is to ensure that the cultural values are upheld across all their locations. One way they do this is through a program called “Culture Blitzes” wherein a team visits an airport and engages with all Southwest employees via fun games, lunch gatherings, and more.
By now, I’m sure you’d have noticed a pattern amongst companies that have built a truly customer-centric culture.
- They empower their employees. They give them the freedom to make decisions for the benefit of the customer
- They leverage technology to build customer context, personalize experiences and predict customer behavior
- They take initiatives to not only create, but sustain such a customer-focused mindset across all levels of the organization.
- They are quick to act on customer feedback and more often than not, are happy to go the extra mile for the customer.
Keeping an eye out on what other brands are doing will give you fresh ideas and insights into how you consistently deliver world-class experiences. Ultimately, we all need some inspiration, don’t we?!