Is Your Company Beloved? Here’s How to Be.

The other day, I ran across a business book bestseller list and saw that Jeanne Bliss’ book I Love You More Than My Dog was still on it. I saw Jeanne speak two years ago when her book was first released, and interviewed her for my Entrepreneur.com column. It struck me that her message — how to become a beloved company through customer service — resonates more deeply as time passes. The barriers are lower than ever for new businesses to take over markets, and the strength of customer relationships is often a company’s best and strongest defense.  

Jeanne is an expert in building customer loyalty, and believes it to be the ultimate market strategy. She started her career at a company well-known for customer service, Land’s End. She’s also held senior customer service positions at blue chip companies such as Microsoft, Allstate and Coldwell Banker. Jeanne also wrote Chief Customer Officer, another well-regarded book, which made a phrase mainstream.  

Here’s a bit of Jeanne’s wisdom from her research for the book which included interviews with dozens of companies known for extreme customer service.

Beloved companies have prosperity — both financially and of the human spirit.

In Jeanne’s research, companies with excellent customer service were immune to the recent market swings. They stayed true to their core values and customers kept faith in their brand. They also create a magnetic energy where customers find a way to come back even when economic times are tough.

Small businesses are about memory creation.

Be purposeful about creating “wow” moments for customers that leave an indelible imprint in their minds. You have an opportunity to truly shape impressions. Identify your top 3-5 customers and develop processes to delight them. For example, if you are a dry cleaner, how do you want to greet people when they come in?

Learn to say “I’m Sorry” well.

Jeanne calls how companies apologize their humanity litmus test. Every company makes mistakes. Apologizing is about repairing the emotional connection. Good apologies are proactive, humble, accountable, honest, and include an olive branch to repair the situation. (She discussed a company that sent apple pies labeled “Humble Pie,” for instance.) When beloved companies make a mistake, you know they will make it right.

Rid your company of any process that puts customers on the defensive.

If your customers have to gear up for a fight to get help, question an invoice or return an item, it’s chipping away at customer loyalty. Some of this starts with the people you have interfacing with customers. How do they feel about the customer? Jeanne suggests that employees should be hired based on shared values first and foremost. Ask yourself, “is this someone you want in the story of your business?”

As the leader, be a role model as a customer advocate.

As a leader, you set the tone for everyone else. If you demonstrate a high level of appreciation and trust in your customers, the company will follow. Don’t bad mouth customers or avoid them. Be accessible and respectful both in front of customers and behind their backs. Get together with customers regularly and learn what they want in their own words. Do a company audit to make sure you are consistently creating customer loyalty top to bottom. And be personally consistent in what you say and do around the customer experience.

I encourage you to check out “I Love You more Than My Dog” if you’re interested in building a customer-focused company. The book is filled with examples and creative ideas any entrepreneur can try — many of which aren’t expensive or complex. She also talks about how savvy companies are using social media to strengthen customer relationships, a game changer on many counts.

Beloved companies are all around us. Who doesn’t like to shop at Zappos.com or Trader Joe’s, fly SouthWest, rent movies from Netflix or stop by the Container Store?  We can all identify with how good it feels to be a customer of a beloved company.

Why not try to build one?

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About kristihedges
Executive coach, leadership development consultant, Forbes.com blogger, Entrepreneur.com contributor, author of Power of Presence (AMACOM).

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