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Guest Post by Tom Moran
Principal Program Manager at Microsoft
When you think of a great customer experience, why do LL Bean and USAA immediately spring to mind? What makes JetBlue so much better than United? Why is Apple such a customer satisfaction darling? What explains the difference between Amazon and, well, everybody else? The answer is complex, yet at the same time, simple – it starts with people.
Many people believe that customer experience is the job of a corporate customer experience team. In truth, if a customer experience team exists, it is to align the basic building blocks of a culture, to ensure that every foundational element is strategically aligned and executing towards a common customer-oriented vision. Customer experience itself is the job of every person, from the custodial staff that keep the work environment pleasant to the engineers who design customer experiences (as opposed to building products!), to front line customer service professionals. In every case, great customer experiences start with hiring great people and focusing them through a clear, simple and aligned values-based vision.
One of the customer experience leaders I admire most is Coca Cola’s VP of Design, David Butler. In his TEDx talk, he highlights his design methodology in a very simple way – systems drive behaviors and behaviors drive results. You simply can’t drive long term change in results, without starting with the underlying systems that drive behaviors.
Ron Kaufman, founder of Uplifting Service, highlights this same concept, but in a much more detailed and very practical way. He calls it “building blocks”, and highlights how challenging culture change is when these building blocks are not aligned. One of these building blocks is “Service Recruitment”, and you can read more detail in Chapter 9 of Ron’s book Uplifting Service. For the moment, however, I want to focus specifically on the job description part of recruiting, and answer the question – “Do service recruitment job descriptions really matter?”.
Looking through American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) data, it is easy to identify top customer satisfaction companies in a variety of industries, as well as those that are clearly at the bottom. Interestingly, most of those at the top had something in common – they talked about their values and highlighted customer experience – even when recruiting for technical roles that are not customer-facing. At the same time, most of those at the bottom also had something in common, and even when recruiting for roles that were obviously customer-facing, there was no mention of customer experience, loyalty or satisfaction.
Notice the difference in how a top customer experience hotel chain describes itself vs one of the lowest scoring (according to ACSI).
Marriott (high scoring):
The company operates and franchises hotels under 16 brands, including Marriott, The Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, Bulgari, EDITION, Gaylord Hotels, Renaissance, Autograph Collection, AC Hotels by Marriott, Courtyard, Fairfield Inn & Suites, SpringHill Suites, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, ExecuStay, and Marriott Executive Apartments brand names. Marriott is consistently recognized as a top employer and for its superior business operations, which it conducts based on five core values: put people first, pursue excellence, embrace change, act with integrity, and serve our world.
Wyndham (low scoring):
As one of the world’s largest hospitality companies, Wyndham Worldwide offers individual consumers and business-to-business customers a broad suite of hospitality products and services across various accommodation alternatives and price ranges through its premier portfolio of world-renowned brands. Wyndham Hotel Group encompasses over 7,170 hotels with approximately 608,300 rooms worldwide. Wyndham Exchange & Rentals offers leisure travelers, including its 3.7 million members, access to approximately 100,000 vacation properties located in approximately 100 countries. Wyndham Vacation Ownership develops, markets and sells vacation ownership interests and provides consumer financing to owners through its network of over 160 vacation ownership resorts serving over 813,000 owners throughout North America, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. Wyndham Worldwide, headquartered in Parsippany, N.J., employs approximately 27,800 employees globally.
Marriott is consistently recognized for its excellent service. It is very, very clear what kind of person they are recruiting for, and the values they ascribe to. As a prospective job-seeker, I know that I would be attracted to apply to companies where I know there is a values alignment, where I am likely to be inspired by a vision, like serving the world, and where I have an opportunity to do my best work.
In a different industry, USAA is a financial services company consistently ranked in the top 10 for customer satisfaction, and describes in this way:
Count On USAA. We have a long history of providing great service, which is why we’ve been rated #1 in customer advocacy by Forrester Research. We maintain superior financial strength ratings for banking and insurance. USAA exhibits strong military values based on service, loyalty, honesty and integrity.
USAA Has You in Mind. Because USAA is not a publicly traded company, we don’t answer to stockholders — we answer to our members. You can rely on us to recommend products and services that help meet your financial needs.
It is difficult to find the word customer, much less any documented values, in the recruitment efforts of many of USAA’s competitors.
Clarification of values and customer experience are important not only for customer-facing employees, but also for every colleague who serves a colleague who serves a paying customer. A good example of this is Apple, thriving nicely in a sector where you must look for quite some time to find a competitor who even mentions the word “customer” in their job descriptions.
This recent job description from Apple, for a Technical Program Manager of Thermal Modules (sounds pretty technical, right?), starts with:
Imagine what you could do here. At Apple, great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring passion and dedication to your job and there’s no telling what you could accomplish.
Nobody makes the point – that everyone is involved in customer experience – clearer than Amazon, who ensure their pipeline of candidates believes in their mission and is aligned to the value that everything revolves around the customer. Note the following, from a recent job description for a technical PM. This is the first responsibility listed…there is no question about what Amazon values and expects from its employees.
- Be a guardian of world-class customer experience for your deliverables: continually raise the bar on functionality, flow, consistency, usability, and simplicity.
Further reinforcing this is this description of Amazon at the bottom of all job descriptions:
Amazon strives to be Earth’s most customer-centric company where people can find and discover virtually anything they want to buy online.
Given this, what kind of person will apply, and further, be selected for interviews? Would one expect that during the interview process, this focus on the customer is reinforced? Is it reasonable to expect that the onboarding process at Amazon is also aligned to a value of customer centricity? When a company’s systems, or building blocks, are not aligned in this way, how much time is wasted educating or managing bad hires who are not aligned to company values? Amazon creates a competitive advantage by narrowing its applicant pool to people who are inspired by delivering an amazing customer experience, and then reinforcing those values from first contact and beyond. How much more can a company accomplish when they only need to keep empowering the culture, vs overhaul or dramatically change it?
Companies at the bottom of the loyalty chain often talk about the specifics of their business – #’s of hotels, sales, geographies, etc. Those at the top of the loyalty food chain tend to be very clear about their values, and the importance of customer experience. Or, as Amazon puts it, “working backwards from the customer”.
Keep in mind that this focus on recruitment is only one aspect of creating great customer experiences, only one key “building block” of a superior service culture. But I think it is an important one. It is more effective to adopt Amazon’s example and empower your culture instead of trying to change it. It is most effective to start out right at the beginning, and it is least effective to continue hiring the wrong employees while undergoing cultural transformation. Most companies will be somewhere in the middle. Aside from declaring your commitment to a better customer experience, the next step on the journey might be as simple as asking yourself “What values will prospective employees see as important to our customers, to our company, and to themselves?”.