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United Airlines Dragging Incident: Rules vs. Guidelines


We've all seen the video of the doctor, who didn't want to be bumped from a UA flight, being dragged and bloodied by security.

It was a public relations disaster for United Airlines, and drew a strong reaction from the public.

It didn't help that, before the incident, United didn't have much goodwill banked with flyers, because of their reputation for poor customer service.

There were several points during the chain of events where this incident could have been prevented:

1. United knew that the crew to be transported to Louisville was in route to the airport before they boarded. They could have gotten volunteers to give up their seats before boarding. Instead, they let passengers board and didn't try to bump anyone off until the crew actually reached the gate.

2. Why didn't they offer more money until someone gave up their seat.

3. When they randomly picked the doctor, he was ready to go until he found out there were no more flights that day. He then said he didn't want to give up his seat because he had patients to see the next day. At that point, why did they not pick someone else randomly. Doctors deal with life and death cases–they should have just assumed he had a good reason.

I think it comes down to a training issue: Rules vs. Guidelines

Airlines are very much into rules, which spell out exactly what to do. No interpretation or judgement. Now, this is very important for airline safety. For example, it is good that even experienced pilots use a checklist, so they do not miss any steps.

But, for customer service, well-thought out guidelines should supersede blind obedience to rules.
The difference between a rule and a guideline is that rules apply to one situation, while a guideline can be applied as a template to many situations.

Thus, to run a business only using rules, management needs to anticipate all occurrences in advance. But, with a guideline, they can trust that employees can apply the guideline to any unforeseen incidents.

In this case, a good guideline for United employees: Pretend you were one of the passengers. From a passenger's point of view, how would you have wanted the bumping process to have unfolded?

The Four Seasons' Palm Beach Resort: Real-life Example of Superb Customer Service During Hurricane Matthew


Last week, I was in Palm Beach, at the Four Seasons, for a conference.  I had attended the conference last October, so I knew how great the Four Seasons was, in terms of room and service.

However, this year's conference turned into an adventure. 

Because of Hurricane Matthew, our conference was cancelled at noon of the first day, after the hotel made the decision to close for the safety of guests and staff.

At that point, we were all in a mad scramble to change flights, and find some way home.  Airlines' websites were unresponsive, their hotlines putting us on hold for hours, and flights being cancelled left and right.

It was at this point, under adversity, where the Palm Beach Four Seasons' staff, especially the concierges, really shined.  They calmly worked with us for hours, helping us make arrangements.

When, later in the evening, Palm Beach ordered a mandatory evacuation, the Four Seasons booked all the remaining guests into the Hilton by the airport, and made the transfer seamless.

I, for one, can't wait for next October's conference, and a return.

I've mentioned in previous blog posts that crisis and problems, even though we do our best to avoid them and hope they never happen,  do occur, and they provide the real opportunity for the customer-oriented innovative companies to distinguish themselves from the pack.

Credit Card Fees: Businesses Should Reward Customers, Not Punish Them


There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the Supreme Court agreeing to hear a case about whether local governments can ban merchants from charging fees or surcharges to customers who use credit cards.

This debate is also occurring internationally.  For example, according to the Journal article, the European Union is banning credit card surcharges next year because they say that retailers can't discriminate based on payment method.

However, I think that focusing on the legal issues is missing the larger picture.  From a customer service and innovation perspective, charging customers for using credit cards is a mistake.

Credit and debit payments are the future – whether they are done with "cards", chips, watches, or phones.  Charging an extra fee for the dominate and most convenient payment format will simply drive customers to the competition.

What are some alternatives for merchants?

1. Accept the fee as a cost of business.  Instead, focus your efforts on encouraging your customers to spend more money per transaction.

2. Raise your fees across the board, and offer a discount if customers pay with cash.

3. Offer some other perk (besides discounting) if customers pay with cash.

Never think of punishing a customer, especially when he is actually trying to buy something from you.  Buying should always be a rewarding and hassle-free experience.



I received a customer survey this past week from a very large multi-national organization that was titled “How Are We Doing?” The survey contained about twenty questions sent as an email, likely timed to deliver by an email server after “X” number of days since my initial contact with the organization. How do I know this? Well about thirty days ago almost to the exact day, I cancelled my service with this company.

Kind of makes you wonder how on earth could there be such a disconnect that a customer survey on satisfaction could be sent when I’ve demonstrated the ultimate non-satisfaction — cancellation of service.

It happens though, and far too often.

For those organizations highly engaged in retail service, it’s common to grab email addresses and use them to distribute such surveys triggered by the last point of contact. Problem is an email “system” such as this isn’t connected to reality.

People on the other hand, are.

You’ve heard me rant and rave (as one of my long-term clients describes it!) in the past about the importance of ensuring that “surveys” (I use this term loosely) are conducted on a one-on-one basis, especially with customers.

What does this mean? Well, simply put, you have individuals who are customer-facing ask one or two questions to customers on a frequent basis, populating the information in such a way that you can easily grab it and review it as a team to assess customer satisfaction.

A long-standing client of mine has taken to doing this with their customer service representatives, asking a single question (from a list of five) at the end of each call, then populating the customer’s response into their CRM system, which is then formatted, printed and reviewed at the monthly management meeting.

What do most organizations do? Well, they get concerned with “efficiency” and “productivity,” so instead of instilling a meaningful personal interaction with the customer as described above; they insert surveys at the end of a call (“Sir, would you be willing to participate in a short survey and have your name entered to win an iPad?”). Now that’s personal isn’t it, and about as enticing as eating liver (I’m not a fan).

Who does this? Banks, telecommunication companies, online retailers and insurance companies. Those who are engaged in surveys, in my experience, are often doing them wrong.

Fortunately for some of these companies they have a conglomerate on their market.

Here is the better approach (broken out from my example above). Give this a try this week and let me know what kind of responses you get. I’m confident you will be surprised.

  1. Identify five key questions you’d appreciate input on from your key customers (email me at if you’d like an example).
  1. Identify where answers can be populated and later be accessed for formatting. Is there a common area in your CRM system or possibly a simple excel sheet will do.
  1. Identify who will ask these questions? (e.g. Customer service, Sales, Service Technicians).
  1. Set some realistic targets. How many questions could be asked without irritating the customer and delaying their response times or productivity? I typically suggest 2-3.
  1. Introduce this as a pilot with a small test group. Demonstrate what you’d like them to do by calling a customer yourself and populating the information.
  1. At the end of this week have someone pull together, sort, and prioritize the information, then sit down and review it with your senior management team. Assign actions (e.g. customer follow ups, changes in process, etc.) based on most important or critical feedback. Track everything else for trends where it seems off or less disturbing.

And there you have it. A consistent means to collect and act on relevant customer feedback on an ongoing basis without annoying the customer, or seeming like a disjointed and disconnected organization, such as that in my example above.




I recently called several utilities in order to confirm an address change as we prepare to move in a few weeks. I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences, calling your local cable provider or electric company in order to make changes.

What I found most interesting about these exchanges was that there were three factors influencing my decision as to whether I stay with the carrier or cancel my service and move to their competition.

Most interestingly, none of these factors had anything to do with the quality of their service.

This doesn’t excuse poor service in any way, of course, but in contacting my “supplier” of sorts, my willingness to remain on hold for extended periods of time, practice patience as the customer service representative asked for information I’d already provided, and generally avoid sounding as if I was annoyed resulted from three specific factors I experienced during the interaction:

  1. How quickly my call was answered.
  1. The tone of voice used by the individual answering my call.
  1. How quickly I was able to leave the call with my questions answered (and no additional work for me)

These same three factors came into play when I was using a chat service, and of course when engaging in an email exchange.

Reflecting on this a bit I realized that virtually all of my clients have customer facing roles (sales, marketing, customer service, shipping, accounting) that interact with customers over the phone, via chat, or through email, and that these same factors are critical to each role, regardless of the intention as to why they might be calling a customer.

So if I was to turn this around for a moment, I would ask you:

How quickly are your customer facing roles answering or returning customer (existing and new) inquiries?

Are your employees who deal with customers aware of how to best speak to a customer? The tone of voice, practicing patience, and smiling while they speak?

Are you aware of how long your employees take to deal with customers when they are interacting? Do they know that it’s okay to respond to an unusual question with “That’s a great question! I’d like to look into this further and get back to you before the end of today, what’s the best number to reach you at?”

In today’s fast-paced world, there is nothing more important than cherishing your customers’ time, and by practicing and improving in each of the three areas above you are sure to set yourself (and your business) apart from your competition.

Call it the, “How we say it,” competitive advantage.




We recently moved, and this having been my fifth time moving in ten years, the process of packing, moving, and unpacking went relatively smoothly. You might say we’ve mastered the art of moving… Although my wife would rather we not.

Although the move itself was quite predictable, the obstacles and issues presented by my internet provider Rogers were not. Don’t get me wrong, I always expect there to be some sort of issue, and regardless of who my provider is they never seem to fail in satisfying this expectation.

But this time it was different.

We had scheduled our internet connection for last Sunday based solely on the availability of a technician, and in the days leading up to the connection we received two automated phone calls and an email reminding us to be ready.

At 10:45am on Sunday morning we received a message that our installer was sick, and they had in turn rescheduled our installation for Monday afternoon.

Being doubtful, I called Rogers on Monday morning to find out that the appointment was in fact on Tuesday. (You simply can’t make this stuff up!)

When the installer finally showed up, I relayed the story. He shook his head and said, “No, no one was sick. They schedule me in the area when they have a full day of work because I drive in from out of town and my schedule wasn’t full until today.”

So Rogers lied to me? Unfortunately I’ll never know for sure, but I’ll give you one guess as to who won’t have our business when our renewal comes up later this year.

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience at some point, but rather than reflect on it I’d like you to think about your business for a few minutes. How many times have your customer deliveries or appointment times been rescheduled as a result of something that, had the customer known, would not have made them happy?

I’ll bet it’s happened more times than you know.

For every customer whose needs aren’t met, what do you think the impact is on your business? Loss of revenue; loss of the customer; a bad reputation?

In fact I suggest that of the last five customers who decided to no longer buy from your business, there was likely a reason that you aren’t unaware of.

But what if you made it a policy to personally connect with (or have one of your executives connect with – via telephone) every significant customer that decided to leave? That’s right, someone has the sole responsibility to reach out and speak with customers who leave, if not to convince them to come back, at least to find out the real reasons they left. By “reach out” I’m suggesting that you can’t…

Send them an electronic survey.

Send a form email asking them to come back.

Send them new marketing material suggesting they return.

Promote to them that you’ve improved your product or service, when you haven’t.

It’s likely that the only way you’ll ever determine why your customers left, is to take on the responsibility of understanding what caused them to leave.

With this information in hand, you’ll be well equipped to determine what changes are necessary to stop customers from leaving. More importantly, you’ll identify discrepancies in information provided by your employees that may be pushing customers away for more reasons than you know.

Don’t let your service technician or shipping clerk be the one to tell your customer the real reason you couldn’t satisfy their needs.




I had to drop my car off at my local dealer this past weekend due to a highly annoying squeal in the brakes. I gave very little notice but fortunately they squeezed me in. When I arrived to pick the car up they had take the wheels off, done a few things (that I would likely explain incorrectly) and said everything should be good now. I went to pay and the service technician said, “oh don’t worry about that, this one’s on the house.”

Having purchased four cars from this dealer in the past five years you might think that they owe me this favor, but having received this kind of “on the house” treatment nearly a dozen times, I can tell you that it’s how they operate.

This type of behavior is the very reason that this dealership is the fastest growing dealer in our area, despite only being around for less than six years. You see it’s not about the quality of parts, or how well they fix the car, it’s about the experience.

Don’t believe me? Have you ever hung up the phone on a telemarketer; left a restaurant without eating, or left groceries in the cart and marched out of the grocery store because of a bad experience with someone working there? I have, and I’ll bet you have as well.

You might think that with consumers spending more time purchasing products online that price and availability are more important than experience, but if this is the case, you’d be wrong. I know dozens of people who’ve had one bad experience with an online retailer, never to frequent their website again. This is why companies like Amazon and Zappos focus so intently on creating a responsive and positive customer experience.

What we need to be cognizant of is the experience our employees are creating (or not creating) for our customers. This moves beyond providing some simple customer service training and extends to ensuring that each and every employee understands what customers demand, how their role impacts these demands, and what they can do to maximize the value of each and every interaction, whether direct or indirect.

Back in 2009, United Airlines broke Dave Carrolls’ guitar, something he witnessed as his precious instrument was being tossed around. After speaking to several customer service agents, and following the retrieval of his broken guitar, Dave decided to write a song. You can find it on YouTube titled “United Breaks Guitars.” It’s really no big deal though, it’s only at 15 million views as I write this…

You see, a bad experience is personal, and in today’s day and age people take to venting their frustrations publicly through social media.

If you are loosing customers today it’s not your price, it’s not your products, it’s the experience the customer is receiving… or not receiving.

How can you improve your customer’s experience?


Access the Total Value of Your Client List


When it comes to generating sales, there’s one source that tends to get overlooked: the client list. I am constantly amazed at the number of sales professionals and companies that do nothing to encourage repeat sales, up-sales and cross-sales within their own customer list.

As I write this, many of my clients are struggling with what they can do now to ensure they finish their selling year at or above target. My message to you is this: go back to your current client list.

Repeat sales are more profitable than new sales. Why? For starters, repeat sales are faster. Your customers already like you and trust you. That’s why Chapter 10 of my book, Non-Stop Sales Boom, is completely focused on relationship building to ensure you’re capturing as many repeat sales as possible. 

The sales rule of thumb is that a list loses 10 percent of its value each month of absent contact. So, 10 months of no contact with your clients means your list is worth nothing — and you might as well cold call. Relationship neglect results in many sales losses, including seduction by competitors and the loss of referrals, which over time can result in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses for your business.

Your list is as valuable as the quality of the relationship you have with those clients and their perception of that relationship. To sell more to your current clients you must transition your thinking from "customer list" to "building a relationship with my customer."

You can create a profitable relationship with your customers using the following six components:

1. Ubiquity:Recent studies from the Information Marketing Association show that your current clients can tolerate up to 200 contacts per year before they’ll ask you to go away. But that’s only if you provide a variety of touch points. You can't call a customer 200 times a year without landing on the do-not-call list. You can, however, call, email, mail, use LinkedIn, send them to your web page, pod cast and Youtube channel; make contact at tradeshows, conferences and networking events; do face-to-face sales calls, and use article placements in trade journals. The reason customers can withstand up to 200 touches per year is because smart sales people know it makes a difference to mix up the media types they use to contact customers.

2. Frequency:How often are you in touch with your clients? Regardless of whether 200 touches is specifically appropriate for you, don't let the number cloud the real message: you’re likely not doing enough. In my work, most companies and sales professionals feel that if they reach out four times per year, they are stalking the client. I believe that 26 is the minimum number of touches required per year for a truly profitable relationship. Using the first component, Ubiquity, you can build strong relationships with your clients by delivering valuable information on a regular basis using a variety of media types. Once every two weeks is a good target that won’t be overwhelming to clients.

3. Consistency:All 26 touches should arrive as expected and anticipated on a regular schedule. Consider sending a monthly email, along with a monthly hard copy newsletter, at two-week intervals. You could also advertise a free monthly web or tele-class for your clients on product training or business topics complimentary to your products. Trust is built with consistent behavior over time. If you consistently and reliably deliver your message to your clients it will demonstrate you can be trusted to deliver what you said, when and how you said it. Clients don't like surprises. They like results.

4. Trust:In order to build a trusting relationship with your clients you must maintain constant contact with them without lapse or interruption. What do you think would happen to the relationship with your spouse if you didn't come home one night, didn't call, didn't email or attempt contact, and then arrived home unexpectedly three months later? When you don't call your friends for weeks at a time, does your relationship grow stronger or weaker?

I’ve often thought that sales relationships are similar to dating. In both cases, it takes ongoing communication to build trust. If you don't contact the person you’re seeing at regular intervals, they’ll move on to someone else. Likewise, if you neglect the clients on your list, they’ll build a relationship with someone else instead (i.e. your competitor.)

5. Appeal:Be entertaining and friendly, yet professional. Remember that all selling (B2B and B2C) is about selling to humans. Your clients want to laugh, have fun, and be entertained. (Just don't go too far or you sacrifice your message.)

Which airlines, for example, command the most customer attention during the pre-flight safety announcements? Southwest and WestJet? Or the more traditional airlines such as American, United, Air Canada, and US Air? Southwest and WestJet have the most appeal; they’re more engaging because they make the announcements fun and friendly while still being professional.

Another step for being appealing to clients? Make sure that every contact attempt you send is worth opening, reading, and acting on. For instance, an industrial supply company recently distributed invitations for their annual charity event to all of their customers. The majority of invitees said no but dozens said yes. And many asked for a follow-up appointment to revisit their product mix and to add products.

6. Exceptional: This doesn’t mean using the best paper and the most expensive pen. It means being sure to include information, education, entertainment, and other interesting "stuff" that is relevant and valuable to your clients — delivered from an interesting person: you. Don't just "pitch" your clients each time you reach out to them. Share interesting ideas, your favorite books on business, and your thoughts on articles they might find useful. Remember that you are a human, selling to a human.

Using the six components above as your guide, it’s now time to try the following strategies as part of your 26-touches-per-year plan:

  • Thank you card (hand written, personalized, and not on corporate stationary)
  • Publishing or sharing an article on LinkedIn
  • A case study sent in the mail
  • Weekly video tips for using your products
  • Invitations to seminars — live or on the web
  • Advertising specialties, sent as a thank-you, that your clients will want to use, such as pens, mouse pads, calendars, etc.
  • Podcasts or client interviews
  • Company anniversary cards
  • Invitations to trade shows and conferences
  • New product announcements (separately or in a newsletter)
  • Market reports or analyst reports
  • White papers

How will you know when you’ve succeeded in accessing the total value of your client list? When your customers routinely go to you first instead of to other providers. And when they readily refer you to others. This will, in turn, create more sales, more acceptance of regular communication with them, and more action on your promotions and offers.  




I had the good fortune of having an attentive hygienist clean my teeth this past week. Her approach to cleaning teeth was more sensitive than some previous hygienists I’ve had who seem determined to scrape my teeth until I tap out or pass out. Okay, that last one has only happened once, but I blame the anesthetic.

What struck me more than the care and concern the hygienist placed on my comfort, was how different employees in similar roles can be, and the significant influence this can have on the customer’s (or in this instance, the patient’s) experience. Despite having the best equipment, a comfortable chair, a TV and even some soothing music, the experience my dentist attempts to create all comes down to the experience his employee’s create.

Do you have employees in your business that interact with customers? Logically sales and marketing come to mind, but what about your other employees? What about accounts receivable, engineering or administration? These roles typically have a direct relationship with customers, meaning that they will contact customers periodically as part of their roles.

Do your employees in these roles understand the influence their attitude, tone, patience and understanding can have on customer satisfaction and experience?

What about employees who have an indirect influence on your customer’s experience? This could be someone who is driving your delivery truck, or performing onsite service for your customers. Possibly you have people manufacturing products that are supplied to your customers.

If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions and feel confident that your employees, those who have both a direct and indirect impact on your customers truly recognize the importance of their role on helping to retain customers and grow your business, then you’re ahead of the curve.

If on the other hand you don’t feel comfortable that your employees have made a strong connection to your customers, then here is what you need to do: Take some time during the next week to interact with your employees to build awareness. Better yet, call a town-hall meeting and educate everyone on the importance of their role in customer satisfaction.

You won’t regret your efforts.

You and I both know that a poor quality product or a bad service experience can make or break a customer relationship. When was the last time you educated your employees on the importance of their role on satisfying your customers?







We Build Relationships Chalk Illustration

This past week I began working with an organization to empower their sales and marketing. We spent time reviewing their existing processes, their customer empowerment strategies and the autonomy of their employees in pursuing and interacting with prospective customers.

I’ve found that the most critical piece that’s often missing is the lack of focus and effort placed on customer capitalization. What’s interesting is that quite often I hear that marketing is the most critical component to new business acquisition, and although true to an extent, customer capitalization is a much more cost effective and less labor intensive means to growth for both existing and new accounts.

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In this week’s video I discuss how to apply customer capitalization in order to dramatically grow any business. Learn my favorite techniques to create rapid growth and stronger customer relationships.

Click here to watch the video.


Question: How are you using customer capitalization as a component in your business growth strategy?

Looking for more ideas on how to empower your customers? Grab a copy of my new book “Operational Empowerment: Collaborate, Innovate and Engage to Beat the Competition” available from Amazon.



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