Top CEOs Share Their Best Practices For Exceptional Customer Service

Here is an article on Leadership from Forbes CEO series by Robert Reiss, Host of the CEO Show

Read this to see how seriously CEO’s take their Customers and the ideas that emanate. Simplicity, going back to basics, and just doing things right, much of which does not cost anything. It is simple!

As always, if you need help, contact………

Gautam Mahajan
President-Customer Value Foundation
Mobile: +91 9810060368
email: mahajan.g@customervaluefoundation.com

As corporations seek new ways to connect with customers, I set out to uncover insights from some of the top CEOs. Interestingly what emerged are some unexpected answers, like the value of simplicity and the power of the handwritten letter – both of which have elevated in importance in a complex fast-moving digital world.

Specifically, on June 7, 2012 I held a discussion with three CEOs who are leaders in connecting with customers: Bob Evans, CEO, Churchill Downs which hosts the seminal customer event with over 165,000 people — The Kentucky Derby; Dan Hesse, CEO, Sprint Nextel who The American Customer Satisfaction cited as the #1 most improved service company in America over the past 4 years in their evaluation of 47 industries; Tom Fricke, CEO, HMSHost, a 115 year old brand with 34,000 employees who serve over 1 million customers a day through the ownership and operation of most major retail and food & beverage at roadsides and in airports. My co-moderator was Ron Frank, who heads up internal strategy at IBM.

How have you changed your business around customers?

Bob Evans, Churchill Downs: “Five years ago or so our business was 100% horse racing from six thoroughbred racetracks, and we had little information about our customers because it was mostly cash-based, live wagering. Now we’ve diversified. We’ve built a regional casino, bricks-and-mortar gaming business and we’ve built an online gaming business. Because of our online growth now virtually every click provides information and we know a lot more about our customers than we ever did. This has helped us do more things directly with our customers and has helped drive our financial success.”

Dan Hesse, Sprint Nextel: “In the past four years, we’ve intentionally eliminated 85% of our rate plan combinations or choices. Customers like simplicity and they’ll pay a premium for simplicity.Steve Jobs focused on taking features out of devices and products. We’ve found that strategy works.”

Tom Fricke, HMSHost: “Virtually everybody in America has gone through an airport and has been a customer of ours even though they may not realize it. We have learned that many people like being at their gate in advance.  So we’ve just created a new app which we’re testing at a few airports called, ‘B4 You Board’, which allows people to pre-order food from restaurants in that particular terminal and have the meal delivered to them at their gate or schedule to pick it up. Our mobile app is just one example of HMSHost’s, and our parent company, Autogrill Group’s, innovative approach to enhancing the travel experience for people on the move.”.”

What’s on your customer dashboard?

Dan Hesse, Sprint Nextel: “I have three: churn, meaning customers who leave, the number of calls to customer care, and customer satisfaction surveys.”

Tom Fricke, HMSHost: “I have two: Our monthly mystery shop scores, and capture rate which for us is measuring the percentage of the people walking through a terminal who are actually stopping and engaging with us.

Bob Evans, Churchill Downs:  “Just one: market share. It’s the relevant market for each one of the businesses, so for our casino in Greenville, Mississippi, I care about how we’re doing in that market.”

Anything special you do to connect with customers?

Dan Hesse, Sprint Nextel: “Handwritten letters. I know it’s kind of old fashioned, but I think in today’s digital world customers notice and appreciate that we take time to write letters to them. One employee and his team started a letter-writing campaign, thanking customers based upon their longevity. They would do it every Thursday, and it’s now mushroomed, and it’s become “thank you Thursdays” company-wide. Our employees sit down with a list of customers, which includes something about the customers, like how long they have been with Sprint, and they handwrite letters thanking the customers for doing business with Sprint.”

Tom Fricke, HMSHost: “We have a secret shopper program where  we will visit every unit in every airport at least once a month with a secret shopper and we get feedback on such simple things as the person behind the counter looks me in the eye, smiled and said good morning or good afternoon.  All of our efforts are focused on making the traveler’s day better, a aim to which all HMSHost associates aspire with every customer interaction.  Our Five Star Customer Service standard reinforces and measures this commitment to making the traveler’s day better.  We set a target score for the year to track our performance and progress.  As CEO, I review all comment cards, positive or not, and recognize associates whose exceptional performance merits special distinction.  Beyond just the scores, Five Star is designed to focus our associates on friendliness with the guest.”

Bob Evans, Churchill Downs: “What’s important is the broader concept of everyone going above and beyond for our customers. So personally, I try to find seemingly trivial things to do for customers because if the organization sees me doing that, there’s nothing too small for them not to worry about as well. Here’s one example that comes up all the time at Churchill Downs. People don’t know how to get from where they are to where they want to go at our huge property. It’s very large and confusing so I can tell them, or I can take them and I look for fortunes to take them because that reverberates through the whole organization. If I’m willing to take them for the next 15 minutes from here to there, then anybody can do that.”

What characteristics lead to exceptional customer service?

Tom Fricke, HMSHost: “I would say attitude and integrity.”

Dan Hesse, Sprint Nextel:  “I think empathy and a drive for excellence.”

Bob Evans, Churchill Downs: “I love people who are just unwilling to stop until it’s right, whatever that is, they don’t stop until it’s right.”

What are some additional insights about service?

Tom Fricke, HMSHost: “A traveler’s most important impression or experience often comes from customer service—that personal contact with our sales and wait personnel.  We strive to make our guests feel not just important but genuinely welcome. With all the move toward and the discussion around social media and the ability for customers to comment immediately on Twitter and Facebook and all the other elements, the most impactful thing that I do is go visit our operations to personally engage with associates, and the second most impactful thing are handwritten notes to highlight and praise excellent customer service in action.”

Bob Evans, Churchill Downs: “I think increasingly products and services are being customized to what the customer wants. Simpler is better than complex but in the end the customer wants what they want. At the Kentucky Derby this year as example, we had 165,000 people over 147 acres. We have a very diversified crowd from the private jets and limos in designer clothes to half dressed in the infield swilling beer and sliding in mudslides. So we design customer experience by location and what specific customers are looking for.”

Dan HesseSprint Nextel:“Three thoughts. First, Great customer service actually costs less because you can save expenses if you don’t have to fix problems or correct wrongs. Second, the key to great service is employees. We’re focused on empowering all employees to serve customers. I give out a quarterly award we call the “elevator speech” award, which is for non-front line employees, because there’s a 20% chance that anyone our employees meet is a Sprint customer. Third, compensation.  Every person, from me to someone in the mailroom, has their compensation linked to customer satisfaction and simplifying the customer experience.”

So, as I consider the comments from three CEOs who are leaders in the customer experience, it becomes clear that the more complex our world gets, the more value there is in authentic, clear, customer connections. Ron Frank of IBM summarizes, “As organizations become more intelligent, top CEOs are focused on drawing deep insights from customer data making it possible to understand customers and engage with them as individuals.  In parallel, some have leveraged more traditional ways to connect with their customers and the teams that serve them.”


Contact Customer  Value Foundation for help.

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4 Comments on “Top CEOs Share Their Best Practices For Exceptional Customer Service”


  1. Very interesting piece.

    Dr. Govind Hariharan
    Esab India Ltd
    Chief Operating Officer


  2. Thanks for the great article.

    Mr Phil Faris
    Phil Faris Associates
    President


  3. While I eagerly look forward to your articles on account of its insightful & value-added contents, your latest trailing mail has been so far the most interesting read, especially the “characteristics leading to exceptional service” as contained towards the end of the article.

    Thanks for the initiative.

    Mr Ravinder John
    Director – Placements
    Indira college of Engineering
    and Management
    Pune


  4. I must complement you on this write-up. In fact it is the MISMATCH between the ambition and the available resources that drive any CEO to adopting innovative practices such as hand-written letters. It is stretching oneself to reach out to the customer. Everyone knows customer is king. However, the CEOs who stay and empathise with customers are the ones who will call shots. The hallmark of any great innovation is “SIMPLICITY” and who else can highlight this better than Steve Jobs thorugh his pathbreaking iPoD innovation with motto of “1000 songs in the pocket”, ” Any song, three clicks away”.

    Gen. Mhaisale
    Deputy Director
    General Info Tech
    New Delhi


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