Monday, May 26, 2008

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

I had a curious experience last week while on my way to facilitate a meeting of Chief Executive Boards International. When we landed in Tampa, the Captain came on the intercom and said "Thank you for flying American Airlines today. We're pleased to have provided another on-time arrival. We're at the gate about 6 minutes ahead of schedule." To someone who has come to regard the spread between actual and scheduled airline arrival and departure times as a somewhat random number generator, it was almost humorous.

To my surprise, however, a number of passengers actually reacted to this announcement. In the jetway, I heard a lady in a wheelchair mention "It was nice to be here early." A number of people apparently processed the terms "American Airlines", "on-time arrival" and "early" together in their heads, and that perception is likely to stick there for awhile.

This experience underscores something I've learned over and over in service businesses. Never assume the customer understands what you're doing for him or the value of the service you're providing. In providing service to building control systems, I learned that our service was far more highly valued when we regularly reported to customers the things we found and fixed on routine maintenance checks, before they became problems that affected the workers in the building.

In the electronics components business, I learned that our customer service representatives (CSRs) needed a place to record the daily "acts of heroism" they accomplished for customers, like finding a some critical parts in a distributor's inventory to keep a production line from going down after a competitor failed to ship on time. We actually built an online database called "What have you done for me lately?" and had the CSRs log the date, a description of the incident, the customer rep's name and a rough guess on the value of that heroic service to the customer's business (production line shutdowns are sometimes calculated in thousands of dollars per minute). This became extraordinarily valuable information in the next year's negotiation of prices on millions of electronic parts averaging about one-tenth cent each (yes, we priced in hundredths of cents). We had something to talk about other than the price of the parts -- unlike our competitors, we were able to put a value on service.

What are you doing to answer "What have you done for me lately?" in the minds of your customers on a regular basis? You see, the point of the American Airlines story is that of 135 people, perhaps 5 might have noticed that the plane arrived ahead of schedule. And those would have probably dismissed it as a part of the randomness of nature.

Instead, one particularly in-tune Captain let all 135 people know that they had arrived on time, and in a way that connected "On-Time", "Early" and "American Airlines". Quite a feat in today's competition for share of mind and brand differentiation.

So, look for ways you can systematically remind customers of "What have you done for me lately?" Maybe it's a post-service email. Maybe it's a short post-service survey (like I get from and Maybe it's a quarterly report of service rendered and results accomplished. It can be done, and it makes a difference in customer retention. What have you done for your customers lately? Do they realize what that is? Is anyone else going to reinforce that with them?

If you have some ways that you remind customers what you've done for them lately, click "Comment" below and share them with us.

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International
864 527-5917

Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

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