Loyal for Life
IN RECENT ISSUES, I’VE FOCUSED ON THE INFORMATION WE’VE GLEANED FROM THE ZINGERMAN’S EXPERIENCE INDICATOR (ZXI), or what others in the business world refer to as the Net Promoter Score. Part of me thinks I should switch to another topic but as the findings keep coming and continue to have a positive impact on our work, it seems critical to share them. So, here is the next two-part installment on how we at Zingerman’s have benefited from putting ZXI in place as the primary measure of the quality of our customer experiences.
The ZXI has provided a measurement tool to help us track and stay more focused on how well we raise every customer’s experience to a level of greatness. Briefly, the measure tracks customer response to the one ultimate question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, (10 being high), would you recommend Zingerman’s to a friend?” Nines and 10s are considered promoters, 7s and 8s are neutrals, and anyone who scores 6 or below is deemed a detractor. (For a detailed explanation on ZXI and the Net Promoter Score, please see the June issue of Specialty Food Magazine, read Fred Reichheld’s book called “The Ultimate Question” or call ZingTrain – 734-930-1919)
Make Happy Customers Even Happier
Our greatest realization from ZXI is that our resources are best invested in taking people who are already big fans of what we do—who are already promoters—and solidifying them as lifetime customers.
Before discovering ZXI, we were putting more effort into making unhappy or marginally satisfied customers happy. That’s important work too, and we do it regularly. But ZXI’s findings have pushed us to gently reprioritize, to work proactively with people who already are, or are soon likely to become, promoters of our business. We call the form where we capture the input of happy customers a Code Green and we call this focus Turning Greens into Evergreens—as in taking these customers to an extremely high level of long-term loyalty, or making them promoters for life.
We’ve provided an alphabet’s worth of ways that we try to accomplish this concept. Most of these techniques are logical and fairly easy to do well. In this article we are covering ten of them, letters A – J. Their commonality is that they’ve helped us to deliver 9 or 10 experiences—service that helps us grow evergreens. With minor adaptations they can work at any level: retail, restaurant, wholesale, in person, on the phone, online, consulting, catering, cake baking and any other avenue of service work.
A – Assess Satisfaction with i-ZXI
Each of us as service providers need to mentally pause part way through each customer interaction and ask ourselves: “If the guest were to leave now, what score do I think she’d give us on a scale of 0 to 10?”
The i-ZXI has been one of the most helpful things we’ve learned. Because we question ourselves before we’ve finished waiting on the guest, we’ve got an opportunity to elevate our work and, therefore, the quality of the experience and the score. For instance, if I realize that, halfway through a meal, a guest is a 7 out of a 10, I know that he isn’t unhappy, but he isn’t going to call every food lover he knows to tell them how great the experience was. But using the i-ZXI, I still have time to take action and get him up to a 9 or a 10. I may give the customer samples of some new items, have a manager or partner come over to say hello, bring balloons to his kids or try other creative ideas to boost satisfaction. That way I help shift the experience from being a 7 to a 9 or 10.
The issues are basically the same if we’re waiting on someone at the cheese counter, selling baked goods, delivering wholesale orders or presenting a cooking class. The key is that we manage ourselves to be as sure as we can that the customer is having an exceptional experience. This technique allows each of us, regardless of seniority, training level or educational experience, to self-regulate in a measurable way what we all intellectually want to do, but too often don’t.
B – Build Initial Breathing Room
Paco Underhill’s excellent book, The Science of Shopping, taught us that customers need a bit of what he refers to as a safe runway space on which to land before we can wait on them effectively. He wrote about it more in the physical sense, stressing how important it is to provide room between the front door and the first interaction with a service provider. We’ve taken the concept further and added an emotional runway. It’s important to give guests just a bit of space when they enter to get acclimated. Obviously, waiting too long between entry and greeting can be a problem, but getting in people’s faces before they’ve had a minute to equalize with our environment is also ineffective.
Providing a safe runway means letting customers get a few feet in from the front door before hitting them with the sort of enthusiastic greeting we want to give them. Similarly when we approach a customer at the counter or a table, and they don’t look up right away to make eye contact, we greet them rather quietly so as to not unpleasantly shake them from the safety of their mental space.
C – Create a Great Interaction with GiGG
Once the guest has traversed the runway, it’s time for us to greet them. The initial welcome is crucial; it’s infinitely easier to get a guest to a 9 or 10 experience when we get things off to a great start. We call this GiGG or Get it Going Good. We start by following what we call the 10/4 Rule (make eye contact with the guest and smile when they get within 10 feet of us, then greet them aloud when they’re within about 4). But to do it well, it’s more than that. To really GiGG, it’s imperative that our greeting be energized, fun and out of the ordinary. We want something special, an interaction that sets a high energy, personalized tone right off the bat.
The opposite of GiGGing would be the sort of flat, unenergized, by-the-book welcome that we get all too often as customers. A poor greeting—or even worse, no greeting—to guests sends a negative, unwelcoming signal. In fact, we’ve consistently found from our mystery shoppers that a failure to come through on the 10/4 rule can often take a customer experience that would have been a 10 down to a 4. Passive, script-sounding, canned phrases are only a slight improvement. So look up, look alive, smile big, get energized, have fun and make customers feel like you’re happy to see them.
D – Deliver an Appropriate Tone
With GiGGing in mind, remember that it’s more effective to meet customers where they are emotionally before we start taking them to where we want them to go. In this context, that means greeting them in a way that’s appropriate to their mood, not to ours. If the guest tells us how excited they are to be at Zingerman’s and have driven five hours to get our food, by all means, we should welcome them with a happily high level of enthusiasm. By contrast, if they’re serious, it’s probably better to start slowly and calmly by asking them how their day was. If they seem nervous, be careful not to blow them away with too much enthusiasm or energy. They’re likely first-time visitors who don’t understand the unfamiliar ways in which we work. Of course there are exceptions to these rules, but by greeting the guest in a way that helps them feel welcome but not overwhelmed, we can then build on an initial comfort-based bond to slowly bring them to a high level of positive experience.
E – Express it With Style
Tone of voice and energy level in communicating with the customer make up a big part of the guest’s perception of their shopping experience. So when we say anything at all, we need to say it with style. The right feeling and good energy in an interaction can alter the experience for the guest and goes a long way toward solidifying his or her loyalty. I had this verified while reading two different mystery shopper reports. Both were over the phone and in each case the shopper asked questions that the staff member on the phone couldn’t answer. The first shopper gave Zingerman’s a 7 out of 10 rating because the staff member had to put her on hold to get the information she requested. The second shopper had much the same experience, but gave Zingerman’s a 10. In this case, the staffer offered to get the information that the guest was asking for.
What led to the drastic difference in the scores? I will bet you dollars to artisan donuts that the difference between the two experiences was all in the tone of voice of the staff members. The first interaction was flat, mostly monotone and the staffer didn’t sound excited about getting the information. The second time, the staff member made it sound like the caller was brilliant for asking the question and acted outright excited about having the chance to get the answer. Enthusiastic tone alone turned the customer into a promoter.
The right words said with the wrong tone also sends a painful message. The content may be fine, but the communication style undermines any good energy that the speaker intended. How many times have you been on an airline where you really believed that they were “glad you’d chosen to fly” with them? Probably not many. Almost as bad was a recent experience I had at a hotel on the East Coast. When I checked in, the woman at the desk noted that I was a frequent-user club member. “Thank you for your loyalty,” she said. It wasn’t said with the most feeling in the world but I was moderately impressed that she’d noticed and commented on it. Later that day someone called up from the front desk to check on how my room was. Nice little touch. Except that the phone call ended with, “Thank you for your loyalty.” Hmmm . . . . The following morning another clerk thanked me for my loyalty too which, unfortunately, was said in that way that only a scripted response can generate. The hotel gets an A for trying to do the right thing, but flunked out when it comes to feeling. I’d have given my experience a 7 or 8 out of 10—a neutral rating by the ZXI standard.
F – Focus on Sharing the Customer’s Vision
Whether throwing a hip cocktail party with exotic imported foods or creating a simple but elegant impress-the-boss dinner, the store’s guests often have specific goals and particular anxieties around the event. When the guest and the service provider share the same vision of the desired outcome, it inspires confidence and it’s much easier to get the guest to a 9 or 10 experience. You might assure an anxious client who’s looking for cheeses to serve the French visitor that, “We’ll taste a bunch of things together and by the time we’re done we’ll have some great cheese for you to take home. Your guests will love it!” Or tell a wedding cake customer, “This cake is going to make your guests really happy; it’ll look great and taste fantastic, too.” Or let a guest who’s in a hurry know, “I’ve told the kitchen that you need to be on the road by 1 p.m. and they’re standing by to expedite your order.”
Not having a shared vision is likely to add tension to the customer’s experience. Often customers unknowingly and subtly start to look for trouble. And when they look for it, they’re almost always sure to find it; we know that when stress levels and uncertainty are higher, problems and misunderstandings are more likely to come up, which can lead to a less than great experience for the guest.
The greater the scope of the work we’re doing, the bigger the advantages of an exercise in vision sharing: The quality of the experience when we’re booking wedding cakes, new wholesale accounts, corporate gift orders, catering events, consulting jobs or family events will especially benefit from effective vision sharing.
G – Get Comfortable Speaking the Customer’s Language
Rule 9 of Zingerman’s 10 Rules of Great Finance dictates that we speak the same language. We must all be clear on what we mean by different technical terms and that when one of us uses a financial phrase the folks we’re talking to understand its definition in the same way we do. The need for shared language applies in our service work with our customers. Because such a big piece of the guest’s experience is contingent on them feeling comfortable in our space (on the phone, online or in person), it’s imperative that we use language the guest gets. That means avoiding lingo or shorthand that’s long been familiar to us, but is almost certain to frustrate or cause confusion for the customer. So, telling a first-time guest that we have olio nuovo in house probably isn’t helpful unless she’s familiar with the compelling pepperiness of new crop olive oil.
In essence, this comes down to listening through customers’ ears, making it less likely that they’ll feel foolish or condescended to for not knowing what we’re talking about. Using shared, clear language helps everyone involved feel more comfortable in the experience.
H – Hone Your Sense of Theater
In our work we’re essentially on stage—we want to be productively theatrical so that the guest gets that sense of rewarding entertainment that they’ve come for. There are little ways to do this well—moving your hands, effective shifting of the body, good voice projection, big smiles and fun facial expressions. It’s also about being courteous—standing in the right spot so that guests aren’t looking into the sun, angling yourself so that those who are hard of hearing can read your lips. All of these things add up to making a more animated, rewarding experience.
Then there are bigger things we can do to build the theater—walking wedding cakes through a customer area; taking the long way past a table of newly seated customers so that they catch a glimpse of the evening’s specials; opening a chest of tea on the floor; bringing out a beautiful piece of fish to the table so people in the whole dining room can view it; cutting a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano on the floor where people can see—and then taste—what lengths we go to use great ingredients.
I – Inform with Humor and Fun
This one takes a bit of special skill to pull off, but when done well, it can get customers’ attention in a good way. Humor immediately let’s our guests know that we’re paying attention, that we’re real, that we’re ready to think and not just respond with rote, scripted, emotionless answers.
For example, when the right kind of customer asks me if something we sell is good, I’ll stare at them with a straight face and in a calm tone, say, “No, it’s terrible.” Or when they say, “I’m looking for some bread,” while staring at shelves full of it, I’ll say, “Wow, I’m so sorry, we’re completely out.” Of course, I have to make sure that the customer knows that I’m kidding. But the point is to break the routines of the buying cycle by inserting a little wit and saying something that no one expected to hear.
A good food joke can work wonders as well. Try these out: “What do you get when you cross a turkey with an octopus? Plenty of drumsticks for Thanksgiving.” Or…“Wahoo is the most fun fish on the menu.” Or…“be careful how many Magic Brownies you consume before you drive.” Seriously, humor is one of the most underused tools in the service world. In fact, it’s so rare that its use is likely to make for a memorable experience for the guest.
J – Jump at the Chance to Compliment and Connect
It’s amazing how much it means to a customer when we take time to say something that connects in a personal way. It can be as simple as a heartfelt compliment on their clothing, a question about the car they’re driving, etc. A compliment on how cute their grandchildren are almost always scores big points. Sending someone from the kitchen over to connect a dot between the cook and a guest who loved that evening’s special can be huge. To effectively make these connections, of course, requires that we pay attention and actually look at and appreciate the shoes that the customer is wearing, the measure of their voice, the uniqueness of their name, the town that they’re calling from, or the pattern on their wedding cake.
K – Know the Importance of Preemptive Appreciation
One way to increase the odds of guests having 9 or 10 experiences is to show preemptive customer appreciation. Even before guests get into the heart of their experience, we offer something positive to surprise them. It could be the unexpected gift of an appetizer before the customer’s meal arrives. Or for example, if a guest places a $500 order for a big event, we send her a coffee cake a week in advance of the main delivery, telling her how much we’re looking forward to shipping the food. While this is a nice extra-mile gesture after the fact, we make it in advance. Doing it early puts guests in a good mood and makes them far more tolerant of the many little things that can go slightly awry in the scheme of any big event.
L – Leverage Your Most Appealing Products
This is one of the belated glimpses into the obvious that I’ve gotten from our ZXI work. When we want to solidify a promoter—to turn him into a loyal, long-term, evergreen customer—it only makes sense to let him sample our most “promoter-able” products. In other words, when you want to push a customer from a ZXI of 7 or 8 into a ZXI of 9 or 10, give him a taste of something really spectacular. Share food that’s almost certain to have him talking positively about what you have to offer both during and after the experience. The same is especially true of impressionable first-time customers—bring them tastes of the products that make most everyone, regardless of eating experience, age or anything else, go, “Wow!”
M – Make Guests Your Allies
When a customer complains, it’s always better—actually essential—that a good service provider bond with her guest against any problem at hand. In other words, show empathy for the guest and what he’s struggling with and make sure to put the organization and the customer on the same side of things. Clearly state that you’re committed to getting everyone together for a successful outcome.
I don’t mean to suggest that we automatically do exactly what the customer wants. For instance, we’re in a non-smoking environment, yet sometimes customers complain that they want to smoke. Getting on the same side of the problem in this case might be about showing empathy (“I used to smoke”) and then possibly offering to get their groceries together while they have a quick smoke.
This may sound obvious, but the reality of most service situations is that staff often doesn’t do it. In many cases they unintentionally slip into fighting with the customer, defending the rules or the status quo rather than simply being empathetic and overtly working to get to a win-win solution. When we get on the guest’s side of things, stress levels go down, confidence goes up, positive outcomes are more likely and everyone goes home happy. Using these techniques gives us an opportunity to take even difficult problems to turn customers into evergreens.
N – Notify Your Best Guests About Secret Specials
Promoters love to be on the inside. One tool for helping them feel that way is to share unadvertised specials or privileged information that only the best customers know about. For example, at the Deli, we have a long list of retired sandwiches that are no longer on the menu but will be made upon request. We don’t advertise their existence, but lots of regulars know about them and many take great pride in telling us that. At the Roadhouse we will always make Oysters Rockefeller but we never put it on the menu. Only those who come in often, or whose server lets them in on the secret know that we do it. It’s a nice dish and a loyal cadre of customers order it fairly regularly. But because it’s not listed anywhere, it’s always kind of a special event. Similarly, our Mail Order regulars know that we have many items that aren’t listed in the catalog or on the website but that can be shipped regardless—again, they love being on the inside of things.
O – Offer a Community Space
In the April 2007 issue of Specialty Food Magazine, I wrote an article called “Striving for Third Place,” about creating a local gathering space. There is much to this concept but in a nutshell, according to Ray Oldenburg in his book, The Great Good Place, there are three important places in a person’s life. The first place is the home and the second is work. The third place is a public spot that’s neither home nor work, where people gather informally and connect regularly. In the old days, the third place might have been the VFW Hall, town square, barbershop or tavern. These are places where people like to hang out, spots in which they feel included, recognized, accepted. Often, the people they interact with in this third place are not seen anywhere else. Spending time at the third place helps maintain social balance and provides joy, support and stability in the community.
One of the ways to turn frequent customers into evergreens is to create this third place. Customers who come to feel a part of a third place regularly promote it to others. (For a copy of the entire article, which features strategies on creating this third place, contact ZingTrain.)
P – Piece Together Customer Information
In his book, Setting the Table, Danny Meyer, owner of the Union Square Hospitality Group in New York City, talks about the importance of collecting bits of information about a customer. He calls these pieces of knowledge, “dots.” The more information we collect about the guest—what she likes and doesn’t like, where she’s from, what she did on her summer vacation, what she likes to eat or drink—the more effectively we can serve her and offer interesting, satisfying and often surprising experiences.
It’s particularly helpful to create ways to capture and access this information. At Zingerman’s we look for manageable technologies that help us bring ever-better experiences to our guests. But of course, the technology will never be better than the information we put into it, or the effectiveness with which we use it. Finding systematic ways to track guest preferences, purchase histories, successes and problems, etc. all make it easier for us to deliver a great overall experience.
Q – Query Then Communicate Info
Asking questions and systemically saving that information isn’t enough. Actively and immediately using even small bits of the customer information we gather in creative and constructive ways is essential to evergreen customer building. For example, when the greeter at the front door of the Deli finds out that a guest is from Hawaii, he lets the person who takes the guest’s order know that detail. Think of it as a chain of dots: The person who takes the order shares that dot with the person who delivers the sandwich who then shares it with the manager. The manager goes over to the guest to welcome him to town and the guest feels special. We are most likely able to create a memorable experience for guests when all of our staff serves them in a personal and personable way.
R – Reinforce Relationship Building
The more we’ve collected and then communicated information, the more likely it is that we can build bonds that enhance guests’ experience. This could mean creating a connection between Zingerman’s staff and customers, or between the customers themselves. The more we connect guests with us organizationally, the more they promote us. The more we set ourselves apart from others and create a distinctive positive experience, the more effectively we turn them into evergreens.
Dot connecting could mean sending a staff member who lived in Louisiana over to the table of a customer who’s just back from a visit to New Orleans. Or maybe connect them with another guest in the shop who’s thinking of going to the Crescent City so that they can share travel tips. It could also be connecting two customers who both enjoy premium chocolate or introducing a staffer and a regular who both love books by the same author. The point is that when people feel rooted in a good, supportive, empathic setting, they’re far more likely to enjoy the experience, to feel special. And when that’s happening they are most definitely en route to becoming evergreens.
S – Send More Staff Into the Mix
Adding a second or even third person into the service situation (done appropriately, not overbearingly, of course), can make the guest’s experience. While the customer’s primary service provider is critically important to the quality of the experience, it’s often a seemingly peripheral second person who has the ability to take the good work already being done and elevate the experience to a ZXI 9 or 10. Pulling this off well requires that we collect and communicate information successfully. Customers are almost always pleasantly surprised (if not blown away) when a second person follows up with them a bit later to build on a dialogue that they started with their primary service provider.
This could happen after a few minutes or a few hours, days, weeks or even months later. The point is that second person can enhance the experience by adding more detail, additional information or even just a friendly follow up. In doing so we show guests that we’re paying attention and we demonstrate a level of connection and attentiveness that illustrates how hard we’re working to take care of them. We also show that we actually take the time to communicate well amongst ourselves and that we use that communication to benefit our customers. By doing this we build our relationship with the customer because they now feel good about dealing with two or three different folks in our organization.
T – Treat Promoters like VIPs
Most every service-oriented organization is accustomed to the idea of VIPing VIPs. Interestingly though, most businesses only give special treatment to famous folks, friends of the boss or very difficult customers. But what we’ve learned from our work with the Zingerman’s Experience Indicator is to also give VIP treatment to loyal promoters—the customers who are already recommending us to their friends.
Most service providers don’t treat promoters as VIPs because promoters are already happy and, hence, it seems unnecessary. But the point is that promoters talk to others regularly—they’re the driving force behind our word of mouth in the community. They’re the people who influence their friends, family and colleagues to come to us. They defend us when we fall short and they coach us when they have good ideas. Who better, then, to make into VIPs? That means we pair them with our best staff members, we give them plenty of special treats, we make sure that managers not only stop and chat but also send them handwritten thank-you notes and follow-up emails. When we do all that well, it’s almost certain that we’re going to make that guest into an evergreen.
U – Use Systems to Support Loyalty
While much of our effort to create evergreen customers is a personal, in the moment, individualized bit of work, there are also formal processes that we can put in place. These can be external systems that we use to reward our “good” customers, including a free bagel on the customer’s birthday (buy ten get one free); bread or burger punch cards; discount offers sent to big wholesale customers; “Frequent Foodie” points given to our regular Mail Order customers, etc. To state the almost obvious, the idea is to give the folks who buy more or more often a chance to gain through discounts or additional perks. While this concept is hardly new, it can be done in creative, caring ways that take it way beyond the standard supermarket loyalty programs.
V – Validate Special Guests with Treats
There are also internal systems that we use to reward guests that we especially want to keep coming back. For instance, we have an expectation that every guest at the Roadhouse—our sit-down restaurant—will get a sample of something that they’ve not previously tried. We also regularly buy splits of sparkling wine for guests who are visiting on their anniversary. We send a small cake and a thank-you to wedding cake customers from the Bakehouse on their first anniversary. The system is clear on the inside and, when implemented effectively, catches the customer in a happily unexpected way.
W – Walk it Like You Talk it
One of the quickest ways to alienate any customer is to over promise and under deliver. While everyone makes service commitments with the best of intentions, falling short and not delivering on those commitments, is clearly a big problem. In the interest of turning greens (happy customers) and also reds (unhappy customers) into evergreens, it’s imperative that we follow up on what we’ve committed to do. I’m not talking about just making sure that we did what we said. Obviously that’s imperative. But I’m suggesting we take it one step further. Email to make sure a promised gift card arrived; check to confirm that a mail order shipment got to its destination on time; verify that an important wholesale shipment got there in good shape; confirm that a remade sandwich was actually delivered to the table as promised, or call to make sure that a specially designed cake gets to its destination as planned.
X – “Xtra” Miles Grow Evergreens
Going the extra mile is one of the key ingredients in our service recipe. But coming up with creative, out of the box ways to go the extra mile can make for amazing customer experiences—the kind guests remember for life. Examples include a Roadhouse server offering his guests a free coffee refill but delivering it in to-go cups for the customers’ 45-minute drive home. Result? The guests stopped to tell me how they loved everything about their dining experience, but that in 25 years of eating out together, no one has ever offered to let them take a refill on their coffee to go. Their parting words were: “We’ll definitely be back!” That’s a small investment to earn evergreen status from a customer.
Y – Yield Strong Results with Strategic Follow-Up
In some parts of a service sequence, speed is critical: greeting a guest within 60 seconds; answering the phone within three rings; taking an order promptly; and getting wholesale orders shipped out on time. For the most part though, this timely delivery of goods or services is really the minimum of what we need to do. Few customers will become evergreens just because their shipment arrived on time or the person behind the counter greeted them immediately.
Once we’ve established the basics of a good service relationship by taking and completing the guest’s order in a timely and efficient manner, there’s an opportunity to use time-lapse interaction to make an evergreen out of an already happy customer. That means initiating an additional interaction with a guest long after they were expecting us to do anything. For instance, call a Mail Order customer in Mississippi a few weeks after her olive oil has arrived to see how she likes it or send a thank-you note to a regular customer a few weeks after he came in. We’ve repeatedly found that putting in the extra mile after a little time has lapsed can have a huge influence on making a customer into a solid 9 or 10 promoter for life—they tell these stories over and over again to friends and family.
Z – Zingerman’s Send-Off Strategy
The last thing we do before the guest leaves our space can have a huge impact on what they take with them in their minds and what comes out of their mouths. Fair or not, what we do with them at the end of each interaction can create a feeling that usually lasts far longer than the actual encounter itself. With that in mind we look for positive ways to send them off. An enthusiastic salutation that sounds authentic and unscripted is a must. So, while, “have a nice day” sounds soporific; “have a great afternoon” is better, and “have a terrific Tuesday” is a bit more creative still. A nice extra-mile gesture at the end of the interaction can really make an impression—walk them out to their car on a snowy day, send a guest home with an extra slice of bread to eat in the car, drop a hand-written thank-you note into a carryout order with your business card inside. These are small but positive ways to end interactions that will keep moving people toward being 9s and 10s, increasing the odds that they’ll be promoting us to their colleagues in the community long after they’ve left our place of business.
As you incorporate these methods, remember that on their own each of the techniques can help improve a customer’s experience; a combination of two or three used well together can really work wonders.
While each of these acts takes work and can cost us a bit of cash, our experience here is that the more we use them, the more we solidify our customers, the higher our ZXI scores go, the more customers we can get into the promoter category, the better the word of mouth we get in the community, the more likely we are to build the sustainable, long-term business we seek to have.