Customer service gets a bad wrap these days. And for good reason. Most companies continue to outsource support, putting themselves further away from their most loyal customers.
But not all businesses have horrible service. Some even put it first. For these organizations the rewards are plentiful. More revenue, happy employees, and less cancellations.
So, what makes them different? It starts at the top, the very top. I am talking about the CEO of the company. When the leader of a multi-billion dollar organization champions great customer service, their employees listen.
Are you looking to improve your customer service culture? Look no further than these four successful CEOs. You can learn valuable lessons from how they approach serving customers and building trust across their organization.
1. David Cush at Virgin America
When four airlines controlled more than 80 percent of the U.S. market, Virgin America had to differentiate themselves from other popular airlines. As a smaller carrier, their mission was to create a low-fare, high-quality airline that people loved.
David Cush said, “We set out to build an airline from the ground up with the guest in mind – an airline that reinvented the flying experience, and that actually made air travel fun again.”
In 2009, Virgin America became the first U.S. airline to offer Wi-Fi access via Gogo Inflight Internet on every trip. They also carried a unique product at the time—a touchscreen at every seat. And more importantly, Virgin gets credit for inventing the modern, creative, in-flight safety video.
“Like the signature mood lighting and pre-flight boarding music, the animated safety video — with a dry but sassy tone — was part of the airline’s branding. At the time, that was pretty radically different,” said VP of Marketing, Abby Lunardini, “because no other U.S. airline had done anything like that.”
Their 2013 music-safety-video, which has garnered over 11 million views on Youtube, is complete with a dancing nun, and robot-rap. In a saturated market, they had to find a new way to connect with customers, and Cush led that charge with edgy gambles that paid off big.
But sometimes, what you want, and what the customer want, may be on different planes. Cush understood doing the right thing against your own wishes. On the recent sale to Alaska Airlines, Cush remarked that, “ultimately, you don't get to choose your path. You've got to be ready to do the right thing, even if it's not what you wanted."
2. Truett Cathy at Chick-fil-a
“Transparency in our food is important to our customers, and it’s important to us too,” Truett Cathy, former CEO.
As customers have become more aware and demanding of healthier ingredients in their food, fast food chain Chick-fil-A took great strides under Cathy’s leadership to remove additives, trans fats, and artificial ingredients. In 2013 the company removed yellow dye from its chicken soup, and started testing the removal of high fructose corn syrup from all of its dressings and sauces. By 2019, Chick-fil-A plans to serve chicken raised without antibiotics in all of its restaurants nationwide.
The chain is also known for hospitality and amenities not often found in other fast food restaurants. These include things like the staff offering to refill your cup, providing fresh ground pepper to dine-in clientele, or offering to carry trays for moms with small children who have their hands full.
Giving customers little, pleasant surprises are part of the culture instilled from the top. Truett’s son, Dan said, “At Chick-fil-A, CEO stands for Chief Encouragement Officer.”
3. Jeff Bezos at Amazon
Amazon is now the largest online retailer on the web, and it’s no wonder, seeing how every move they make increases convenience for their customers. Amazon has accommodating return policies, free 2-day delivery with Prime, and 2 hour deliveries with Prime Now.
And Amazon is offering more products and services at increasingly lower costs. “There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second,” Bezos said.
Amazon has also become a trusted source of product reviews, some even say the largest collection of online reviews. Customers yearn for a transparent assessment before buying something unseen online. Consumers often validate a retailer’s online claims with the average rating and helpful reviews on Amazon.
When asked why Bezos would allow negative reviews on the site, he said they were "taking a different approach. We want to make every book available—the good, the bad, and the ugly—to let truth loose."
4. Dan Bane at Trader Joe's
The charming, quirky, neighborhood-feel, grocery store chain has quintupled its number of stores in the last decade. So how does Dan Bane’s view on customer service apply to its success?
“At Trader Joe’s, we believe loyalty is something we have to earn, every day, with every customer,” he said. “So we focus on offering the best values on terrific foods and beverages, every day, in every corner of every one of our stores.”
By keeping a small stock, buying directly from vendors, cutting out the middle man and selling most of their products under their own label, Trader Joe’s is able to keep prices low and morale high. Baggers and cashiers wear funky Hawaiian shirts, and even employees at the corporate office are encouraged to do the same.
Higher than average hourly wages for staff in the store may contribute to them being so darn nice, and why they even smile at your screaming toddler. Actually, they joyfully hand the tykes stickers at check out. Part-time employees can earn up to $20 an hour with benefits, and store managers can earn in the low six figures.
Under Bane’s leadership, the company has no debt, and finances expansion from its profits. And as Bane says, “discovery, fun, value, and cheese. It’s not ordinary grocery shopping. It’s Trader Joe’s.”
So take note from these examples. The CEO affects the corporate culture. The corporate culture affects the customer. The customer affects the profits. But it always starts at the top.
Which companies have you noticed always give great customer service?