NPS Blog

The Net Promoter System Podcast: Looking back on 50 episodes

The Net Promoter System podcastThe Net Promoter System Podcast started as an experiment almost two years ago when I asked my colleague Fred Reichheld if I could record one of our conversations.

The experience resulted in a free-flowing conversation about employee engagement and innovation. It inspired me to reach out to executives who are trying to build loyalty at their companies—people who are doing the tough work of trying to enact culture change at often large, complex organizations. I wanted to find out what it takes to achieve customer-centricity in a wide range of industries. Perhaps I would uncover some new tactics that could help the broader Net Promoter community along the way.

My guests have shared their experiences with impressive candor. While it’s easy to share success stories in public, not many people will talk openly about their failed projects and implementation setbacks. And not many have the confidence to reveal their moments of self-doubt or their challenges overcoming the skepticism of colleagues. That’s why I have tremendous respect for people in these positions. The role requires a special blend of positivity, shrewdness and unflappable confidence in the strategic, operational and financial power of loyalty.

Now that we’re 50 podcast episodes in, I thought it would be a great time to step back and reflect on some of the stories and lessons we’ve heard. In honor of this milestone, I’ve pulled together segments from some of my favorite episodes. Each segment offers a lesson in customer or employee advocacy.

Lee Cockerell, formerly the leader of Walt Disney World operations, discusses how Disney learns about customers’ needs before customers are fully aware of them. Bonny Simi of JetBlue talks about “servant leadership” and why executives sometimes need to roll up their sleeves and get on the front line. Legendary hotelier Horst Schulze of Cappella Group (and, famously, of Ritz-Carlton, previously) imparts his reason for emphasizing the service standards he presses upon his staff. Dave Gilboa of the eyeglass retailer Warby Parker explains why companies need to offer something truly different. Finally, Harry’s cofounder Andy Katz-Mayfield shares how a customer promoter volunteered to help the company improve its razor design.

While the podcast started as an experiment, it has now grown into something larger. I’ve had to learn a lot along the way, and my team and I want to make the next 50 podcasts even better. That’s why we’re asking—more like imploring—you to share your feedback about the series. We want to hear what you like and what you don’t like, and why. I promise this survey won’t take long (Net Promoter regulars know how I feel about long surveys).

Share your feedback


You can listen to our 50th episode of the Net Promoter System Podcast on iTunes, or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System Podcast episodes.

Subscribe to the Net Promoter System podcast on iTunes

Creating a market of trust and delight at eBay

Joshua Rossman of eBayThere’s a line people say to each other so they feel better about exceptionally difficult or painful situations: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The idea is that you grow and learn through struggle and challenge—after the pain and frustration subside.

It’s not easy to bring about culture change at any organization. And any executive who’s striving for true customer centricity will likely face resistance from colleagues in every direction. Adopting the Net Promoter System can ultimately help companies become more customer centric and accelerate their growth, but getting to that point requires commitment, resourcefulness and, sometimes, pure grit.

If anyone understands the pain and struggle of bringing the Net Promoter System to a large, complex company, it’s Joshua Rossman, senior director of global customer loyalty and NPS at eBay. He joined the online marketplace in 2009 and helped the previous CEO, John Donahoe, introduce the Net Promoter System to the online marketplace. He continues to run the effort, with the help of a 17-person team.

Net Promoter System podcastI recently spoke with Josh for the Net Promoter System Podcast. Actually, what really happened is that I cornered him during a two-hour car ride. I told him I’d give him a ride to an event, but I left out the part about my plans to hook him up with a microphone and grill him for the entire trip. Being the good-natured guy he is, Josh shared the good, the bad and the ugly of his Net Promoter journey at eBay. During that time, Josh has become a true master of the Net Promoter System. Like every company I’ve ever observed, there’s still room for eBay to improve. Yet, many of the processes he and his team developed have become examples of global best practices.

Under Josh’s leadership, eBay has used the Net Promoter System to improve the purchasing experience for its more than 100 million buyers—simplifying fees, adding a buyer protection program and increasing shipping accuracy in the process. The system has helped eBay build trust with buyers and identify promising investments.

But it wasn’t without toil and setbacks. For example, eBay set ambitious goals early in its Net Promoter journey, which put a lot of emphasis on the metric, rather than the improvement process. At one point, it also began measuring Net Promoter Scores at too many different points in the customer experience, rendering the program unwieldy. And there were some missteps involving data analysis and analytic process. Those moments were painful at the time, but the company and Josh’s team evolved from the experience, developing more robust and rigorous processes.

Josh’s work has put eBay in a good position to thrive after its recent spinoff of PayPal. eBay lately reported quarterly revenue that outstripped Wall Street estimates, and its stock is outpacing the Standard & Poor’s 500 for the year.

Our discussion offers many lessons (and encouragement) for others who are early in their Net Promoter journey. You can listen to my conversation with Josh on the Net Promoter System Podcast. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or listen to this episode through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System Podcast episodes.

Subscribe to the Net Promoter System podcast on iTunes

Keeping doctors engaged amid radical shifts in healthcare

How Unhappy Is Your Doctor?

Given how little time your doctor spends with you during an appointment, don’t you want yours to be fully engaged when you’re on the examining table? I know I do.

So I had both personal and professional reasons to take note when my colleagues at Bain issued a new report noting that the increasing systemization of US healthcare was creating some very unhappy doctors.

In my latest post on LinkedIn, I look at this report’s fascinating conclusions and what hospitals and healthcare administrators can do to engage doctors.

Read the post on LinkedIn: How Unhappy Is Your Doctor?

Some surprising ways OpenTable makes the dining experience more satisfying

OpenTable's Leela SrinivasanFinding a good restaurant in an unfamiliar city was no small feat 20 years ago. At the time, it seemed easy: All I needed to do was pick up a copy of the city’s Zagat Restaurant Guide, thumb through different cuisine styles, restaurant features and neighborhoods, and browse ratings. It was a fun way to relax on a plane, until it came time to call the restaurants.

If the first restaurant on your list didn’t have space for you, you’d call the next one, and so on, until you found a place that could accommodate your group. These days, I would never dream of wasting so much time on the phone trying to get a restaurant reservation. I don’t have to. A slew of restaurant reservation websites and mobile apps allow you to make a reservation with a few clicks, without having to talk to anyone.

One of the most popular sites is OpenTable. The company seats about 16 million diners every month. And while it’s best known for its reservation service, the company also offers customer ratings and rewards for diners. OpenTable is also trying to bring efficiency to the end of the meal with a mobile payment tool that lets diners pay through their phones, allowing them to get to their movies or concerts sooner.

Net Promoter System podcastI recently talked to Leela Srinivasan, vice president of restaurant and product marketing at OpenTable, on the Net Promoter System Podcast. She joined OpenTable just over a year ago after several years at LinkedIn, and has helped steer many of the changes going on at the company.

OpenTable’s surprising success can be attributed, in part, to its focus on restaurant owners and managers. The company tries to earn managers’ trust by arming them with information they need to track and assign their table inventory, increase repeat business and address customer complaints quickly. To compensate the company for its impact on the restaurants’ bottom line, they pay a fee for each diner OpenTable helps them seat.

It’s no secret that running a restaurant is very challenging. Managers must oversee staffing levels, marketing efforts and ingredient supplies and work with chefs on food quality. Margins are often tight, and the added cost of a marketing tool isn’t always welcome.

Customer feedback has been critical to helping OpenTable hone its products and build relationships with restaurant managers, Leela says. In addition to the Net Promoter Score and social media listening tools, the company regularly consults with a customer advisory council to learn how it can improve its services.

Whether you’re a foodie or a techie, I think you’ll enjoy learning more about this company that makes our lives just a little easier. You can listen to my conversation with Leela on the Net Promoter System Podcast. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or listen to this episode through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Subscribe to the Net Promoter System podcast on iTunes

Medallia webinar replay: Harnessing the economics of customer loyalty

Loyalty leaders know how valuable their most valuable customers are. It’s a simple but powerful concept.

In a webinar last week, I explained how companies can use loyalty economics to make investments that ultimately build loyalty and sustain growth. By estimating the relative profitability of promoters, passives and detractors, companies can gauge the impact of their future initiatives and allocate resources better.

If you missed the webinar, you can click here to view a replay.

The huddle: The short meeting that leads to big results

Net Promoter System podcastNo matter what size your company, keeping employees connected to the core mission can be a challenge. For frontline workers, the incessant flow of customer transactions can eventually strip them of context and meaning. Often, in an attempt to improve productivity, customer satisfaction or other business outcomes, a narrow focus on goals and metrics can distract them from what really matters: turning each customer into a profitable promoter. Back-office and managerial staff can face even stronger forces drawing them into the crisis of the day.

That’s why smart companies like Apple, Zappos and Telstra gather their employees regularly for short meetings, or huddles. They’re forums for employees to discuss how well they’re serving customers, what they could do to improve and what sort of help they need. They offer an opportunity for employees to solve problems, build camaraderie and recognize wins and losses. And they are an opportunity to recenter on the core mission of the company in a regular way.

Huddles are critical to a healthy team and company. We consider huddles the third mechanism of the Net Promoter System because they bring together the constant feedback of the “inner loop” and the larger systemic improvements forged in the “outer loop.” While these meetings may be short (usually 15–30 minutes), they’re the glue that connects individuals to each other and to the larger organization and its mission.

Fred ReichheldBain Fellow Fred Reichheld recently returned to the Net Promoter System Podcast to talk about all things huddle—what they are, how major companies use them and what makes them effective. He has spent the past two years developing HuddleUp, a digital tool that helps companies run better huddles.

Fred and I are no strangers to huddles. We have been taking part in them for years at Bain & Company. We just didn’t refer to them by that name. During what we at Bain call “case team meetings,” teams working on projects together discuss their progress, challenges they’re facing and feedback from clients. These meetings often address other important employee team topics, such as work-life balance.

Companies use huddles in a wide variety of settings. Developers at software start-ups, for example, might gather briefly each morning to share what they’re working on as they build a new product. These “agile scrums”—often conducted while standing—can help team members refocus their efforts and reenergize. The Net Promoter System formalizes two specific types of huddles. One type focuses on customers and serving them better, while the other addresses how team members work together and ways to improve the team environment. Often, teams combine these with each other or other huddle types in a sort of hybrid, or mash-up.

Like most things, running a good huddle takes practice. In the best huddles, team members prepare in advance so they can contribute to the conversation, and leaders start with open-ended questions to stimulate the discussion. Employees often take turns setting the agenda and managing the meeting. At the end, participants generally agree on actions they will take and commit to making improvements.

You can learn more about huddles in the next issue of Loyalty Insights. You can also listen to my conversation with Fred on the Net Promoter System Podcast. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or listen to this episode through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Subscribe to the Net Promoter System podcast on iTunes

Medallia webinar: What are the economics of customer loyalty?

Doing right by your customers so that they stay loyal and share their experiences sounds intuitive. But what is it really worth? Many companies grapple with this question.

After all, your best loyal customers stay longer, spend more, cost less to serve and recommend your company to their friends and family. Companies that don’t know the value of delighting their best customers to build loyalty often underinvest in the initiatives required to achieve it.

If you’ve ever wondered how understanding loyalty economics might benefit your business, I welcome you to join me on Wednesday, July 22 at 12 PM ET/9 AM PT for a webinar hosted by Medallia, the customer feedback software company. Among the items I plan to discuss: the key tenets of loyalty economics, how loyalty leaders build robust business cases to advocate for change and support necessary investments, and the challenges of getting it right.

Register for the webinar here

In this short video, I give an overview of loyalty economics:

The wisdom of Jeanne Bliss: Stop chasing the CEO’s pet peeves and put customers first

Jeanne Bliss of CustomerBlissWhen a company lacks a thoughtful method for listening to customers and making systemic improvements, some executives tend to jump on every middling complaint and business fad rather than tackle deeper issues.

I saw this phenomenon in action at a financial services firm. I was meeting with executives at the company to discuss its bold plan to use customer service as a competitive weapon. I expected to be blown away by an ambitious plan, but what they showed me was a list of 10 problems that had irritated the CEO so much that he demanded they be addressed. One of the listed issues involved a tech setting in the company’s mailing system that caused a board member’s friend to see his name mangled on bills and letters. Chasing the CEO’s pet peeves is not how long-term, enduring change happens.

Jeanne Bliss, who has helped companies such as Bombardier and Pella Windows become more customer-centric, says this reactionary attitude gets in the way of meaningful improvements. She recently joined me on the Net Promoter System Podcast to discuss her approach to developing the processes that support strong customer experiences at major companies.

Jeanne is probably best known for pioneering the role of chief customer officer (or as we call it at Bain, the chief advocacy officer); she has held the position at Land’s End, Microsoft and Allstate. More recently, she has coached many of these leaders at other companies, helping them to consider how their products affect customers’ lives.

Net Promoter System podcast“People chase the shiny object, and it’s interesting, but it doesn’t change the culture,” Jeanne says. “Just start with renaming the stages from the customer’s life point of view.”

Jeanne has a lot to say about how you turn around an organization that constantly chases the latest customer complaint, research report or executive field visit. In her new book, Chief Customer Officer 2.0, she shares five competencies that serve as a framework for uniting a company’s leadership around serving customers. It’s powerful advice that speaks to the struggle many companies face as they try to understand their customers.

In our discussion, Jeanne broke down some of the common pitfalls executives encounter as they try to make broad operational changes. She shared some of the companies she admires and the qualities that make chief customer officers effective.

You can hear more from Jeanne on the Net Promoter System Podcast. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or listen to this episode through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Subscribe to the Net Promoter System podcast on iTunes

JetBlue: Taking the turbulence out of travel

JetBlue's Bonny SimiImagine a business where customers regularly pay hundreds or thousands of dollars so they can wait in long lines, experience deep anxiety, be confined for long periods of time and be treated with little compassion or respect. For the most part, that’s air travel these days. From crowded airports and complicated security checks to baggage fees, delays and chronic overbooking, few things we pay for inspire as much intense anxiety as commercial flying.

Now add small kids to the mix. Traveling with small children is a stressful dance. Frantic parents try to juggle squirming babies and toddlers, along with all the gear they need to keep them safe and happy—car seats, diaper bags, food, comfort toys, strollers—along with carry-on bags and coats, while a line of impatient passengers forms behind them, scrambling to get to their own seats.

This is such a familiar sight. And every parent has experienced the messy, frustrating and embarrassing struggle of traveling with infants and toddlers. Yet, in all my travels I’ve seen only one airline do something about it—JetBlue. I once watched a JetBlue flight attendant entertain an infant—carrying her up and down the aisle and interacting with other passengers—so that the child’s harried mother could set up her baby’s car seat and load her gear into the overhead bins. It was such a simple gesture, but it meant so much to the grateful mom.

Net Promoter System podcastLike many executives, I’ve wondered how JetBlue instills the kind of genuine caring and proactive attentiveness in its staff that makes this sort of gesture commonplace there. On the latest Net Promoter System Podcast, Bonny Simi, JetBlue’s vice president of talent, shares the carrier’s approach to developing customer experiences that leave people talking long after they’ve landed. Her philosophy is very simple, even if executing it is hard: “It’s very much around having happy crew members who love to go above and beyond.”

Since its founding in 1998, JetBlue has been on a mission to “bring humanity back to travel.” Bonny says the company tries to hire people who enjoy engaging with customers and relish in the adventure of travel. These employees “wake up on the right side of the bed every day.” And they look for fulfillment that goes beyond their paycheck. They live to make others smile.

When new employees join JetBlue, according to Simi, they become part of a “customer service organization that happens to fly airplanes.” At JetBlue, it’s not unusual to see pilots help flight attendants tidy up the plane while on the ground, or a manager step into a subordinate’s role to reward her with a day off for good service. It’s part of creating a sense of teamwork and affiliation focused around the customer and demanding that employees do right by customers, even when it’s inconvenient.

I have often told the story about a JetBlue flight that was circling due to stormy weather on its way from Texas to New York. After spending several hours in a holding pattern, the plane was diverted to Rochester, New York, for refueling. We had been on this plane for almost six hours and weren’t going to get to the Manhattan area for at least another two. Everyone was cranky, tired and hungry, so our pilots asked JetBlue’s ground crew to arrange for pizza to be delivered to the plane. As the pies entered the cabin, the atmosphere turned from sullen resignation to friendly celebration. The gesture lifted everyone’s spirits. I imagine getting that much pizza to a landed plane late at night is no small feat. Think about all the logistical and security considerations, let alone the issue of how to pay for this spontaneous decision. Somehow, JetBlue made it happen.

Stories like these come up regularly about JetBlue. Not to say they are always perfect. But they stand in contrast to the culture philosophy of “no” at most airlines, whose policies, working conditions make everyone miserable, from the gate agent to the customer.

You can hear Bonny’s point of view on service on the Net Promoter System Podcast. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or listen to this episode through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Subscribe to the Net Promoter System podcast on iTunes

Customers have been talking, and companies are finally listening

customers-are-listening-220x207Companies across all industries are seeing the benefits of loyalty and trying harder than ever to foster a dialogue with customers. And best of all, companies are listening.

Sure, not a week goes by without some bizarre story of a poorly handled service call that leaves a customer irate or in tears, but overall, companies are getting better at listening to their customers. Perhaps the rise of crowdsourcing or social media or the wider use of simple customer service metrics is behind this delightful trend. 

In my latest post on LinkedIn, I look at companies that have made feedback to central to their operations.

Read the post: Customers Have Been Talking, and Companies Are Finally Listening

Habitat for Humanity: Nailing Net Promoter at a nonprofit

Net Promoter System podcastLeaders of major companies often assume they have nothing to learn from nonprofits. That’s just not true.

Corporate executives tend to underestimate the sophistication and complexity of successful nonprofits, and nonprofit leaders often overestimate the resources available in big companies. Each one discounts the experience of the other and its relevance to them.

My latest guests on the Net Promoter System Podcast prove my point. They are two leaders from one of the biggest nonprofits in the country, Habitat for Humanity. Ann Goggins Gregory, chief operating officer of the organization’s Greater San Francisco affiliate, and Mark Andrews, vice president of volunteer and institutional engagement at the international headquarters, have been active members of Bain’s Net Promoter Social Impact Forum. And they have spearheaded Habitat’s adoption of the Net Promoter System.

Ann Goggins Gregory of Habitat of Humanity San FranciscoHabitat for Humanity is best known for building houses for families in need (picture former President Jimmy Carter wielding a hammer on a job site), but it’s far larger than many realize. The company helped 1.6 million people around the world in its 2014 fiscal year through home construction, rehabilitation and repairs. Beyond building homes, the organization provided cleanup kits after devastating floods and landslides in Bosnia-Herzegovina, smokeless stoves that make cooking safer in Guatemala and shelter repair kits for typhoon victims in the Philippines.

What does it take to change lives in dozens of countries around the world? More than 2 million volunteers and annual revenue of $1.7 billion.

Mark Andrews of Habitat for Humanity InternationalUnlike big companies, Habitat manages a vastly complex ecosystem of constituents: volunteers, paid staff, aid beneficiaries, government organizations, donors and community members. Each group interacts with the organization in a different way and needs to be managed differently. The organization has been using the Net Promoter System to gauge the volunteer experience and is considering how it might deploy it elsewhere in the organization.

Like many organizations that are early on the Net Promoter journey, Ann and Mark have wrestled with technique and technology, with closing the loop and maintaining a focus on learning instead of evaluation. After years of using long surveys to gather feedback but getting very low response rates, Ann was thrilled to reap more responses and richer answers from her Net Promoter experience. Still, the effort has not been without its pain points.

You can listen to this candid discussion on the Net Promoter System Podcast. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or listen to this episode through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Subscribe to the Net Promoter System podcast on iTunes

Birchbox: Unboxing a fantastic customer experience

hayley-barna-120x113I’ve been getting a box in the mail every month this year. Inside I usually find four or five samples of products I’ve never heard of, like Billy Jealousy Liquid Sand Exfoliating Facial Cleanser or PARLOR Re-Workable Hold Paste or Das Boom Everywhere Lotion Detroit, whose distinctive scent is “a trio of tobacco, musk and motor oil that invokes the Motor City,” according to its label.

I would never have purchased these products off a store shelf. These samples were selected and sent to me by Birchbox, a five-year-old e-commerce company that has devised a brilliant business around the idea of getting customers to pay for beauty and grooming samples. Yes, samples. The ones that companies usually give for free to entice customers to buy a full-size product.

For a monthly fee, Birchbox subscribers receive a box each month, and inside they discover several high-end beauty product samples. Early on, each customer shares some personal information to help Birchbox select the right combination of samples. Many go on to buy full-sized products from Birchbox’s website. The most ardent Birchbox fans consider their deliveries a special treat. Some of them even post YouTube videos of themselves opening their boxes with delight.

Net Promoter System podcastCo-founder Hayley Barna, who worked at Bain early in her career, recently joined me on the Net Promoter System Podcast to explain how she came up with the idea for Birchbox, and how it creates this unique customer experience. She shared some of the secrets to maintaining the quality of the experience despite the company’s rapid growth. Birchbox now has more than 1 million subscribers and it’s on its way to becoming a household name.

“The first interaction that we have with a customer is, ‘Tell us a lot of information about yourself, so that we can give you a fantastic experience,’” Hayley says. “So we really live and die by that close relationship to our consumer.”

Those close relationships with customers are the key to the company’s rapid growth. Hayley and her business partner, Katia Beauchamp, track each customer’s purchasing behavior over the span of their Birchbox relationship. They look for patterns that might inform future offers and guide business decisions. They use the Net Promoter System to keep their fingers on the pulse of the customer experience, identify areas of weakness and find new opportunities to improve.

This careful monitoring, along with Birchbox’s vast customer data, makes it a great partner to consumer products companies, which often struggle to learn about and form relationships with the customers who buy their goods. Some of these manufacturers are so eager to work with Birchbox that they produce samples exclusively for its customers.

What’s the secret behind Birchbox’s runaway success? You can unbox it by listening to Hayley on the Net Promoter System Podcast. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or listen to this episode through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Subscribe to the Net Promoter System podcast on iTunes

The three qualities of the Net Promoter System’s “outer loop”: Answering the call for culture change at AT&T

Net Promoter System podcast“We have over 5,000 customer experience initiatives currently in flight across the organization. I know two or three of them are probably going to be really high impact. I also suspect that while most of them are really good things to do, I am almost certain a large percentage are just a waste of time. Here’s the problem: I don’t know which two or three will really move the needle. And I can’t stop the thousand or so that are just a waste of time.”

The above statement was made by the president of a business unit at a large insurance company, explaining his frustration with his organization’s ability to make progress on improving the customer experience.

True loyalty leaders solve this problem by creating a portfolio of high-impact investments that will make a big difference for their customers. They assign talented resources to tackle each one, develop a clear implementation plan and cultivate support from across the company. In a large organization, creating and managing this portfolio requires a process for identifying and prioritizing the opportunities that need improvement and allocating the right resources toward that end. True loyalty leaders don’t just tackle the right priorities, they also communicate their progress and results with employees, building trust and pride.

In the Net Promoter System, we call this mechanism the “outer loop.” It identifies, prioritizes, allocates resources to and manages the customer-friendly changes that employees and teams can’t make on their own. The outer loop works in tandem with the Net Promoter System’s “inner loop,” which is the process for fostering rapid individual learning and customer intimacy through immediate, tangible feedback, coaching and follow-up.

A strong outer loop has three qualities:

 It’s robust, using input from customers, employees, benchmarking data and other sources to guide decisions.
 It’s rigorous, so it can gauge how a given initiative might affect retention, revenue and other measures.
It’s transparent, so it inspires confidence among employees who can see the company’s efforts to improve.

John Dwyer of AT&TJohn Dwyer, the senior vice president for customer experience at AT&T, joins me on the latest episode of the Net Promoter System podcast. He and his team have developed a robust, rigorous and transparent outer loop at AT&T that has enabled the company to become a J.D. Power leader in wireless customer service and purchase experience.

AT&T has used the approach to evaluate network upgrades, service improvements and the ways it supports its frontline employees. Its process is so finely tuned that the company knows the 13 tasks that customers need to be able to complete to be happy with their mobile phone service. That allows the company to size up projects based on its potential to deliver what really matters to customers.

AT&T has also forged one of the most well-developed employee “suggestion boxes” that I’ve ever heard of. When a frontline employee faces a question he can’t answer or a problem he can’t immediately fix, he can use AT&T’s homegrown “Hero” system to request a suitable solution from an internal expert. If the employee isn’t happy with the expert’s response, he can challenge the expert to find a better answer.

“There are two kinds of employees inside our company: Those who support our customers and those who support those who support our customers,” John says. “We’ve got to make sure that those frontline employees feel that sense of support within the business.”

When executives use the outer loop effectively, like they do at AT&T, they let employees know that the company supports their efforts to serve the customer. To learn more about the outer loop, check out our latest issue of Loyalty Insights, which explores some of the common challenges and pitfalls that companies face as they develop an outer loop.

To hear John discuss AT&T’s approach to customer experience and the process of improving service at a large company, check out the podcast on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Subscribe to the Net Promoter System podcast on iTunes

At Disney, the show must go on

Net Promoter System podcastImagine that 20 million people depend on you to create a magical vacation experience for their family every year. Imagine leading 40,000 employees operating four theme parks and 20 resort hotels spread over an area larger than the city of San Francisco. On top of that, imagine running multiple shopping and entertainment districts, water parks, golf courses and the ESPN sports complex. That was Lee Cockerell’s job for over a decade. He was EVP of operations for Walt Disney World in Orlando. Just the logistical challenges of that role would overwhelm most leaders.

But the logistics aren’t really what interests me. And Lee, who retired a few years ago, mastered the logistics and complexity winningly. Much more fascinating is the question of how Lee and his team so consistently—day in and day out for years on end—created the kind of experiences that left customers so delighted they just couldn’t wait to visit again and tell their friends.

lee-cockerell-disney-120x113And that’s the key to Disney’s success: repeat business and word of mouth. About 70% of Disney’s visitors on any given day have been there before. The average customer comes back every three years for life. Walt Disney World’s economics depend on that repeat business. “That’s why we focus on trying to make the experience so good that they want to come back to us over and over,” says Lee.

Lee is my guest on the latest Net Promoter System podcast. He told me that Disney gathers data on customers’ experience at a level most companies can only dream about. It surveys 2 million guests a year on the Internet. It has teams armed with iPads roaming the park, interviewing guests while they’re still in the middle of the experience. It tracks how guests flow through its transportation system, hotels, restaurants, shops, shows and rides. And it uses this data to fuel its guest experience innovation pipeline for the resort.

Customers told Disney, for example, they wanted more certainty about what they would spend on food in the parks. So Disney introduced a meal plan for the resort, now used by more than 50% of guests. Customers didn’t know they wanted free transportation to and from the airport, but Disney’s research suggested that getting to and from the airport with kids and luggage in tow was a common source of anxiety. Once the company put an airport transportation system in place, complete with end-to-end baggage handling that takes guests’ bags from airport baggage claim to hotel room and back, the company’s hotel occupancy rate rose 10%.

Some of these innovations have direct payoffs. Even though the meal plan offers a great deal for guests, for instance, it increased food revenue because meal plan guests eat almost all their meals at Disney restaurants. Other innovations might seem like pure expense, such as the decision to install Wi-Fi capacity throughout the Disney properties. But it’s all driven by a desire to make the customer experience so seamless and unforgettable that it creates enthusiastic promoters of Walt Disney World.

Ultimately, of course, the key to such an experience lies with tens of thousands of employees—cast members, in Disney parlance. On that front, Disney shows a remarkable combination of what In Search of Excellence authors Tom Peters and Bob Waterman once called loose-tight principles, and what we at Bain call “leading by letting go.”

On the one hand, Disney expects every cast member to look the part, play the part and “act happy” every minute of every working day. “Cinderella can’t have a tattoo on her neck, and Mickey can’t smoke,” Lee points out. “We’re putting on a show, and that show’s got to be the same every single day.” On the other hand, Disney gives individual cast members a great deal of authority to solve any problem they encounter. A little girl gets wet in a rain shower? “The cast member has the authority to give her a [new] dress at no charge, or to replace her Mickey Mouse doll or to get her a new ice cream cone.”

Lee discusses all this and more on the podcast—including what it takes for other companies to emulate Disney’s world-class practices. You can listen to the discussion on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Knowing when an interaction needs a human touch

linkedin-dont-send-technology-to-solve-human-problem-220x207Banks, retailers, and companies in just about every industry are expanding their online and mobile tools and finding new ways to serve customers through screens rather than at a counter. Without a doubt, a strong digital presence is critical to success in today’s business world, but it’s not enough. Some customers will always want to talk through complicated problems with another person, especially when the questions are sensitive and personal.

The smartest minds in business know which customer interactions benefit from a human touch, and the best companies know how to blend the best aspects of the digital and physical customer experiences.

In my latest post on LinkedIn, I look at the ways that some companies use technology in a way that undermines their service efforts.

Read the post here: Don’t Send Technology to Solve a Human Problem