Category Archives: Tra Williams

Great Expectations: The 4 Foundational C’s of the Customer Experience

By Tra Williams 

Tra Williams

Remember the old saying that if you never expect anything then you’ll never be disappointed? Well, that might work on blind dates and birthday presents, but in business, expectations are impossible to avoid. For every action that a customer takes, there was an expectation that preceded it. Obviously, customers take action because they believe that action will yield a specific result. Over time, that belief—that something will or won’t happen—is solidified. It discourages or encourages future action. The resulting momentum, for good or bad, reaffirms their belief. The cycle is then perpetuated and a customer’s loyalty is either lost or gained.

This simple psychological loop is perpetuated by whether your business failed to meet, met or exceeded a customer’s preconceived notions. In short, customer expectations define the customer experience.

Fortunately, if you properly position your business in the minds of your customers, you can mold their expectations in ways that are consistent with the service and value that you provide.  There are four foundational elements that define your customers’ expectations. Mastering all four is the key to exceeding your customers’ expectations every time and keeping that customer for life.

If you properly position your business in the minds of your customers, you can mold their expectations in ways that are consistent with the service and value that you provide. Click To Tweet

1. Culture—Who you are is the key to what you should do and how you should do it.  

Every potential customer begins to build a mental profile of your business the moment he becomes aware that it exists. Millions of years of evolution have hardwired us to save mental energy by recognizing patterns that predict the world around us. As a result, your potential customer immediately and unconsciously makes assumptions about what to expect from the culture she observes. Subtle and not so subtle clues convey information and frame the expected tone of your interaction even before your initial contact. The cleanliness of your parking lot, the options on your automated answering service, and the wrinkles and stains on your employees’ uniforms all add to the story that you are already telling.

The story begins with your logo and your branding; they tell their own story. But your messaging and the medium through which it travels also reveal hidden truths about the culture of your business. More often than not, your culture defines your service level but not your messaging. And if the reality of your service falls short of the expectations defined by your messaging, the customer feels duped and is less likely to return.

The key to mastering this element is to maintain consistency between your branding and messaging and the reality of the service that you provide.

2. Credibility—An impressive depth of knowledge is nothing without parallel performance and vice versa.

Imagine you are interviewing a potential financial advisor who is vying for your business. He has degrees on his wall behind his mahogany desk along with various certificates showing him to be well-educated. He answers your questions clearly and succinctly without too much industry jargon, and by all accounts, conveys confidence in his abilities and authority over his domain. However, the prospectus for his recommended investments shows below-market performance every year for the past ten years. Would you allow him to invest your precious earnings? Probably not.

Now reverse the scenario. Imagine he has consistently outperformed the market for ten years, but during the interview, he sounds uneducated and is unable to answer questions about why or how that performance was achieved.  Would you allow him to invest your precious earnings? Again, probably not.

The point is that your customer makes assumptions about your credibility because of and sometimes in spite of your performance. Knowledge of your industry isn’t enough. Comparably, past performance isn’t enough.

The key to mastering this element is to know why and how not just one or the other. 

3. Capacity—Revenues will not materialize without the infrastructure they require.

Entrepreneurs and business owners are by definition resourceful. Not only have they recognized and seized the opportunity, but they have also navigated a complex process. However, once the business is operational, their minds often transition from a focus on opportunity and innovation to a focus on reduction and optimization.  Corners are often cut and resources are limited in the name of costs.

Imagine you are looking for a restaurant to host your engagement party. Which restaurant would you choose—A) an understaffed restaurant where the food is always amazing or B) a restaurant with amazing service where the food is always good?  Most would choose restaurant B because the quality of your product has nothing to do with your scalability.

How you execute at a smaller level creates the expectations in the minds of customers for your ability to execute at a larger level. Would you actually prefer to earn a few extra dollars if doing so limited the growth of your business? Doubtful. In the end, nothing is more costly than playing it safe.

The key to mastering this element is to realize that preparation actually creates opportunity.

4. Command—Your command over the process should eliminate customer effort.

Customers expect results without effort on their part. After all, why would they pay you if they have to work? But work in this instance isn’t just the service you provide, it is also the effort a customer must exert to yield results. Obviously, if a customer has to call multiple times and talk to multiple people to yield results, your process has failed and you have likely lost that customer’s business.  On the contrary, effortless results yields repeat business.

If you haven’t mapped your customer flow, you should do so immediately. If you have, take a look at it and note each time the customer is required to act in any way or left wondering what to do next. Paperwork, phone calls, appointments, hold times and commutes are all work for the customer. You must take command of the process and limit the effort your customer exerts…especially during your very first interaction. Doing so will create the expectation that calling you yields effortless results. 

The key to mastering this element is clear communication of a well-defined and effortless process.

The point is, customers, choose to frequent businesses that consistently meet or exceed their expectations and they form their expectations before they ever walk in the door or pick up the phone. Your culture, credibility, capacity, and command define whether you exceed their expectations and gain a customer for life or fall short and send them to a competitor. 

Tra Williams is a celebrated speaker, business consultant and author of the forthcoming book Feed Your Unicorn. He is a nationally recognized thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Tra works tirelessly with people, professionals, and organizations to help them define success on their own terms and build the framework required to sustain it. For more information, please visit www.TraWilliams.com.

The Wow Factor: The Ten Commandments of Creating Lifetime Customers

By Tra Williams

Tra Williams-your customers

Everyone has experienced this at one time or another. What you thought was going to be a simple everyday transaction for a product or service, turned out to be an experience that earned your lifetime loyalty as a customer. Sadly, it doesn’t happen very often. Which is exactly why it’s so surprising when it does happen.

Today’s consumer-driven environment is intently focused on instant availability and for good reason. More than ever customers want immediate access and lament any speed bumps between them and the conclusion of the transaction. Immediacy has become the golden calf of customer satisfaction. Customers continually worship the quickest solution with frequent patronage, but the results of that lust for instant gratification has come at a painful price. The line between optimization and true innovation has been blurred as the customer experience has been sacrificed on the altar of speed.

Escaping this cult of self-satisfaction where likes pass for loyalty, requires you to rewrite the rules of comparison. Don’t allow the value of your product or service to be determined by an outside metric. Instead, change the game and redefine what the word value means to your customer.

Here are The Ten Commandments of value creation and earning a customer for life.

The motives that drive your organization also drive your customers’ loyalty. Without a mission, you and your customer have no 'why'. Career Development,
  1. Technology Reduction: In today’s world of technology immersion, the human touch matters more than ever. Each escalation of technology reduces human interaction. Each reduction of human interaction is a missed opportunity to earn a lifetime customer who judges the value you provide by metrics that you define…not just speed. When someone takes real time to provide personal enhancements to an individual experience—that’s impressive. You can’t cut through the white noise with more white noise. Remember, innovative technology is usually meant to optimize our lives. Therefore, you can purchase service optimization but not service innovation. Real service innovation comes from the people within an organization, which brings us to number two.
  2. Focus on front-line staff: Your front-line staff who interact directly with your customers are the most important people in your organization. Not the owner or the VP; it’s the front line employee who is friendly and patient, who smiles all the time and who remembers the customers’ names and business needs. That person will ultimately make or break a company. Make sure your culture emphasizes treating them with the time and attention they deserve and they will treat your customers the same way.
  3. Have a real relationship with your customer: Recognize that the relationship you have with your customer should not be transactional. Of course it’s important to look for opportunities to make the transaction simpler, easier and more pleasant for the customer. But it’s also imperative that you add value to their lives in ways that are unrelated to the transaction. Look for ways to be a resource not just a provider.
  4. Develop a customer-first culture: Culture is binary. You’re either in or out. It starts with a slow and methodical hiring process. The time, money and productivity lost on a hire who is inconsistent with a company’s culture is immeasurable. Take your time and hire the right people. Then focus on their development. They in turn will grow the business. Customer loyalty is built by people not in spite of them.
  5. Cultivate Reciprocity: We are hardwired to do more for those who do things for us. When it rains, Chick-fil-A has employees wearing ponchos run to people’s cars when they pull in and hold an umbrella over them while they walk inside. And then escort them back to their cars when they have finished their meal. It’s no wonder their average unit volume is three times the average of most QSRs while only being open six days a week—reciprocity.
  6. Eliminate Policies: “I’m sorry, Ma’am. That’s just our policy.”These words should never be uttered in business. They reveal to your customer that your culture values adherence to arbitrary rules more than customer satisfaction. You should have only one policy, which is—do everything within your power to exceed your customers’ expectations.
  7. Empower your team: If you’ve followed Commandment 2 and 4, then this one should be easy. Every team member should feel empowered to do what is right in each specific situation. “Let me ask my manager” tells your customer that you don’t trust your employees’ discretion or decision-making. And if you don’t trust the people you hire why should your customers trust that they will have a consistently great experience?
  8. Celebrate: Everybody loves a winner and nobody wants to be on the losing team. Customers want to feel like the money they spend is making the world a better place. Publicly celebrate your wins, your anniversaries, your employee accomplishments (both in and out of work), your growth, your community engagement, your awards and your achievements. Did one of your employees just get her Master’s? Have a baby? Compete in a triathlon? Celebrate it. This Commandment has the added advantage of developing employee loyalty as well as customer loyalty.
  9. Raise the Stakes: Service innovation inherently means that you are challenging the assumptions of traditional expectations. On the flip side of this coin is the realization that doing something new is also a new opportunity to fail. Fortunately, studies have shown that customers value your effort nearly as much as the result. As such, they are incredibly forgiving of failure so long as every effort was made to succeed. So challenge your team and yourself. Raise the stakes. Go big. Consistent yet average is still unimpressive.
  10. Have a mission: People are not motivated by what; people are motivated by why. If the goal is to make tons of money and eventually go public, then you have missed the point of this exercise entirely. Where you spend your money is a major part of your identity. Customers align themselves with organizations that mirror who they are, or at least who they’d like to be. Therefore, the motives that drive your organization also drive your customers’ loyalty. Without a mission, you and your customer have no ‘why’.

Embrace these Commandments. Carve them into stone and bring them down from the mountain. If when you arrive you find your team obsessed with the Golden Calf of immediacy, tell them this: In today’s world of instant gratification, do not worship speed. When speed becomes the only metric by which you judge service, then true service becomes irrelevant. Instead of conjuring new ways to complete a transaction faster, make the experience so amazing that the customer will never want it to end.

Tra Williams is a celebrated speaker, business consultant and author of the forthcoming book Feed Your Unicorn. He is a nationally recognized thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership and entrepreneurship. Tra works tirelessly with people, professionals, and organizations to help them define success on their own terms and build the framework required to sustain it. For more information, please visit: www.TraWilliams.com.

Four Reasons Every Professional Should Have a Strategic Plan for Personal Development

By Tra Williams

Tra Williams

If you are serious about growing your business, everyone on your team needs a strategic plan for their own development that is separate from and exceeds the company’s current needs. Here’s why

Every year millions of business leaders spend days if not weeks collaborating with their peers to develop a strategic plan for their company to execute. Goals are set, tactics are outlined, and information is cascaded to all levels of the organization. If done properly, each department and each person understands their role in the plan and throughout the twelve months that follow everyone strives to do their part.

However, in doing so, they hitch their personal development to the company wagon.

Individuals are more marketable when their skillset advances with its own momentum. Click To Tweet

Without a separate strategic plan for themselves as individuals, they unwittingly limit their development to the skills required to achieve the goals of their employer.  Most don’t think about or realize the limitation because their employer usually acknowledges and rewards them for their efforts. Therefore, their development feels like an accomplishment not a limitation. But here are four reasons why the company-prescribed linear path isn’t enough for the individual or the company.

1. White Space

Great companies build growth strategies around the opportunities that their existing infrastructure affords them.  If every team member develops only in ways and at the pace that their employer’s goals require, then the organization’s growth is limited to the plans that are laid each year. However, if team members are developing with their own momentum, previously unplanned opportunities can be immediately seized. There are no crystal balls, so growth-focused organizations need untapped talent on their bench if they want the corporate agility that unplanned opportunities require.

2. Stronger Partnerships

When potential business partnerships or joint ventures are being contemplated the due diligence should and usually does include an asset assessment—and people are every company’s most valuable asset.  The very nature of new partnerships means growth and change.  Both sides of the equation want to know that the other side has the existing talent that the venture requires.  Imagine how quickly a new business relationship would crumble if the strategy was initiated concurrently with the personnel development required to execute it.

3. Marketability

Individuals are more marketable when their skillset advances with its own momentum. Fortunately, they also add marketability to the company itself. Most business owners have a planned exit strategy that usually involves a merger, an acquisition, or possibly going public; and all three require an investment from outside the company. Investors always expect growth in addition to a return on their investment. Potential shareholders may not examine employee development prior to buying Apple or Amazon stock, but venture capitalists look for companies that have growth opportunities and a talent pool to turn those opportunities into profits. Untapped talent means additional revenue opportunities, and that’s like ringing the dinner bell for hungry investors.

4. Succession

Succession planning is always a fickle challenge. As businesses mature so does their leadership. More often than not, members of the existing executive leadership team are all very close in age. When they begin to hit the retirement horizon a difficult problem arises; promote from within or hire from without.  Hiring externally is always a gamble and studies have shown that it is more cost-effective to develop your own leaders.  A study by the Wharton School of Business showed that hiring externally costs 18-20 percent more than promoting from within and performs worse—at least in the first two years. A Harvard study showed that replacing a CEO with an externally candidate results in an average performance drop of 6 percent. New faces come with unknown consequences and culture is binary; someone may look good on paper but a C-Level exec who is culturally inconsistent with the company can have catastrophic consequences, especially in smaller organizations.

If you are serious about growing your business, every person on your team needs a strategic plan for their own development that is separate from and exceeds the company’s current needs. It is important that each person develop their own plan; it should not be made up of additional expectations prescribed by the company.  However, the company should set parameters for what is included in each person’s plan. For instance, every person’s plan should include hard and soft skills. At least one of their personal development goals should be a hard skill that it is unrelated to their current duties. The plan should also include short and long term development goals. With enough practice, it may only take a few months to become a better public speaker, but it may take years to speak in another language. And finally, every person’s plan should include at least one goal that builds upon his or her previous plan. While not too prescriptive, parameters like these assure development breadth and depth.

We spend a lot of time developing plans for our businesses. And to be fair, most of us work hard to facilitate people development as well. There is a difference, however, between working hard to facilitate something and having a tangible strategic plan that includes tactics and measurable outcomes. The former shows that you care about your people. The latter shows that you recognize personal development is the lynchpin for success.

Tra Williams is a celebrated speaker, business consultant and author of the forthcoming book Feed Your Unicorn. He is a nationally recognized thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership and entrepreneurship. Tra works tirelessly with people, professionals, and organizations to help them define success on their own terms and build the framework required to sustain it. For more information, please visit: www.TraWilliams.com.