Lessons From the Customers First Awards Finalists.
Leaders must be champions of the customer experience. To get close to his patrons, Chick-fil-A's president, Dan Cathy, spends at least one day each year behind the restaurant counter and has camped out overnight with customers at 16 store openings this year. But for Cathy, leadership is about championing the great ideas of others and setting an intensely customer-centered tone that promotes development of those ideas.
Employee empathy creates distinctive service. After Fairmont Hotels' customers made it clear that empathy was an attribute they admired ("Travel-industry employees usually have no idea what you're going through," says one Fairmont fan), the company created an orientation program to help workers understand what it feels like to be a guest. It also began screening for empathy as a personality trait during interviews.
In the rules of engagement, technology rules. Mini USA's customers have to wait two to three months for their cars. As they wait, Mini's Web tools keep them engaged in the process while also communicating the brand's image of individualism and community.
Data helps. But using it to benefit customers is crucial. Too many companies collect copious data or feedback -- only to leave customers out of the benefit loop. Harrah's offers real-time perks to gamblers based on their gaming history, and Wachovia gives targeted, one-on-one coaching to employees based on feedback from customers.
Cutting costs doesn't have to mean cutting service. Progressive's instant-response vehicles and concierge centers speed claims handling and get cars back to drivers sooner. At the same time, these customer-focused innovations boost productivity and save the company rental-car and storage costs.