Last week we were honored to be the closing keynote speakers for the Annual Customer Experience Conference in New York, brought to you by the same folks who bring you the Consumer Confidence Index: The Conference Board.
The MC for the event was Robert Reiss, often referred to as the “Napoleon Hill of the 21st Century” for his tireless pursuit to discover and share the best practices of the best leaders to deliver an excellent customer experience. Robert and his team selected a line-up of top speakers from the most successful Fortune 1000 to share their secrets to attract, grow and sustain loyal customers.
After each talk he asked the speaker the same question, “If you could give our audience just one piece of advice, what would it be?” Many of the answers we agree with whole heartedly, and we have written about extensively in previous blogs. For example: tie in compensation plans to customer satisfaction metrics; for every “complainer” there are numerous unhappy customers that just walk; and the customer service department should be elevated in status due to its unique position as the repository of customer feedback.
However, we did get three new takeaways that surprised us:
- Customers Will Pay a Premium for Simplification. In this world of too many choices, customers will now actually pay more for simplification. One fixed rate for services as opposed to smorgasbord rates is becoming more desirable. Removing the anxiety over endless choices and offering pre-selected packages are quickly gaining in popularity from mobile service providers to insurance underwriters. It makes life easier for customers and they will pay a premium for it, we were told. So all that work everyone has been doing to give the customer more and more choices over the past few years had finally reached a saturation point. Folks no longer want to spend hours trying to figure out what elements to chose if they can get most of what they want at a simple price, even if it costs more!
- Some CEOs Have Yet to Embrace The Customer Experience. It suprised us, as entrepreneurs, to hear that many attendees from large companies were looking for ways to “gently” bring their top management around to view the customer experience as not just one of the elements of the business, but as the prime driver of company health and sustainability. We always took it as a given than any CEO and C-Suiter would realize where their salaries and job security came from. At Barefoot, our CEO worked with customers, personally fielded incoming calls, and gave more credence to advice from the sales people than the marketing team.
- It is the Wild West. The Customer Experience responsibility can be found anywhere in a large company, from its own department trying to get the company to play ball, to the president of the company who demands that all departments recognize the importance of the experience. We believe the responsibility should ultimately reside in the executive suite. Athough we understand that in a large company the complexity of the organization can take focus away from the customer experience, we believe that whoever has the responsibility should have veto power over any well-meaning, cost-saving or efficiency-boosting decisions that can have detrimental consequences to the customer experience.
The conference attendees went home with plenty of practical and tactical tools which will only make their customers’ experiences more positive. Companies that jump on board with these ideas now will have the competitive advantage in the future.
We were very impressed with the caliber of the attendees, quality of the speakers, and the mission of the conference to elevate the customer experience by finding and sharing best practices. Now the challenge is to get top management to realize that this isn’t just a department, it is the business!
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders