Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’

THANK YOU NOTES

March 10, 2009

While at CAA, I had the pleasure of working with Equinox Fitness.  The company’s employees are very loyal, close, and fiercely protective of their brand (with maybe the exception of their Fallon ad campaign…sorry just my opinion).  They are always looking for new ways to set themselves apart from their competitors and service is a part of that mix.  One of the inside jokes with executives in the office is the “Amex Cookie Story”. 

You see, the company’s chairman Harvey Spevak had gone to an American Express event for executives years ago.  He has never forgotten all the little things they did to make him feel welcome… and brings them up from time-to-time as examples for his staff.  The most popular of those stories; the milk and cookies Harvey found on the night stand in his hotel room before he went to bed.  Funny thing is, he even told me the story.  It meant that much.

Yesterday I came home and went through the stack of mail.  There in an invitation size envelope was something from American Express (shit, too thin to be cookies).  Because “The Card” was embossed on the front, I opened it.  Inside was this…

Dear Mr. Lewi,

As a Card member, you are one of  our most valued customers.  We truly appreciate your business and thank you for being a Card member since 1989. 

As always, but especially during these challenging economic times, our pledge is to remain true to our heritage of providing outstanding customer service and product offerings.  For assistance, or to learn more about your Card, you can always call Customer Service at 1-800….

Best wishes for a safe, healthy and succesful 2009.

Sincerely,

Jud Linville

They didn’t send an email.  To be honest, although better for the environment, it wouldn’t have made the same impact.  Fact is, it would have probably been ignored even if I signed-up for an email alert.  American Express used recycled materials to print on, which shows they did give some thought to the environment.  Props for them on that level too. 

My point to this, send your customers a Thank You Note.  Make sure you make each person feel like you are speaking directly to them vs. sending a form letter (thank you for being a member since 1989).  By going the extra step, you may become Harvey’s next “Amex Cookie Story”.

Speak with you soon…

Jim

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CUSTOMER SERVICE CHAMPS

February 24, 2009

First, did you all catch the Senate hearings today on the Live Nation / Ticketmaster merger?  It was weird seeing people you have known well for 20-years testifying on Capital Hill.  Thought Irving was…well Irving and handled himself well.  Seth Hurwitz did a really good job.  Well spoken, facts at the top of his head, he represented the independent promoters well.  Although most senators present seemed to be negative towards the merger, it will probably still pass scrutiny, so everyone keep moving forward. 

My friend Scott Perry who writes The New Music Tipsheet http://www.newmusictipsheet.com/ sent a note about the March 2nd issue of Business Week.  The cover has SPECIAL REPORT printed on the top.  The topic, “Extreme Customer Service, In A Tough Year, 25 Companies That Get It Right”.  So what can we learn from these companies?  Just looking through the list will probably give you some ideas.  I’ve added some fun facts from the Business Week article to help.

  1. Amazon –“Some 30 % of sales come from outside retailers who sell goods on Amazon.”  Although there is more to that paragraph, you can take a lot just from that one sentence. 
  2. USAA Insurance –“Financial services firm for military families handled 150,000 catastrophe claims in 2008, double its average, as events such as Hurricane Ike destroyed customers’ homes and autos.  Still, USAA retained 96% of customers”
  3. Jaguar – “…Jaguar’s field teams for customer service were recently ranked best in the auto industry by the Nation Automobile Dealers Assn.”
  4. Lexus “…awards cash each year – as much as $50,000 – to dealers who have the best new service ideas.”
  5. The Ritz-Carlton – “To lure corporate event planners worried about high-end confabs amid the recession, Ritz will donate 10% of corporate meeting fees to charity.”
  6. Publix Super Markets – “To ensure customers always find what they come looking for, upscale Florida-based grocer Publix adopted an “automated replenishment” system in 2008 for fresh items.  Scanners indicate when inventory levels are low, and software automatically orders replacements.”
  7. Zappos.com – “With no monitoring of call times and no scripts, call centers have so much power it’s critical to make sure they’re a cultural fit.  To do that, CEO Tony Hsieh offers new customer service agents $2000 to leave the company after an initial training period if the new hires don’t think they mesh with Zappos’ zany culture.”
  8. Hewlett-Packard – “In 2008, Hewlett-Packard opened eight new customer service centers worldwide, including two in the U.S.”
  9. T. Rowe Price – To meet the customer service questions that flooded the company following the start of the financial crisis, “the company tapped 300 employees who formerly worked the phones to help meet call demand.”
  10. Ace Hardware – “…rolled out new technology that analyzes past shopping patterns to tell store managers what time of day is quietest for tasks like shelving products and cleaning rest rooms.”
  11. Key Bank – “In the past year, the bank unveiled new online tools that give entrepreneurs many of the cash-management services long reserved for large companies…”
  12. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts – “…is outsourcing laundry to third parties at some properties and combining some hotel management roles to help save labor costs.”
  13. Norstrom – “Nordsrom’s famous return policy lets customers return any item at any store…”
  14. Cadillac – “Despite General Motors’ cash crunch, Cadillac has not scalled back on guaranteeing loaner cars to customers while their cars are in the shop.”
  15. Amica Insurance – “…CEO Bob DiMuccio says what sets the company apart is decades of investment in the staff, which has a turnover rate of less than 7%.”
  16. Enterprise Rent-A-Car – “…management pay and promotion are directly related to a store’s service performance.”
  17. American Express – New compensation model for call center agents…”offer them incentives tied to satisfaction scores and the flexibility to trade shifts.”
  18. Trader Joe’s Supermarket – “Some 99% of employees work in the stores, and even CEO Dan Bane doesn’t have an assistant.”
  19. Jetblue Airways – “…Jetblue created the industry’s first Customer Bill of Right – which includes providing compensation for passengers affected by problems caused by the carrier.”
  20. Apple – “Last year the company posted the largest one-year increase ever in the University of Michigan’s closely watched American Customer Satisfaction Index.”  Can you say Genius Bar?
  21. Charles Schwab – “A push to reduce the number of steps it takes to open new accounts has helped to shorten some call times, freeing up reps to answer calls faster.”
  22. BMW – “Now BMW ties rewards to how well dealers look after dissatisfied customers.”
  23. True Value – The company is expanding its online survey capabilities.
  24. L.L. Bean – “A simplified software system for entering orders has greatly reduced the training time for new hires.” 
  25. JW Marriott – “… tried to improve service by cross-training employees such as administrative assistants, who have been taught to serve food at banquets.  That keeps service leves high without having to hire more staff.”

Here is the short list of what I took from the top 25.  Some are the same old themes you always hear from me… I’m sorry, but it’s what I see above.

  • Use technology to serve customers, employees and save money
  • Hire the right people
  • Train your employees properly
  • Provide generous compensation packages for employees tied to customer satisfaction, not just sales
  • Have a philanthropic side that matches your customers’ concerns
  • Don’t keep customers holding!  Have a person answer the phone, not a machine
  • Treat your customers like gold…because these days they are worth a lot more

Talk with you soon…

Jim

BLAMING YOUR SUB-CONTRACTORS

February 22, 2009

While we were still living in Aspen, my wife Lori and I decided to build our first house.  For anyone who has ever gone through this process, it is a real learning experience.  In fact, when I retire from entertainment, I’m grabbing some of the best set carpenters I know and becoming a general contractor.  Pride in workmanship,  finishing on-time and on-budget, and delivering what was promised, are not stories you hear too much from those who have built homes, offices, or even a new bathroom.  Usually when you go to your general contractor (as we did) with a problem, they just blame the sub-contractors on the job.  This practise is not limited to the construction business.

I’m not big on writing complaint letters to companies.  Before my email to the Santa Barbara Olive Company, I had never sent one before.  But you see, I love olives!  Santa Barbara Olive Company became my favorite brand, even though they are more than twice the price of others.  But over the last few months, I noticed that their product wasn’t just off, it was bad.  So I wrote a note to find out what was up.  Below is the response the company sent 2-weeks after my email. 

Hi Jim,

We’d be happy to answer your questions. Olives are a fruit and as such, they will come in different sizes, textures, color, etc. This past year, the olive crops around the world were not that great. Everyone suffered. We expect the crop to be better this year. To answer your second question, when we run out of olives on our own olive farm, we turn to other farms in California and Spain and Greece to supplement the demand for our products. We always buy olives from farms that have similar growing practices to our organic farm here in Santa Barbara. But again, the not-so-great olive crops may have hindered the usual robust flavor.

If you would like, we can send you a coupon to get a fresh jar at your store. Please let us know by return email. Thank you for taking the time to write to us about your concerns. We greatly appreciate feedback from our customers.

Regards,

Santa Barbara Olive Co.,Inc.

In the above note, Santa Barbara Olive Company does answer my questions.  But the way I read this note, they are not standing behind their brand.  Here is what I would have done if I were them…

  1. Send a response the same day.  If you are going to have a website that you advertise on your bottles, you should have someone monitoring that site and responding in a timely manner.
  2. Explaining a problem is one thing, making it your excuse for a poor product with your name on it is bad business!  Don’t blame the subs.
  3. Why should I have to do anything to get a coupon?  I should have just gotten the free jar…or even a case just for taking the time to write.  Many times a company can take these situations and turn an unhappy customer into a very happy one by overdelivering. 
  4. Explain how you intend on fixing the problem in the future…or you will be dropping prices due to a bad crop…or something that isn’t… just too bad.

If someone takes the time to write you a note, make a call, complain to one of your employees, etc, your customer service people must look into the problem immediately and communicate with that customer so they feel like they were heard…and the issue will be resolved. 

If you want to point the finger at someone else for your problems, go into politics.  Otherwise, take care of your customer even if it isn’t your fault. 

Talk with you soon…

Jim

CMO AT LIVE NATION???

January 29, 2009

There is a rumor circulating that Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter, has hired former CAA Marketing agent Seth Matlins in the newly created role of Chief Marketing Officer.  If it is true (and I believe it is), it will be the first time that I’m aware of that a concert promoter has brought in someone from outside music to oversee marketing.  This would be big news. 

Seth is also a good fit in the world of Branded Live Entertainment.  Matlins was one of the senior people at CAA Marketing.  While at CAA he oversaw big-brand accounts including Coke, Visa, Starwood Hotels, eBay, Delta Airlines, Harley Davidson, and Hasbro…and he is smart.  Seth knows how to put the pieces together and is well connected in Hollywood as well as Madison Avenue.  Russell Wallach(who runs the sponsorship side of Live Nation) could find new ways to work with his clients through Seth.  Points to Live Nation on this one.  Now it’s time to tackle customer service.

Speaking of customer service, I’m moderating the Customer Service in the Concert Industry panel at the Concert Industry Consortium tomorrow, January 30th @ 3:30 pm in the Santa Monica Room @ the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in LA.  The panelists are Geoff Boucher, The Los Angeles Times; Rick Mueller, Live Nation; Lee Zeidman, Staples Center/Nokia Theatre, and Patrick May, Skyline Music.  We will have free beer and wine at the event to serve you better.  Please come by.

Talk with you soon…

Jim

“IF I WERE… LAS VEGAS”

January 2, 2009

In the 70’s and 80’s (the years I was growing up) Las Vegas, the self proclaimed “Entertainment Capital of the World”, was known for inexpensive rooms, food and shows.  The resorts wanted guests at the tables gambling.  In the 90’s, Las Vegas started to shed its sin city reputation to attract families.  Now in 2009, the resorts themselves, shopping, shows, and restaurants have become as much of an attraction as gambling, free drinks, and legalized prostitution (my girls made a game out of collecting call-girl cards that were being handed out on the strip).  The above (minus the gambling, free drinks, and prostitution…except for the “trading cards” of course) are the reasons my family goes to Vegas.

Las Vegas can be great for families.  In one place you can find some of the best restaurants, shopping and entertainment in the world.  The problem is we can’t afford to do it anymore.  I bet we aren’t alone.

Now granted, my family is far from thrifty travelers.  But on the other hand, we drove to Las Vegas versus flying and stayed free on “points”.  We used sites like http://www.goldstar.com/home (my cousin Ann Leslie turned me on to this site) to purchase show tickets, used vouchers and coupons from the hotel, and even a gift certificate to eat one night…and we still couldn’t afford to do it again.  Las Vegas needs to drop its prices, stop building hotels and focus on customer service.

Here are the top 10 Things I would do…”If I were Las Vegas”.

  • 1) Drop your room prices in the nicer hotels. You want to make more money at the tables, save money for guests to gamble with.
  • 2) Have all your managers wait in the lines your guests have to.  That will put an end to that.  Two of my families favorite attractions (also way over priced) were the “Bodies” and “Titanic” exhibits at the Luxor.  We waited in a ticketing line for close to an hour. When we finally got to the ticket window, the person at the counter’s first question was “how will you be paying”.  I wanted to say “I’m not” but instead asked who told her to ask that as her first question…especially when someone has been waiting in line for an hour.  How about may I help you?  The woman at the counter told me “that was what she had been trained to say”. REALLY!!!!
  • 3) Wal-Mart is a discount store and even they have “greeters”.  All the big hotels need customer service people everywhere to point guests in the right direction.  If a guest has to spend all of their time finding their way around, then waiting in line, the guest will not be spending as much money with you as they should.
  • 4) Show ticket prices need to come down.  It costs as much to see “Mama Mia” in Las Vegas as it does on Broadway.  They are not of the same quality and thus should not charge the same ticket price.  The Cirque shows are of the same caliber (although some a little boring to me) so the hotels should pay to have them there and tickets should be $50, not $100 or more.
  • 5) Stop marketing to everyone who wears an “I’m with Stupid” T-shirt.  Middle America needs a place in Las Vegas just like everyone else, but it seems that that demo is a majority of the guests in the city.
  • 6) Use solar and wind power. You are in the desert and one thing that really turns-off many potential guests is the vast amount of resources used in your city.  Use the desert to your advantage and watch a whole new breed of guest come in.
  • 7) Per the above, start a new strip that is totally “green”. An entire new city where there are no cars, all power is from clean energy sources, and water and all other resources are recycled, etc.
  • 8) Bring in more mid-level priced restaurants.  It seems that your choices are either pizza and hot dogs or something that starts with “Le” which is code for very expensive.  How about restaurants that aren’t chains where entrée prices are in the high teens to mid-twenties?
  • 9) Widen the sidewalks. Guests love to walk the strip but don’t like being pushed around.  All the sidewalks should be as wide as they are by Luxor.
  • 10) Would someone please build an amusement park in Las Vegas!!!  The Adventure Dome at Circus-Circus just doesn’t cut it. In fact, someone should take a wrecking ball to that hotel.  They can leave the dome.

If there were a number 11, it would be to help pay to widen I-15 as there is way too much traffic on that freeway.

With all that said, I hope Las Vegas and everyone else in the live entertainment business has a great 2009.  As always, I look forward to your comments and encourage you to write a piece for the LiveWorks Newsletter.

Happy New Year!

Jim

“IF I WERE…MICHAEL RAPINO

December 1, 2008

You can call me a sucker.  I bought Live Nation stock when it was at $20.  Friday it was trading at $4.89.  So why when Live Nation CEO, Michael Rapino had just announced that the company’s third quarter numbers were up significantly over 2007 would the stock price actually slip?  If you were to take out the sale of Live Nation’s motor sports division to Feld Entertainment, they were still up.  So why did the stock fall, and what can our friend Michael do to restore confidence on Wall Street?

In talking to friends who have also looked at the numbers, Wall Street just doesn’t seem to believe in Live Nation’s business model as it currently stands.  Their margins are just too small for analysts, investors, and if you own your own business, probably you too.  When Michael Rapino first took over as CEO of Live Nation, he spoke in public about the consumer’s “value proposition”.  Michael told us at conferences about his plans to make the “amphitheater experience” better.  He talked about food selection, price, the potential of taking out ARAMARK, etc.  Then what happened?  The realities of running a public company, quarterly numbers, and the like must have set-in.   That customer experience stuff was not heard about again.  Instead Live Nation’s message shifted to branding (Live Nation, Artist Nation, Fan Nation, House of Blues, Fillmore, etc), an international platform for brands to reach consumers (e.g. the Citi deal), and deals with Madonna, U2, and of course Carrot Top (just seeing if you were paying attention).  Brands, bands, and fans you might say.  Problem is the fans are last in this equation.  Now you add the Ticketmaster Entertainment scenario in there just for shits and giggles and it really becomes a migraine for Michael.

We will stay away from the Ticketmaster in this letter and just focus on Live Nation and Michael.  Starting with Jack Welch?  Well, Jack may be a business leader from the past, but his brave steps to form GE Capital and move General Electric away from less profitable businesses the company was known for such as small appliances (toasters, can openers, etc) make for a good example of what Michael and company need to do.  Live Nation needs to show Wall Street a plan and a leader that will get the company to the goal line.  So without further B.S., here are some of the things I would do…”If I were Michael Rapino”

·     HIRE SOMEONE FROM DISNEY PARKS TO RUN VENUE OPS – There needs to be a complete overhaul of everything (employee training, venue maintenance, F&B, VIP programs, ticketing, parking, security, transportation, etc).

·     BRING IN A CMO FROM A FORTUNE 500 COMPANY – Certainly Live Nation has its share of marketing pros to count on (Jim’s from the East, Brad in the West, Lulu in Texas, etc), but what our business needs is are marketers that are used to dealing with big ad agencies, big brands, big budgets, and have worked for publicly traded companies.

·     HIRE A CUSTOMER SERVICE CZAR – Disney, Ritz Carlton, Nordstrom, and other customer service culture oriented companies are great places to look.  Live Nation should stand for customer service.

·     TICKETING, OK I’M BREAKING MY PROMISE – Live Nation’s new ticketing system should bring them greater revenues from ticketing… in theory.  But with Ticketmaster Entertainment now owning a management company that supplies so much talent to Live Nation venues, Live Nation’s ticketing is looking much more complicated.  As stated in earlier LiveWorks Newsletters, Irving Azoff is an artist manager first and foremost.  So as an example, both Irving and his partner Howard Kaufman know that their client Jimmy Buffett is probably better suited to play outdoors.  The company Irving now runs makes out better (at first look anyway) if Buffett plays indoors.  Will Buffett play the amphitheaters next summer?  If he does, where do you think all the extra ticketing money Live Nation might be making on their new deal will be going???  Do you think ticket surcharges are going to go down?  Is it too late to talk to Irving about getting Barry Diller to buy LN out of their ticketing commitment???  Just asking.

·     MARKET THE EXPERIENCE – Maybe I sound like a broken record, but in this case LN has something special.  I believe strongly in the amphitheater experience… at least the old one.  Yes, for acts that carry huge productions, they may not be the best places to play.  But for the fan experience, when done right, there is noting like seeing a concert outdoors.  Just ask a Buffett, Dave Matthews, Grateful Dead, Tom Petty, James Taylor, Warped Tour, or any other artists’ fan that has frequented the “sheds” over the years.  Same can be said for many Live Nation clubs.  Have your newly hired CMO come up with some kick-ass marketing that reminds fans how much fun it is to be at a concert with your friends, family, etc.  It brings people together.  Gives them something to share.  That’s why fans buy the event shirt.  So they can show all their friends they were there.

·     FORBID PAPERING – Papering a show (giving away free tickets for gig that doesn’t sell) or selling-off lawn tickets for $10 after the show goes on-sale should not be allowed at any Live Nation show.  As Gene Simmons put it in his Keynote at the Billboard Touring Conference, “it is like letting the fox into the hen house” (can’t believe I just quoted Gene).   Fans find out about these things real fast, and the ones that paid full-price this time will wait for the free tickets or the fire sale the next time the act is through.

·     HIRE A CHIEF TECH OFFICER – This isn’t an IT guy.  This is someone like Joe Rospars.  Joe ran the tech side of Obama’s campaign, while the company he founded with his partners, Blue State Digital was responsible for the online fundraising.  Live Nation needs someone that can speak to music fans and figure out a way get those fans to help make new ones.  Fact is, in 2003 when Ann Marie Wilkins called me to contribute to Obama’s Senate run in Illinois, I had never heard of him.  He is now President Elect of the United States.  In early 2007, most Americans still hadn’t heard of our new President.  Guys like Joe can do a lot for our business.

·     BUY METROPOLITAN AND JAM – I know they certainly don’t want to sell to you and you may not want to buy them, but John, Jerry and Arny are all legends in our business with great relationships your people don’t necessarily have.  Do you really need one more competitor in markets that has seen nothing but turbulence?  Imagine the artists you could potentially promote in NY and Chicago with those guys on your side.  This seems like a no brainer to me…other than getting them to do it.

·     GO ON A ROAD SHOW – All of the above cost money and in the short term, earnings will suffer.  This could be hard for investors and analysts alike to swallow but you must remain strong.  Put a plan into place and then go out on the road and sell it to your entire staff, local “town hall meetings” and finally, Wall Street.  But don’t just go to NY.  Speak with analysts, traders, and business leaders in every community you do business in.  Let consumers see a face to Live Nation.

·     PRICES – We all know that on top of tickets, the prices for concessions, parking and merchandise are just too high.  With that said, it is funny that an act will make a comment on stage about the price of a beer, popcorn, or parking at a Live Nation venue but won’t say a word about those same prices (or even higher) in the arena.  Why is this?  In many cases, the fans feel ripped-off, and the bands feel they are being ripped-off.  This is a huge perception problem.  The answer is probably going to have to be a combination of dropping your prices to increase volume and positive PR in the short term.  Long range, we need to work on the “value proposition” because for whatever reason, our fans seem to have a problem with the $8 parking at your venue while football fans pay at least twice that and don’t seem to complain.

We have probably covered enough.  Again, my disclaimer is that I’m a Monday morning quarterback.  I don’t have to sit in Michael’s shoes everyday.  But I do feel that Jack Welch’s example is a good one here.  If you are really in this for the long term Michael, some of what is written above just might make sense to you.  To bring the live business back to health we need to think less about gross and more about number of tickets sold.  In the long run, getting more fans through the doors to experience live entertainment is the only way to win.  The concept of fewer bodies at a higher ticket price can only work for some acts and for so long.

Talk with you soon…

Jim