In the information age, everything we need is just a button away. Because of this, what separates business success isn’t a business’ ability to provide a service, but its ability to provide a service that stands out. Whatever you do, there’s probably many out there who do the same. To prove yourself wheat not chaff, you’ve got to do what you do better than the rest.
And the surefire way to stand out and embed yourself in customers’ hearts: customer service.
The kind that people remember, the kind that they tell their friends about.
When someone is so happy, so excited by the service you provide, they rave about you to their friends, their family, to the whole wide world on any review site they can find. These people are called raving fans and they’re an incredibly powerful tool for businesses for two reasons:
- Raving fans are repeat customers. They keep coming back, providing you with guaranteed business.
- Raving fans tell others about you. Customer advocacy is one of the most powerful tools to generate business. When a friend tells you about a business, you’re likely to use that business, because you respect your friend’s opinion. It’s powerful word-of-mouth advertising, resulting in a consistent stream of new customers.
In this article I’m going to walk you through my four step method for creating raving fans. I call this the FOREfront method. I’ve worked in customer service nearly my whole life. I started out at Stadium Australia flipping burgers prior to the Olympics (1999 wasn’t the party Prince promised me), before moving to selling snowboards at a sports store, serving endless glasses of champagne at the Opera House, handling accounts as an account manager at a digital agency, running a bar and restaurant, and now, as a co-founder of Yarno.
So my experience lies in two distinct areas: customer facing retail/hospitality roles, and customer service from an account management perspective.
Hence it should be no surprise that “Delight the Customer” is one of our core values at Yarno. About 90% of entrepreneurial ventures fail. Ours has succeeded, I believe, because we’ve managed to put customers first and create raving fans. That’s the result, read on for the method.
The FOREfront method
The FOREfront method consists of four steps, they are:
- Frameworks: Giving staff structure to work with.
- Obsessives: Hiring and fostering staff members who are customer-obsessed.
- Roleplay: Practicing common-scenarios and how to respond so every interaction is a delightful one.
- Embed: Embedding and reinforcing all of the above through training so the desired behaviours become second-nature.
This article will form part of a series on the FOREfront method which I’m writing. As such, this piece will provide a brief overview of the entire method. In my next articles, I’m going to go over each step in detail so you can implement each step at your organisation. For now, let’s take a look at each step, and why they’re important.
Frameworks provide structure. We need structure because customers aren’t always rational - they can be annoyed, short, passive aggressive or my favourite, drunk and outright rude. So when the going gets tough, as a customer facing employee, you need all the tools at your disposal so you can turn that situation into a delightful one, not one you might regret later, or one that could even cost you your job.
Frameworks are just one of the tools in your customer service belt - and in my view, the most important.
Let’s start with an example on how to best run a meeting that would be relevant for a customer service role like an account manager or customer service/customer success manager. Meetings are one of the great business coin-tosses: they can be fantastic, constructive, and collaborative OR they can be unstructured and a complete waste of time, frustrating to everyone involved.
However, the success of a meeting isn’t a game of chance. It’s a game of skill played by implementing a meeting framework.
I’ve found that the best framework to ensure meeting success is the PAINT framework (thank you to Simon Harrop of Straight Ahead Sales for introducing me to this one). It’s very simple, and, like my FOREfront method, everything you need to know about it is in the name:
The PAINT framework:
- Purpose: You start the meeting with a Purpose, where you define and share the reason for the meeting. This ensures everyone knows what they’re here for, and prevents the meeting getting off-track.
- Agenda: Prior to every meeting, whoever is running the meeting has to share an agenda. This provides a clear map of what is being discussed, and again, prevents side-tracking.
- Input: The person running the meeting must ask for input on the agenda, which allows others to add anything they need to talk about to the agenda.
- Time: Clarifying the amount of time set aside for the meeting eliminates the chances of needing to cut the session short, or going over. It's a great way to respect everyone's time.
When you run customer meetings using the PAINT framework, you ensure that no one walks away from that meeting thinking it was a complete waste of time. Frameworks allow us to set clear expectations, so that both customers and employees know why a certain outcome has been reached.
Frameworks should form part of every interaction your business has with a customer. A few of the other frameworks we use at Yarno (that I’ll also expand on in future posts) include:
- Acknowledge, Align, Assure: For creating empathetic customer interactions.
- Standards vs Extras: For setting clear guidelines for customers of what services are standard, and which are additional (and require extra fees).
- Non-violent communication: For ensuring constructive, rather than adversarial, communication.
- Using labels: For getting more information from a customer so you really understand their problem and can better solve their needs.
The customer comes first. It really is as simple as that. You can’t expect fans to rave about you if they’ve had less-than-delightful interactions with you. And to ensure the customer comes first, you need to hire and foster staff that are obsessed with the customer.
Company culture is integral to creating customer-obsessed staff.
Customer-obsession is cultural. Every person in your business needs to be working towards creating meaningful and delightful experiences for the customer every single day.
At Atlassian, they’ve curated their customer-centric culture through making “Don’t #@!% the customer” one of their core-values. If you’ve been to their office it is literally plastered on the waiting room wall! At Yarno, we live the slightly more safe-for-work value of “Delighting the Customer”.
Whatever words you choose to use to describe it, it needs to be clear to your staff that every interaction is an opportunity. It may be your thousandth conversation with a customer, but it’s only the customer’s first conversation with you. Every interaction is as important as the last, and every customer is as important as another.
You can’t learn to drive by reading the manual, you won’t delight the customer after one company meeting about customer obsession. And there’s no better way to put people in the driver’s seat than roleplaying!
Practice makes perfect, to ensure your staff are putting their best foot forward, you can’t throw them in the deep end. Build their confidence by letting them wade in the shallows first, through roleplaying the different scenarios that they’re bound to meet.
We (hopefully) learn from our mistakes. Roleplaying allows us to learn from our mistakes, without any of the real-world consequences.
Setting up regular role playing sessions for your staff allows them to practice responding to customer queries and complaints, without the risk of annoying or frustrating a real-world customer. It also means that when they go wrong, you, or someone else experienced in customer service, is there to point them in the right direction.
At Yarno we do this monthly and whilst a little awkward for those doing it for the first time, it’s amazing to watch someone grow more confident and sometimes, even start to have a bit of fun with it!
Some important interactions to roleplay include:
- Giving and receiving feedback
- Responding to objections
- Complaints handling
However, these will vary between businesses. A good place to start is to ask what common interactions your staff have with customers, and where they can go wrong. From there, roleplaying sessions can be structured to practice these situations, and overcome common problems.
Most things don’t stick the first time you learn it. You might remember for a day, but over time, without reinforcement, what we learn slips out of our heads, never to be remembered or used again.
When we repeatedly hear something, however, then it becomes stuck in our brains (here comes yet another spaced repetition training link!). We can’t get it out, even if we want to. Like that Reading Hotline ad (you know the one) “1 3 double-Ohhh 6 triple fiiiiive, Ohhh-6” song: repetition embeds things so deep in your brain they become a part of you.
To really put customers first, we need to be living customer-centricity every day, and reinforcing the message. When something is repeated enough, it becomes second nature.
You don’t need to refer to a script to tell you how to respond to a customer, because customer-obsession is baked into your DNA. When these behaviours are repeated, they become embedded, making every interaction naturally delightful.
The FOREfront method is a method I’ve developed, after many years of trial and error, to create raving fans. Raving fans are the fans of your business that can’t stop talking about you, so in turn, you can’t stop talking about customers in your business.
I recently had a conversation with a prospective customer who gave me some feedback which said the following:
Followed later by…
I thought this was great… Firstly, I love getting feedback (you know the saying, ‘‘if you don’t know, you can’t grow’). Secondly, yes 100% agreed. Baking, like customer service, is chemistry. You need to have all the right ingredients if you want to rise to the top.
There’s no business without customers, so you need to put them first. Treat them with respect, and as though every interaction as an opportunity to delight them. Raving fans will reward you in turn with loyalty and customer advocacy. It’s one of the most powerful business strategies out there.
In the coming weeks I’ll be going through each step of the FOREfront method in detail so you can implement the method at your business. Stay tuned.
Mark heads up the Sales team at Yarno. He loves to chat, which is fortunate because he’s very good at it. He's our digital Swiss Army Knife, always armed with a solution to any problem.
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