Magazine article Management Review

Companies Aim to Please

Magazine article Management Review

Companies Aim to Please

Article excerpt



What companies come to mind when you think of the best in customer service? Co-authors Ron Zemke and Dick Schaaf feature 101 top customer pleasers in The Service Edge: 101 Companies that Profit from Customer Care (New American Library, 1989). Here are profiles of two of those companies, Lenscrafters and Stew Leonard's dairy store, and the programs they use to keep customers coming back.


In just six years, Lenscrafters, a one-hour optical retailer based in Cincinnati, Ohio, has grown from three to 300 stores, from $4 million in sales to $400 million, and from 12 employees to more than 7,000. "We accomplished this success through a twofold mission: trying to generate enthusiastically satisfied customers all the time and creating an environment for employees to achieve personal goals," explains Ban Hudson, president and chief executive officer. "If we do both, it is pleasing to sales and profits."

Lenscrafters is pleasing customers with a number of service-oriented policies. For example, managers instruct employees to make every decision in the customer's favor. "We don't worry about what that will cost, or the irrationality of the customer. We never criticize an employee's decision if it is in the customer's favor--we may train that associate to act differently next time, however," Hudson says.

And you won't find a "No" sign in any store ("No Eating," and so on). "Such negative messages indicate we are operating the business for our own benefit, not for the customers," Hudson explains. Most important, Lenscrafters promises to deliver "quality customer service in about an hour," and it does so 95 percent of the time, according to Hudson.

Every year the company holds a national "lab Olympics" for technicians. Contestants have to make two pairs of perfect-quality eyeglasses in an hour. Winners receive a Super-bowl-like ring with diamonds and a $1,000 bonus. Last year the company began a "sales service Olympics" to recognize customer service at the sales level.

"We also give employees a president's pin when we receive a letter from a customer praising them," says Hudson. "After five letters, we place a diamond in the pin, and after 10 letters, two diamonds."

Lenscrafters has another incentive program called the Horizon Club. Managers send in names of employees who have given extraordinary customer service. The top 100 receive $100; the top five receive $1,000, their name placed on a plaque in the home office, and a celebration dinner.

To stay attuned to what pleases customers, Lenscrafters surveys anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 customers over six-month intervals to get feedback on quality and performance. Customer mail is answered in the home office and the switchboard is instructed to send complaint calls to the vice-presidents. "If the people aren't your most important asset, you're really in trouble," Hudson warns. "You better figure out a way to make them so."


With 93 other food stores located not more than a 15-minute drive away, Stew Leonard's dairy store in Norwalk, Connecticut, must wage a tough fight to win customers. "Customer service is not a luxury for us but a necessity," says Stew Leonard, founder and chairman. "The difference between those companies that make it and those that don't is customer service. It's simple but it's hard to do, because you have to follow through and make sure your employees are doing it. …

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