Secret Service Outline

1.  Create your customer experience cycle for consistent customer service.

2.  Deliver legendary service.

3.  Maintain professionalism on your front line.

4.  Make your service an experience.

5.  Stimulate additional sales by going deeper with existing customers.

6.  Keep employees happy.

7.  Deal successfully with unhappy customers.

The chapter about secret service systems establishes a non-negotiable system.  In a slower economy, people start to look for things they can cut out or cut back.  When you deliver exceptional customer service regularly, you go from being a discretionary entity to a necessity.  People put you on the list of things they cannot do without along with food, rent, and utilities.  We don't want to be considered discretionary, so it is vital that we deliver non-negotiable customer service.  You need a consistent cycle.  For every service, we have a customer experience cycle.  Many details are unique to each cycle depending on whether it's a massage, manicure, or other services.  Although it may seem like a great deal of additional work to develop and incorporate the customer experience cycle, the cycle eventually becomes second nature.  Virtually everything in the customer experience cycle is value-added and provided at no extra charge regardless of whether the client gets a $40 or $100 haircut.  The price is determined by the level of the designer.   

Examples of exceptional customer service: Knowing who your customer is giving you an advantage over your competition, and delivering a personal experience in marketing to their future needs. We need to find a way to gather information on each client and we will be prepared for their phone calls and/or visits to our office. Exactly who will be coming into our office should be acknowledged by all, and I should be responsible for providing each staff person with a new or existing client's name, where they could go out and introduce themselves and tell the new client that we're excited about providing an exceptional service.

That is secret service—making clients feel special, like regulars, by remembering their names, preferences, and personal things about them.  How often is regular?  The term is relative.  The best companies make a client feel like a regular even if he comes in only twice a year.  I'll admit that I love walking into places and being asked how are your sons, John, Steve, and Beaux doing, how's business.  I tend to trust these businesses more and listen to their people's advice more.  And, I spend a great deal more money at these places than anywhere else.  So knowing our customer or client and having important factual information about them and their family is vital in having client retention. 

Considering that we have made non-negotiable customer service our theme, we constantly ask each other “are you delivering non-negotiable service?”  I have rarely heard of a company with exceptional customer service going out of business.  The best companies know there are not enough of the best people out there, so they hire good people with a potential to deliver exceptional customer service.  Then throw an awareness campaign and training starts on day one.  The intention every day thereafter: the best companies turn those good people into the best.  Our goal and objective is to turn each representative of our CPA practice into a customer service expert that provides exceptional service to each client to develop a 100% retention program.  Systems that could work for us include thank you cards and other mailings.  Brian and I brainstormed about how he could take his business to the next level and he implemented a number of systems used by John Roberts.  Brian started sending out thank you cards to new clients and to everyone who referred a client to him.  When he meets someone at a party who mentions wanting some work done, he sends a note saying, “it was a pleasure to meet you, and if you ever need me for anything, please call.”  After he completes a big job, he often sends a thank you card with a gift certificate.  It takes Brian just 10 minutes once a week to manage his system.  Every Sunday he reviews the past week to identify the jobs that are new or that came from referrals and he sends out thank you postcards.  This system does not take much time, but it produces an enormous amount of results.

Follow-up for the first client came in with low or moderate expectations, and we exceeded them. But the second came in with extremely high expectations, and we underperformed. We must create checks and balances to ensure that we are as consistent as possible to prevent this scenario from happening. Clients spend their discretionary money wherever they have the best experience. We are busier than many of our salon competitors who charge a fraction of our prices. Why? Because we have made our clients feel they are getting a great value for their $100 haircut and that the salon charging only $25 may be overpriced. Very little of this perception has to do with the actual haircut or the price charged. We need to do the same with our clients, allowing each to have a great experience, and somehow explain how we differentiate ourselves from the competition, although our price may be somewhat higher. Refocus your time. How can a company get its team to focus on the importance of always providing secret service and continually exceeding expectations? One important way is to make your staff constantly aware of their personal client retention rates. We need to establish retention rates for each employee, where they take responsibility for client retention.

Putting Secret Service to work.

Develop a system that distinguishes your norms for VIPs as well as makes your staff aware of them in every encounter.  Create a system that helps personalize your client encounter, keeping up-to-date personal information on clients in your database that each employee can access.  Train your staff on how to input and access this information and the benefits of making clients feel like Norm on the show Cheers.  Brainstorm with your staff what sort of amenities you can provide that would result in an unforgettable experience.

Create a system that distinguishes between new and returning clients so that the entire staff can identify and record their encounter.  Each of these steps should be implemented in our overall global marketing plan.  Our goal and objective is 100% client retention and for each new client that enters our office to sign an engagement letter and be pleased with the services rendered.   Our goal and objective will be to get referrals from our existing clients and to better serve their needs.   The impression should be the quality of service, not the price being paid.  We are competing against all discretionary spending in the marketplace.  Each client should feel comfortable calling, asking questions and believing that the services being rendered are quality and worth the price.  We should be available with client care within 24 hours of the phone call made by the client, especially if it's dealing with notices from a federal or state regulatory agency.  Each staff member should be a part of this team in a position to generate new business and to take care of our existing clients.

What are we really selling: the best companies act as a resource center for the clientele by offering additional services and products themselves and referring their customers to companies that can provide related services and products that they do not offer, but they still benefit their customers?  The size of service demonstrates that you are looking out for your customer's best interest which solidifies your relationships with that customer like nothing else can.

This is about an insurance salesman.  Larry just turned 75.  What's the secret of his success?  He says if you have a client who needs a job, help him with a resume and introduce him to your contacts. If you know someone who is looking for funds, introduce him to a potential investor. If you know someone who is looking for an employee, then help him find a key person. If you know someone who is looking for a loan, then fix him up with a banker.  Be a resource for people.  Learn to help people first, long before you ever ask for their business.  This approach has me constantly thinking how can I give him more of my business?  We should set up a 24-hour hotline if anyone receives an IRS notice or something similar important from pricing,

Benchmarking to Bob's automotive.  First, when you drop your car off at Bob's you receive an estimate within one hour.  Keep in mind that the actual bill is always less than the estimate.  This should be embodied in our engagement letters and start determining how to operate under the quoted price. 

Customer service response, benchmarking from a bank.  For instance, the commercial banking group promises to respond the same day to a customer inquiry made before 3:00 pm.  The US Bank will respond to the credit request within two business days of the receipt.  We need the ability to return phone calls same day or within 24 hours any time our client has a question or need.  Overall, the better the service, the less price becomes an issue.  My biggest obstacle now is to set a quote.

He is totally focused on customer service and he demonstrates that nothing is too difficult, too lowly or too much to do if it means satisfying a client.  When a CEO personally sets that example, then the rest of the staff can only follow in his footsteps, which is the case of Fredric's corporation.  I should do the same with my organization.  If I set the example and am willing to do whatever it takes to satisfy the client needs, I am not really the boss, I am just a leader of individuals who is helping our boss, who in reality, is the client.  Our goals and objectives should be to satisfy that client's needs in all aspects of the business. 

When the service is great, price becomes less important.  Think about the places where you would love to do business.  Could you get the product or service cheaper somewhere else?  Probably.  Would you?  It is not likely.  Important fact:  Keep a database or calendar of dates when clients are due for their service.  Most software systems today allow you to print these reports at the push of a button.  On a weekly or monthly basis, run the report and follow up. 

Summary in deciding what you sell: Determine what your point of difference is: price, convenience, upscale and so on.  Determine what it is that you are really selling, and what it is your clients are really buying.  Think of every client interaction.  How can it be more of an experience?  What can you provide that makes it an event from the phone call all the way through the follow up after a service is rendered?  Provide such a memorable performance that clients would be willing to pay an interest fee just to be guests or spectators.  Develop a training program that fosters a feeling of theater and enables your staff to see themselves as performing, providing a show at every stage.  Think of unavoidable client inconveniences and turn them into memorable events.  For example, wait times can be staged.

First thing I tell the audience is not to advertise.  Instead, market to your existing clientele.  One of the best marketing techniques you can have is a really happy client.  The history you have with existing clients gives you many advantages over the competition.  You know things nobody else knows about your clients, their preferences, and idiosyncrasies.  You can use this information to target your existing clients to produce additional sales and create long-term loyalty.  In addition, if you take really good care of your existing clients, they will generate more new clients than any advertising campaign ever could.  So our marketing focus is on our current clients.   I want three things from our existing clients: more visits, more dollars spent per visit, and more referrals.   Encourage word-of-mouth marketing.  Only one of our grand prizes costs us a penny; they were all generously donated by travel agencies and car dealers in exchange for their companies’ exposure to more than 30,000 John Roberts’ clients.  We could potentially go to restaurants and other vendors and clients and obtain discounts, coupons and such to provide a lot of clients. These discount coupons would probably run in periods of slow times.  It would create more foot traffic for them at a lower cost of advertising.  The highest compliment we can receive is a referral of a family member or friend from one of our clients.  Appreciate your best clients more.  We should look at the possibility of Christmas gifts and other gifts for referrals and our top 10 clients.  We hope and thank.  We also improved our service, but we definitely know we improved the way we show our appreciation which should result in our top clients being more forgiving if we drop the ball.  Our appreciation plan boosted and increased our number of new clients.  We need to look at client appreciation programs.

In my view, the best marketing we do is client follow-up and putting our name in front of them half a dozen times a year reminding them who we are, what we provide, and how much we care.  This is anything from a thank you card after the first visit to a quarterly newsletter, some form of gift certificate thanking them for a referral, to a happy birthday card.  Don't discount.  Discounting lowers the perceived value of products and services.  I would rather give away a service than a discount.  That was accomplished through gifts, from related vendors and things of that nature versus offering a "discount" which stimulates your client's reservations. 

Many businesses have a great product and deliver the best service for an outstanding value, but if they let past clients forget that they exist, they will miss huge opportunities.  The more you put your name in front of your client, the more you stimulate particular memories and the less likely your name is to end up in his brain's attic.  Again, we should partner with other companies and refer our clients to the services that we do not render.  It will be a win/win situation.

1.  Don't let gift certificates expire.  When we provide our clients with gift certificates for restaurants and other vendors, we should notify them within 30 days of the potential expiration date and encourage them to use the coupon.  

2.  Facebook.  We should look at ideas to put on Facebook, such as seasonal ideas for water parks and amusement parks, things happening at museums, festivals, dates, hours of operation, phone numbers, where to see holiday lights, etc.

He was unique in the way he kept his name in front of us; not only did I refinance my mortgage and finance my new home with Ed, but I also eventually referred at least 20 people who purchased homes and used his service.  His repeated awareness and marketing reminded me that he was our lender and that he cared about us by providing small services that made us so much more loyal to him than we ever would have been to an ordinary mortgage banker.  The story was that Ed kept in touch even after he provided a mortgage and when they requested if interest rates were at their low point, he told them no. Then called them when they were, and they responded by refinancing with no questions. 

Monthly blast on something different to offer clients.  This is regarding a CPA.  I told him, I bet you have hundreds of clients who think of you only as their income tax administrator and advisor, so we put together some programs to increase client awareness of all the services he provides.  Quarterly newsletters and monthly e-mails get people some good advice and at the same time, let them know that he is an expert in other areas.  For instance, in December, he now sends an e-mail that informs people of ways to legally reduce taxable income before the end of the year.  He sends out other e-mails reminding people of upcoming deadlines for certain taxes owed and filing.  Each time, he also includes some expertise on additional services he provides.  This keeps his name in front of his clients and also provides them a service, giving them critical information that keeps them out of trouble with the IRS.  This ensures that the next time they need a service he provides, they will assuredly call him.  The more a business keeps its name in front of its clients, the greater the likelihood that the clients will use the business for additional services, especially if the clients receive value-added services such as updates and reminders. 

Another idea for Facebook:

·         Scores

·         weather for the day

·         Beach day. 

Insulate your customer from the competition by going deeper with your existing customers and personalizing their experiences, as well as continually demonstrating that you care and appreciate their business. You start to insulate them from competition and make it harder for other businesses to penetrate your relationship.  Accounting insulation. 

The core, basic products, and services:

·         Tax

·         financial statements

·         planning

·         QuickBooks consulting

·         IRS representation

Secondary core:

·         Specialties

·         Strategic planning

·         succession planning

·         merger and acquisition work

·         business valuation

Outer core:

·         relationship

·         Expertise

·         Building trust

·         Source for a referral

·         One stop shop

·         VIP failing

·         Keeping our clients informed

·         Expectations always exceeded

·         Finding their pain and being a cure

·         24-hour hotline for IRS notice

·         24-hour return phone call during business hours

·         The hotline for the IRS is seven days a week. 

The relationship layer is the point in which companies create a one-to-one relationship that totally separates that company from all its competition.  In the process, the best companies insulate their customers from looking elsewhere, price shopping, getting quotes, and being enticed by advertising.  At this level, John Roberts and the accounting firm start to look very similar.  This layer has less to do with technical services and more to do with soft services that businesses sell.  This layer becomes personal.  It's no longer about what the business is selling; instead, it's about creating and establishing a bond and a trust between business and customer.  Once this layer is established, customers are more forgiving of any mistakes and price becomes irrelevant.

Ways to be a rainmaker:

1.  Institute a referral contest that enrolls and entices your clients to work with you as your sales force.

2.  Focus on the retention rates of keeping especially the top 10% of your best clients.  The retention and the accounting profession should be kept at 100%.

3.  Go deeper with your top clients by showing them how much you appreciate them.  Reward them with things that will make them more loyal and at the same time do more business with you.  

4.  Figure how even a 5% increase in your customer's average ticket can have a huge impact on your bottom line.  Then think of every opportunity your staff has to increase it.  

5.  Constantly brainstorm how you can raise the bar on your Secret Service systems, especially with your VIPs. 

6.  Figure what your customer's lifetime value is and make sure your team understands that significance.  

7.  Avoid public discounting, but instead, utilize disguise techniques.

8.  Network partner with other reputable businesses that share similar client bases.

9.  Create positive excuses to keep your name in front of your client, for example, happy birthday, anniversary, and so on.  We will also have a follow-up program where our clients will be touched at least six times a year.

10.  Keep track and manage client preferences.

11. Establish frequent buyer programs.

12. Insulate your customer from the competition.

13. Analyze your client's needs and exceed the ways you meet them.

The one common theme among the most successful companies is that they take good care of their employees, and create a strong corporate culture.  If you treat your team members well, the majority of them will take good care of your clients.  A strong corporate culture is a company's best competitive advantage.  It's probably the most difficult quality to replicate.  Encourage teamwork.  The secret to succeeding is not to dismiss the employees who don't fit their ideal model, but to mold them, to find out which buttons to push, what hat to wear, to motivate them.  You may fail with some, but you will succeed with many others and your success will be worth it.  There is a winner embodied in everyone.  For the most part, the people we hire do not possess any more winning qualities than the people who work elsewhere; we just do a very good job of bringing out their winning qualities.  Through our efforts and our global marketing unit, I hope to bring out the best qualities in each team member, providing them with the foundation to expand their abilities, to gain confidence, and learn how to market effectively and expand the business, reducing turnover. The best of the best not only have programs and people in place committed to the constant recruitment and utilizing excellent techniques that are also dedicated to a strong corporate culture to reduce turnover.  We have been fortunate to have very little turnover, and each team member understands how to work with each other and with our clients.  This program should be successful since our unit is cohesive and everyone understands each other's personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.

Refine the employee experience cycle.  “You may own the business, but you just rent the people,” a quote by Jack Welch.  Recognize employees' performance.  Every week at John Roberts we post a beat the week in the employee lounge which displays each employee's best week ever.  If a designer has her best week ever, she wins a free lunch as well as earning her best paycheck ever.  We need weekly contest based on the number of clients phoned, number of positive feedback, number of clients who want to have additional services performed, referrals received, and total billable hours.  Other quotes: When the day is over, with the help of the entire team, an exhausted employee finished their ultimate goal, and the entire team popped champagne and celebrated.  This is something we should adopt; if an employee has their best week, we should have some type of celebration for that individual employee and their performance.  The book brought up Southwest Airlines in the way that Ed Kelleher, the founder, and CEO, started the company and made the employees feel more outstanding than the customers.  He always stood up first for his employees and made their priority first over customers.  When customers were complaining and giving the company difficulty, Kelleher would support his employees.  This love theory carries over into the community involvement as well.  They let love be the motivator and take part in voluntary activities for the greater good, at the same time becoming better for it.  We should look for charity in the heights that we can become involved in as a company.  We should discuss things that we are interested in, be involved in a charity, and basically build self-esteem within the organization.  Encourage going above and beyond.  Though you may not be able to create a specific system to ensure that your employees go above and beyond for your client, employees are constantly reminded that exceptional customer service is what you are all about. 

Continuing encourage going above and beyond.  One of our goals is management.  You can make certain every employee has, at the very least, enthusiasm; passion is even better.  I recently came across a newsletter produced by the Jarick Corporation.  It emphasized how passion makes the difference and shared some startling facts.  50% of all CEOs of Fortune 500 companies had a C or C- average in college.  Nearly 75% of all US Presidents were in the bottom half of the class.  More than 50% of all millionaire entrepreneurs never finished college.  What makes it possible for people who might seem ordinary to achieve great things?  Passion.  Nothing can take the place of passion and what it can do for you as a leader.  Progressive Auto Insurance had very good benefits for their employees including health clubs, day off on birthday, profit-sharing, casual dress days, flex time, and standardized childcare.  Is this something we should consider as a company? Place at every door of the building a sign that said “think of yourself as the customer”. 

In summary, creating secret service for your team.  Create definitive core values with which you measure potential employees.  Look at creating a stronger corporate culture that thematically reduces turnover.  Define an employee experience cycle.  Everything that does and can happen from the moment employees are interviewed until they retire. Add little secret service surprises so it keeps up their morale and self-esteem.  Create an orientation program that defines your story and legacy so that all new members want to continue the heritage.  Consider all the soft benefits that can be added that don't necessarily cost a lot of money but are thoughtful gestures to provide your employees.

An opportunity to be a hero: A client complaint is a chance for a company to be a hero. The best wealth managers and employees actively looking for this kind of opportunity. They understand a client's challenge will arise. It's not that the best companies don't have a crisis. What sets them apart is that they have systems in place to rectify the problem immediately, and make it appear never to have existed. As both an employee and client, I've been involved in thousands of situations that didn't go as expected. This is the defining moment for a company. Nothing is a better indicator of how well a company trained its employees and how they respond to client challenges. Anticipating problems: It takes months to find a customer and seconds to lose one. Train your team to anticipate problems. For the ones that could be your fault and the ones that are not -- it is critical that clients find it easy to express any dissatisfaction before they leave because if they don't, they'll express it to everyone they can after they leave. Speed up the process of redeeming customer dissatisfaction: conflicts could have been avoided if someone had handled it immediately. When you fix the situation right away, the client's opinion of your company rises. And they will be more likely to tell everyone how professional you are. Clients understand that sometimes things go wrong. What really amazes clients is when you understand their plight and actually do something about it. You then have their loyalty to life because they know that no matter what happens, you will make it right.

When a client comes in with very high expectations, the situation is very difficult.  Usually, this client has been referred to the company, has heard about the extras, and expects a perfect experience.  If one thing goes wrong for just one moment, this client may be totally disappointed.  Remember, although you may feel that your client is demanding, your competition won't.  From the standpoint of client service, every customer is only as strong as its weakest employee.  Imagine going to a five-star restaurant and having a waiter who seems purposely to forget everything you ask for and isn't there when you need him.  You tell everyone how bad the waiter was?  No, you probably tell people how terrible the restaurant was and suggest they avoid it.  A key factor that determines the quality of a company is that its employees make things right, and given the chance to do so as humans, we are all bound to disappoint clients occasionally. What matters is how we respond.  Enterprise Rent-A-Car based in Saint Louis spends a significant amount of time tracking customer satisfaction and tying that to employee success. Only a completely satisfied customer will count toward a particular branch's store.  This ranking is a major factor in measuring the potential for promotion.  Like other great customer service companies, Enterprise employees are free to take steps that will make the customer happy, not having to go through bureaucratic approval and red tags.  Because of that, Enterprise looks for and hires people who want to run their own business someday and builds on the sense of initiative with an extensive employee training program.  Create secret service protocols for customer challenges, accept that you will have daily and recurring client challenges, and create a protocol that addresses them the moment they happen.  Empower, train, and create a system for your employees so your team at every level is capable of addressing and resolving a client complaint.  Err on the side of being too aggressive, handling client challenges by taking the side of the client.  Show that you recognize their inconvenience and what you will do to make it right.