Posts Tagged ‘Outstanding customer service’

I’ve been “In-N-Out” and off the blogging “grid” a few weeks now.

To be candid it was a nice break!  Sometimes it feels like we’re leashed to technology.  Smart phones and tablets make it easier to stay connected while you’re out on holiday — but that same technology also makes it tougher to truly “get away from it all.”  Some might say they have no choice and like that it makes them feel busy. Indispensable.

Not me.  I was fortunate to break away from the technology routine and remained largely unplugged as I was out and about.  There was even an epic wind in the face journey with large parts of the ride located in areas of the U.S. with minimal cell coverage and some areas that found it difficult to spell Wi-Fi.   It was a great opportunity to focus on the ride and explore some terrific byways.  There will be more posts on that journey as I work to put the “words-to-paper.”

If you’re wondering if I’m still employed?  Thankfully, yes!

Speaking of jobs…  We have a plethora of amazing burger joints in Oregon, but whenever I leave the state and its in the area I have to visit an In-N-Out!  They are great burgers, very few can argue that.  And I’ve never seen an In-N-Out employee in less than a terrific mood. Smiling…happy…friendly. In reality, In-N-Out has become iconic not just because of the fresh and tasty food, but because of the customer service. They serve each customer how they want, when they want and with extreme enthusiasm; even when the drive-thru line is backed up for blocks.  I don’t know if you’ve experienced it, but as I approach the building, I start to feel the joy. The patrons sitting at the picnic tables, devouring their meal.  There is even the “secret menu.”

California is the poster child of the typical laid back summer day, but the In-N-Out vibe is efficiency.  There are three cashiers. And each and every one of them is focused on a customer. There’s no BS’ing between them, no talk of last night’s date. No cell phone or texting.  You see they’re well-trained and they want that upward mobility, In-N-Out promotes from within.

And to say the meal is satisfying would be an understatement. It wasn’t only the food that mattered. You feel like you belonged. I didn’t need to check in, I didn’t need to cough up my e-mail address, I didn’t need to show a “points reward card” and no one badgered me, there was just a feedback loop between worker and customer, that we were enlightened, that we were doing it a better way.

And speaking of enlightenment… during my travels over the last couple of months I spent time in a half-dozen or so Harley-Davidson dealers.  And I’m wondering if the Harley-Davidson “close-to-the-customer” philosophy is waning?  To my way of thinking the In-N-Out model is what the American business should be. You make a good product, and you keep to it, you pay and take care of your workers and they give back. It should never be about how much profit can be squeezed out of every corner or how do we capture every demographic in all the mature and emerging worldwide markets.  As is the case with In-N-Out, just make a good product and keep it up and the money will follow. Be great at a few things instead of OK at all things.  Quality is key, and keeping up quality is what makes In-n-Out work. It’s the same now as it was back when it started. Is there anything like that now?

Sure not every Harley dealer is equal and many are more than just a retail outlet.  They are often a gathering place where riders come to trade stories and talk with others who share their riding passion.  But,  as example the gal in the Durango H-D dealer was too busy talking on the phone about her boyfriend issue to answer a question.  Yeah, she got around to my question eventually, but not before finishing the call.   Or how about the stop at Timpangoes H-D where the salesman must have been so busy mixing his coffee to notice that we just rode in on motorcycles before starting in on his “what’s it gonna take to get you on a new bike” script…  The aggressive push by the motor company and the retail strategy to establish a collection of products all linked under a common visual identity – means that sometimes there’s a disconnect between the simple atmosphere of where you feel like you belong vs. how everyone who walks through the dealer door is viewed as a commercial target/opportunity to extract dollars.

In-N-Out is the real deal.  And given the mixed press assessment of the Harley-Davidson 2013-model year bikes (little to stimulate excitement other than a new paint scheme), H-D dealers could learn something on the customer service front by modeling the cashiers at In-N-Out.

Photo taken by author and courtesy of In-N-Out.

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Interbrands Ranking of the Best Global Brands

Brand impact.  That’s what H-D desires.

Trust and customer loyalty are the words that matter most in today’s economic market place.

Let’s recap the various statements made by CEO, Keith Wandell on the Harley-Davidson brand.  I found it interesting and thought you might too:

October 2009 — “As our announcement regarding Buell and MV Agusta indicates, we are moving with the speed and decisiveness required to bring our business strategy to life,” said Wandell.  “The fact is we must focus both our effort and our investment on the Harley-Davidson brand, as we believe this provides an optimal path to sustained, meaningful, long-term growth.”

January 2010 — “Focusing our investment behind the uniquely strong Harley-Davidson brand provides the most attractive path to sustained, long-term growth,” Wandell said. “We also expect to achieve substantial gains in the efficiency of our operations through continuous improvement.”

April 2010 — “Throughout the past 16 months we have taken a number of actions to address the immediate challenges and establish a bold, clear direction that will maximize our opportunities going forward,” said Wandell. “We have come a long way in a short amount of time, and I could not feel better about the progress we have made and where we are headed.”

July 2010 — “Despite the decline in second-quarter retail motorcycle sales, we believe interest in the Harley-Davidson brand remains strong among riders of all generations. In fact, Harley-Davidson is the U.S. market share leader of on-road motorcycles among young adults. We will continue to focus our resources on expanding the global reach of the brand and developing new products that will reach even more riders going forward,” Wandell said. “I would like to thank our employees for their continued hard work and support of our strategy.”

How’s all that brand focus working out Mr. Wandell?  Check it out.  According to Interbrands 11th annual ranking of the “Best Global Brands,” Harley-Davidson (#98) saw a decline of 24% in brand value!! For the first time ever, it nearly fell OFF the top 100 list of global brands.

Quick to provide an “interpretation” and point out their view of the pitfalls of Interbrands ranking system – Harley-Davidson spokesman Bob Klien stated“Given the financial focus of the Interbrand rankings, the results aren’t really all that surprising,” and then went on to say “It’s to be expected given the economy and the effect it’s had on the motorcycle industry and Harley-Davidson.”

Not that surprising.  Huh?  If it’s a financial focus let’s contrast the H-D brand with the auto industry which has had a difficult time in this economy too.  Mercedes Benz (#12) and BMW (#15) were able to sustain and build their value through innovative design and a focus on delivering premium value vehicles with luxury features. Award-winning products like the Q5 helped Audi (#63) lead industry growth this year with a 9% increase in its brand value.  Even the media’s preoccupation with the Toyota (#11) recall which caused the brand to lose -16% of its brand value was handled in a way that it out performed H-D!

What about other luxury brands?  Even with the economic downturn, luxury brands Cartier (#77), Armani (#95), Louis Vuitton (#16), Gucci (#44), Tiffany & Co (#76) and Hermes (#69) all saw the value of their brands increase in 2010 by continuing to invest in their heritage and legendary status. Outstanding customer service and a focus on unique in-store and online experiences allowed them to stay strong, even while consumers cut back spending.

Interbrand publishes the ranking of the top 100 brands based on a unique methodology analyzing the many ways a brand touches and benefits an organization, from attracting top talent to delivering on customer expectations. Three key aspects contribute to a brand’s value; the financial performance of the branded products or services, the role of brand in the purchase decision process and the strength of the brand to continue to secure earnings for the company.

The Harley-Davidson brand investment does not seem to be working.  Now what?

Photo courtesy of Interbrands.

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