For those of you that remember my precious Miss Mavis, you know that’s not possible. But, she’s a close second. Her new book, titled “I Love You More Than My Dog” takes a new and fresh look at what she calls beloved companies.

Trader Joe’s, Container Store, LUSH, Netflix, IKEA. What do these entirely different brands have in common? They are irrational. Their love of customers is irrational. From a CFO perspective, some of the things they do to delight customers makes no mathematical sense. But they cannot help themselves. They decided to love customers – every day.

Her book is centered around the five decisions made by beloved companies:

  1. Beloved companies decide to believe.
  2. Beloved companies decide with clarity of purpose.
  3. Beloved companies decide to be real.
  4. Beloved companies decide to be there.
  5. Beloved companies decide to say sorry.

Last week at the NPS Conference in NYC, Jeanne Bliss invited three people, highlighted in her book,  to join her on stage to tell their stories. First up was Christopher Zane, president and founder of Zane’s Cycles. He started this company when he was 16 years old and his love of bicycling has now turned into an extremely profitable enterprise. He believes that people are good and can be trusted. So when someone comes in to look at a bike, his store encourages them to take it for a spin. With no collateral (like wallet, car keys, etc) required to leave behind. Sure, about 6 bikes a year get stolen. But he did the math. The losses he takes for those six jerks versus the love he creates for the 99.9% of his customers by deciding to believe, makes mathematical sense.

Next up, Fred Taylor from Southwest Airlines (SWA). He is the Chief Apology Officer for Southwest Airlines. Even though SWA has consistently received the lowest ratio of complaints per passengers boarded of all major US carriers – when you employee 35,000 people that fly more than 3100 flights a day – stuff happens.

They decided to be real and to say they are sorry. They start each day with MOM. The Morning Overview Meeting. Weather, staffing issues, mechanical, anything that might get in the way of passengers delight, they are proactively working it.

I was supposed to fly through Dulles tomorrow on my way to Jacksonville. I got a text page from United that said simply “cancelled” and gave me a number to call. I called and got a recording that said, and I’m paraphrasing here: “We are experiencing crazy high call volume and can’t help you right now……good bye.”

The folks at SWA are busy responding with customized messages to those passengers that are screwed.  Their goal is to reach the customer electronically before the customer has to reach out to them to lodge a complaint. You can’t control the weather, but you can control how you react to it. At SWA it’s simple:

  1. They acknowledge the situation.
  2. They apologize for the experience they have had.
  3. They make some gesture to help regain the customer’s trust.

When is the last time you proactively apologized to a member?

And finally, Wayne Peacock from USAA. USAA is a membership organization (much like a credit union) serving over 7 million members of the US military. They provide legendary service that focuses on one word: empathy. Their products are insurance and financial services. Their customers are fighting everyday for our freedom.

A big part of their culture is understanding intimately their customer’s world. So in new employee orientation, they spend a day wearing a soldier’s uniform complete with those big boots, and eating MREs – meals ready to eat. They need to empathize with their customer.

The session concluded with Jeanne donning the soldier’s gear and dining on MRE fettucini. A powerful visual and reminder to us all – to walk a mile in our customer’s shoes and ask “Do we make it easy to do business with us?”

In this economy, we’d better find a way.