Jill’s Journal Archives

Loyalty Lessons From Austin City Limits

Austin City Limits (ACL) knows a thing or two about building customer loyalty.

ACL is the longest-running popular music series in American television history. Since 1974, ACL has hosted iconic performers who, in turn, have delivered memorable music experiences (and lifetime bragging rights) for their lucky audiences.

Last week I met a key Loyalty Maker: Scott Newton, ACL’s exclusive in-house photographer for over 30 years. I stood in rapt attention as Scott toured Austin Convention & Visitor Bureau guests and me through his stunning photographs of lengendary artists performing on the revered ACL stage. (The photo gallery is part of the new state-of-art ACL performance hall adjacent to the W Hotel in downtown Austin.)

From such greats as Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson and B.B. King to contemporary performers including Coldplay, John Mayer, Elvis Costello, Pearl Jam, and Nora Jones, Scott’s photographs exude the excitement and energy of these uber-talented performers.

As the tour continued and Scott shared his insights, I realized I was in the presence of a gifted Loyalty Maker whose photography made it possible for all of us to experience a magical on-stage moment from a legendary performer.

Scott describes his calling this way:

Scott Newton“To come up with an image that conveys as much as possible what the experience was like, on our stage, during the performance. All of this with one final image, rendered into two dimensions of height and breath, and unlike video without the benefit of time and moving images. And oh, most importantly, come up with a good likeness that the artist and his management would approve of.”


Here are a few “experience” lessons I learned from Scott:

1. Think: “decisive moments” when capturing experiences. Scott shared that, on stage, Ray Charles used the idea that he didn’t know what he looked like to get very exaggerated with his body as he danced to make the spirit moving through him visible to every one. Says Scott, “When I was out of position, I saw him briefly arch his back and stomp his foot, singing triumphantly, visually encapsulating all that he was. I waited for him to do it again. I still remember that click as if it were yesterday.”

2. See the experience “deliverers” as one organic whole. Says Scott, “When I am crafting a band-shot, I try to see all the members as one organic whole, connected by invisible strings of music. As photographer, you have to be aware of everyone, and it helps if you can feel the beat they’re moving to so you can anticipate exactly when the decisive moment will come, there’s an art to it. I try to take occasional breaks and do little dances, to get in synch, but that’s me.”

3. Break some rules. Says Scott, “John Fogerty is a ball of energy and fire. To me, it’s like his spirit is just too big for his body when he is performing. The music is amazing, and then he starts bounding up and down while belting it out. So I looked for a moment where he was literally coming out of the top of the frame and, click, there he is, pushing the edge of the envelope.”

4. Work for It. Scott shared that he often shoots 2,000 pictures to get the “one.” He sets his bar high, and diligently works to nail an extraordinary shot.

Loyalty Lesson: Creating memorable customer experiences that inspire buyers to return again and again is critical to building customer loyalty.

Look in unexpected places for Loyalty Makers. And learn from them. That’s often where the freshest, newest insights for building customer experiences reside.


You Talk. We Listen.

Marketing ace and friend, Bob Gutermuth (founder of Dialog Marketing) shared this recent experience with a Houston pizzeria. Reports Bob, "We left our feedback via a comment card that the waitress asked us to fill out. The very next day I received the following email from the restaurant:"

Dear Bob,

We have been receiving customer feedback from our comment cards. Our top complaints are:

1. Too Loud – Due to our 22ft ceilings it tends to make the store seem loud. We are looking into different ways to muffle the sound.

2. Past service – We have done an entire rehire for all servers the past 2 weeks and have seen a drastic increase in customer satisfaction toward service.

3. High drink prices – We are changing prices on our drinks to the following:
Boylans Soda’s from $3 to $2
Honest Tea from $3 to $2.50
VitaminWater from $3 to $2
1/3 Liter Spring Water and Sparkling Water from $3 to $2
1 Liter Spring Water and Sparkling Water from $7 to $6

4. Need a diet cola – As of today, we have added the Diet Cane Cola to our menu!

Thanks for everyone’s input.
Pizza Fusion Houston

Loyalty Tip: Don’t just ask for feedback. Put it to work! And circle back with customers to let them know how their feedback is being used to improve the customer experience.

Want to one-up your competition and win a customer for life? This kind of “closed loop” communication can help!

About the Author, Jill Griffin, The Loyalty Maker®

Jill Griffin’s new book, Taming the Search-and-Switch Customer: Building Customer Loyalty in a Compulsion-to-Compare World, is a Miami Herald “Top Business Books” pick for 2009. Buy it on Amazon or by calling 1-800-956-7739. Sign up for Jill’s Loyalty Tips at www.loyaltysolutions.com.

Use every opportunity to build customer loyalty

The garage doors at my house need adjusting. They sound as if they are going to collapse whenever my husband Mack or I hit the remote opener. This week, Mack “delegated” to me the task of calling the installer to schedule a service call. I went out to the garage expecting to find the contact information on the wall mounted control box. No dice. No easy-to- find information anywhere!

Loyalty Lesson: Don’t overlook the low tech ways to build customer loyalty. In the case of my garage doors, how simple, easy and cost-efficient it would have been for the installer to have posted a simple “For service” tag on the control box. With no such information, I’m on my own in searching for a vendor. What a shame for the original installer! This could have been cash in their pocket.

Remind Your Customers How You Add Value

My husband, Mack, is one of my best customer loyalty teachers.

A few days after I returned from a two week business trip, Mack and I were taking a walk around our neighborhood. Seemingly out of the blue, Mack surprised me by saying, “I fixed three things around the house while you were gone, that you’d been complaining about. But you haven’t mentioned one of them since you’ve been home.” With a tiny grin he continued , “You’ve got 24 hours to recognize them or I’m going to turn into an unhappy camper.” I love my husband very much, and of course, as soon as we returned home from our walk I made it my business to identify his good deeds and praise him for them.

In his own way, Mack was shrewdly applying an often overlooked loyalty principle: Routinely reinforce your value in your customer’s eyes. Good service is not enough. It counts only when your customers recognize it.

The practice of this principle is what prompts the American Airlines pilot to announce, “Welcome to Austin and our on-time arrival,” and my Office Depot receipt for desk supplies to read “You saved $7.46″ and Westin Hotel’s “Do Not Disturb” door hanger to read “I cannot come to the door now. I’m still in heaven,” referencing the comfort of Westin’s signature Heavenly Bed™.

Bottomline: Reinforce your value in the eyes of your customers. Doing so helps keep customer relationships (and marriages) strong.

My Other Man

I’m a happily married woman. But I’m here to confess: I have “another man” in my life. His name is Lalo. He “speaks” and sells (at rock-bottom prices) great brands like Tory Burch, Moschino, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Nanette Lepore. I’ve been seeing him steadily for two years.

But my visits go beyond the fact he helps me land designer brands for cheap.

Lalo is a reminder that America is full of remarkable, resilient business builders with abilities to search out untapped customer needs, profitably meet them, and earn deep customer loyalty along the way.

And, I NEED that reminder at the moment! How about you?

With news of corporate misdeeds, bank failures, scarce credit, home foreclosures, plummeting stock values and layoffs swarming all around, it’s pretty darn easy to feel scared and hopeless. But the truth is, our country is full of thought leaders (and doers) who step up and courageously create new “business designs” — defining and differentiating their offerings, choosing how to go to market, configure resources, capture profit, etc. (No doubt, our Big Three automakers are the poster children for bad business design!) But amidst all the bleak news, it’s important we remember our country has plenty of firms, both large and small, that do ‘get’ it.

My man, Lalo, is a case in point.

This Austin-based, veteran shoe retailer saw the writing on the wall several years back. With internet search engines providing consumers with ever-increasing choices, Lalo recognized the need (and opportunity) to shift his customer value delivery into overdrive. His solution? Launch Designer Clearance House (DCH), a no-frills store where in-the-know women could find hip designer shoes and handbags at rock bottom prices ($300 shoes routinely going for $23 to $50.) How did he deliver his deals? By brilliantly cobbling together a stellar customer value proposition fed from willing channel partners whose “gets” exceeded their “gives.” Here’s how he did it:

First, the great inventory…. Approximately twenty designer shoe manufacturers sold Lalo their end-of-selling-season samples. Why? Besides the immediate cash for the samples, Lalo’s store, tucked away in a business office park, provided these manufacturers (many of whom are well-known in Europe, but not in the United States) an opportunity to build brand awareness among high-end, fashion-conscious shoppers who were candidates for full-price shoe purchases in the future.

What’s more, a number of high-end local retailers sold Lalo their end-of-season close-outs for pennies on the dollar. Through DCH, these retailers could sell-off merchandise that didn’t move after final mark-down.

Lalo’s message to customers who “loved the shoe” but not the size? Visit the regular retailer at the beginning of the season! Lalo would tell them where to shop.

Next, low fixed cost…. Lalo kept his store’s operating costs super low by opening his doors only during prime weekend shopping hours, several times a month. He used e-mail to notify his customers a couple of days in advance of when he would be open (these openings typically coincided with availability of new inventory). Castillo also offered shop by appointment, whereby a group of girlfriends, for example, could reserve store access and private shopping time.

Finally, word of mouse…. No advertising. Just a web site where customers sign up for e-mail notification (he offered in-store sign-up, too). Lalo sent out e-mails whenever he had a new shipment, and customers came running, often bringing a friend or two with them.

Customers embraced the “just in” notifications! On one of my visits (yep, I’m a regular), I vividly remember a departing customer, with new leather boots in tow, enthusiastically calling back as she walked out the door, “I can’t wait to receive your next e-mail, Lalo!” (When’s the last time you heard that at the mall?)

In this tough, bruising economy, DCH and its carefully-crafted business design are thriving: Lalo’s talented daughter-in-law, long-time shoe rep, Spring Castillo, has joined the business. The store inked an exclusive deal with upscale Houston retailer, Tootsie’s, and now DCH offers clothes at an astounding 75% off retail price. After expanding its retail space three times in less than two years, DCH began 2009 with a move to a more centralized, permanent store location with ‘real’ stores hours.

Loyalty Lesson: Your firm’s business design choices have huge consequences on its ability to profitably grow loyal customers. And profits matter! How does your firm (1) select its customers, (2) define and differentiate its offerings, (3) define the task it will perform itself and (4) those it will outsource, (5) configure its resources, (6) go to market, (7) create utility for customers, and (8) capture profit? Choose wisely. Your ability to earn customer loyalty depends on it.

What Boosts Your Troops?

I just returned from the Normandy beaches in Northern France. My father, who fought in WWII, was wounded in area combat on July 25, 1944. Dad was one of the lucky ones – he made it home.

But many did not. At the American Cemetery at Colleville, I walked along the perfect rows of marble crosses (9,387 in all) which marked the graves of young, brave Americans who paid the ultimate price for my liberty. I then wandered out to the edge of the cemetery overlooking the Channel, and found myself drawn to Kansas native Jim Gablemann, as he aptly taught some war history to the small group of eager listeners who encircled him. “Keeping troop morale high was a top concern,” Jim explained. “What lifted a weary soldier’s spirits? For starters, hot coffee and fresh bread. That’s why the U.S. Army shipped make-shift bakeries into the Normandy area as soon as possible,” he shared.

As I stood listening, Jim’s words immediately ignited this mental picture: a dog-tired, war-weary soldier, covered with grime, devouring some thick slices of fresh bread chased down by hot coffee. A soldier’s short, simple pleasure in an anything-but-simple time.

Loyalty lesson: Delivering an exceptional customer experience, day in and day out, requires staff fortitude. What simple pleasures help keep your frontline morale high? What’s something new you can do to show staff you care? The U.S. military shipped bakeries! What’s your plan?

My Day at the New York Stock Exchange

April 19, 2007 was a red-letter loyalty day. I got to stand with my fellow Luby’s board members and close the trading session at the New York Stock Exchange. Luby’s, Inc. (LUB) celebrated 25 years as a public traded company, with a closing stock price of $10.13 for the day. This year, Luby’s also celebrated its 60th anniversary as an established “Texas Restaurant Institution” having opened the first Luby’s in San Antonio, TX in 1947. But five short years ago, it was a different story. Massive debt from zealous over-building, declining sales, sliding food quality, tired cooking and dining facilities and an aging customer base were just a few of the problems that had derailed the stock to a share price as low as 99 cents.

What drove Luby’s turnaround? A talented crew led by Houston restaurant legends, Chris and Harris Pappas, who have a brilliant eye for ‘first-things-first’. From the addition of healthy-eating menu items and a new menu board system to better communicate with guests, to short-batch cooking for improved food quality, to aggressive team-building and family-friendly marketing – the stores’ people, product and processes were aggressively over-hauled to serve today’s casual dining customer.

Amidst our four year turnaround, I learned plenty of loyalty lessons. The biggest? Patience pays. As a board director, I experienced first-hand the torment of knowing “all the right things were in place” but seeing no major shifts in customer counts, same-store-sales and bottom line revenue improvement. Here’s what I learned: There’s a tipping point to a turnaround and waiting for it requires faith and patience. And when our tipping point arrived, it didn’t disappoint. Week-after-week, quarter-after-quarter, revenue numbers got stronger and stronger. Luby’s was back!

Loyalty Lesson: “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and the best executed loyalty plans don’t always produce immediate results. Keep the faith. Be patient. Do the right things. Your rewards will come.

What Scooter Taught Me About Loyalty

Last week, Mack and I had to put down our beloved, “amazingly loyal” 14 year old Welsh Corgi, Scooter. And with that came the reminder of a loyalty truth: the deep heartfelt connection that loyalty can create between two parties comes with a price. When your time together is over, your heart can suffer a huge, inconsolable loss. And it hurts.

Ever notice how life has a way of merging events so you can “get” a lesson at multiple levels? Amidst the grief of losing Scooter last week, I began preparation for a loyalty keynote for a multi-national, b-to-b manufacturer. During a fact-finding conference call, I asked my executive sponsor why his troops (mainly engineers) should actually care about customer loyalty. (He had previously admitted that the company’s “siloed” performance metrics conspired against the building of customer loyalty by driving an “every-division-for-itself” work mentality.) He paused for what seemed like a very long moment and then replied, “To build true loyalty, you must make a real, noticeable difference for the customer. You go the extra mile to get results. And there’s a huge personal satisfaction and pride that can come from that level of customer work.”

So true. Building deep loyalty requires you to own your customers’ problems. It moves you from the “Me Zone” to the “We Zone”. You stick your neck out. You put your heart in it. Your customers’ successes become your successes. And alas, their hard times become your hard times, too. Yes, there is a price to pay for this level of commitment. And there is risk, as well. The daily grind of navigating your way through corporate war-fare (both inside the firm and out) and cut throat competitive market spaces can make “doing the right thing” for the customer feel almost like an after-thought.

Yet, hidden deep in every employee’s soul is a yearning to make a real difference. To courageously serve a customer. To put some skin in the game. To make work life count for something. Loyalty Leader companies know this and constantly work to help, not hinder, their employees’ natural affinity to make a difference for customers. Indeed, their customer-first corporate cultures attest to what Scooter’s passing so aptly reminded me: the loyalty rewards of the heart far outweigh their price.