Business Tip – September 2012

Delivering customer service

By Steve Rausch, USG Corporation

“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” – Walt Disney

In my humble opinion, the quickest way to make or break your company is via your customer service system or lack thereof. One of the big problems of customer service is the definition of what customer service is! It’s so difficult because it is such a moving target. Once you discover what customer service means to your company, you quickly find that (a) it needs improvement, (b) your competitors have exceeded or redefined the limits required, or (c) you just continue on doing what you have been and discover you are losing market share rapidly and don’t know or understand why.

Customer service has been and continues to be the number one driver of growth at most major successful companies. Think about Amazon, BMW, FedEx, Ritz Carlton, UPS and Zappos – all are widely-known and respected for their customer service.

One story, told by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, is about a phone call to their 24-hour customer satisfaction center (customer service via phone center) asking where to get a pizza delivered late at night. Now Zappos isn’t in the pizza business, they’re best known for shoes, yet their rep took the initiative to go online and find the closest pizza place to the customer’s location and gave the caller the phone number. No sales transaction took place that night for Zappos; however, that is one customer who won’t go anywhere else for their shoes when they do want/need them.

And Ritz Carlton Hotels keep a list of returning customers’ likes and desires so they can have the room just right. For example, I use a CPAP machine at night and discovered my room at the Ritz had no outlet by the bed for my machine. After calling down to the desk they sent up a person with an extension cord with multiple outlets for my machine. Pretty standard for a hotel – BUT WAIT, the next visit, and every visit since, my room always has that same setup so that I don’t have to call and request it ever again! Now, can you imagine that I use Ritz Carlton whenever possible?  You bet I do!

What can YOU do in your business to take your customer service above and beyond the expectations of your customers? What needs can you anticipate and have already handled when your customers do business with you? The bottom line here is determining what UNEXPECTED PLEASURE you can provide to your customers so they provide you with a better bottom line. In the words of Jim Rohn, “One customer well taken care of could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising.”

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Steve Rausch represents the Substrates and Specialty Products Division of USG Corporation.

Ask the Experts – September 2012

Question:

We just installed a stone tile shower floor. It was sealed twice and shortly after white stuff kept showing on the floor even though the walls of the shower and the bathroom are of the same tile. We then removed the sealant and re-sealed it. Again shortly after this white stuff comes out. I have used an efflorescence cleaner which removed it, but the white stuff keeps coming back. Can you tell me what is happening and how we can fix it?

Thank you in advance for all your help.

Answer:

Without being there on site and doing several destructive tests to determine the actual cause of the problem, I can give you several of the most common causes for the condition that you have described. First of all, given the cleaning product you have described, it sounds like soluble-salt efflorescence. This soluble salt is a natural product that is present in the Portland cement-based products used most often to produce the setting bed that is under the tile installation and the grout material that is used to fill the grout joints.

Natural stone tile may contain these mineral salts as well, especially if the natural stone is a softer material such as marble or limestone. These mineral salts may, and most often do, migrate when exposed to water or water vapor. As a way to control or minimize this efflorescence, water management is of the utmost importance. Careful consideration of the materials being used should be taken into account. Efflorescence that occurs after the tile or stone installation is in service is very difficult to stop or even control. Time and use will eventually cause all the “free mineral salts” to be exhausted and the problem will go away, but to fix this problem from the beginning will most likely require a removal of the entire shower floor, and may even require removal of portions of the walls or all the walls as well.

Starting fresh with a new shower framed and ready for tile or natural stone, the methods for proper shower assemblies can be found in the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation. These methods show pre-sloped shower pan assemblies, weep hole protectors, references to American National Standards Institute (ANSI)  for proper mixes and measures for setting beds such as 1-to-4-ratio of Portland cement to washed masonry sand used in many shower pan assemblies. The TCNA list cautions when using soft natural stone products in wet areas – if efflorescence may be of concern – a porcelain or ceramic tile that is made to resemble natural stone may be a safer choice.

A few things the NTCA Reference Manual has to say about the causes efflorescence are as follows:

  • Soluble salts from the Portland cement-based products brought to the surface by capillary action where there is water or moisture present.
  • Contaminated water or sand containing soluble salts.
  •  Excessive mineral content in the water used for maintenance.

I hope this information helps.

Gerald Sloan, NTCA trainer

Marazzi Architectural Ventilated Wall System creates sustainable rainscreen

When the Evanston, Ill.-based professional design partnership BEHLES + BEHLES wanted a sustainable facade as part of the green design strategy for the branch banking facility of First Bank &Trust, the firm turned to Marazzi Architectural.

BEHLES + BEHLES closely collaborated with Marazzi Architectural representatives on the new LEED-Gold recognized facility, located within the Village of Skokie, Ill. Marazzi Architectural’s Ventilated Wall System was selected as one of the most visible elements of the sustainable design strategies implemented for the project.

DTI of Illinois, based in Aurora, Ill., installed approximately 5,200 square feet of Marazzi Architectural’s white and gray Monolith porcelain stoneware in rectified, large-format 12”x24” and 24”x48” modules on the specially-engineered, site-specific aluminum framework by Jurij Podolak, architectural engineer, CSI, ASCE, AAWE, associate AIA, and founder of VF Engineering (ventedfacades.com). The Monolith series, supplied by Great Lakes Distribution in Madison, Wis., boasts 40% recycled content.

“The Marazzi rep – Jerry Joyce – was absolutely terrific to work with on our initial rainscreen facade project, First Bank & Trust in Skokie, Ill.,” said Brian Castro, president of DTI of Illinois.

“We would NOT have been able to get the project done without his help. There were plenty of challenges, but Jerry was readily accessible at each and every one. He made himself present at the site on numerous occasions. “

Castro said the biggest challenge in this job was the bracket attachment to the building. But Marazzi’s help gave DTI the support needed to handle the situation. “Jerry worked around the clock to provide a solution that was compatible with American construction methods,” Castro added. “Once solved, the actual installation was a learning curve that was quickly absorbed by our union-trained professional installers.”

In Marazzi Architectural’s Ventilated Wall System, continuous external insulation provides uniformity in thermal protection, while the cladding material stops direct sun radiation. Together, they reduce unbalanced temperature distribution (thermal bridges that promote condensation and mold formation) and enhance the energy efficiency of the building.

To maximize these benefits, BEHLES + BEHLES super-sized the layers of insulation both within the building and on the exterior wrap to increase energy efficiencies as well as comfort levels inside the structure.

Other LEED/sustainable design highlights of the project include:

• A geo-thermal heat pump which extracts energy embedded in the earth, allowing for a 25% reduction in energy from non-renewable resources.
• A green roof covering 66% of the roof area of the building, reducing the urban heat island effect of conventional roofing systems.
• An underground site retention system that collects storm water run-off and returns better quantity and quality of run-off water to storm sewer.
• A building site that is a brown field redevelopment, with good access to public transportation and special allowances made for bicycles and low-emitting vehicles.
• A highly-insulated tile rainscreen exterior wall made from 40% recycled material that provides better thermal and moisture conditions for the interior spaces.
• Large floor-to-ceiling windows and high clerestory windows that bring ample daylight into the building, providing a better work environment for building employees.
• Energy efficient LED light fixtures that are used throughout the building.
• Use of water-efficient plumbing fixtures throughout the building that allow for a 42% reduction in overall use of potable water.
• 20% of all building materials obtained from recycled sources.
• 20% of all building materials obtained from regional sources (within 500 miles), decreasing energy use for materials transportation.
• Recycling of 90% of all construction waste, diverting that material away from landfills.
• Low-emitting paints, coatings, sealants, and floorings, creating a healthier work environment for building occupants.

Although the bank has only recently opened and comparative energy savings statistics are not yet available, typical results obtained with Marazzi Architectural’s Ventilated Wall System are up to 1/3 savings on energy usage. The large-format porcelain tile also offers excellent performance, both technical and aesthetic. Abrasion, freeze-thaw, fading, graffiti and harsh weather conditions become non-issues.

The ventilated façade overcomes all of the mechanical phenomena encountered during its lifetime, such as its own weight, suspended loads, external ambient shock, wind loading, deformation in the support structure, temperature or humidity variation, solar radiation, chemical and atmospheric agents.

All the sustainable design objectives were employed to demonstrate the client’s commitment to both the local Village community and the larger environmental community.

“It was so much fun, we’re presently in negotiations for two more larger similar projects,” said DTI’s Castro. “We’re very much looking forward to our next adventure.”

Green Tip – August 2012

All Squared Away

By Bill Griese, Tile Council of North America, LEED AP BD+C

With the launching of Green Squared® earlier this year, our industry has set sail and is ready to conquer new and exciting opportunities in the sustainability marketplace. With hundreds of products already certified and a warm reception by the A&D community thus far, the program appears to be on course and running with great momentum. So, where are we with Green Squared today and what can be expected as we move through the second half of 2012 and into 2013 and beyond?

The green fourteen

As of July, 2012, 14 companies are participating in the Green Squared program. Six of those companies have products certified, and eight expect to have products certified by year end. Ten of the participating companies are manufacturers of tile, and four are manufacturers of tile installation materials. So far, only U.S. and Mexican manufacturers are participating, but it is expected that foreign manufacturers who export to the U.S. will begin applying for product certification very soon.

Unified definition of green

With Green Squared, the North American tile industry now has a unified position and consistent interpretation of what it means for a product to be green. The Green Squared Certified mark facilitates marketplace identification of products with the full range of social and ecological attributes most important to the North American green building community. But Green Squared certification is much more than a labeling tool for products. It is a valuable specification tool, one which has been much-needed so that the industry can have its most sustainable products specified into green building programs.

LEED: the tile industry is now a contender!

Perhaps the most important green building program in which the tile industry needs to be relevant is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®). In 2011, Pilot Credit 43 was established, and points were awarded for the use of products which were certified under industry sustainability programs. For the carpet industry, the program was NSF 140, and for the resilient floor covering industry, the program was NSF 332. At the time, the tile industry had not yet established a program like Green Squared, so it missed a golden opportunity to compete with other industries for product specification under this credit. Luckily, Pilot Credit 43 was retired in March 2012 as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) began efforts to establish a new Pilot Credit, 52, in which additional sustainable product programs could be explored. Currently, the tile industry is working with USGBC, and it is likely that the use of Green Squared Certified products will soon earn points under Pilot Credit 52 and in future versions of the LEED Rating System.

Tile to join NAHB and CHPS programs

Another program in which Green Squared is making a splash is NAHB’s National Green Building Program. The National Green Building Standard is currently undergoing a major revision, and it is expected to be released by year end. In the current draft revision, points are awarded for the use of Green Squared Certified products.

Also continuing to evolve is the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS). In the CHPS master framework, points are awarded for the use of environmentally-preferable products. For carpet, these are considered products which are certified to NSF 140, and for resilient floor covering, those which are certified to NSF 332. Currently, the master framework has no mechanism for specifying environmentally-preferable tile products since it has been several years since its last revision. Fortunately, CHPS is in the process of updating this document, and they are considering the addition of Green Squared for tile. This is very important since most of the thirteen participating states update their CHPS criteria based on the master framework.

2013: Handbook section on Green/Sustainable Design

Finally, it should be noted that the 2013 version of our industry’s very own TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation will include a Green/Sustainable Design section in its installation details. Project specifications are so often written based on these details, and it is no different for green projects. So, it is important that appropriate standards are referenced wherever possible. Thus, the 2013 Handbook will include expanded information on Green Squared, and each detail will suggest that products which meet the Green Squared standard be specified for green building projects.

The introduction of Green Squared is very timely, especially with the growing demand for industry sustainability programs. With a strong initial participation from manufacturers, and a presence which is already being established among some of the most well-known green building programs, the industry should be in good shape as sustainability initiatives continue to grow.

Effective communication: it’s everybody’s responsibility

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Have you ever thought you’d heard exactly what someone else said only to discover later that you completely missed the whole point of the conversation? I have and it certainly isn’t pleasant. In the business world it makes for huge inefficiencies and wastes lots of valuable time. My question is: “Whose fault is it and how can we stop it from happening?”

The first part of the question is much easier to answer – it’s both parties’ fault.  The “SENDER” (person doing the talking) has a responsibility to clearly articulate all information that he or she wants to be heard. Senders need to use language that is clear and easily understood by all with whom they are trying to communicate. The “RECEIVER” (person doing the listening) has a responsibility to fully focus on what is being said and to ask qualifying questions to make sure he or she understands what is being communicated. A safeguard for both parties is for the speaker and the listener to either or both request that the other party restate in different words exactly what they heard. When the information is restated in different words you can usually tell if the listener clearly heard and understood what the speaker was attempting to communicate.

This skill is vital in both everyday life (think about some communications with your spouse) as well as in the business world. How many unhappy customers could you possibly have prevented (or prevented becoming) by taking a few extra seconds during the discussions to make sure everyone was clearly communicating what their wants/desires/needs were. In the words of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.”

The opposite of effective communication is “mutual mystification,” which is when both of you walk away believing you clearly understood what happened, only to discover later that neither of you clearly understood what the other party wanted. THE COURT SYSTEM IS FULL OF THESE CASES!

Try focusing on and practicing good speaking and listening skills this month to see if you can help yourself and your company obtain higher customer satisfaction ratings and lasting connections with your customers.

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Ask the Experts – August 2012

Question:

What is the best method to set and grout broken quarry tile (it may be called rip rap) to get smooth and grout-filled joints? I haven’t been satisfied with my foyers and patios.

Answer:

It  sounds like you are changing your tile into a quasi-mosaic. First, your tile should be as lippage-free as possible – and as with all mosaic tile – you should use a beating block and rubber mallet to ensure flatness from one tile to the next. Second, when grouting, pack your grout fully into the joints, making sure to use correctly-mixed grout (don’t mix too wet). Wait until the grout will no longer transfer to your finger, then smooth your joints with a well-wrung sponge. Last, try dragging a large cotton (or better, wool) towel over the tile as your final wash.

Michael Whistler, NTCA Trainer

Question

A contractor put an outdoor patio in for me using quarry tile. In the contract he stated that he would do the work according to the industry standards. He put the quarry tile down on top of packed chad. Packed chad is also called minus: it’s the chip and small pieces of rock left in the rock crushing process, used for roads and landscaping because it packs down. It is crushed rock along with all the very fine particles created during the crushing process.

The mortar will not stay in and I am told that it is because the tile should have been set on at least 2” of concrete. The contractor is not doing anything to correct the problem and it looks like I am going to have to take him to court to get this resolved. In order to prove a case against him for a breach of contract, I am going to need a document stating the ANSI standard for laying quarry tile outside. How and where can I go about getting these documents?

Answer

There is no approved TCNA or ANSI method to install tile over “packed chad,”  or “minus.” There are approved masonry methods for installing pavers and brick over packed-sand beds. But pavers and brick are substantially thicker than tile, usually 2”–2-1/2.”

I would expect you are getting cracked grout joints because this tile has been installed over a substrate that will move due to point-load stresses on the surface of the tile above.

I am sorry you are having this failure, and recommend you get in touch with one of our Five Star Contractors (http://tinyurl.com/7c6dl33) or NTCA Member Contractors (http://tinyurl.com/8255bx2) in your area. NTCA members typically have more knowledge than the average tile contractor. Enter the URLs above or go to www.tile-assn.com and click on the tab to “Find a Contractor.”

The one sunny spot in this situation is that if your tiles were dry-laid over this “packed chad,” you will more than likely be able to reuse them for a proper installation. When you remove them it should be relatively easy to knock the grout off the edges (if it is cementitious grout) and use them a second time.

Michael Whistler, NTCA Trainer

Technical Feature – July 2012

Thin-body porcelain tile:
an emerging trend worth serious consideration

By Bart Bettiga

Many NTCA members have contacted me in recent months regarding specifications they are receiving for bidding large-format, thin-body porcelain tiles. Many importers and distributors have enthusiastically embraced this technology, and inventory is already available in many markets. The reasons for this are obvious. Distributors can fit significantly more material on a container, saving freight and duty costs. Manufacturers can offer benefits to builders and project owners with this material, as it is a lightweight product that uses less energy and raw materials.

There are two significant challenges related to this potentially-groundbreaking technology. One involves the sale of the product and the other centers around the installation. It will be the responsibility of the thin-body tile manufacturer, along with the distributor/importer, to properly recommend and warranty these products for the correct application. We have already seen numerous instances where potential failures could occur because of misrepresentation of where the product could be installed.

The MAPEI Corporation recently published an installation reference guide for interior floors for thin-body porcelain tile 4.5-6mm thick. The “Thin-Body Porcelain Tile Reference Guide for Interior Floors,” is available on the MAPEI website www.mapei.com.

This guide is a good resource to consider for garnering more information. MAPEI’s Dr. Neil McMurdie was recently our guest speaker at the NTCA Five Star Contractor Program hosted by Crossville. McMurdie provided valuable information to our Five Star members who attended this event. Here are some important notes we took from his presentation.

  • Typically, a thin-body tile has a thickness range of 1/8” to 1/4” (3mm-6mm) while a standard body porcelain tile is 9/32” or 7mm. ISO has established thin tiles as 5.5mm and below.
  • There are no ANSI or ISO standards that currently exist for thin tile. Responsibility for where this product gets sold should be with the manufacturer.
  • There are several types of technology for producing thin-body porcelain tile, and this will make the development of standards a more complex process.
  • It is very important to determine if the material should be used for walls only. Most of the thinner products are only recommended for this. For example, Crossville recently agreed to be the exclusive distributor for Laminam thin tiles, a division of System Group. They currently recommend their products for interior wall applications.
  • The reduction in weight of the material will be highly attractive to architects and design professionals when considering the overall cost of construction.

Proper installation of these products, in my opinion, will require the use of specialized contracting companies who have a proven track record of success on complex projects. It is vital that not “just anyone” install thin-body tile, especially on floors. Here are just a few examples to consider for the proper installation of these products.

  • The substrate should be carefully considered. Currently, MAPEI recommends only concrete surfaces either on or above grade, and well-bonded, existing tile applications as suitable substrates. Backerboard, wood substrates, gypsum underlayments and sheet membranes are not currently recommended for floor applications.
  • The substrate must meet a subsurface tolerance of 1/8” in 10 feet or no more than 1/16” in one foot when measured from high points in the surface with a straight edge. Consider leveling products to help achieve this requirement.
  • Select a mortar and grout that are recommended for this system.
  • The edges of thin tiles are more susceptible to damage than standard tiles.
  • Mechanical-edge leveling systems may greatly assist in the installation of these tiles to reduce the effects of lippage.
  • It is vital to achieve maximum mortar coverage under all of the tile surface and the edges. Consult the MAPEI floor tile reference guide referenced above for a specific trowel manufacturer recommendation, since some of the new configurations help to obtain an even spread of  mortar across the bottom of the tile and substrate, minimizing air pockets.
  • Use cutting tools designed for cutting the larger-unit thin tiles. Several tool manufacturers have designed and produced tools for this purpose. Building a special surface for cutting large-unit thin tiles may be needed on larger jobs.
  • Special racks designed for handling some of the larger thin-tile units may prove very useful if not absolutely necessary on some jobs.
  • Perimeter and field movement joints following method EJ 171 in the TCNA Handbook are required for thin body tile installations. 

The NTCA sees thin-body porcelain tile as a market with significant potential. We think there are applications where tile will now be considered that can increase per capita consumption of our products. Examples include countertops, interior walls, retrofit showers and floors where we can install over existing tile surfaces, and more.

The key to our success will be in the swift and proper dissemination of our knowledge and proper training for the handling and installation of these products. The NTCA intends to play a leading role in this technology and looks forward to sharing our findings with our TileLetter readers. For now, our best advice is to require in writing the product recommendations and installation requirements for any thin-body tile specification. And call us if you have questions during the bid process or before the installation. We would be happy to get involved.

Dave and Buster’s – Indianapolis

McCammack serves up tasty tile installation to new eatery/arcade

Fun, food, games…and porcelain tile, expertly installed: that’s the winning combination at Dave and Buster’s (D&B) in Indianapolis.

This popular restaurant/adult entertainment establishment, which in 2012 was reported to have 59 locations in the U.S. and one in Canada, combines a bar, restaurant and adult arcade for fun, parties, meetings and more. The $2,500,000 project completed in 2009 near the freeway on Castleton Corner in Indianapolis extends the company mission of offering “an unparalleled guest experience through the best combination of food, drinks and games in an ideal environment for celebrating all out fun.”

McCammack Tile (www.mccammacktile.com), also of Indianapolis, made it their mission to offer an unparalleled installation of porcelain tile and glass to enhance the adult entertainment theme and provide top durability, ease of maintenance and unique appearance. The $220,000 tile project took three weeks of running double-shift crews, six days a week to complete.

Early on, the project ran into a snafu when the specified products proved to be unavailable due to stepped-back tile production resulting from the recession. McCammack Tile collaborated with the design team, contractor and owner to manage substitutions while not compromising the original design. After four design changes, the tile installation was ready to begin with Crossville Color Blox porcelain tile in 9”x12”, 12”x12” and 18”x18” formats and Daltile Era Color BodyTM porcelain tile in 18”x18” formats.

McCammack Tile, a NTCA Five Star Contractor, characteristically makes it their business to not only create a space that looks great, but to also maintain quality control throughout the project for smooth execution, and D&B (www.daveandbusters.com) was no exception. McCammack tackled installation of porcelain in large work areas, creating sweeping curves and interesting patterns, while providing a neat and clean installation around dividing walls and building structure. Because the design changes put a crunch on the time for actual installation, the large curves and arcs within the floor pattern were cut and executed onsite by the installers. The original design – which included water jet cutting – was replaced with over 1,000 linear feet cut onsite.

McCammack installed Schlüter Ditra on the women’s and men’s restroom floors and walls, with matching Rondec PVC finishing and edge-protecting profiles at the outside corners.

McCammack combined porcelain tile with beautiful 2”x2” Glass Reflection Blends from Daltile in certain areas, adding a level of sophistication to the adult enjoyment environment.

LATICRETE Blue 92 crack isolation membrane and Hydro Ban waterproofing/crack isolation membrane, SpectraLOCK PRO grout and LATICRETE caulking were also used in the installation. Products were supplied from LATICRETE, Louisville Tile, Daltile, and Architectural Brick & Tile.

The installation resulted in a tasty tile treatment that is fun and games to maintain – truly a snap. McCammack Tile helped Dave and Buster’s provide a dynamic new restaurant/entertainment concept for fun-loving adults in the Indianapolis area. 

 

Green Tip – July 2012

Understanding the Technical Criteria of Green SquaredSM/
ANSI A138.1

Section V: Innovation

By Bill Griese, Tile Council of North America, LEED AP BD+C

The ANSI A138.1 standard for sustainable tiles and tile installation materials establishes criteria for products throughout their full life cycle. Over the past several months, we’ve reviewed the first four sections of the standard. This month, we’ll have a look at the fifth and final section, Innovation.

Key in the development of sustainable products and operations are progressive thinking, technological advancement, and outstanding achievement beyond that which is required. ANSI A138.1 allows the opportunity for products to achieve conformance, in part, through their innovative achievements. This may involve exceptional performance above the requirements set forth in other sections of the standard and/or innovative performance in categories not specifically addressed by the standard.

A product may earn up to two elective credits through exceptional conformance if quantitative criteria already addressed by the standard are greatly exceeded. Usually, the magnitude to which these criteria must be exceeded is defined as one and a half times the most stringent threshold already established. Otherwise, specific requirements for exceptional conformance are defined in the standard’s appendix.

Another elective credit may be earned if a product possesses an ecological attribute not addressed by the standard, is manufactured in a facility with ecological processes not addressed by the standard, or belongs to an organization with an innovative corporate governance strategy not addressed by the standard. An ever-evolving list of approved innovations is managed by the ANSI A108 Committee which has jurisdiction over ANSI A138.1. Innovations not included in this list can be added if they are submitted to and approved by the Committee.

A fourth and final innovation elective credit may be earned upon the calculation of carbon footprint and the development of a greenhouse gas reduction strategy for a product or its manufacturing organization.

This concludes our overview of the technical criteria in ANSI A138.1. In future months, we will dive deeper into the standard’s product conformance scheme and Green Squared® certification requirements.

Go ahead, Tweet it: seven ways to capitalize on the social power of your satisfied (and not-so-satisfied) customers


Ron Kaufman, author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet (Evolve Publishing, 2012, ISBN: 978-09847625-5-2, www.UpliftingService.com) offers seven tips to take advantage of the rich network of fans, friends and followers on social media to spread your message and gather information to make you better at what you do. Read the highlights here and visit www.tileletter.com for the whole story. — Lesley Goddin 

We love telling people about our latest experiences, and we love hearing about what others have experienced. But author Ron Kaufman says many companies are missing out on tapping the social power of their satisfied customers.

“Companies should be saying to their customers, ‘If you did not enjoy our service, please tell us. If you did enjoy our service, please tell someone else,’” Kaufman said. “Tell happy customers to be social about their great experiences and encourage unhappy customers to come to you via social media so that you can make it right and improve your overall service.”

Kaufman notes that a lot of customer service is already being done online, customer to customer, through comments on articles, user forums and message boards.  Companies that embrace this behavior can improve their service and save on costs.

Kaufman said customers will “go out of their way to help a fellow customer find a solution, but for companies to do that back-end customer service there would be a cost. By engaging your customers to help each other, you can defray your costs, improve your customer satisfaction, and stimulate a loyal community by encouraging people in your online social space.”

How do you keep your customers spreading great things about your company while bringing their complaints only to you? Read on for Kaufman’s advice.

Make it easy for them to go social. Provide links in post-service surveys where people can share experiences and encourage them to do so. Kaufman’s website, www.UpYourService.com, offers a Spread the Word section that makes it easy for people to share their experiences.

Say thank you. Show a little love for the love your customers show you. Try a message of gratitude that says, “Thank you so much for spreading the word. As one of our happy customers, when you tell other people about us, it helps us grow and serve you better.” Don’t incentivize this behavior; it tarnishes the genuineness of the comment.

Invite them to reach out. Create a ‘Thanks for Being Social’ promotional piece that includes the company’s Twitter handles, Facebook pages, Yelp and TripAdvisor pages, helpful Twitter hashtags, etc., with a line that reads, ‘If you enjoy our service, please let the world know.’ Leave it with the customer after a job, or post it beside the cash register.

Ask how you can improve. Welcome good and bad instant feedback via social media. “Hear them out, provide them with great service, and then THANK them for sharing their experience with others via Twitter, Facebook…” Kaufman said.

Encourage them to recognize great one-on-one service. United Airlines’ “Outperform Recognition Program” encourages MileagePlus members to enter an exemplary employee’s name via a mobile app; both member and employee can win prizes in a random drawing. “Social programs like these boost employee morale, get customers focused on what employees are doing right, give employees another ‘measurable’ feedback for giving great service, and create a lot more ‘social input’ from customers to the company,” said Kaufman. Compliments received during this process can also be used in publicity campaigns.

Funnel customer questions through social media – then share the best answers. Ask customers to post questions on your Facebook wall, and answer them there for everyone to see. This shares useful information with other customers and enables your company to gather information.

Make talking about your brand irresistible. Provide service so great that customers simply can’t resist telling people about it. In a blog post on The Huffington Post, Chris Hurn, CEO of Mercantile Capital Corporation, shared how the Ritz-Carlton staff went above and beyond after his family accidentally left his young son’s favorite stuffed animal behind after a recent stay. The staff found and safely returned the stuffed animal and took pictures of its extended stay to show Mr. Hurn’s son what a great time his stuffed-animal friend had while staying a bit longer at the hotel.

“That blog post was seen by a portion of The Huffington Post’s 26 million monthly readers and was then tweeted, retweeted, and posted by many on Facebook,” Kaufman said. “Taking photos of a stuffed animal in funny situations didn’t cost Ritz-Carlton a penny, but it delivered social value in a huge way!”

“Your customers’ voices are vital to your organization,” Kaufman concluded. “Social media provides an incredible opportunity to engage those voices, to turn one customer’s great experience into an advertisement that attracts new customers and gets current customers thinking positively about you. It’s an incredibly advantageous way to address customer concerns and improve your company’s service culture in real time.”

Ron Kaufman is a premiere thought leader, educator, and motivator for uplifting customer service and building service cultures in many of the world’s largest and most respected organizations. Find out more about Ron at www.UpliftingService.com. 

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