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Reference Point
a newsletter for customer reference professionals
September 2007
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I am often asked how to attract customers to a reference program. It can seem difficult at times for a lot of reasons: there's a lot of competition for top tier customer references; your firm's offerings don't stand out from competitors; your products and services are becoming commoditized; your industry as a whole is suffering from image problems with the public.

Well here's a story that I guarantee will stimulate new and creative thinking for you. It's about a "rogue" United Airlines pilot who's creating a sensation with the customer-wooing practices he's implemented - on his own. He's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, on national new shows and also on Ben and Jackie's blog.

No business is more commoditized, or suffers from worse public perceptions than the airlines. Yet, this pilot creates an experience that his customers want to come back for again and again. The particular value he hones in on is the personal and emotional experience of his flyers - a fertile and untapped area in the dry world of B2B where we think all that matters to the customer is ROI. Not so! As my buddy Alan Weiss likes to say, logic will make people think, but EMOTION makes them ACT.

To see what this pilot does, read on below my signature line (and shameless plugs). I guarantee it will stimulate 3 good ideas immediately that will improve your ability to attract and retain customers to your reference program. (I'll share the ones that occurred to me as well).

All the best,
Bill

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MARK YOUR CALENDAR FOR THE NEXT CUSTOMER REFERENCE FORUM
The Claremont Resort was such a big hit at our last forum that we're breaking precedent and going back for a return engagement. The 2008 Customer Reference Forum will be held on February 18-20 at the Claremont in Berkeley, CA. If you'd like to be kept informed as our plans progress, just reply to this email with "keep me informed" in the subject line.

A NEW BLOG ON REFERENCES
My buddy Robin Hamilton, with UK-based Insight Marketing, is co-starting a new blog on customer references. He's very bright, fun, and passionate about references. Check out his new blog, here.

ADVICE
Check out our BEST PRACTICES REPORTS for tips on critical issues like: getting marquee customers to participate in a reference program; getting customers to reveal measurable benefits; developing customer communities; integrating your program with sales; gaining executive support, and more. For more information, please click here.

RESEARCH
Check out our SURVEYS of Reference Programs and the Managers who run them, here:

JOBS
We can let our community of more than 500+ reference pros know about your position opening. To post a job (for now, this service is free), please click here.

On the other hand, if you're looking for a job, bookmark our new job board postings and check it from time to time, at www.customerreferenceforum.com/jobs/ job_openings.php.

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LESSONS FROM A ROGUE AIRLINE PILOT ON CREATING MEMORABLE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES

Guaranteed to Stimulate at Least 3 Great Ideas For Recruiting and Retaining Customer References

What can an airline pilot teach us about recruiting and retaining references? In Capt. Danny Flanagan's case, a lot. Here are some of the things he does (Jackie Huba provides a great list, which I reproduce here with permission from her blog):

- He mingles with passengers in the gate area.
- He makes gate announcements himself, updating passengers about weather conditions and sets realistic expectations for delays.
- He uses his cell phone to call United operations to ask about connections for passengers.
- He passes out information cards to passengers with fun facts about the plane; he signs two of them, whose owners will win a bottle of wine.
- He snaps pictures of animals in the cargo hold to show owners their pets are safely on board.
- He writes notes to first-class passengers and elite frequent fliers on the back of his business cards, addressing them by name and thanking them for their business.
- He personally calls parents of unaccompanied children to give them updates.
- He instructs flight attendants to pass out napkins asking passengers to write notes about experiences on United, good or bad.
- He orders 200 McDonald's hamburgers for passengers if his flight is delayed or diverted.

"It's called working from the heart," as Capt. Flanagan told CBS News. "It's just working from the heart."

Wow. A simple, too-often-lost concept. With powerful results.

Here are a few quick ideas this suggested to me in our world of references.

- Get to know your references personally. Send holiday and birthday cards. Let them know how much you value their relationship.

- As the relationship develops, find out what their personal goals and aspirations are. You'll find you're often in a great position to help. Maybe they want greater visibility and recognition in their industry, suggesting they'd be a great choice to speak at one of your industry events. Maybe they're looking for a job and your network can help - and if so, you have a reference for life.

- Your customer contact may be satisfied that his firm has proven the ROI of your solutions - but others in his firm may still need convincing. There are independent third party firms out there who can provide rigorous, independent studies. Offer to help put him in touch with these firms. Notice this isn't such a direct benefit to you (you're still getting the great ROI quotes) but it could prove to be a great help to your customer contact.

- If (when!) something ticks off your customer, find out why. I've been told repeatedly by reference managers who are skilled at building personal relationships that customers will confide in them in ways they won't to their account manager or support people. Find out what the real problem is. Build your network of internal people who can help address customer problems and resolve them. Think that's fanciful? Read Kathryn Perkins story here.


Reference Point is a Customer Reference Forum newsletter about reference programs and how to improve them. To subscribe, please contact me (contact information is below or just respond to this email). To unsubscribe at any time, just reply to this email with "unsubscribe" in the subject line. This email list and your name will never be made available to anyone else, not even to others on the list, unless by mutual request and agreement.



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