Thursday, April 28, 2011

Best Example of Authentic Entrepreneurship & Customer Focus? Chris Zane´s!

Chris Zane has learned from his own experience what it means to win the trust of a lifetime customer. He thinks a lot how the game is played and tries to change the rules so that everyone (except for competitors) wins.
Chris Zane, Founder and President of a very successful leading American bicycle Company Zane´s Cycles based in the Branford, U.S., always positively surprises. His customers, his business partners, employees or just his followers on Twitter. I am myself the real life example. My blog on Starbucks´ was a door opener for our twitter conversation on customer service , that ended up by a pleasant surprise of receiving Chris Zane´s new book with his inscription. Another sign that Chris Zane lives the values which he shares during Keynote speeches, at Universities, in professional magazines (e.g.Fortune, The Harvard Business Review) and also in his new book "Reinventing the Wheel".

What puts Chris Zane apart from others?

Vision, Passion, Authenticity and Drive
Chris is always hungry for a challenge, wanting to do something big. Already at the age of 16 he bought his first bike shop. Twenty years later he was running 15 million USD business.

"I was scared to death of going out of business which is always a great motivator to try new things. I was small potatoes, but that didn´t mean I had to stay that way."

The success story was not as rosy at the beginning. Chris nearly went bankrupt. Fortunately he got an impulse for trying again, but differently.

"I thought I would let my customers lead me instead of trying to guess what they wanted."

Customer Service Obsession
If you may not yet have heard about a CEO, who believes he should be "at somebody´s service", please meet Chris Zane. His customer service obsession became famous, not just in the U.S.
"Every company, particularly large national ones, needs to start thinking of customer service as a profit creator, not just a cost sink. ...In this viral age, where so many transactions happen with no human being involved, finding a way to make emotional connections with your customers is key."

As Chris passionately claims in his book: "We are better than our competitors because we differentiate ourselves by offering more service than most customers consider reasonable. ...Our goal is to blow them away with our attention to detail as soon as we meet them. ...By doing more, by creating a positive and unexpected experience, along with a gentle reminder of what you did, you are changing the relationship you have with your customer."

No wonder that Chris believes that most important is to look at the value of a customer over the lifetime of your relationship with him or her, as part of a lasting sequence of events, avoiding thinking in terms of single transactions.

Zane´s employees pro-actively use customer database to start a conversation with a returned customer. The profile of the customer reveals among other information purchase frequency, bought items history and also tracking of every repair job. Rather than wasting time by offering to a customer something he/she has already bought, they are talking about what type of other products he/ she might be looking for this time. Database information is also used to send tailor-made flyers to customers, informing about special event or for approaching parents of growing kid e.g. if Zane´s sells a 16inch bike to the parents of a five-year-old, the same family will be ready to upgrade to the 20inch bike in another two years.

Zane has also put high attention to designing the retail store layout. The objective was to encourage his customers to browse through the latest and greatest products. For the customers who subscribe to the unlimited flat tire fix program, there is a staff "show" in the retail store. The entire staff sprint into action and the customer receives the red carpet treatment. In front of the eyes of the other customers, who have afterwards the temptation to enroll as well.

"If I stopped thinking I was in the "selling stuff" business and instead that I was in the "selling experiences" business, I could attract those customers who weren´t 100 percent price driven."

Innovative Marketing
Chris is always looking into a new niche, trying to change the game. He believes that if Zane´s ensures continuous improvement, than the employees are never on autopilot. He is obsessed with developing additional offerings, with providing more service than seems reasonable, knowing that customers self-regulate.

Among the most popular and surprising services that Zane´s started to offer were e.g. a lifetime service guarantee (all parts and labor are covered for the life of your bike, meaning tune-ups for free), flat tire insurance (for small one-time fee bike´s flat tires will be fixed for free for ever), a free trade-in program for kids bikes (even ten years later kids can get full credit for their bikes to purchase new ones) or also ninety-day price protection guarantee (to take out the question of price right out of the customer´s buying decision).

Spreading positive Word Of Mouth and helping the community he lives in is also a key priority for Chris. Zane´s donates dozens of slightly used but quality bikes to underprivileged kids every six months or so. As he continuously thrives to support those in need, being it sports clubs or children at schools, the attention from the local media to Zane´s Company is inevitable then.

Down the Earth Approach
"Rather than obsessing over textbook concepts like inventory turns or the cost of goods sold, all I had to do was think about how to make our customers think good things about us."

"It took me several years of operating the business before I built up enough confidence to leap to a lifetime guarantee." When Zane´s started with this program, some supposed experts were convinced it was going to lead Zane to bankruptcy. He however understood clearly the cost and profit implications of each service innovation he has undertaken. So he assured, the costs of this service will be minimized: "I paid my mechanics a salary rather than a commission, they had all the incentive in the world not to work on the same bike more than once." He has also made his pre-calculation of probable cost he will have to take on. The reality overachieved his expectations. The business started to grow rapidly at the expense of competition and the profit has not sunk while most people did not take full advantage of every deal they come across.

Training of Positive Serving Employees Mindset
Chris has an ambition to make Zane´s a fabulous place to work. "My goal is to build a team of people who have both the aptitude to learn the nuances of riding and the ability to translate those details to our customers. ... I can´t teach someone to have empathy and kindness for our customers and toward his or her co-workers. My main criteria in adding new members to our team is, "Is this person intrinsically nice"?

"Any organization that fails to coach its employees not to say things like "Can I help you" also fails to recognize that it has encouraged its employees to turn on autopilot, responding in the way a robot would."

Final Word
Chris Zane definitely belongs to the top class retailers, not just in the American scale. I wish his vision of creating lifetime customers will be adopted by more businesses, especially in the Czech Republic.

Chris Zane has been awarded many times for his Customer Service / Outstanding Business Practices, proudly belonging among the most influential people in the US bicycle industry, his marketing and sales practices are used as college case studies worldwide. His book Reinventing the Wheel is available at Amazon. 

Link To Amazon - Chris Zane: Reinventing the Wheel

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