Tag Archives: customer growth

Bridges for Transforming People and Cities

How extraordinary service communities cultivate human flourishing

By Christopher P. Blocker and Andrés Barrios

Service experiences are so common we often forget when we are “experiencing” them. As a society, we spend quite a bit of time, money, and energy in service settings like healthcare, education, entertainment, food, government, and transportation, to name a few.

For better or worse, the vast majority of these experiences fade into the normal routine of our lives. Some make us quite mad, others happy for the moment, and many are apparently worthy of our social media posts.

Still, in the grand scheme of life, most services experiences are quite, well…ordinary. They satisfy our needs for the time being, and we move on.

However, sometimes a service experience can be truly extraordinary – meaning it changes us somehow for the better. We are different, even transformed, for having participated in them.

Extraordinary services are bridges

Beyond amazing customer service stories like ones at Zappos or USAA, extraordinary service experiences have the potential to improve our well-being. They act as a bridge from an undesirable “today” to a desirable “tomorrow.” And, increasingly, great companies and thought leaders are curious about what these experiences look like and how they work – especially for people who experience vulnerability from things like poverty, discrimination, or poor health.1

Some of the big questions being asked are …

  • What distinguishes everyday, routine service experiences from profoundly meaningful ones that are undeniably transformative?
  • How do service providers create “transformative” experiences that improve the well-being of people involved as well as broader society, like neighborhoods, or even cities?
Looking for transformation in all kinds of places

Marketing researchers have mined many kinds of service experiences (see examples in image) tolearn how they create value via entertainment, personal growth, achievement, community, and spectacular environments. These studies shed light on the trend of cultivating vibrant “brand communities.”Service_Experience

In our new study in the Journal of Service Research, we explore the idea of creating “transformative value” in service experiences. Here, the focus is on unpacking what social transformation can look like in a service context and how it fuels uplifting changes for people.

To answer some of the big questions mentioned above, we went looking in non-traditional places. We found one service experience that not only impacts the well-being of individuals involved but also has a transformative effect on a city.


Meet the Church Under the Bridge (CUB). For over twenty years, the CUB has met under an interstate highway (rain or shine) and directed its energies toward reducing the struggles of homelessness, poverty, and addiction while promoting social integration and human flourishing through physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual benefits.  Importantly, the CUB has maintained a multi-cultural mission among people from all backgrounds and socio-economic strata. Other than its identity as a Christian church, the CUB strives for diversity and avoids distinctions created by ethnicity, income, age, or anything else that can divide people. Over the years, the CUB has served hundreds of homeless and non-homeless individuals from the region and has received overwhelming support from a broad array of businesses, non-profits, universities, news outlets, as well as federal, state, and city representatives and offices that span the spectrum of partisan values. Given the impressive evidence of micro and macro-level social transformation as well as the fact that attending a religious service is a common weekly activity, we chose the CUB as a case study.2

Unpacking the transformative value of a service experience

Using ethnographic analysis, we analyzed the CUB experience to uncover aspects of Quote“transformative value” in its service design and practices. Throughout our extended engagement and observation, participants living in a homeless situation shared stories of breaking free from destructive views of themselves, regaining dignity, absorbing new perspectives and skills, and being “encouraged and uplifted mentally, physically, and spiritually.” People from higher socio-economic backgrounds told us how their cold assumptions had unraveled over time and were replaced with “deep concern,” “joy,” and “seeing themselves and others in a whole new way.” Beyond social transformation for individuals involved Quote2at the CUB, our extended analysis with non-participating community members (e.g., local business, police force, mayor office) and archival review of public newspaper articles revealed ways that services can also create transformative value at a city level. In particular, public consensus analysis revealed that the CUB, over twenty years, has truly raised the “town’s social conscience,” transformed the “face” of a “homeless person” and stimulated widespread and sustained social action.

The contours of transformative service design and practice

As we continued our analysis, several aspects of service design and practice at the CUB came into view. First, “holistic” value propositions engage the whole person, that is, mind, body, spirit, and relationships. Furthermore, the physical environment (the “servicescape”) creates an atmosphere where people from all backgrounds can break free from their normal social positions and see themselves in new and creative ways. Additionally, service practices facilitate “boundary-crossing” and the co-creation of a community that freely shares resources and perspectives.Service_Experience_as_Bridges_for_Social_Transformation

Finally, we identified four dimensions that differentiate routine from transformative service experiences.

First, transformative service experiences prompt critical reflection (where am I in life? what is my story?) and inspire people into projective modes of thought and action (where do I want to go? how do I get there?). Second, this process of reflection and imagination fuels “global meanings” (this has changed me) that transcend the day-to-day situational meanings arising in routine service experiences. Third, these experiences influence real, observable change that promotes well-being. People make new choices, invest in new things, and build new capabilities. Finally, there is a clear “virtuous trajectory” evident in people (and cities). Although seldom linear, positive changes are layered on top of each other, and as in the butterfly metaphor, transformations occur and it is hard to imagine going backwards.

In sum, we find that extraordinary service communities design and co-create transformative value that can act as a bridge for helping individuals and even cities flourish.

The article The Transformative Value of a Service Experience, featured in the post, was co-authored by Christopher P. Blocker (Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA) and Andrés Barrios (Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia). It is one of the 3 finalists for the 2015 Transformative Service Research Best Paper Award, sponsored by the Center for Services Leadership. The article is available on the Journal of Service Research website.


Dr. Christopher P. Blocker is an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University. His research focuses on understanding value creationwithin marketplace relationships. In addition to business and consumer relationships, Chris’ research explores value creation in contexts of global and domestic poverty, subsistence marketplaces, and social enterprise. Articles he has written have appeared in Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of the Academy of  Marketing Science, Journal of Service Research, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, among others, and he serves on the advisory board for Transformative Consumer Research.

Dr. Andrés Barrios
is Assistant Professor of linkedinResearchGateMarketing at Universidad de Los Andes – Bogotá, Colombia. His research focuses on marketing and consumer behavior in contexts of poverty. He has developed studies about poverty from different research perspectives such Transformative Consumer Research, Consumer Culture Theory, and Subsistence Marketplaces. Andrés’ work has been published in the Journal of Business Research, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Research in Consumer Behavior, Advances in Consumer Research, and the Transformative Consumer Research 2012 Book.


  1.  Understanding how services improve well-being through “transformative service” was recently identified as a top priority by 19 different service center networks around the world. Also, the idea of companies creating value that leads to greater well-being for employees, customers, and society continues to be a pressing topic (https://hbr.org/2011/01/the-big-idea-creating-shared-value/ar/pr)
  2. There are over 300,000 religious service organizations in North America alone, and increasingly these organizations integrate aspects related to health, recreation, leisure, and personal interest, which influences weekly engagement (Lindner 2012). At the same time, there is often dialogue around understanding one’s past, present, and future which interfaces with identity and existential beliefs. Thus, this kind of service offers an opportunity to study both habitual and transformative experience.

What You Need to Know About Customer Win-Back

By V. Kumar, Yashoda Bhagwat, and Xi Zhang   

It’s a hypercompetitive market and you are doing everything you can to retain your customers, yet you know that no matter what you do, you will still lose some customers to competitors. The competition to acquire new customers is fierce. How do you maintain your customer base? Our research team at Georgia State University looked at a large national telecommunications firm and found that it can be profitable to go after lost customers and win back their business. While it may seem counter-intuitive to spend time and money on customers who chose to leave, the reality is that you can’t retain every customer and acquiring brand new customers is expensive. Luckily, the game is not over when you lose a customer and you can revitalize your relationship. To successfully win back profitable customers who are worth your effort, you need to think about three things:

  1. who is likely to give you a second shot,
  2. if they do come back, how long they will stay, and
  3. how much they will spend.

You don’t want to waste time and money chasing lost customers who will never come back or will quickly leave again. In some cases your relationship the second time around can actually be even better than the first- but before you go chasing after lost customers you need to know some basic things about the win-back process.

  1. Your relationship the first time around matters!

The win-back process does not completely wipe the slate clean. How lost customers perceive their experience with you before they left is a strong indicator as to whether they will trust you enough to give you a second chance. Our study found that customers who spread positive word of mouth through referrals in their first lifetime were more likely to come back. Customers who complained a lot were less likely to come back. Customers who experienced a service recovery were more likely to come back.

The takeaway: the better their first lifetime relationship with you, the more willing they will be to trust you again.

  1. Why your lost customers left in the first place can give you some important insights into how they will behave.

The study categorizes the reasons why customers defect into three buckets:

  1. for price related reasons,
  2. service related reasons, or
  3. both price and service related reasons.

Why customers left can help predict how likely they are to trust you again. The study found, customers who left for better deals were more likely to come back than customers who left due to poor service. Customers who left for both price and service were the least likely to come back. More importantly, the reason customers left can tell you how committed they will be to your relationship if they do come back. Intuitively it’s easy to think that customers who left for price related reasons will easily jump ship again when a competitor offers a better deal. Surprisingly, the study found that customers who left for price related reasons stayed with the firm longer than customers who left for service related reasons. Customers who left for service related reasons may have been harder to please and retain. However, customers who left for service related reasons also spent more each month than customers who left for price related reasons. Customers who left for both price and service related reasons switched to a competitor the fastest and spent the least each month.

  1. What you offer your lost customers to win them back has a lasting impact.

Of course what you offer your lost customers will impact whether they give you another chance or not, but it also has a lasting impact on how they will behave if they do accept your offer. You need to know not only what is most effective in winning back lost customers, but how it impacts how long they will stay and how much they will spend in their second lifetimes. Our research team conducted a randomized field experiment in which we sent lost customers a limited time price discount, a limited time free service upgrade, and a bundled offer. While the bundled offer was the most successful in reacquiring lost customers, those customers who accepted it also left the firm again the soonest and spent the least compared to customers who were offered either a price discount or service upgrade. Service upgrades were the least effective at winning back customers but the customers who accepted them also stayed the longest and spent the most with the firm.

So how can you use this information when designing a win-back program? The study conducted a simulation to see what you should offer customers based on the reason they left. Do you want to increase market share and win back as many customers as possible? Then target customers who left for price related reasons with a bundled win-back offer. Do you want to acquire long term customers? Then target customers who left for service related reasons with a service win-back offer. Do you want the customers who will be the most profitable in general? Then target customers who left for price related reasons with a discounted win-back offer.

Customer win-back can be a great last resort strategy. While you should always try to retain your customers you should remember that the ones that got away are not necessarily gone forever. You can win them back and have profitable relationships with them. So in a competitive market where every little bit helps, consider reacquiring your lost customers.

The article Regaining “Lost” Customers: The Predictive Power of First-Lifetime Behavior, the Reason for Defection, and the Nature of the Win-Back Offer, featured in the post, was co-authored by V. Kumar (Georgia State University), Yashoda Bhagwat (Texas Christian University), and Xi (Alan) Zhang (University of Toledo). It is available on the Journal of Marketing website.


Dr V Kumar PictureV. Kumar (VK), the Regents Professor, Lenny Distinguished Chair & Professor in Marketing, and the Executive Director – Center for Excellence in Brand & Customer Management at Georgia State University. VK is recognized as the Chang Jiang Scholar at HUST; China, Lee Kong Chian Fellow at SMU, Singapore; and has received twelve lifetime achievement awards in various areas of marketing including the 2015 Distinguished Marketing Educator Award from the AMS and the Paul D Converse Award.  VK has received the Sheth Foundation/JM Award, Robert Buzzell Award, Davidson Award, Paul H. Root Award, Don Lehmann Award, Tamer Cavusgil Award, and Gary L Lilien ISMS-MSI Practice Prize Award.  He has published over 200 articles in scholarly journals in marketing as well as book chapters. VK has written over 15 books including Managing Customers for Profit, Customer Relationship Management, Customer Lifetime Value, Marketing Research, Profitable Customer Engagement, Statistical Methods in CRM, and International Marketing Research. VK spends his “free” time visiting business leaders to identify challenging problems to solve. Recently, VK has been chosen as a Legend in Marketing where his work is published in a 10 volume encyclopedia with commentaries from scholars worldwide. Finally, VK is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Marketing.

Yashoda Bhagwat is currently an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University. She received her PhD in Marketing from the Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University. Yashoda’s research is primarily motivated by real world business problems and she likes to solve challenging problems for managers using rigorous methodologies. She is particularly interested in better informing marketing strategy by managing customer relationships. She was chosen to attend the 2013 American Marketing Association Sheth Foundation Doctoral Consortium as a doctoral fellow and was a recipient of the 2014 GTA Teaching Excellence Award in recognition of her accomplishments in the classroom. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Marketing and Marketing Science. In her spare time she is a sports enthusiast, foodie, and dog lover.


Xi (Alan) Zhang is currently an Assistant Professor in Marketing, College of Business and Innovation, the University of Toledo. He received his Ph.D. degree from the J. Mack Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University. His research centers on solving relevant marketing problems by using rigorous methodologies. His dissertation titled “Managing a Profitable Interactive Email Marketing Program: Modeling and Analysis” won the Shankar –Spiegel Best Dissertation Proposal Award in 2013. One of his works won the Best Paper Award in the Digital Marketing Track of the 2015 Summer AMA Marketing Educators’ Conference. His research has appeared in the Journal of Marketing and the Journal of Marketing Research. He is the recipient of the 2015 GTA Teaching Excellence Award in recognition of his outstanding teaching performance. He currently services on the editorial review board of the Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing.

Should We Focus on Service Quality or Emotions? How to Build Customer-Brand Relationships to Increase Marketing Performance

Portrait_B.NyffeneggerBy Bettina Nyffenegger

Managers often have to decide whether their marketing activities should focus on improved services and functional features or on more emotional content to develop strong customer-brand relationships. That was a challenge that the Head of Marketing of a large European Airline was facing at the time we conducted a research project on brand relationship quality (BRQ), a customer-based indicator of the strength and depth of the person-brand relationship. Should emotions or quality-related, more functional aspects have more weight in the brand’s marketing campaign? How do they affect marketing performance (such as customer’s willingness to pay, word-of-mouth (WOM), consideration set, share-of-wallet, and revenue)? These were some of his questions that we tried to answer in our new research published in the Journal of Service Research (JSR).

Based on a large-scale survey among the frequent flyers of the Airline and objective performance data from the frequent flyer program, we show that service BRQ involves two components, “Cold” BRQ and “Hot” BRQ. We also find important and relevant distinction between the two in terms of both antecedents and consequences.

–             “Cold” BRQ is based on object-relevant beliefs resulting in satisfaction and trust. It is characterized by a high confidence in and a positive evaluation of the service brand’s performance (i.e., it is tied to the quality of the service).

–             “Hot” BRQ reflects consumers’ feelings and emotional connection to the brand. Longing for the brand, feelings of emotional closeness to the brand, and the intention to stay with the brand through good times and bad are crucial elements of the hot component.

Our results reveal that investments in both hot and cold BRQ have an economic impact by influencing customer behaviors. Thus, service providers should cultivate both the hot and cold BRQ of their customers, but for different reasons.

If the main objective is to grow revenues from the existing customer base (i.e., “internal” growth via a higher willingness to pay and a reduced consideration set size of existing customers), managers may want to focus on building hot BRQ with their customers. On the other hand, if their main objective is to expand the customer base by acquiring new customers (i.e., “external” growth via more intense WOM activities of existing customers), cold BRQ becomes more important.

More specifically, hot BRQ has been shown to have a stronger impact on customers’ willingness to pay. Thus, instead of lowering prices (e.g., when faced with high competition and heavy price cutting), it may pay off for service providers to focus on the emotional value they provide to customers and to build up hot BRQ. As an example, Starbucks customers are willing to pay a relatively high price for their coffee due to the emotional brand experience and connections.

In addition, hot BRQ is also more important for a reduced consideration of competitive brands. Thus, those service providers who can establish strong emotional ties with their customers achieve a sound protection from competitive threats and new competitors.

Cold BRQ better helps to attract new customers through positive WOM. While emotions may play an important role, for example, in viral marketing activities, customers need to be convinced about the quality and reliability of the service in order to recommend the service brand to others.

In addition, our research examined how such hot and cold consumer-service brand relationships can be developed. Our results suggest that to increase hot BRQ in early stages of consumer-brand relationships, managers should focus on enforcing consumer’s perception of the fit between his/her self and the brand’s personality (self-congruence).  To create an emotional connection between new customers and the brand, managers should adopt a customer perspective in defining service brand personality. This means, for example that the design of the service environment, marketing communications, and behavior of frontline personnel have to create brand personality associations that foster similarity of perceptions with the customers.

In later stages of the relationship, managers should gradually develop the brand’s partner quality (i.e., whether the brand/company treats the customer well, shows interest in, and cares for him/her) in order to increase hot BRQ. Partner quality is also crucial for the build-up of cold BRQ – in early and even more in later stages of a consumer service-brand relationship. This illustrates the important role of a brand’s representatives. Caring and empathetic service experiences they create reduce uncertainty and increase confidence in the quality and reliability of the brand.


Bettina Nyffenegger is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Institute of Marketing and Management at the University of Bern in Switzerland. Her main research fields are branding, relationship marketing, and consumer behavior with articles published in journals such as the Journal of Marketing, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, and Journal of Service Research.

The article Service Brand Relationship Quality: Hot or Cold? featured in the post was co-authored by Bettina NyffeneggerHarley KrohmerLucia Malaer (Institute of Marketing and Management, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland), Wayne D. Hoyer  (McCombs School of Business, The University of Texas at Austin). It is available ahead of print at Journal of Service Research website. Journal of Service Research is the world’s leading service research journal that features articles by service experts from both academia and business world.

Note: All content within this website is the property of Center for Services Leadership. Any use of materials, except for social media sharing, without the prior written consent of Center for Services Leadership is strictly prohibited.

The Next Wave of Service Delivery: Success Accelerators!

randy-wootton-headshotBy Randy Wootton

The Challenge

Today, more and more companies depend on software as a service (SaaS) to operate essential parts of their business, such as managing their relationships with customers, driving sales performance, and maintaining employee communication. As the industry and surrounding ecosystem that delivers these services matures, it faces a growing demand for accountability and results.

This is driven by many factors. As the global economy has emerged from recession, there is an increased focus on cost control and accountability. The shift in accounting for technology spending from capital expenses to operating expenses requires quicker results from technology investments–often within a single fiscal year. And the growing sophistication and utility of the services themselves makes them an indispensable ingredient in any company’s success – shining a spotlight on how they are implemented, deployed and used.

Cloud technology providers, such as Salesforce, have matured to deliver high availability, reliability, and continual improvements in features and performance, alongside quick support response and maturing service options–all with an eye towards long-term customer retention. But the environment in which these services live has changed, and service providers need to change with it.

“Whereas yesterday’s services needed mechanics to keep them running, tomorrow’s services will require a Formula 1 pit crew.”

From Fulfillment to Accountability

The use of cloud services has reached a point where it is possible to begin building robust best practices and centers of excellence whose reach extends beyond the technology implementation itself. Cloud-based software also allows providers to have access to huge amounts of data about how customers are using the technology effectively. As such, providers can learn from the experience of thousands of customers and combine this with direct collaboration to find new and better ways for their customers to achieve success.

As a result, service providers can become more accountable not just for the availability, functionality and reliability of the services they deliver, but also for the business outcomes that those services are targeted to achieve – increased sales performance, better customer service, greater employee engagement, stronger governance and compliance, and so on.

At the same time, to successfully adopt and use these services to their full potential, companies will need to develop the right business skills and experience that they may not have in house. And, as noted above, various macroeconomic and business process shifts are driving business leaders to demonstrate a return on their cloud investments faster than ever before.

All cloud tech providers must first evolve from offering fulfillment services (primarily implementation help and reactive support) to delivering proactive guidance. The leading providers will continue this evolution in accountability by offering  packaged services and long-term engagements that are targeted at delivering specific business outcomes that enable long-term customer value.

The Big Opportunity–Outcomes

According to the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), the long-term momentum of the industry is towards “outcome-based services.” Although the financial model for outcome-based services in its truest form – e.g. compensation based on achievement of KPIs or some other measure – has not yet been established, it is clear that the nature of packaged services delivery must shift from technology implementation and support towards being outcome-focused.

In response, cloud providers must respond by providing more personalized and focused service, going beyond even the premium support offerings on offer today.

Salesforce is taking the initiative to transform the industry by announcing its new Success Accelerators–part of the Success Services launched at Dreamforce in October. Complementing the support and training available through our Success Plans, Salesforce’s new Success Accelerators go beyond services and support and dive into outcomes – helping our customers get the most out of their Salesforce implementation. We’ve identified the KPIs that matter to our customers, and we’ve designed programs that help them achieve – and exceed – them. We co-create success plans with our customers that deliver the business outcomes they demand.

The result is a set of engagements that are tailored to their business and context – part of an ongoing relationship that is tuned to what kind of business they are in, where they are in the cloud adoption cycle, and the outcomes they want to achieve. We begin with a close look at what’s unique about a customer’s business, then we work collaboratively towards an outcome-focused implementation plan that spans technology, business practices and culture.

These engagements give customers access to an elite team of specialists that cross multiple disciplines – from technologists to data analysts to change management experts. They leverage the learning and experience of over 150,000 customers who are already achieving success with our cloud services. Our customers can also tap into this knowledge and expertise through a variety of self-guided programs and self-service resources. They offer the right combination of ongoing, personalized collaboration and advice, and the delivery of support at scale. Crucially, they offer the flexibility to choose the approach and level of participation that works best for a customer based on what their ambition and current operating reality.

In the end, we are trying to lead the way by being more consultative and prescriptive in our relationships with customers – to stand by customers long after the initial sale, and to guide them towards the business results they desire. And that consultative relationship needs to extend beyond our market-leading technology itself, and into addressing the business challenges of our customers. If we are able to create close, consultative and long-term relationships with our customers, we believe we will earn a place at their table as trusted advisers, who can help them on their transformation journey and dramatically improve retention year over year.


linkedinRandy Wootton
has 20+ years of experience leading both small and large teams/organizations, driving results and making money for companies and clients. He is currently the VP of Salesforce’s Customer Success Products focused on accelerating the Service Product Portfolio growth from $300M to $1B. Prior to Salesforce.com, Randy was SVP of Sales, Service and Marketing at AdReady–a ventured-backed advertising technology start up–where he drove adoption of AdReady’s unique display advertising solution in the mid-market. Randy was previously VP of Global Search and Online Marketplace at Microsoft, where he was instrumental in operationalizing  Microsoft’s “Search Alliance” agreement with Yahoo! for the small and medium sized space. Wootton also spent more than four years at aQuantive in product management, marketing and business development roles. Earlier in his career, Randy was a Naval Aviator, flew in A-6E intruders in two Persian Gulf deployments and taught literature at the US Naval Academy. Randy received a BS from the US Naval Academy, an MALA from St. John’s College and an MBA from The Harvard Business School, resides in the Bay Area with his wife and 2 little monsters.

You can hear more of Randy’s insights at the Compete Through Service Symposium on November 7th.

Note: All content within this website is the property of Center for Services Leadership. Any use of materials, except for social media sharing, without the prior written consent of Center for Services Leadership is strictly prohibited.

Listen to your Customers: The Story of how Great Clips Changed the Salon Industry

ray-barton-headshotInterviewed by Donna Stone

Ray Barton is the Chairman and former CEO of Great Clips. I had the opportunity to talk to him about how he built Great Clips into the world’s largest salon brand. Here are some of the key takeaways from our conversation. You can hear more of Ray’s insights at the Compete Through Service Symposium on November 7th.

You have been very successful building a huge national franchise business. How would you describe your personal work ethic, and how has it been instrumental to the growth of Great Clips?

I have five sisters and we all learned very early that we had to work for what we wanted. That carried over to the business. It was easy for me to make the commitment of time and energy it took to build a business. Building Great Clips was fun–it never felt like work . . . it was always exciting and challenging. The work ethic came naturally–it was part of who we were.

What else would you attribute to your success in the service industry?

Great Clips led the change in the salon industry. We changed the way customers were served. When we started the industry was organized around the stylist.

Salons were open five days a week with very limited hours. Customers had to make an appointment. We changed that: we were open seven days, and 9AM to 9PM weekdays. Customers could walk in anytime, when it was convenient for them, and get a great haircut. We have a system designed to find out what the customers want and to make sure they get it.

We also changed the industry for the stylist. We were among the first to offer paid health insurance, paid training, and paid vacations. We provide an amazing career path, which can lead to salon ownership.

Most importantly, we had a great team. Everyone pulled together. We listened to one another, treated each other with respect, and worked together to solve problems. This built trust. We were a team, we supported one another cheered for one another, and celebrated each other’s successes.

Can you tell me about some of the difficult times you had along the way? Maybe things that you tried that didn’t work or competition was executing better at some point?

We’ve had many challenges as we built Great Clips. One was keeping our system simple and consistent. Today we have over 3,600 salons and 35,000 stylists.

To deliver quality to such customer requires we keep our business model simple, so it can be executed over 900 million times a year. This ensures each customer gets exactly what he or she wants.

Because we were different than other salons, people kept trying to change us, add services or products. We had to stay focused on what we did, haircuts, and get better at delivering a great haircut experience rather than change who we were.

To build a brand, we also had to stay consistent. Each salon had to look the same and carry the same products, deliver a great haircut every time.

I can see how it would be very difficult to have that consistency across the salons to get to that point. But once you have it, it’s a lot easier to maintain right?

We have a simple system, a common language, and a few measures to determine how we are doing delivering a great customer experience. This has been very powerful and led to 40 straight quarters of same-salon sales increases.

We are very focused. What keeps me awake at night is how we maintain our focus and keep our system simple. How do we resist changing what is working because we are bored with it.

How do we avoid changing who we are and instead work to get better at what we do? This will always be a huge challenge.

When forming your strategic vision, how much did you have to adapt to the market, and how did you navigate the unknowns in a changing customer landscape?

Our strategy was to listen to the customer. We want to lead and be different because that was what the customer wanted, that is what the customer demanded. We adapted to what the customer wanted. We were always very customer-focused.

Lastly, what advice would you give entrepreneurs entering the service industry today?

Understand what your customer wants- that’s job #1. Our industry was organized around the stylist, and we flipped it.

We had to motivate our teams to deliver what the customer wanted and to show them that everyone wins when you give the customer what they want.


Ray Barton joined Great Clips in 1983 as CEO. He led Great Clips from 4 salons to more than 3,500 salons and annual sales in excess of $1 Billion. Prior to joining Great Clips, Barton was a member of the professional staff of the international accounting firm Alexander Grant & Company (now Grant Thornton), Vice President and member of the board of directors for the North Central Region of Century 21 and Vice President of Quintex Energy Inc.

Barton serves on the boards of directors of TCF Financial Corp. and Scottsdale Lincoln Health Network., and is a Member of The Board of Trustees of the University of St. Thomas. He is a former chair of the board of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and serves on several advisory boards of private corporations. Additionally, he has served on the boards of directors of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, the American Association of Cosmetology Schools, and the Junior Achievement Association of the Upper Midwest. He is a longtime member of the Young Presidents’ Organization, World’s Presidents’ Organization, and past President of the Minnesota Chapter of the World Presidents’ Organization.

Barton has received numerous awards including the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award, the John F. Cade Award, and the Minnesota Business Ethics Award, which recognizes Minnesota businesses that exemplify and promote ethical business conduct for the benefit of the workplace, the marketplace, the environment and the community.

Note: All content within this website is the property of Center for Services Leadership. Any use of materials, except for social media sharing, without the prior written consent of Center for Services Leadership is strictly prohibited.

Differentiating on the Human Experience to Drive Customer Loyalty and Growth

DuffyBy M. Bridget Duffy, MD

In an era that challenges healthcare organizations to do more with fewer resources, patient experience is often considered an add-on. However, in an increasingly competitive environment, organizations can no longer solely focus on stripping out waste and reducing costs. A growing body of evidence points to the human experience as a key driver for employee and customer satisfaction, loyalty and performance.

Therefore, it is important to integrate traditional approaches to efficiency and quality improvement with strategies that transform the culture. The imperatives of this infrastructure include:

  1. Create an emotional connection

Customers choose service providers based on personal experiences, trusted relationships and valued recommendations. To understand customer needs and expectations, organizations must first map the gaps in efficiency plus empathy. Market leaders must provide services and use technologies that restore empathy to the customer experience. In addition, they must focus on building connection and relationships into all aspects of the organization – from executive leadership to frontline staff – so that from the first impression to the last, people feel a connection. Going beyond customer service to creating a real emotional connection to a product, service or company will drive market differentiation, customer loyalty and growth.

  1. Build a culture of humanity

An organization that cares about optimizing the wellbeing of its staff will deliver better results. It takes only one employee to destroy an optimal customer experience. Every employee must be connected to purpose and the mission of the organization. That is why organizations must create a work environment that allows employees to bring their full selves to work and don’t have to check their souls at the door. A culture that enables employees to feel empowered by and connected to the company and the mission drives results. Successful organizations foster a culture in which staff members at every level are viewed as valued members of the team. Organizational culture and communication among team members influences the quality of working relationships, job satisfaction, and has a profound impact on performance. Inspired, engaged and happy employees are loyal and powerful. They generate positive experiences that create market differentiation, loyalty and growth.

  1. Infuse the voice of employees and customers

To strengthen employee and customer connection, industry leaders must keep their finger on the pulse of what matters most to both of these stakeholders. Truly listening to these voices requires more than simply deploying random satisfaction surveys, which only scratch the surface. It is essential for organizations to build an infrastructure where staff and customers feel empowered to share their voice and know that they will be heard. Experience-focused organizations collect real-time staff and customer voice and tap into their wisdom in the design and innovation process for added insight into product and sales strategy.

  1. Create a Checklist of Always Events®

In healthcare, Always Events® are practices or processes that should always occur when patients interact with healthcare system. Borrowing from this concept, other industries must create a checklist of Always Events to hardwire humanity and empathy into day-to-day operations and design optimal experiences for employees and customers.

  • Map the gaps in efficiency plus empathy
  • Reconnect employees to purpose
  • Walk in the shoes of employees and customers
  • Create emotional connections and trusted relationships
  • Enable peak performance by empowering staff

To request the whitepaper Differentiating on Human Experience: How Healthcare Organizations Drive Lasting Loyalty and Growth, click here.

M. Bridget Duffy, M.D. will be speaking at the 25th Annual Compete Through Service Symposium on Thursday, November 6th, 2014.


Bridget Duffy
, M.D., is Clinkedinhief Medical Officer of Vocera Communications, Inc. and co-founder of ExperiaHealth and the Experience Innovation Network, where her mission is to assist organizations in rapidly transforming the patient experience. Dr. Duffy was the first Chief Experience Officer in the United States, establishing that role at the Cleveland Clinic. She was an early pioneer in the creation of hospitalist medicine and launched programs to accelerate clinical discovery in the field of integrative and heart-brain medicine, helping establish the Earl and Doris Bakken Heart Brain Institute. Dr. Duffy is a frequent speaker on the subject of why patient experience matters and how it impacts clinical outcomes. Her work has earned her the Quantum Leap Award for spurring change in her field, and she was featured in HealthLeaders magazine as one of “20 People Who Make Healthcare Better.” In 2014, she was named one of the “Top 50 in Digital Healthcare” by Rock Health, a full-service seed fund that supports startups building the next generation of technologies to transform healthcare. Dr. Duffy attended medical school at the University of Minnesota and completed her residency at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

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