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Jim Tincher

He writes about the customer experience.

Customer Experience Drives 37 Consecutive Quarters of Same-Salon Growth - an Interview with Rhoda Olsen, CEO of Great Clips

Aiming for the Heart of their CustomersOverview

I originally interviewed Rhoda Olsen to learn more about her customer experience efforts in 2011. You can read that interview here. At that point Great Clips had experienced 30 consecutive quarters of same-salon growth. That record has now been extended to 37, and the company has grown to over $1 billion in revenue.

Defining Customer Experience

Rhoda Olsen, CEO of Great Clips

Unlike some franchisors, Great Clips defines their customer as the end consumer, not the franchisee. CEO Rhoda Olsen explains, “We believe that if we don’t stay focused on that customer in the salon, the franchisee will not be successful. We define the customer experience from the time they check into the online app or walk in the door to the time they leave. Everything that happens in the wait time and what happens when they leave is part of the customer experience. The interaction with the stylist is their primary brand driver, but if somebody waited 45 minutes and been treated poorly, the stylist has to dig herself out of a hole.”

Great Clips does not have a specific customer experience group. “The entire organization is responsible for helping to drive a consistent customer experience.” Rhoda showed a Brand Delivery Document that defines their customer experience. “Every one of our executives – marketing, operations, education, even real estate, will always have this with them. Great Clips, the franchisee, down to the individual in the salon, all need to have a commitment to customer experience that defines the brand in meaningful ways for the customer. You can look at the rational items, like price and location, but really what connects customers is the emotional feelings they get in the salon throughout the customer experience. This is really focused on the feelings of comfort, freedom and connection,” Great Clips’ three brand pillars.

Measuring Customer Experience

The company does not rely on surveys. Instead, Great Clips’ Brand Delivery Document includes a scorecard with customer-focused measurements that tell them if they’re accomplishing their goals. “We define the customer experience emotionally and confirm it rationally,” Rhoda explains.

There are very few businesses where you physically touch your customers, which is what makes the emotional link even more important than in some other businesses. “Our customers want to look better and feel better without spending too much time or money.” Their metrics – items like wait time and repeat customers – helps the company understand how their franchises are delivering against those goals.

Bringing the Customer to Life for the Corporate Employees

In my previous interview I outlined Rhoda’s incredible salon visit schedule, going to 500 salons in one year. In that interview she reflected on the challenge of getting the rest of her senior staff out of the office and into the field. In reaction, her business services team creating Salon Immersion Days. “All of our staff go into the field and fully immerse themselves in a salon for a couple of days. They act as the receptionist. They’re on the floor. That’s a key part of the business that we really need to understand.”

They have also broadened their focus groups participation to get as many as possible to observe. As Rhoda explains, “That’s a way that people can listen to customers, get a sense of them. It’s almost a more intimate way of learning than being in the salon, because you’re hearing their preferences, their experience, those kinds of things.”

Creating a Customer-Focused Culture

“We don’t go into any meeting anywhere without viewing this information,” Rhoda explains, showing the Brand Delivery Document and customer scorecard. “All our manager and franchisee recognition is focused around this information, which tells us if we’re treating the customer well. We have great data to let us know whether the customer is coming back, how long they waited, whether or not we’re staffed appropriately.”

“The way you create a customer-focused culture is to make sure you’re treating your stylist right.” In the old days of overhead projectors, Rhoda used to begin meetings with a 3-line slide:

  • Treat your employees well
  • Treat your customers well
  • Then count your money

And do it in that order. “There is no way we have a franchisee who is successful without creating an incredible connection with their staff.”

Planning for 2014

Rhoda was able to share three 2014 initiatives related to the customer experience. One is to build a global customer database. When one of your value propositions is to get a great haircut no matter which location you visit, having ready information on a customer and their preferences is critical.

The second initiative is to deploy additional iPads into salons to assist with checking customers in and out, and the third was to better integrate promotions into their social media channels and their app. This will allow them to react to local conditions. For example, if it’s a rainy day and business is slow, they will be able to identify customers who are due for their haircut and offer a promotion.

Driving a Customer Experience Culture Change – Interview with Ingrid Lindberg of Prime Therapeutics

Aiming for the Heart of their CustomersOverview

Prime Therapeutics (Prime) manages pharmacy benefits for health plans, employers, and government programs including Medicare and Medicaid. Prime is collectively owned by 13 Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans, subsidiaries or affiliates of those plans, and Ingrid is the chief customer experience officer, a role she took in 2012 after serving as the customer experience officer at CIGNA.

Defining Customer ExperienceIngrid Lindberberg

“Customer experience is the sum of all interactions a company has with its customers. From who you are as a firm, to your mission, value and purpose, all the way through to how you price your products. It’s about what you bring to the market, and how you talk about yourself, whether in the public relations world or how you answer the phone. It’s the sum of everything you do.”

Differentiating Customer Service from Customer Experience

“Customer service is about 5-6 percent of the customer experience. The only time service really matters regarding the long-term loyalty of a customer is when it goes wrong. I’ve studied this in a number of industries, and the de minimis impact of service has remained the same – until something goes wrong. Financial services, employee benefits, payroll and health care, these are all referred to as negative service industries. You don’t want to have a relationship with these companies – you just hire them for when something goes wrong. The only time you call your payroll company is when you don’t get paid.”

I asked Ingrid whether Prime’s efforts are to reduce the call or welcome it. “In this industry more than any other, the preferred communication channel is still paper and phone. It’s paper for trust and phone for conversation. When I got into health care, I thought it was all about ‘educate, educate, educate.’ But because it’s thought of as a negative service industry, people have no desire to learn about this. So, we encourage the use of phone. My goal is that when people call Prime, we can actually have an educational conversation instead of just solving the problem.”


Ingrid has a strong opinion about the ideal measurement. “I’m a follower of the original Forrester methodology. We don’t measure enjoyability, but we do measure ease of use and helpfulness of information. We know that those two pieces are the biggest drivers of loyalty in health care and pharmacy benefit services.”

“Ease of use is critical. When we make it harder for people to get the medicine they need, I know they’re going to be upset. That’s just such a one-to-one correlation. I’m not a fan of over-complicating – the simple answer is always the best answer and drives the best results.”

Driving Cultural Change

“I need to be able to insert customer experience designers who live, breathe, and understand our customers into every design process for every product and process we have. I bring the voice of the customer into all of a company’s processes using that team. Our customer experience designers sit at every table, whether it’s a new product launch, a new line of business launch, or a process redesign. They are the ones who represent the customer in that process, and have, in a lot of cases, the final vote on whether we do something.”

“I’m really proud of our mission statement. It’s one of the first things we did when I got here. ‘To help people get the medicine they need to feel better and live well.’ That’s the question my designers ask at each juncture, and it’s how we make decisions. It begins every customer experience conversation.”

“It all starts with your purpose and having a strong advocate in the CEO. Unless you have a CEO who has a vision to make customer experience be a differentiator, you’re never going to get anywhere. That culture starts at the top. I’m lucky as all get-out that I have a CEO who is on a level I’ve never seen before, because he understands how important customer experience is to how we show up in the marketplace.”

“I’m a huge believer in tying customer experience to compensation. Every single employee at Prime has 25 percent of their annual incentive program tied to our ease of use and helpfulness of information metrics. That’s how you change culture.”

Her advice to others? “Get your CEO on board, or just stop. Because if you don’t have your CEO on board, you’ll never get anywhere. You might get little tiny wins, but that will never get you where you need to go.”