Practicing Transparent Customer Service

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2014 Customer Champion Jim McCann, founder and CEO of 1-800-Flowers.com, commits to conversations with satisfied and dissatisfied customers.
Customer Service

A pioneer of Internet and telephone-based retailing, 1-800-Flowers.com founder and CEO Jim McCann transformed his flower shop into an international enterprise with more than 35 million customers and inspired other business owners to follow his example. McCann's ability to find new ways to improve the customer experience -he was one of the first retailers to offer an online ordering service and have a digital presence-helped 1-800-Flowers.com gain attention in a crowded industry. And the company continues to look for ways to improve its services.

McCann says the company recently launched an internal blog for employees to submit ideas and feedback on how to improve the company's offerings or processes. McCann declined to elaborate on which ideas the company has acted on, but noted that 1-800-Flowers.com already responds to customer input on arrangement ideas and collections.

For example, 1-800-Flowers.com's Happy Hour collection, which offers arrangements in oversized martini- and margarita-shaped vases, were customer inspired and is one of the best-selling product lines in the company's floral category. The company also responds to customer complaints through the contact center, email, and social media.

Keeping up with customer interactions on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites has been challenging, especially when people lob criticisms and other negative messages at the company on these public platforms, McCann notes.

"When you get into a customer service environment where, basically people who are annoyed or who have an agendacan eviscerate you in social media, some uninformed people might look at that and say, 'Oh, they have a terrible problem,' McCann says. "The big challenge for us is to have the strength of our convictions to say, 'We made a decision to be transparent even though we're getting clipped, and our competitors are not, because they are playing by a different set of rules."

When asked which customer-centric business leader inspires him, McCann chose Steve Squeri, group president of global corporate services at American Express. McCann says he admires Squeri for his "almost maniacal focus on improving the quality of service through technology and having the right set of metrics to know you are successful on your journey."

McCann said he was also struck by a former American Express employee who told him that Squeri wants employees to think of American Express as their best work experience. "That doesn't mean that it will be your highest achievementbut even if you go on to work at five or six other companies after that, Squeri tries to make sure employees reflect back on American Express as the best place they worked," McCann says. "My brother and I chatted a lot about that, here in our own shop, to make sure that we are approaching things in the same way."

McCann says customers and employees urged McCann to be transparent in its interactions with customers because it demonstrates authenticity and will ultimately benefit the brand. Doing so, "takes some courage and I'm telling you, I did waver," McCann says. "But I followed their advice, and we've stayed the course to a commitment of transparency. But it's challenging."

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