American Express Boosts Customer Service with Transformed Leadership and Culture Just after writing my last blog on improving customer service by treating your employees better I came across an interview on Jim Bush, EVP of World Service, at American Express. The new leadership approach Jim describes Amex has used since he took charge of this role in 2005 provides powerful data and examples of how leading a customer focused culture can have a major impact on organizational performance. Since 2007 the S & P Financial Service Index of stock prices has dropped — 50% while Amex’s stock price has gained 13%!

One of the first things Amex did was completely change their focus on their phone representatives who are the frontline servers to Amex’s main customers; cardholders and merchants. Calling them “customer care professionals” they abandoned the old transaction, production line approach that focused on getting the caller off the phone as quickly as possible and on to the next call. Instead of measuring call times, Amex switched to using the Net Promoter Score (NPS) developed by Fred Reichheld, author and Fellow at the management consultancy, Bain & Company. NPS is based on “the ultimate question” (one of his books): would you recommend this company to a friend?

This change lead to Amex overhauling its selection (they used to call it “hiring”) process to find people with the right customer care attitude. They also revamped their training, leadership, and coaching approaches to help their customer care professionals build one-on-one relationships in solving customers’ problems.

Here are a few key highlights from Jim Bush’s interview:

  • “We field a survey annually and found that 7% of consumers feel they’re getting good service; 93% are not getting the service they expect. It’s an enormous void.”
  • We let the customer determine how much time they want to engage. That engagement drives value. We serve customers, not transactions.
  • We’ve been able to show that increased satisfaction drives increased engagement with American Express products, and that drives shareholder value. Great service is great business.
  • For a promoter who is positive on American Express, we see a 10% to 15% increase in spending and four to five times increased retention, both of which drive shareholder value. In fact our operating expenses associated with service have gone down because we’re more streamlined, and we limit friction points and errors.
  • In the past, 75% of it was on how, technically, you complete the transaction. Now it’s on how you create the relationship and build it through humanity, conversation, and engagement.
  • Giving our people freedom, boundary, and purpose, combined with holding them accountable, drives economic value.”

To read the full interview click on How Can American Express Help You? I’ve written quite a lot about leadership, culture, and customer service. Click on articles and blog posts. You can also check out our workshop/retreat on “Leading a Customer-Centered Organization“.