Where customers are critical Featured

8:33am EDT October 23, 2001

On June 15, Jack Pickard took over as CEO of FedEx Custom Critical. He succeeded Bruce Simpson, who had gained a reputation as one of the region's most accessible and admired business leaders during his 13-year reign.

Even though Pickard had served at a vice presidential level since 1989, he still had huge shoes to fill.

When SBN talked to Simpson days before his retirement, his advice to Pickard was simple.

"I think leadership is a subject that thousands of books are written about every year," he says. "He'll be a good leader. The important thing in this whole process is to continue to perpetuate the culture that we have, that really, in addition to this unique service that we provide, stimulates us."

The essence of the culture, according to Simpson, is "an obsession with the customer."

In an industry in which the product is service, Pickard knows the importance of perpetuating that. It starts, he says, with giving every employee the authority to do whatever it takes to serve the customer. By granting that power, he says, you encourage innovative thinking when employees are faced with problems.

"We promote an atmosphere of empowerment, where employees are encouraged to be creative and uncover new ways of doing business," Pickard says.

"Our customer service agents don't have to ask a supervisor's permission to dispatch a truck or charter an airplane in order to satisfy a customer's unmet needs," he says. "They are empowered to spend whatever amount of money it takes in order to meet our original commitment. It's spelled out in our mission statement."

Pickard says that customer service agents have spent upwards of $15,000 to get a delivery made that cost the customer $1,000.

"They are empowered to do whatever it takes that is customary, ordinary and reasonable," he says.

Pickard admits that level of authority still frightens a lot of people, who want the terms "customary, ordinary and reasonable" defined.

"What's ordinary and reasonable? I can't answer that question for you definitively," he says.

The company promotes innovative thinking by including innovation in every employee's job description. Each job, he says, has a set of core competencies that are expected of the employee.; some expected from every employee are zeal, team spirit, relentless achievement, trust, customer obsession and innovation.

"We expect our employees to use creative thinking to generate new ideas and business solutions," Pickard says. "And to continuously look for ways to challenge the status quo and embrace change as a means of enhancing organizational effectiveness and customer satisfaction."

So, how does one demonstrate that competency?

"You're given unusual situations to which you respond and provide customer satisfaction to meet the needs of both the customer and the company," he says. "In our business, you're as good as your last shipment. And if you failed in any way, shape or form in the mind of the customer, you need to take immediate corrective action.

"How you react when times are tough really builds customer loyalty in the long run."

Pickard says there are three things any company must do well. The first is that it has to perform operational excellence.

"That means quality," he says. "That means doing what you say you're going to do every time. If you make a commitment, you live up to that commitment. It doesn't matter whether it's FexEx Custom Critical or an ice cream stand on the corner."

The second thing any company has to do well is product and service innovation.

"That means bringing new product and new service to the market before your competition does," he says. "That's the innovation part."

The third characteristic of a successful company is what he terms "customer intimacy, or having good relationships with your customers.

"We have to develop a relationship that's so close to our customers that we can begin to anticipate their needs before they even realize that they've got them," he says.

Pickard admits that quality and service are easier to control than innovation.

"Like most organizations, we're doing some things very well, and there are areas that we need to improve on, too," he says. "We need to become more innovative."

He says while every employee hired at FedEx Custom Critical comes into the organization with a certain level of intelligence and creativity, allowing employees the freedom to share their ideas is the difficult part.

"It's my job, as much as anything, to keep the corporate hierarchy from squelching that innovation and creativity that comes naturally to everybody," he says.

"In my prior experience, companies become very stratified and ossified sometimes, and they just don't get the value that they should from all of their employees because the system stifles them. And what I need to do here is constantly guard against that, to make sure that's it's an open environment where people can trust one another." <

B>How to reach: FedEx Custom Critical, (800) 762-3787

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