Great performers focus relentlessly on perfecting the basics

In pursuit of the sizzle too many companies especially those that are marketing communications driven forget the steak – the product/service the customer will actually experience.

Over 10 years ago I co-developed (with my fellow consultants) a customer relationship strategy for an established telco.  This was a brand that regularly was perceived as having a poor quality network and this was in part due to weaknesses at the retail stores (taking on customers in areas that had a poor quality signal) and in the customer services function – this information came directly from the customer base.

If this was not enough spur to action there was information that showed that the customers of a MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) rated this MVNO very highly in terms of quality of network and in terms of customer service.  Given that the MVNO was piggy backing on the infrastructure built and operated by the established telco, this finding should have been a wake up call to get the basics right: only sign up the right customers and then provide excellent service when customers rung Customer Services for help.

Instead of focussing on the basics, senior management were focussed on all things internet.  Why?  At the time the Internet was sexy and any company that had an internet strategy increased its share price, usually dramatically, overnight.  Meanwhile, what really mattered to new and existing customers continued to take a back seat.  And the smarter competitors continued to pull ahead and take market share.

In 2010, the situation has not changed much.  Many companies continue to do the same: ignore the basics and focus on the latest in-thing.  In the latest email that I have received from Drayton Bird (a direct marketing legend)., he shares the following story:

“Recently, after scrupulous research over many months, my partner Marta decided to buy a new flat screen TV, which she did through Amazon.   They use Parcelforce – “proud winners of Business in The Community’s Healthy Workplaces Award 2006”, who also seem rather excited because “Hitwise have recognised our online developments this year”.

It’s good to know they’re all slaving away in such a splendid environment and such hot stuff on-line, though I wonder what exactly “on-line developments” are.  It was their touching attention to things that don’t really matter to their customers that prompted my heading. Because if you want to talk to them there is even a text phone number for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

But what if, like Marta, you want to get a TV set delivered?

What if they’re so useless they can’t tell you even vaguely when it is likely to arrive – just any time between 8:00 am and 6 p.m. on a certain day?

And what if they couldn’t even get the day right – so you spend 10 hours waiting – and it still hasn’t arrived?

Then, what if the much-praised on-line developments tell you it’s just arrived at 7:34 pm – which you know is a lie because you and two other people are looking out of the window?

And what if after you (eventually) get a reply from somebody on the phone – during a call you’re paying for – which confirms that they do indeed only deliver – or in this case fail to deliver – between 8 and 6?

What then?

Well, you hang around the next morning till it does arrive.

Then you get an e-mail saying “Thank you for using our website” – with an apology, kind regards and of course details of the deaf phone number I mentioned, signed by an “Internet Advisor”.

Hey, guess what, Parcelforce? I don’t want internet advice. There are plenty of people like BT Broadband screwing me around on-line already, and they need no help from you.

I want you to deliver things. That’s all you have to do. That’s why Amazon (mistakenly, it seems) use you……”

To paraphrase one of my favourite characters (Richard Feynman): Reality must take precedence over public relations, for customers cannot be fooled.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.