Is The Way We Are Going About Customer Acquisition and Retention Dead Wrong?

In light of the Comcast call that went viral I invite you to listen to these wise words (bolding is my work).

There is no question that acquiring and retaining customers is vital to every company, but it’s the way companies are going about it that’s dead wrong…..

Charles Green, coauthor of the Trusted Advisor, points out that many companies have the client focus of a vulture – the pay close attention to what clients are up to, but only in order to figure out the right time to pounce and tear at their flesh….

Sales plans, computerised data sharing, and advertising strategies are not relationship-building vehicles. While an automated phone system may improve an organisation’s operational efficiencies, it rarely improves the customer experience. In fact, most have the opposite effect…..

The point is, though we can learn the language of our industry, sit up straight, dress appropriately, and speak knowledgeably about product, when the conversation doesn’t feel natural, doesn’t respond precisely to the customer’s questions, doesn’t engage the customer in an authentic way, there will ultimately be no sale. And no matter how many time we hear the same feedback ……., we struggle to behave differently because we don’t know how to get beyond our customer facing “script”. Besides, we aren’t particularly interested in, much less skilled at “seeing” and responding to, each customer as a one-of-a-kind human being….

Today, more than ever, consumers are seeking to be acknowledged as unique individuals with lives, needs, tastes, and desires that differ widely from those around them….

So, assuming your products or services are of good quality and competitively priced, one of the most powerful differentiators has to do with conversations you have with customers. The conversation is the relationship ….

No matter what your job is …… the key is your context, your beliefs about your responsibility to customers and the relationships you intend to enjoy or endure with them … if I’m in the checkout line at my grocery store (or any checkout counter anywhere in the world) it would be easy for you to think that you are doing your job if you ring up the sale and hand me my purchases, the correct change, and a receipt. That you get points for using my name …. That if you have a customer loyalty program, you get more points for asking me for my membership card so you can check to see if I can get a discount….

But, I’ll tell you what makes the real difference. That you look into my eyes and connect with me, even if only for a seconds. Human to human. A real smile suggests, “I see you”. This seems like such a small thing, perhaps foolish to some, yet it’s what we all want, deep down where it counts. To be seen.

I’m reminded of the African greeting sawu bona, which means “I see you.” The response is sikhona, which means “I am here.” The order is important. It’s as if until you see me, I don’t exist. Raking your eyes quickly over someone’s face is not seeing them. So if you want to see your customers, really look at them. What takes mere seconds can make people return again and again.

– Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership

If insanity is doing the same stuff over and over and expecting a different result then it occurs to me that many of us who are working on the Customer stuff can be labelled insane. Relationship is not merely the sum of a series of interactions. Relationships do not reside in CRM databases.  Communication is more than bombarding customers with sales messages across any number of channels. Personal is more than sending the customer emails and addressing her by using her name. Engagement is more than a customer opening up your email and clicking your offer.  Customer Experience is more than a new name for the Customer Services function.

I dedicate this to conversation to a fellow human being (and friend) who gets and lives that which Susan Scott is communicating:  Lonnie Mayne, President of InMoment.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

4 thoughts on “Is The Way We Are Going About Customer Acquisition and Retention Dead Wrong?”

  1. I have always thought about this perpetual discrepancy, an am inclined to believe the roots are socio-psychological:

    Businesses are, excuse the pun, in the business of business. Making money for their shareholders – and customers are just some unavoidable inconvenience on the path to that goal. Similar nuisances are employees and suppliers. Quite often – even the shareholders themselves, who may expect on top of their returns some stupid things like respect and being listened to.

    ‘Business’ in this construct is not the entity itself (mega-corporation or tiny limited company, it has no bran or soul of its own) – but the human leadership, the top echelon of decision makers like the C-suites and the Boards. Or in smaller business – the owners. They are humans, exhibit traits, emotions and behaviours – which spread down their organisations in the form referred to as ‘culture’ and make others to behave in similar ways.

    This human ‘central hub’ in the value chains typically cannot comprehend that stakeholder interests don’t have to be antagonistic and can potentially be aligned. Antagonism is in their DNA, how they were brought up, and their only idea how business (and life in general) works – as an endless fight. Being warriors (very good at that) is how they reached the top positions. Little wonder that they see Customer and Shareholder interests only as total opposites (one wants all the profits, and the other wants ‘everything free’). Quite similarly Employees in their eyes (‘our best asset’ – what a laugh) are only supposed to have interests opposite to the business. It’s WAR, period. A zero-sum game with no such thing as the proverbial ‘win-win’. Business since times immemorial has been likened to war, we speak of strategies and tactics, have hierarchies and study military books to learn business.

    In this context ‘Customer Strategy’ is in reality about how to DEFEAT the customers in the war game. ‘Customer Focus’, even ‘Customer Centricity’ is nothing but precision targeting of weapons. The very, very small minority of business leaders who speak of alignment of interests, or growing customer and shareholder value in harmony – are not entirely honest. For some it’s lip service, part of PR (as the war-craft art of deceiving the enemy). For even fewer an honest belief in the concept is not matched by ability to deliver, not least because of dominant peer- and board culture.
    * * *
    I am not known as a cynical sceptic (more of a recklessly naive optimist :). The above picture was painted not as a doom-and-gloom sermon, but to describe what our community of customer-centric thinkers is up against. What we are trying – and determined – to change. It helps that we have sparkles of light along the tunnel, in the form of enlightened CEOs who have led a handful of inspiring businesses to success by embracing the alignment of stakeholder interests and growing value in harmony for employees, suppliers, customers – and shareholders as a result.

    I see our priority task in demonstrating that genuine interest in the needs and happiness of customers generates superior shareholder value. With rational logic, rather than passion (of which we have plenty, but is easily – if rarely openly – derided by the cynics). Prove the ideology with real-life examples. Not ‘best practice’ examples as in endless recycling of the 2-and-a-half brands we all know. But building our own humble success stories, one at a time, in a down-to-earth rather than high-profile manner. Success is the lifeblood of warriors and our success stories may – just may – align the interest of those elite business warriors and thus guide them into a customer-centric path.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Vladimir,

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your perspective. For the most part I find myself in agreement with you. Where we differ is the view that your articulate in your last paragraph. Why? It occurs to me that there is no rational logic for Tops to orient their organisation around the needs-happiness of the customers.

      How have I came to this conclusion? Tops make decisions. Being human they make decisions which prefer their interests. What are their interests? To make a mark in the 3 – 18 month time frame. Get richly rewarded. Get noticed. Get a new role. And repeat the performance.

      Does the 3 – 18 month timeframe allow for an organisation to shift from business as usual (WAR as you say) to a genuinely customer-centric organisation? I say no. Which is why ‘best practice’ examples is an endless recycling of the 2 or three brands.

      I hope all is great with you.



  2. Maz, maybe it cuts both ways, maybe “I am here” is every bit as powerful. How does it feel to be a check out operator and have your customers be in their own pre-occupied world?

    Sometimes I think we get the customer service we ask for.


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