In my travels across the internet I came across TeamSnap and in particular this post: Who Is Helping Whom? How Our Customers Are Using Support To Help Us
I have mentioned this post as it captures the true essence of customer centricity. As I have written before, customer centricity is fundamentally about the Being mode: reason for existence and the stand you take in life. Yet far too many people talk about customer centricity solely in terms of the Doing mode – usually in terms of capabilities, technologies, processes.
One way of thinking about this is to distinguish between character and personality. Character is who you really are, what you really care about, what you stand for in life, how you behave when your up against the ropes. Personality is the show, the mask, that you put on for others and sometimes for yourself too.
Now back to TeamSnap and their post. Here are the characteristics of TeamSnap that led me to write “Congratulations. You totally get what it means to be customer centric. I shall be using you as an example of customer centricity in my blog”:
- TeamSnap’s reason for being is to make life easier for those who organize and participate in team and group activities.
Note that the reason for existence is not to be the biggest, the best, to dominate the world, to provide a great return for shareholders, to deliver a growth rate of 20% and all that stuff.
- We do everything we can to make the application über-intuitive, so obvious that any user can pick it up and use it.
Many companies do not focus on making their products easy to use. The people who build the products often have knowledge, skills and ability that the user will not have. And they are blind to this fact: I remember listening to a famous e-commerce software company demonstrating their suite and wondering why they expected the users – marketers – to be comfortable writing if then queries!
- With that kind of product philosophy, you might expect Customer Support to be a second-class function. A place outside the “cool” functions like new feature development, or marketing. You would be wrong. Support is a cornerstone of the company.
Too many companies that claim to be customer centric (or headed in that direction) put most of their money and time into the cool functions of marketing, sales and product development. And the Customer Services (Support) function is often seen as a drain on company money and company profitability. As a result it has about the same status and welcome as someone who has Aids or in past times, someone who was a leper.
- Why? Because TeamSnap isn’t perfect. It doesn’t work the way that everyone assumes it will. It doesn’t have all the capabilities that everyone expects. It even has, horrors!, bugs.
How refreshing! My experience is that in the many companies management is convinced that the company makes perfect products and deliver perfect service. And the customers who are not happy are either trouble makers, stupid or lazy in that they have not taken the time to learn what they need to learn.
- We decided if we were going to make the investment, we were going to go whole hog. We were going to put top notch people in the support role; we were going to back them up with our best software developers; we were going to have everyone in the company, even yours truly, in the Support trenches on a regular and ongoing basis.
Now compare this with the standard situation where the Customer Services function is seen as a necessary evil – a drain on customer profitability – and the focus is on cutting costs. How many companies can claim that they put top notch people in Customer Services? And how many CEOs spend time – regularly and often – in taking calls from customers, serving customers? You are a customer, what is your experience? Do you look forward to interacting with Customer Service? No, why not?
A last word: it will be interesting how well TeamSnap fares as it grows. History suggests that as companies grow and especially when they tap the capital markets their reason for existence becomes making the quarterly figures that the analysts expect.
Please note that when I say this I am NOT making a moral judgement, I am simply stating that there is a structure to the capital markets and that structure gives rise to specific behaviour: you have to make the quarterly figures if you want to keep your job, keep your company.
I am curious about all kinds of stuff – that means buying quite a few books. So recently I placed a number of book order from various Amazon partners – one of which is Better World Books. Before they were invisible to me and now they are firmly in the limelight. All because they sent me an email last week that simply stopped me in my tracks. Here is that email: Better World Books email.
Their email to me is a great example of customer-centricity. Better World Books have taken the time to put themselves in my shoes and respond to my needs even before I realised I had those needs! Specifically, they have:
- anticipated a situation that is likely to get in the way of delivering on their promise and thus result in a poor customer experience;
- written to let me know that there is a problem and explained what is causing the problems;
- apologised for any impact that this situation – which is outside of their control – may have on me; and
- given me sensible options – stick with them or to cancel the order.
The other noteworthy points are:
- the tone of the email is just right – it is written in a friendly conversational – human – tone;
- they have supplied their email address and encouraged me to get in touch with them if I have concerns or questions; and
- they have done their best to remind me to take circumstances into account when I rate them on Amazon – clearly this is a company that gets the importance of ratings on future business.
Now here is the thing. I do not know if Better World Books has a customer strategy or not. I do not know if they have CRM technology or not. I do not know if they have optimal business processes etc. Nor, as a customer, do I care. What I care about is how they treat me, how they leave me feeling. In my case I am feeling great about doing business with Better World Books. And I think that their name is apt – they have helped to make my world better.
Next time I am faced with a choice as to who to buy from Better World Books will be top of mind and most importantly top of heart.
If you are living in the UK you will know that we are having one of the coldest spells of the year and the country’s transportation system has come to a stop. In one part of the UK the temperature is as low as -21C. That may not be that cold for my Canadian friends, it is very cold for us Brits!
Now what happens when it gets this cold? The plumbing inside the home is put under considerable stress: valves get stuck as they are frozen, pipes burst, water tanks cause problem etc. All of that creates problems for a home owner like me. And it can cause considerable problems for the insurer.
If you look at the situation from the insurers perspective, this cold weather is just a disaster waiting to happen: pipes burst, homes are damaged, the policy holders ring in their thousands, the media is on the lookout for interesting stories that fit in with the theme of incompetence and human suffering that will make good copy. So all the ingredients are there for 1) a drain on profits to meet policy holder claims; and 2) a customer relations disaster.
Clearly the people at Direct Line (the company I have my home insurance) have done their homework. They know how to win by contributing to their customers – people like me who know little and care little about plumbing. Here is the email that I received from them yesterday: Direct Line Email.
By sending me this email they have done something smart. They have rendered a service to me by providing valuable information: when I received the email I thought “I did not know that and yes that is a very useful suggestion, let’s do that right now to avoid any trouble as I do not want to take any chances in this weather!” By providing this service they have built affinity with me: I feel gratitude towards Direct Line and pat myself on the back for having chosen such a considerate insurer.
Whilst doing that they have taken steps to reduce the amount of money they will have to pay to reimburse their customers for losses. And simultaneously they have reduced the workload that will be placed on their call centres. Very smart indeed: they have created a win-win.
As a customer strategist I admire Direct Line: their actions are a great example of the best kind of customer centric thinking!
One word of advice to the wonderful people at Direct Line: ladies and gents it would have been better (for you and your customers) if you had sent out this email two days earlier when the cold snap first hit! And you could have repeated every day after – again as a service to those people who had forgotten to take action. By doing that you would have been even more effective – you would have had less people ringing in to report burst pipes.
I have been thinking that the term ‘customer centricity’ is totally meaningless. Like strategy there is no shared agreement nor definition nor theoretical foundation for ‘strategy’. So the coin of strategy has become debased – people in business use it whenever they want something to sound important. I believe the same applies to customer centricity.
Thinking further I can distinguish various flavours of ‘customer centricity’:
Website personalisation (usually through a platform like ATG)
- In this instance, customer centric means that we push content to you that either you have declared that you are interested in (preferences) and/or we believe that you are likely to find interesting. The Amazon website is a great example of this.
Direct marketing on steriods
- Within this school, the emphasis is on collecting as much data as possible on customers (demographic, psychographic, behavioural, transactional…) turning this data into targeting list – those customers most likely to buy the product that I am interested in selling – using data mining techniques to build predictive models.
Customer lifecycle marketing
- Here customer centric means pushing out the right flavour of communication to the right customers at the right time. And it involves taking a time perspective: where is the customer in his journey and what communication makes most sense. This flavour also relies on collecting lots of data on customers. And it more likely to be practiced where an organisation has a broad range of products that can be sold to the customer. It is also more likely to be practiced where the customer has to be kept ‘warm’ because of a relatively long interval between purchases.
Prroduct development / user experience design
- Here the emphasis is actually on spending time with customers (or the people who we want as customers) to really get these people. How they think, how they behave, what outcomes they are after, what gets in the way etc to design better products and better interactions between the customer/user and the product – in some cases the product is the website / virtual store.
- As customer service is viewed as a cost by many organisations, here customer centricity can mean “How do we recoup some of these costs by using inbound interactions to sell stuff to customers?” Or it can mean how can we get the most value from our contact centre agents by having them make outbound sales centred calls when they are not busy
dealing with inbound contacts. Often it means how can we reduce costs by getting the customers to do the work of agents: drive them to the website or the IVR.
- The organisations that push the envelope here – very few – view customer centricity as learning what drives calls to the contact centre and using this insight to effect change in the business operations that are failing the customer and thus driving demand into the contact centre. They get this is win-win proposition: the company has a great opportunity to cut costs and improve the customer experience if business operations are redesigned.
- This flavour has not yet crystallised. Nonetheless, customer centricity here tends to mean a focus on interaction design in the form of ‘moments of truth’ and ‘experience as theatre / entertainment / engagement’.
I am sure that there are more flavours. What I find interesting and which I wish to point out is that it can be argued that none of these flavours constitute ‘customer centric’.
It can be argued an organisation that is customer-centric is an organisation that is hell-bent on creating superior value (economic, interactional, emotional, social) for its customers. It is an organisation that is willing to sacrifice short term gain if it is at the expense of customers (‘bad profit’) to create long term sustainable gain (‘good profits’).
Do you know of an organisation that is practicing this last form of customer centricity? If you do then please share with me.