With so much customer focus why am I not drowning in thank you cards?

On the one hand just about every large UK based corporate is professing  their commitment to the customer.  Some say they are committed to customer service.  Some declare their commitment to customer focus.  A few are bold enough to state that they are customer-centric.  And many are busy improving the customer experience.

So how is it that deep in the festive season that not a single corporate – Sky, BT, Orange, Amazon etc – has written to thank me for being a customer over the last year?  If the customer is king – as is so widely accepted – then does the king not even merit a thank you wrapped up in a Christmas card or email?  Maybe I am just a poor customer and you are a good customer.  Are you drowning in thank you’s wrapped up in Christmas cards?

Think what my experience as a customer would be if I received a thank you card at Christmas.  Just a genuine thank you with no up-sell or x-sell message or offer.  Is it possible that would have occurred as positive customer experience?  For me definitely.  How about you?

Interestingly, the only cards that I have received are from small recruitment agencies.  Whilst they have followed the Christmas ritual they have not done so with heart.  Or put differently personalisation and personal are very different.  Business people confuse the two and at their costs.  Enough on that –  I will write a post to explain the difference.

It strikes me that customer-centricity in the UK is like the fresh fruit in the UK supermarkets:  the fruit looks good yet when I bite into the fruit it is almost always tasteless.  Now compare that with France where the fruit does not look as good yet is delicious.

 

2011: time to merge marketing and customer services?

Many years ago I worked for International Distillers & Vintners (IDV), a company that sold premium branded alcoholic drinks to the supermarkets, restaurants, clubs, cafes etc.  One of the challenges that the salesmen encountered was that almost always they were on the back foot.  As soon as they started the sales discussions (for new orders) the customer invariably brought up the issues he was experiencing with the company: not getting the products on time, receiving the wrong products, receiving the wrong quantities, pricing, discounts, billings….  This made it really difficult for the salesmen to sell.  The salesmen had to apologise and sort out the problems first and then talk about sales.  Or they had to promise to sort out the issues and offer even bigger discounts to get the customer to place the order.

It seems to me that we have arrived at the same situation in the B2C.  Anyone with access to the internet can share their views and their experiences with, and on, any organisation.  And everyone with access to the internet can read those views and experiences.  This puts the B2C marketer in the same position as the IDV salesmen.  If the marketer is going to succeed then he/she either has to sort out the customer issues or give a big discount to tempt people to buy.

Surely the sensible option is to sort out, even prevent, the issue that are resulting in poor customer experiences and a negative word of mouth.  Who has the access to this information?  Who knows what customers are ringing up about?  Who knows why they are ringing?  Who knows what business policies, practices and operations are failing the customer?  The Customer Services function.

If that is not reason enough to merge these functions and put them under one department, I can think of several more:

  • Marketing actions impact the customer and where they impact the customer negatively it is the people in customer services who get to know about it first;
  • Marketing spends considerable sums of money with market research agencies to better a better picture of customers yet the customer services function is interacting with many thousands of customers on a daily basis and can provide customer insight as well as conduct research;
  • The performance of the Customer Services function has a direct impact on the word of mouth that is taking place online and offline and WOM is marketing;
  • The new role of the Marketing function is the design and orchestration of a superior customer experience and in that role the Customer Services function plays a key role;
  • By fusing with the functions together it may encourage marketers to actually speak with real customers rather than reading about customers as abstractions in market research reports;
  • The fusion will allow the Customer Services function to escape the relentless focus on cost-cutting and making its treasure (customer insight) available to a function that has more clout; and
  • From a customer perspective it makes a difference if the left arm (Customer Services) knows what the right arm (Marketing) is up to.

In the new world, where we trust TripAdvisor more than any hotel, Marketing and Customer Services are two sides of the same coin.  When one side of the coin is ugly it really does not matter how beautiful the other side is – the coin, as a whole, is not attractive as one in which both sides are beautiful.  I am convinced that the potential for synergy – where 1+1 > 2 – is there.

What do you think?  What have I missed – apart from the fact that it is unlikely to happen any time soon?

Why organisations will continue to struggle to get close to their customers

I am not well, I think it is the flu.  So today I am going to keep my writing short – please excuse me if it is a little light.

I love learning especially stuff that challenges the dominant ways of thinking about stuff.   As a result I regularly visit TED and in my last visit I came across this video:

It got me thinking and I asked myself the question: is it that simple?

If you read the articles on CRM, on Customer Experience, on Social Business then time and again the writers mention the need to get commitment from the Tops, the need for leadership from the Tops, the need for cultural change – which, no surprise, needs agreement and leadership from the Tops!

Who are the Tops?  Almost always men.  The language that men speak is the language of warfare; the language of the impersonal; the language where the end often justifies the means.  And men love technology – we love our toys.  We love command and control. And in the process we make toys of human beings.  That applies to employees, it applies to suppliers and I argue that it also applies to customers.  We seek to manipulate customers adeptly as they are the more important pieces on the chessboard – yet they are just another piece on the chess board.   Can I dare assert that the men that are most adept at playing this game of chess end up at the Top?

Yet the social, relational and experience paradigms are predominantly feminine.  It is soft stuff. the stuff that has been neglected for a long time and often handed over to the HR folks.   If you are struggling with this then I have a question for you?  How is that in business we refer to getting customers as ‘conquesting’, as hunting; keeping customers is referred to as ‘farming’; and hunters are the hero’s that get the lion share of the rewards  whereas the farmers are looked down upon and get meagre rewards.

Is it that simple?  That organisations are struggling to become customer centric because this is  relationship centred paradigm which is natural for many women and unnatural for many men and especially the Top.  That the Tops prefer to play generalship (the art & science of warfare) then to play midwife to the relationship centred organisation and economy?

If it is not that simple then why is it that whilst the Tops profess customer focus and customer centricity their lieutenants claim that these very same Tops are the main obstacles to bringing customer centred initiatives to fruition?

I do not claim sole access to  ‘truth’ so do let me know what you think.

The core challenge facing the customer experience designer

From a customer point of view what matters is an ‘effective’ organisation – one that is good at anticipating and responding to the diversity of customers and their needs.  That means designing the organisation to be flexible, adaptable, versatile – this allows the organisation to absorb and effectively deal with the variety of demands that are placed on the organisation by customers.  This in turn requires the organisation to have ‘redundancy’ built into it.  That is a fancy way of saying that it needs extra resources (“fat”) to deal with and take advantages of unexpected difficulties and opportunities – to cater for the inherent unpredictability of the world.  Finally, making the parts work well together (integration) is a key requirement of effectiveness.  Think of a car it is only of value if all the components work well together.

Organisations are enmeshed in an ideology that values efficiency and structure that lends towards fragmentation.  The focus is on cutting out all the ‘fat’ so as to minimise operating costs and thus drive efficiency.   This way of thinking involves lots of efforts in up front forecasting and planning to predict and manage demand.  It also involves finding and standardising on the one best way of doing things and then striving to make customers, employees, suppliers and partners to use that one way.   This way of thinking encourages and insists that managers control the real world – at least their piece of it: to act on it so as to force it into the shape that was envisaged in the plan.

So customers want organisation to dance to their specific, individual, tunes.  Whereas organisations insist that customers fall into line – the line that reduces operating costs and thus maximises profitability.  That is how we come to the gaping hole between what customers want and what organisations deliver.

Sometimes the gaping hole gets smaller – at least for a while – when the organisation finds a way of being effective (customer perspective) by taking actions that improve efficiency.  Enter the category of self-service: ATMs, electronic banking, e-boarding card, well designed IVRs to do standard stuff like top up mobile phones come to mind.   At other times the gaping hole grows larger: sales assistants who know less about the products then the shopper, badly designed IVRs, waiting a long time to speak to a human being, call centre agents who are not in a position to help and so pass you on and then on again and so forth.

The fascinating thing about ‘social media’  is that it provides a great opportunity for organisations to be effective (from a customer perspective) whilst being firmly wedded to efficiency.  Yet, there is little movement in the direction of social media because there are a couple of things organisations are more wedded to than efficiency.  Secrecy, ownership and control – in every organisation lurks the dictator.  Again we have a divide: customers want organisations to be open, truthful, clear and collaborative.  Organisations are wedded to secrecy, spin, ambiguity, ownership and control.  And this divide explains why so few organisations have adopted social media to bring customers into the heart of the organisation.

So the challenge that falls to the customer experience designer is how to deliver the effectiveness, openness, transparency and participation that customers want whilst being embedded in an organisation that worships at the altar of efficiency, secrecy, ownership and control – sacrificing many customers in the process.  This is not an easy trick to pull off and it is why I have profound respect for all the people in organisations battling to improve the customer experience!

The problem with Customer Experience is the designers

The problem with Customer Experience is that the vast majority of people who are working in this area lack understanding and expertise in human centred design.  As these people are often operate from an economic and engineering view of the world too often the customer experiences they design only meet functional needs – the neocortex.

What is rarely designed for is the emotional ( the way you make them feel) and spiritual (what you stand for in life) aspects.  The stuff that really matters.

I had an example of that just today.  I rang Customer Services, a young lady picked up the phone after a minute or so and then dealt efficiently with my request.  All done – functional needs met.  Yet, I left the call feeling the clinical coldness / efficiency of the encounter.  In fact I did not feel that there had actually been an encounter at all: no human warmth, no sense of fun, no spontaneity.  It reminded me of hospital:  when I am in a hospital I simply want to get out as soon as I can as hospitals lack human warmth.

I believe that there is a movie that illustrates what I am talking about – it stars William Hurt and is called The Doctor.  A customer experience designer can learn  a lot from watching this film.