A ‘Fresh’ Look at Customer Retention and Loyalty (Part II)

Let’s recap Part I of this conversation. The key points as I understand them are:

  • You cannot have customer loyalty without cultivating employee loyalty and investor loyalty. Why? Because they are fundamentally and inherently interconnected.  So debates about which comes first (customers, employees, investors) shows that folks lack a fundamental grasp of that which we are dealing with.
  • Customer retention-loyalty has implications that extend to every corner of the business. It is necessarily a strategic matter. As such the ownership-responsbility-accountability  belongs with CEO.  It cannot be handed off to the Marketing function (or any other function) nor given over to a Chief Customer Officer.
  • Retention is not just another metric. It is the defining metric for the whole business. Retention is used to integrate all aspects of the business into a coherent whole.

OK, now we are in a position to move forward and conclude this conversation. Allow me to set the scene by sharing this assertion with you (bolding mine):

“Stemming the customer exodus is not simply a matter of marketing; it demands a reconsideration of core strategy and operating principles.

I say that it demands a reconsideration of core strategy and operating principles in the context of a new theory of doing business.

What Theory of Business Enables Customer Retention and Loyalty?

Practice is always based on some theory of how the world works. The dominant theory that fuels just about every large business is one of profit maximisation and shareholder enrichment.  With this focus customers and employee are seen purely as means and almost never as ends in themselves.  Which is to say that they are viewed and treated as tools rather than human beings.  Human beings do not tend to be loyal to folks who treat them as tools.

If you are serious about generating sustainable improvements in customer retention and loyalty then you will need to jettison this theory and embrace a new theory of business. Why?  Lets listen – bolding mine:

The new theory sees the fundamental mission of a business not as profit, but as value creation. It sees profit as a vital consequence of value creation – a means rather than an end, a result as opposed to a purpose…

Profits alone are an unreliable measure because it is possible to raise reported short-term earnings by liquidating human capital. Pay cuts and price increases can boost earning, but they have a negative effect on employee and customer loyalty….  

…there are two kinds of profit. Call the first kind virtuous: it’s the result of creating value, sharing it, and building the assets of the business…. the other kind of profit is destructive. Destructive profit does not come from value creation and value sharing; it comes from exploiting assets, from selling off a business’s true balance sheet. This is the kind of profit that justifies terms like profiteering…..

When profit is a company’s goal and purpose, virtuous and destructive profits serve equally well. But once you see profits as a means to, and a consequence of, the sustained creation of value, then only virtuous profit will do.”

What Kind of Stand Do Those Who Excel in Customer Retention and Loyalty Take Toward People?

Which means that a customer retention and loyalty centred approach to doing business requires a particular way of seeing-treating people, and managing the business. Let’s listen – bolding mine:

“…see people as assets rather than expenses, and they expect these assets to pay returns over a period of many years. Loyalty leaders choose human assets carefully, then find ways to extend their productive lifetimes and increase their value. Indeed, loyalty leaders engineer all their business systems to make their human inventories permanent. They view asset defections as unacceptable value-destroying failures, and they work constantly to eradicate them. 

Why treat people (customers, employees, investors) in this manner? Because loyalty to count as loyalty has to be given willingly. Listen:

“You cannot control a human inventory, which of course has a mind of its own, so you must earn its loyalty. People will invest their time and money loyally if they believe that their contributions to your company will yield super returns over time. The secret is … to select these human beings carefully, then teach them to contribute and receive value from your business…”

Is Loyalty a One-Way Street?

The assumption (and practice) as I see it is that the game of loyalty is all about loyalty from customers to the company. Which is to say loyalty is a one-way street. Is this the right way to cultivate and demonstrate loyalty?  Let’s listen – bolding mine:

“The need to keep losses under control led many companies to cover the claims required by their contracts…. then refuse to renew customer policies to avoid future losses. State Farm took a radically different view. It had no intention of canceling customers it had expended so much energy and expense to acquire and maintain, most of them for many years….. Most important, disloyalty to customers would be philosophically unacceptable. Loyalty is a two-way street. Moreover, loyalty must be seen to be a two-way street. How could State Farm possibly expect its customers and agents to remain loyal if the company did not demonstrate loyalty when the chips were down.”

Why Is It The So Many Have Accomplished So Little When It Comes to Customer Retention and Loyalty?

I’ve in the customer retention and loyalty game for 15+ years. I’ve been in the arena not just a mere spectator. I have witnessed many talk fine words, I have seen many undertake all kinds of projects and programmes to increase retention/loyalty. Yet, I have seen none succeed in any meaningful-sustainable way.  Further, when I read about which companies are doing a great job in this domain it is always the same names or new entrants with new business models.

What gets in the way of existing large, publicly quoted, companies excelling at cultivating customer loyalty?  Almost every company approaches retention and loyalty tactically. So you have a bunch of business practices that drive customers to leave. Instead of changing these practices executive put in place retention teams. Let’s be clear, most organisations have merely added on retention teams and other gimmicks to their existing way of doing business. Is this enough? Let’s listen:

Building a highly loyal customer base cannot be done as an add-on. It must be integral to a company’s basis business strategy. Loyalty leaders …. are successful because they have designed their entire business system around customer loyalty…

 

Summing Up and Closing Out This Conversation

 

I have shared a particular perspective with you and I have invited you to listen to the speaking of a particular author.  How does this strike you?  Revolutionary? New? Fresh? Stale? Impractical? Nonsense?

Now is the time for me to come clean.  The perspective that I have shared with you is the perspective that I have held since my earliest days in the Customer arena. And the speaker you have been listening to is none other than Frederick F. Reichheld.  When did he speak the words that I have shared with you?  The words were put on paper and issued as a book (The Loyalty Effect) back in 1996.

Look around at what is going on and you are likely to find that customer retention and loyalty has been approached tactically. The usually result is add-on’s to the existing way of doing business. The add-on’s can take many shapes: new website, Facebook / LinkedIn presence, customer retention team, an online customer community, new CRM system…. The results?  Are they not meagre?  Which companies by taking this approach have vaulted into loyalty leaders?  I cannot think of a single one.

Why is it that those who have jumped on the Customer bandwagon have jumped on it tactically, and not strategically?  20 years ago, Frederick Reichhheld said this:

The real trouble is that many, perhaps most, executives today have adopted a paradigm which at its heart is inconsistent with loyalty-based management. Press them, and few will insist that the primary mission of their companies is to create superior value for customers and employees so investors can prosper…”

This strikes me as being the heart of the matter. Within the context of the current paradigm it is simply not possible to cultivate meaningful loyalty. So all that is left is tactics, add-on’s, poverty of increases in loyalty, more tactics….

I wish you well and thank you for your listening. Until the next time….

 

A ‘Fresh’ Look At Customer Retention and Loyalty (Part I)

It isn’t just Donald Trump that mixes tidbits of fact with much fiction to appeal to those eager to believe. This is also the case when it comes to the business world. Especially so when we get to customer-centricity, customer experience, customer loyalty….. Whilst some folks can tell that Trump is talking nonsense, in the Customer arena it is that much harder to separate fact from fiction, and useful advice from nonsense.  So, today, let’s take a fresh look at customer retention and loyalty.

What Is The Central Assertion of Customer Loyalty?

No, I am not talking about the often mentioned statistic that goes along the lines of “A 5% increase in the customer retention rate can increase business profits by 25% to 125%.” That is just greed that has driven many to go for customer loyalty without a deeper appreciation of what is involved in generating this kind of financial outcome.

I am inviting you to do something that is rather extraordinary in these times: look beyond the surface, go deeper, and think.  What lies behind this statistic?  Consider that the central assertion is something along this line:

“…doing business with people you trust and understand is more predictable and efficient, and thus more profitable than doing business with uninvested strangers.”

Where Do Employees Fit Into The Picture?

As I understand it, Wittgenstein pointed out that a lot of nonsense is spoken due to language itself. One of the major defects is our habit of speaking-thinking in terms of either/or.  Another defect is simplistic cause-effect thinking which looks for only one major cause for any effect. Which might explain why there is so much opinion offered on where employees fit into the Customer Loyalty picture. Some say employees come first. Some say customers come first, employees second. Others ‘say’ employees aren’t all that important just one factor amongst many. Where do you stand?

Listen to this:

“…we could not progress beyond a superficial treatment of customer loyalty without delving into employee loyalty.….. there was a cause-and-effect relationship between the two; that it was impossible to maintain a loyal customer base without a base of loyal employees; and that the best employees work for companies that deliver the kind of superior value that builds customer loyalty…. our concern with employee loyalty entangled us in the thorny issue of investor loyalty, because it is hard to earn the loyalty of employees if the owners of the business are short-sighted and unreliable….. investor loyalty was dependent on customer and employee loyalty, and we understood that we are dealing not with tactical issues but with a strategic system.”

I also invite you to consider that just about every organisation that has jumped on the Customer bandwagon has done so tactically, not strategically.  And almost all the advice on Customer, that I came across, is tactical – which is to say it is centred on tactics even if these are given strategic clothing.  Which is to say that these folks have taken a superficial approach to loyalty.  Still wondering why most if not almost all large organisations have failed to make a meaningful dent in customer or employee loyalty?

Should Marketing Own Customer Retention and Drive Customer Loyalty?

Who should be responsible for cultivating customer loyalty? Who should be keeping a firm eye on customer retention?  Should it be the marketing function as many who serve the marketing function argue?  What is your stand on this?  Now listen to this:

Loyalty has implications that extend to every corner of every business system..… Tempting as it may be to delegate customer retention to marketing, what can marketing do to stem the outflow of employees and investors?  Retention is not simply one more operating statistic, it is the central gauge that integrates all the dimensions of a business..”

Ok, so the marketing function is not in a position to the do the job.  So, should you go out and hire yourself a Chief Customer Officer?  You know someone who sits in the staff function with little authority over the line functions of marketing, sales, service, logistics, finance…?  Will that do it?  Listen to this:

“..customer loyalty is too important to delegate. It has a crucial effect on every constituency and aspect of a business system….The responsibility for customer retention or defection belongs squarely on the CEO’s desk, where it can get the same kind of attention that is lavished on stock price and cash flow.”

Enough for today. Let’s continue the conversation another time and look into what it actually takes to cultivate loyalty and generate the kind of increase in customer retention that results in superior growth, profits, and cashflow.  In the meantime I thank you for your listening and I wish you great living.

 

 

 

 

CX and the Art of Getting & Keeping Customers

The Story: How I Ended Up Moving On From My Favourite Cafe

I walked in to my favourite cafe and greeted the fellow behind the counter by his first name. He was so happy to see me that he smiled a huge smile, welcomed me, and came around the counter to shake hands with me.  Delight – what a welcome!

Then I ordered my usual: fresh orange juice, hot chocolate, a croissant, and a pain au chocolate.  My ‘friend’ behind the counter pointed at his orange juice making machine: no oranges, no fresh orange juice – his supplier hadn’t delivered the oranges on that day.  I find myself disappointed – really disappointed.  That is when something important is unconcealed to me: of the breakfast what really matters is the fresh orange juice.

I eat my breakfast noticing all the time the absence of the fresh orange juice.  I pick up my bag, put on my overcoat, say goodbye and leave for work: the client’s offices.

It’s mid-morning and I’m thirsty. I head down to the ground floor where the cafes and restaurants are.  I notice a small place that I had not noticed before.  Why do I notice it? It seems to be like a fresh juice bar! I head over there and sure enough there are various freshly squeezed juices including orange, orange and banana, orange and mango…. A little later I find myself drinking the orange and banana juice. Delicious!

The next day I find myself at this juice bar for breakfast. I help myself to the fresh juice, a croissant, a pain au chocolat, and pay. Whilst paying I strike up a conversation with the lady serving me. Then I take a seat and enjoy my breakfast.

I do the same the next day, and the next day, and the next day.  I find that despite my intentions to go back to my favourite cafe I do not go back. Yes, I think fondly of the fellow who works there. I wonder how he is doing and I wish him the very best. I even think of popping in after work… Yet, I find that I never go back there for breakfast.  I stick with the fresh juice bar.  Why?

It is convenient – on the ground floor of the client’s offices. It always has the products I am looking for. By being a regular customer and willing to initiate conversation I have gotten to know Anne – and she has gotten to know me. The place is clean and there is always plenty of room to stand or sit down and have my breakfast in peace.

What Might This Unconceal About Winning & Keeping Customers?

1 – What happened happened yet I did not intend it to happen. Neither did the fellow working at my favourite cafe. Indeed, if you had told me that things would have worked out this way  I would have argued against it. I would have found many reasons to back up my position. Which makes me wonder how much you/i can trust what customers/prospects say in surveys.

2 – Great customer service was not enough to keep me as a customer.  I am clear that every time I turned up at my favourite cafe I received great customer service. In part this was because I had established a personal connection with the chap behind the counter who served me.

3 – Great personal relationship with the customer facing front line employee was not enough.  Yes, the fellow behind the counter was, to use Richard Shapiro’s language, a Welcomer.  Yes, the fellow behind the counter and I had cultivated a personal relationship with one another such that both of us were genuinely pleased to see one another.  Yes, it was great to be greeted by my first name, with a smile, and asked about what I had been up to since the last visit.  No, this level of relatedness did not turn out to be enough to keep me as a customer.

4 – As a customer I did not realise what really mattered in my ‘eating breakfast’ experience until what really mattered was not present.  In my case what really mattered was freshly squeezed orange juice – the experience (taste, pleasure) associated with drinking this particular product.

5 – The customer’s experience is holistic and it necessarily involves the ‘product’. Put differently, the customer’s experience is more than how you treat the customer when s/he is ‘dancing’ with your organisation.  It is more than having a Welcomer welcoming.  It necessarily involves the ‘product’ that the customer came in search of.

Further Reflections on The Customer’s Experience and Customer Loyalty

Based on my experience of being a customer, it occurs to me that the customer’s experience can be broken down down into the following components:

A.  Desired Outcome: Did I ‘get’ the outcome I was after?  The answer to this question is binary: yes or no.  There is no in between.  Think pregnancy – you are pregnant or you are not pregnant, you cannot be somewhat pregnant.

B.  Treatment: Was I treated the way I desire/expect to be treated whilst in the pursuit of my desired outcome?  The answer to this question is not binary when treatment is taken as a whole across my ‘customer journey’.  There may be elements of the journey where I was treated well. Other elements where I was not treated well.

C.  Effort-Time: How much effort-time did it take for me in working with you/your organisation to generate my desired outcome? I am clear that if you are the supplier that is the least effort-time consuming one to deal with then you have an advantage when it comes to winning my business and keeping me as a customer.

When I look at my transition from using my favourite cafe to using the on-site juice bar I notice that the juice bar won because:

  • It generated my desired outcome – every time without fail;
  • I was not treated as well as I was treated at my favourite cafe bar yet I was treated well enough. And I was able to cause improvements in my treatment by cultivating a more human / intimate relationship with Anne who usually staffed the juice bar; and
  • Doing business with the juice bar saved me time-effort because it was on my path-route to work. Whereas my favourite cafe was a 5-10 minute detour.  So it ended occurring up as convenient.

I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best in your living.  Until the next time….

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.

“Ridiculous!”: Does Your Organisation Treat Customers This Way?

I have been helping one of my clients grapple with growth challenges. During the course of our conversations we got around to looking at the business from the standpoint of customers. As such, I asked for an analysis of the customer base by revenue and profit.The analysis shows that the top 10 customers accounted for the lion’s share of the company’s revenues and thus its health and viability.

On that basis I was expecting the management team to have in place a policy, plan, practices and people to take great care of these customers. I was expecting that there would be some kind of game plan: to keep in regular touch with these customers; to stay in tune with their changing needs; to  come up with new products and services to meet these needs; and to ensure that any issues were identified quickly and addressed.

What did I find? I found that these customers were signed up some years ago, these customers are getting the service they contracted for, they have made no complaints, and so there has been no communication with these customers other than the monthly invoice.

“Ridiculous!” That was the statement that the MD made when I asked him to reflect on the importance of these customers to the business and the way that his business has been treating these customers.

It occurs to me that so many people – at all levels of the organisation and across all functions – are so immersed in the doing that there is so little reflection upon what is being done, and not done, and the implications. Which makes me wonder, how much of what occurs, and does not occur, in an organisation would show up as “Ridiculous!” if viewed through the eyes of the customer?

So why is it that the management team of this client are oblivious to the importance of their existing customers? The simple answer is that they are fully immersed in:

1) the sexy stuff of ‘developing new products’;

2) the sexy stuff of getting new channel partners so as to acquire new customers faster and grow market share; and

3) dealing with all that it takes to make the organisation work – the people issues, the process issues, the information issues, the financial issues, and the systems issues.

Behind the obvious, is the not so obvious. Is it possible that there is no focus on existing customers because the MD is from a sales background and enjoys the thrill-chase of new customer acquisition? Is it possible that there is no focus on existing customers because the other directors take their lead from the MD?

Is the same kind of thing true in your organisation? How much of what you do, and do not do, would show up as “Ridiculous!” when looked at from a customer view, or a longer term perspective?

Back to my client. The good new is that the MD has taken steps to engage with at least one of his top 10 customers. And there is significant opportunity to create value for this customer by selling them new products and solutions that are more in tune with their current and future needs. Sounds like a win-win to me and as such it shows up for me as being the best kind of business.

Skeptical musings on ‘treating different customers differently’ and the expertise of business gurus

You may know that I value skepticism in the sense of questioning the taken for granted.  In this post I question the  central tenet of the customer business.  And I question the insight and expertise of customer gurus and management consultants. Let’s start with the central tenet.

What is the right basis for treating different customers differently?

If there is a central tenet of the whole customer business (CRM, CXM, customer retention & loyalty) then it is this: treat different customers differently.  How does that work in practice?  There are two options: you can treat different customers differently based on their needs or based on their financial value.  Which should take priority?

Imagine that you are in pain doubled up in the waiting room of a hospital emergency room. It is late at night during the new year holidays and there is a shortage of doctors.  So there are some ten people there with you in the waiting room – each of whom is keen to get seen to quickly.  What basis should be used to decide who gets access to the scarce/valuable ‘resource’ (the doctor) next?  Should the basis be first come first served?  Should it be the person who is in most need of urgent attention because his/her life is at risk?  Should it be the person who is willing to pay the highest price – the one that represents the most financial value?  What do you say?

What would the ‘customer guru’ say if he was to act consistently with his business philosophy?  He would say that if the hospital is a business then the people in the waiting room should be divided up (segmented) first by their financial value (to the hospital) and then by their medical needs.  Which means that the person who is going to make the most money for the hospital and who is most in need of urgent attention should be the next one to get to see the doctor.

What actually happened?  I was that person in the waiting room doubled up with pain.  And the lady next to me was in a lot of pain as well.  We were talking and complaining about the shortage of doctors, how slow the process was, how long we had been waiting – over an hour. We both hoped that we would get seen to quickly – ideally next.  Then a mother came in with a young child who was clearly in a lot of pain.   What was our reaction?  Both of us were adamant that the young child had to be seen next and seen immediately; we forgot our pain, we no longer thought about ourselves, our humanity reached out to that young child who was suffering so much!  And I noticed that all the other adults in the waiting room forgot themselves and collectively we gave one big sigh of relief when that young child was taken to see the doctor after a couple of minutes. Clearly, the hospital got this because they were seeing us on the basis of our need – how serious our condition was.  And that  is what allowed us all to bear our pain and go with the system: the system occurred as fair, as just – as one that does justice to human dignity.

I hope that you get what I am getting at here.  If you do not then let me spell it out for you.  What the ‘customer gurus’ espouse contradicts certain ingrained values that go with being human.  Most of us have a sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ including that which contributes to our human dignity and that which takes away from our human dignity.  Visibly treating different customer differently is a minefield because it brings out into the open the question of human dignity.  It occurs to me that only people who are not called to by these values are economists, MBAs, business gurus and management consultants.

Why you should be skeptical about business gurus and management consultants

First and foremost, I say, you should be skeptical of any business guru and every management consultant.  Why?  Because business gurus and management consultancies are in the business of passing of philosophy as science, as scientific management, as truth, even if they are not aware that this is what they are doing.  Put differently, when you take a thorough skeptical look then you find that the business gurus and management consultancies are like the king who was not wearing any clothes – it just took a child to see it and call it.

At his point, I wish to introduce you to Colin Shaw because has written a post that has generated high emotion.  Colin is the CEO of Beyond Philosophy – a customer experience consultancy which  makes a big point about the importance of tapping into the irrational side of customers and says it has a scientific proven method for doing so.  On LinkedIn Colin describes himself as “Author 4 Customer Experience books | Consultant | Customer Retention & Customer Loyalty | Keynote Speaker” 

His latest post hasn’t got the kind of reaction (comments) that he was expecting. I think it is fair to say he shows up as being totally surprised by the reaction as expressed through numerous comments many of which are not supportive of him and his point of view.  Which occurs to me as interesting given that the heart of  all things customer is a good grasp of the human condition.  Colin starts off his latest post (Missed opportunities to identify high value Customers – Virgin Atlantic Case Study)  with the following:

“I fly a lot. I have Diamond status on the Delta airlines loyalty scheme, the highest you can get. I really fly a lot! On my briefcase and all my bags I have the Delta Diamond tags. This is like wearing a beacon that says ‘this guy flies a lot’!

My question is, “When I fly with other airlines, do they ignore this display that says I am a high value Customer and could be one of your best customers?” It seems that my badge has the cloak of invisibility as everyone ignores it. Why?

Back in my past career, when I used to run call centers, I remember saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if we knew how much potential revenue the caller could spend with us”. The reality was if I knew someone could spend $1m dollars I would treat them differently to someone that could only spend $10. Airlines seem to ignore this in the choices they make when designing their Customer Experience. This is a lost opportunity. 

Let me give you five examples from a recent experience with Virgin Atlantic on how they are missing these opportunities:”

What kind of reception did this post receive?  An emotional one!  A human one, that discloses reality as experienced by the ordinary airline customers: the lived experience rather than theory. Allow me to share some of the comments that showed up as particularly interesting:

1. “Welcome to the real world Mr. Shaw!”

2. “is this dude serious?”

3. “Colin…here is part of the issue that people are having with your rant. I also fly quite a bit, but simply not enough to get this kind of status. When I go to the airport, I have to wait in a security line while people with “status” have their own priority line, and the airport decides that having the two lines converge on the same TSA agent is a good idea. This means that people without status feel that they are being held up because you have your fancy Delta tags. Then the boarding begins and they do the same thing…..put lines converging on a door where people with status move to the front and cause others to wait. Then there is me – a frequent flier who is in the airport enough to hate travel, and not enough flights to get the airlines to recognize how unpleasant it is to travel…..A significant part of that unpleasantness is the fact that I have to be put aside by a wave of people like yourself who have that level of status. Think about every other industry where status matters. Credit cards offer status to high value customers, but recipients of the cards do not inconvenience other card holders when they make a purchase, so no resentment exists. The backlash you are feeling is from people who have to witness and be inconvenienced by what we all know you deserve. Virgin should take care of you, but not at the expense of other travelers.

4. “Wait, it gets better. So now (in your clarification) you’re saying that Virgin could buy your loyalty back by putting you in a shorter check-in queue, and giving you a $48 rebate on your excess baggage, and accepting responsibility because you had lost your headphones? So, not only are you arrogant and self-important, you have no brand loyalty – Delta should value their relationship with you so highly that they treat you like a king, but you value YOUR relationship with Delta so little that after years of good service, upgrades, priority check-in, etc. you’d defect to Virgin for $48 and a check-in queue that is 3 minutes shorter. In other words, for you brand loyalty is a one-way street. As one of the previous comments asked, who exactly do you consult for? I bet they’d be interested to know your new views on asymmetric brand loyalty, and on exactly what can be bought for $48 and 3 minutes…… Then, in your next follow-up, you suggest that you should be treated better than other economy class passengers because you travel more often! So now you’re expecting Club Class treatment while flying economy! Amazing! I drive far more than average, should I have a booklet of “get off with speeding fines” vouchers, or my own special lane as a reward for being a frequent driver? With each post your position sounds more and more ridiculous. Please, stop digging, it’s becoming embarrassing.

5.  “Over 700 million a year fly a year. What makes you any different? Are you military flying back and forth from deployments? No I didn’t think so. Those are the only people that deserve to be treated like royalty when flying. Though I’m sure you’ve given up your first class seat multiple times for a military member haven’t you. No, I didn’t think so. Should people that ride the bus to work on a daily basis be treated better than a person who only rides it occasionally? Did you once think why they have to limit carry on size? Maybe they have calculated the capacity of the overhead storage and this allows all customers to be able to store the same amount of carry on luggage. Its ok cause you fly so much everyone else should have to suffer so you can carry your oversize bags. I bet that $48 dollars will make you think twice before trying to carry on a small suit case next time. Then again if your so high value, I’m sure $48 is pennies to you People try to do this all the time, carry on large bags to avoid waiting at the luggage belts. I fly with Virgin anytime I fly home to the UK with no complaints. Then again I don’t expect to have my A#$ kissed everytime I fly. If thats what your looking for, maybe you should be looking at different services. 2 christmas ago I got stuck in London due to blizzard that hit the east coast of the U.S. While other airlines had their customers sleeping on air port floors, Virgin paid in advance for hotel for 3 nights and even paid 75% of my expenses. Its funny you pick Virgin to bash on when customer service is so terrible and a lot worse in so many other services. Have you tried to call your cable recently or tried making a large purchase at Best Buy during the holiday season? Try bashing them for not bowing down before you go after airlines.”

6. “”Try replacing the word airline with wife/husband/partner. I used to take her out to nice restaurants, go on romantic holidays, buy her presents. Then I left her for someone closer to work. The other week I thought I’d pop round to see her. With my new kids. Showed her pictures of us on holiday. And then (and this makes me really angry), she says she’s moved on!!”

7. “You seem to be a very important man. How disconnected from real life you must be…”

And finally

I say that if you want to excel at the game of Customer then cultivate the human. My experience is that to excel at the Customer game one has to have an intuitive feel for the human in the human being.  How do you do that?  By putting yourself into real, commonplace, human situations and being present to what shows up for you.  By reading the right kind of literature – that means avoiding business and management books!

I say be skeptical about any advice coming from Tops, business gurus, management consultants, MBAs and economists. Why? They are disconnected from real life – the real world experienced by most of humanity, most of your customers.  And, like all philosophers they fall so in love with their philosophy that he forget that it is just philosophy – at best a partial view of reality. I really do believe that Colin Shaw thinks that he is not doing philosophy and that is why he has called his business Beyond Philosophy.

Please note, I have only used Colin Shaw and Beyond Philosophy as an example to illustrate a point simply because this landed on my lap at the right time.  Recently, there was the much publicised demise of The Monitor Group a strategic consultancy established by the king of strategy (Michael Porter).  Which is my way of saying that I am talking about academics, consultants, gurus and not any one single person or organisation.

What do you say?

Do you care about your customers? Suzanne from Sky does and that I why I love her!

Background

BSkyB is the dominant pay TV company in the UK and is more commonly known simply as Sky.  Over the recent years Sky has expanded into broadband and fixed line telephony; to use the broadband service you have to get your router from Sky.

Back in December 2009 I signed-up for the triple play (TV, broadband, telephony) with Sky on the basis that this would make my life easier.  After a promising start things went downhill fast and I wrote about that in this post: “How to convert an advocate into a detractor – a personal experience”

By December 2010 I had a much kinder, more understanding, perspective on my Sky experience and I wrote about it in the following post:  “The value of transparency or why I am no longer mad at BSkyB” As a result of this change in attitude, pressure from my children and an attractive retention offer from Sky I decided to continue to be a customer.  And everything was going well until Tuesday 6th April when my broadband router stopped working.

I contact Sky Customer Services and find my competence being questioned

On Tuesday morning I found that I did not have access to the Internet so I went to check the router.  I found that the on/off switch had developed a fault: it only worked if I kept it pushed in with my finger.  So I decided to phone Sky Customer Services to get a replacement router.

Once I found the Customer Service number (no easy task as none of the statements have a contact number on them) and navigated through the IVR, I was greeted by a friendly female voice.  I explained the problem with the existing router and asked for a replacement.

To my surprise the CSA asked if I was sure that the on/off switch was not working.  I found myself feeling offended and replied that I was 40+ years old, knew what I was doing and if I said that the on/off switch was faulty she could take my word for it.  Why did I become offended?  Because it occurred to me that the CSA was questioning my competence.   

Company policy takes precedence over doing right by the customer and cultivating loyalty

Once we agreed that a new router was needed, the CSA told me that it would cost me £28. I questioned why I had to pay this cost given that I could cancel my broadband contract (as the twelve month period had already expired), sign-up as a new customer, pay the same monthly charge, and get the router free of charge.

The CSA’s response was that it was simply Sky policy to make existing customers pay for replacement routers.  And that if I did cancel my contract and signed up as a new customer I would not get the router free of charge.  No matter what I said the CSA did not budge: she simply insisted that it was company policy.  When I asked about the rationale behind the policy, she did not explain.  When I asked her to put me through to the Retentions team she told me that she did not know if one existed. In the end, I agreed to pay the £28 as I felt I had no choice.

Amazon can guarantee next day delivery, Sky can only state that it is likely to take 3 – 5 days

Once I had provided my credit card details, the CSA told me that it would take 3-5 days to get the router to me.  I was astonished:  Amazon can and have got books to me the next day (guaranteed delivery) and Sky can only promise 3 – 5 days! I think I simply said “3-5 days!”.  The CSA responded by telling me that I could track the status of the router via the website.  My response was that I had no interest in tracking the router, I simply needed it delivered asap; allowing me to track the router deflects calls into customer services but it does not help me to get my router on time!

Sky does not keep its first promise which makes me wonder about the second one

I then asked the CSA if it was possible to speak to her manager – not about her but about the Sky policy including the delivery time.  The CSA was helpful. She went to look for her manager, found her to be in a meeting, took down a contact number for me and told me that her manager would ring back between 9:45 and 10:15.  No-one rang back.

How am I feeling at this point?  Truth be told, I am cursing my family for wanting SkyTV and persuading me to continue with Sky; I am cursing myself for my stupidity in continuing to do business with Sky.  And I start thinking about how to bring my dependence on Sky to an end because it is clear to me that Sky does not care about its customers and cannot be counted on to deliver on its promises.  Will Sky deliver the router in the promised 3 – 5 days?

Wednesday 7th April, around 7pm Suzanne from Sky ‘calls into my life’

At around 7pm on Wednesday 7th April I got a call from Sky and found myself speaking with Suzanne.  She asks me how I am and I ask her how she is.  I am pleasantly surprised by her refreshing honesty: she tells me that she is well and will be even better when it is 9pm and she can go home.  Wow, I am speaking to a real human being!  I like her already.

Suzanne then runs through the SkyTV package.  She compliments my choices and asks me what I watch.  I tell her that the SkyTV is mainly for my children and list their favourite shows.  After listening, Suzanne brings the conversation back to me and asks if I watch anything at all.  I tell her and she replies that she likes one of the shows that I like.  I feel comfortable talking with Suzanne – she occurs as genuine and actually interested in me.

Next, Suzanne runs through the services I have and tells me that she can save me £2.50 a month on the broadband if I sign up to another 12 month contract.  I reply that no amount of money would entice me to commit to another 12 months with Sky. I say that whilst SkyTV is great, the rest of Sky particularly the broadband bit is absolutely terrible.  Furthermore, I say that I simply have no confidence in Sky as a brand: I just do not trust Sky to treat me fairly, to look after me as a customer. Then I relay my previous days broadband router replacement experience.

How I fell in love with Suzanne and she changed my mind about Sky

All the while I was talking and sharing my frustration and disappointment, Suzanne listened – she stopped selling and simply listened.  She did not argue with me, try to refute my experience or to change my mind.  She simply said that she understood how I was feeling and could understood why I would not want to do business with Sky.  Then she asked me to hold on for a moment. 

She came back and told me that she was going to refund the £28 I had paid for the router – no strings attached – as a gesture of goodwill. At this point I found myself reluctant to take up her offer as I did not want to ‘owe Sky anything’ – that is how much I loathed Sky!  Yet, I found a moral pressure to grant her request: she had treated me with respect and it was now my turn to reciprocate – so I gave her my credit card details.  Then she surprised me again.

Suzanne asked for my patience explaining that she had asked her manager to do the refund. Why?  Because Suzanne does not do refunds – it is not part of her role and she does not have the authority.  I totally get that Suzanne has gone out of her way to help me!  She did not have to do it, she could simply have wished me well and left it at that when I refused her broadband pitch.  And I am grateful to Suzanne and I tell her that.  I even tell her that she single-handedly (with the help of her understanding manager) has changed my perception and feelings towards Sky.

The lessons

When it comes to delivering a memorable customer experience and cultivating loyalty there is absolutely no substitution for caring for your customers. And caring for customers comes down to employing people like Suzanne (and her manager) and allowing them the leeway to be great – to take the right actions, actions that build gratitude.  Why?  Because gratitude leads to loyalty.

A friendly CSA following the script (as set out in the Quality manual) and adhering company policies is not always enough.  It is necessary to take the customer’s individual circumstances into account. In human affairs fairness and helpfulness are critical needs.  Violate these  rules and you almost guarantee losing the customer.  For example, The first CSA I dealt with did everything by the book and was friendly throughout.  Nonetheless, she left me feeling that she was a prisoner of Sky’s unfriendly customer policies and practices and so she was unable to help me with my problem.

Company policies and practices are some of the biggest obstacles towards delivering memorable customer experiences and cultivating loyalty. Take a good hard look at your policies and practices.  Are they fair?  Do they meet customer needs?  Do they get the balance right between trusting customers and being taken for a ride?  Do they balance the long-term against the short-term focus?  Do they help or hinder your staff from delivering great service and establishing an emotional connection with your customers?

Make sure that your people who interact with customers are in a position to explain each and every single policy that impacts the customer in a way that occurs as reasonable in the customer’s world. For example: why does it take 3 – 5 days to get a broadband router when many companies can do next day delivery?  Or why do Sky customers have to use routers supplied by Sky?  Why can’t I use one of the three routers I have sitting at home?

PS: I have only been able to write and upload this post because I figured out a way of making the existing router work: glue, dice and tape to keep the on/off button pressed in – take a look at the photo below.  Lets hope the replacement router arrives before this solutions gives way!