Who says you have to be customer centric to thrive?

Is it feasible that companies are not customer centred because it is possible to thrive without being customer centric?  Before you dismiss this out of hand consider the following examples.

Mary Portas: Secret Shopper – last nights episode on the furniture industry

On Wednesday I watched the tv program Mary Portas: Secret Shopper which took a look at the furniture retailing category and found that it was anything but customer centric.

The marketing across the category is either misleading or downright deceptive.   There is one kind of sale or another on almost around the year.  The discounted prices on the furniture are nothing of the kind.  And the price guarantees are absolutely worthless because the retailers know that it is simply not possible for the customer to buy the same product from another retailer.

The focus of the sales staff is selling irrespective of whether the furniture meets the needs of the customers.  The sales folks even convinced themselves that they were customer centric when it was blatantly clear that they simply did not get what it means to be customer centric: to put yourself in the shoes of the customer and thus help the customer to make smart purchasing choices that they will be happy with – no buyers remorse when they got home. In fact it can be argued that the sales folks were doing rather well by not being customer centric: one of them claimed to have earned £57,000 in commission just through standard selling.

Management simply wrote off the people who felt aggrieved about poor quality of the furniture and the poor customer service.  Yet despite the negative reviews on the internet on CSL (the furniture retailer featured on Mary Portas: Secret Shopper) I do not see it closing down because customers are running to its competitors.  Why is that?

Because all the furniture retailers are at it.  They are all misleading customers with their marketing and price promises.  They are all getting customers to buy whatever makes the most commission for the sales folks.  And they are all offering poor customer service.  I believe that I wrote about how easy it is to become customer centric by disrupting category practices

Tesco comes 8th in the latest Which? customer satisfaction survey

Tesco is the UKs most successful supermarket brand.  You might then assume that it would rank highly in any customer satisfaction survey.  Well Which? polled 12,000 consumers and placed Tesco 8th with a customer satisfaction rating of 48%.  Aldi scored 65%, Lidl scored 64%, Morrisons scored 59%.  You can find the full details here.

Does this mean that you can thrive without being customer centric?  Or does it mean that there is little or no correlation between customer satisfaction and financial success?  Perhaps it means that the Which? survey is flawed.  You decide.

BSkyB goes from strength to strength

As far as I am aware BSkyB is not a brand that is loved by consumers.  My own experience of dealing with BSkyB was less than positive.  And yet BSkyB keeps going from strength to strength.  Recently it announced that at the end of 2010 it had over 10m customers (thus hitting one of the key targets) and half-year profits were up 26% on last year.

Is it possible that BSkyB is thriving because it has an effective monopoly on pay tv?  So if you want what Sky has then you have to go and buy it from Sky.  That is to say that BSkyB owns strategic assets that allow it to deliver less than great customer service.  I believe I wrote a post on the value of strategic assets.

Is it because it has branched into adjacent areas: telephony and broadband?  Is it because it offers bundles (pay tv, telephony, broadband) that other players find hard to match?

Or am I wrong and BSkyB is a great example of a customer centric organisation?

TalkTalk continues to be the second largest broadband provider.

TalkTalk is the UKs second largest broadband provider.  The negative reviews posted on this company by customers are legion.  It is a company that was investigated twice by Ofcom (the industry regulator) last year as a result of customer complaints.   And Ofcom found it guilty of breaching telecoms regulations when it charged customers for cancelled services.

If customers are so dissatisfied then why is it that TalkTalk has not collapsed?  Or at least shrivelled significantly?

Is it because they are locked into existing contracts?  Or is it because far too many customers simply are not willing to go through the inconvenience of switching broadband suppliers because they consider them to be pretty much the same.  Does this remind you of the furniture retailing example that I started this post with?

2011: are you ready to move beyond the 4Ps and the 4Cs to embrace the 5Hs?

In the period of 1950s the concept of the marketing mix was introduced and this led to the birth of the 4Ps: Product, Price, Place, Promotion.    This has been extended  to include another 3Ps: People, Process, Physical Evidence.

With the birth of the Customer age in the 1990s Robert Lauterborn proposed the 4Cs: Customer, Cost, Convenience, Communication.  Whilst this is a move in the right direction it is not enough.   To my mind it smacks of the abstract, the intellectual, a machine way of thinking and talking.  A move forward yet still within the Newtonian paradigm of the universe (including human beings) as a gigantic clock.

How about embracing the 5Hs: Human, Heart,  Honesty, Hospitality and Harmony?

Human:

Get that you are dealing with flesh and blood human beings and treat your customers as human beings.  Strive to treat them with the best of our humanity: kindness, benevolence, humaneness.

Being human, we notice, even if it is at a subconscious level, when these qualities are present or not.  Given the choice we walk towards organisations that have a human look and feel:  that are humane and treat us as human beings not machines.

How about starting with a small step that makes a huge difference: speaking with a human, conversational, voice?

Heart:

As the expression goes “Have a heart!”.  What does that mean?  In a word it means compassion.  The ability and willingness to put yourself in the shoes of your customer.  To see life through her eyes, to experience what she is experiencing.  It means following the golden rule “Treat your fellow man/woman in the manner in which you would like to be treated if you were in his/her shoes?  Go further and embrace the platinum rule “treat your customer as he/she would like to be treated”.

How about following Zappos and making it easy for your customers to reach out and speak with you?  To reach out to you – via chat, click to call etc – when she is shopping and needs guidance or reassurance?  To reach out to you when she needs help in using your product or service?

How about making it easy for customers to make complaints?  How about making it easy to return faulty goods?  And so forth.

Honesty:

Let go of the spin and be honest with people in a tactful way.

Human beings stay clear of people who they find to be dishonest.  When you are honest I may not like what you say yet I will respect you for being honest.  Tell it as it is – upfront – it will save you a lot of pain later on: sooner or later your true colour will show especially in this densely connected world.  When I catch you being dishonest (including omitting stuff that you do not want me to know) then I no longer trust you.  If I don’t trust you then you are going to have to pay in way or another if you want to do business with me.

Put bluntly put as much focus on the steak – the product, the service, the reality – as you do to the sizzle of advertising and other marketing messages.   Another way of saying this is to say ensure that there is a harmony between the sizzle and the steak.

Hospitality:

Be a good host, be hospitable – to prospects, new customers, existing customers and customers who have either left or are on their way.

When you are being a good host you take the time and trouble to think of your guests and their needs.  You do your best to welcome them, to make them feel at ease, to introduce them to people that they will find interesting or useful. And when the time comes for them to leave, a good host will see them to the door and wish them well and mean it!  How about behaving the same way with your prospects, new customers, existing customers etc?

How about inviting your customers into the business?  To listen, to share, to collaborate on new product ideas, product development, marketing communications, customer services and so forth?  Incidentally, the important part about ‘social media’ is not the media, it is the social.  In a social environment your character, your reputation and your manners speak so loudly that few listen to your words.  A good host is mindful of this and acts accordingly.

Harmony:

As human beings we love harmony and we strive after it.  Harmony is pleasing as it gives us peace of mind.  So how about focusing your efforts on creating harmony?  What does that mean in practice?  Lets take a look at the dictionary definition: “the just adaptation of parts to each other, so as to form a complete, symmetrical or pleasing whole”.

How about a harmony between the promises made and the experience delivered?   How about orchestrating harmony between all the silos that impact the customer experience?  How about harmony between the short-term and the longer term?

It is my belief that if you don’t get the social part – that is the human desires for beauty, for meaning, for connection, for honesty…. – you are going to be increasingly lost in the 21st century.    Maybe I am deluding myself.  What do you think?