Do you wonder why a seemingly happy customer ends up considering or buying from a competitor? The sales engineer tells you that he never heard of recent dissatisfaction. In fact, he gave them two free software upgrades a few years ago when they changed operating systems. Where was their loyalty?
Customers buy from a company that delivers a solution for their problems and offer the best value. Customers leave or quit a company because it failed to deliver on expectations or customer service.
Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi in their new book, The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty offers some fascinating facts about customer service and loyalty:
Companies fail to understand the customer journey – what the customer experiences and cares about after installation until the next purchase. Customers care primarily about two things: 1) getting things done efficiently and effectively and 2) getting their problems resolved quickly and efficiently. It means having a product or service that delivers on expectations and, in times when it does not - being able to reach someone quickly and conveniently, customer representatives who can make real-time decisions, resolving issues during the first company contact without being passed around or starting the conversation all over again, to have a company contact take ownership of the customer problem and resolution, and lastly, to keep a promise of when the customer will get a reply or resolution. Dixon, Toman, and Freeman called it "making it easy for the customer", creating loyal customers primarily by resolving their problems easily and quickly (ref. 1).
I can think of 3 companies who excel at developing customer loyalty:
I was impressed when I watched JetBlue deal with a cancelled flight in Baltimore. They offered a stranded customer the next scheduled flight out of Baltimore or another earlier flight out of Ronald Reagan Airport in Washington, DC – with JetBlue paying for the taxi ride there. The JetBlue representatives were engaged and empowered. I saw complimentary snacks and drinks on carts out at the gate for stranded passengers waiting for the next flight out. So not only was JetBlue addressing issues no. 1 (getting stranded customers onto an alternative flight), it was proactive to address corollary issues – crowded gates with stranded, hungry, and thirsty passengers.
Amazon just does it right. Most frequent requests, e.g. product returns, order tracking, cancellations, can be done online and almost instantaneously without human interaction and they reply to online inquiries within 24 hours, if not much faster. Should you have to call, there is the option to have them call you back and they will know exactly which order or situation you were calling about. In many cases, people will prefer one channel to interact, either online or telephone. People do not like to switch “channels” unless they have to and even then, do not want to repeat their needs from scratch.
The representative always seem to know your last conversation with them so you don’t have to start from the beginning…and they take care of you in one interaction.
What’s Killing Most Companies in Loyalty
1. Pushing Customer Service Efficiency. Customers can feel the pressure when a customer support representative is trying to rush and end a call at the expense of listening, understanding, diagnosing and solving the customer problem. Customers don’t get angry, they get even,
2. Compartmentalizing groups and bureaucracy – No one likes to be passed around and having to start the conversation over. The worst is being transferred and lost, then having to start over. (At the very least, companies should take down the contact information so that they can call the customer back if lost.)
3. Untrained or outsourced customer service – customers get frustrated dealing with off-shore or contract staff clearly reading from or consulting scripts with programmed replies.
4. Incomplete Product Releases – incomplete/poor documentation, incomplete help in products, un-intuitive user interfaces or operation, not fixing known bugs lead customers to initiate contact, yet these are things that could be could have been foreseen and corrected prior to product introduction. A company skimping on user training leads to more calls to customer support. Remember the saying: “A stitch in time saves nine”.
Companies are focused on innovation which, in most of cases, refers to product innovation. Product innovation is only part of the customer experience, the majority of the experience will be customer and company interactions, and those interactions will determine how the customer thinks about doing business with the company in the future.
Steps to "Make It Easy"
Companies try to profile, map the process for customers, and understand the problem(s) prior to the initial sale. The next steps (which are rarely taken) is to do similar exercises to be in the customer’s shoes when they need to solve problems after the initial sale:
1. What are the most common reasons or problems that a customer may need to contact you for assistance, e.g. product return, product assistance, down machine during warranty period?
2. How many of these reasons or problems could be proactively resolved so the issues go away, e.g. better documentation, product enhancements, including extra pieces for assembly?
3. What channels, e.g. online FAQ, online chat, telephone, are available for the customer to contact your company for assistance?
4. Flow chart the steps with company contact name and time required in each channel to get a problem resolved, e.g. steps to return an item with full refund.
5. Identify the obstacles in each flowchart (step 4) that prevent resolution with the first company contact.
So understand how a customer interacts with your company after the sale. Eliminate the obstacles. Empower your staff to solve problems instead of hiding behind policy statements. Ensure that they find it easy to get the resolution and answers they want and through the first contact.
Ref 1: Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers by Matthew Dixon Karen Freeman Nicholas Toman - Harvard Busoness Review July - August 2010
Many companies do two types of surveys:
1) Customer surveys to learn about a customer's profile or
2) Post-sales or post-installation surveys to gauge the buying and product installation experience as a means to measure the customer’s overall initial satisfaction.
The problem with surveys are that they don't necessarily provide accurate data and can be intrusive:
1. They interview the wrong people. In B2B, the buyer (decision maker) and end user is usually not the same person. I once received a very unhappy post-installation survey where the respondent complained that the system was too complex so I called the user immediately to get details and resolve any issues. The user received my message and passed it to his manager (the buyer). His manager was kind enough to reply and told me to take the comment with a grain of salt, sheepishly saying that the user was an older gentlemen who found technology, including his cell phone, challenging. In fact, they were waiting for him to retire so they could get someone else on the system.
2. People are too new or intimidated to answer truthfully. Some people just don’t know or haven’t had time to get familiar with the product.
3. There is a “Honeymoon” period where everything might be wonderful when a new, pretty looking product shows up. Asking 10, 30, 60, or 90 days after the initial installation will likely give you different results.
4. Personnel changes during the life of a product. The initially trained users who understood what they purchased may leave and new, less or untrained users take over blaming the product for any shortfalls – and their views will be considered during the next purchase.
5. You’re more forgiving when things are under warranty and you don’t have to pay to get it fixed.
6. On a scale of 1 to 5, some people never give 5's even if they experienced a "5". A "5" may equate in their minds to be the ultimate orgasmic experience which is hard to benchmark without more experience.
7. You don’t want to upset or offend the sales or service staff since you may have to work with them for the near future.
8. There are plenty of ways to skew the data. I once watched a Sales representative complete the survey form in the shipment with the customer – which made the customer very uncomfortable (the company moved to a third party survey service to avoid this from recurring).
9. People get tired and start making things up to finish surveys, especially long surveys. I was constantly pushed by a bank to complete a survey each time I did business with them. I didn't have the time nor wanted to share personal information. Yet, I felt bad for the bank customer representative because she admitted that no one liked it but that she had no choice because her manager mandated that she do this. So I answered the questions but just to appease them, e.g. Q: What are you saving your money for? A: To build a rocket ship to the moon. Q: How do you invest your money? A: Contraband. So how useful was that survey for anyone involved?
Surveys do have their place but you have to know when and how to use them, as well as be very careful with the results.
I love my cube*. After years of moving between offices and cubicles, I prefer a cubicle. Some people get very, very emotional when it comes to this topic so I prefer to let them get the office if they want it. Some attach having an office with prestige. Some state that they need privacy. To each his or her own.
Observation 1: Most offices have their doors closed or lights out during the majority of the workday.
Observation 2: The ones who decide and evangelize about open work spaces and the merits of cubicles usually have the biggest offices.
I arguably now have the most tranquil and relaxing work setting in the company. I can just stare out into the deep ocean when I need to look away from my work and PC. I have received quite a bit of compliments and people taking pictures of the cubicle. Yes, I do have more interruptions in a cubicle but that is because people find it more inviting so they can “shoot the breeze” with me. They found my presence in an office and the door to be rather intimidating.
Creating You Own Custom Wall Panels.
What you need:
Color printer, Microsoft Excel, Wallpaper clip art, Velcro (loop fabric).
Level of Effort (1 to 5) : 1 - Very Easy
1. Measure the panel sizes in your cubicle. You will probably need at least 6 panels.
2. Search for appropriate wallpaper clip art that has the approximate panel sizes. "Google --> Images" is a great search engine.
3. Copy the image and paste into Excel, then print. Other programs can probably serve the same purpose but Excel prints the overflow onto separate pages which you can attach together to form larger wall panels. Large 11 x 17 paper is preferable since you will have many sheets to join together.
4. Attach the printed wall panel to the surface of the cubicle wall panel with loop fabric strips.
Note: This is not to preclude any offers for a VP position that requires me to sit in a spacious upper floor office overlooking the city. I will somehow manage.
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
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