Customer Points of Interaction

Gaining a Competitive Edge at the Point of Interaction

A critical aspect of customer retention are the key touch points where customers see, hear, feel, taste, touch, and experience your products, services, people, environment, processes, procedures, policies, and attitudes.

This is extremely true in many of today’s markets, where intense competition and commodity functions and features of competing product offers lead to price-driven and promotion-driven marketing tactics.

As I have written numerous times, the experiences customers receive through their interactions with your organization will make or break your ability to develop a long-term relationship with them. The experiences customers receive will also impact your immediate sales and short-term relationships, as well as any hope you have of turning casual customers into loyal ones.

Competitive advantages are eroding faster than ever in today’s world.

Great products, top-notch technologies, and superb customer service are merely the cost of entry into today’s markets. How do you get a sustainable edge when all of these supposedly competitive advantages are easily replicated?

One route to a sustainable competitive edge is how your organization interacts with customers.

According to the authors of the article Beyond Better Products: Capturing Value in Customer Interactions (MIT Sloan Management Review), “customers often value how they interact with their suppliers as much or more than what they actually buy.” Their conclusions were based on data collected from more than 1,500 senior executives in interviews and discussion groups on the topic “why do your customers choose to buy from you rather than your competitors?”

I believe the authors are correct, especially when it comes to services and non-tangible purchases (creative services from an agency, legal advice from a law firm, recommendations and therapies from a health care provider, etc.).

Taking this further, authors Jeffrey F. Rayport and Bernard J. Jaworski argue in their book Best Face Forward: Why Companies Must Improve Their Service Interfaces With Customers that overwhelmingly intense competition and markets where products and services become commodities overnight have combined to make superior interface capabilities the only lasting competitive advantage.

According to them, companies must create more effective (yield a better quality customer interaction) and more efficient (incent a better interaction at a lower cost per interaction) interfaces with customers to create and sustain true competitive advantages. Other than their overuse of the word interfaces (I much prefer interactions, as it is more consumer friendly and less of a technical lingo), these authors are on the right track.

If you are interested in learning more about their views, there is an excellent CMO Magazine audio interview with former Harvard Business School Professor Rayport. It is well worth listening to this 30-minute interview as Rayport explores why the points of interactions that determine how customers view a company has become the new frontier of competitive advantage.

At the end of the day, the customer experiences at every point of interaction with your organization create the brand experience. To keep customers returning, these unique brand experiences must be customer-focused and virtually imitation proof.

Doing so not only creates a unique corporate brand that cannot be copied, but simultaneously creates strong emotional and rational reasons for your good customers to continuing doing business with you.

Your points of interaction with customers may be the only competitive advantage you have. They may also be your weakest points. The old proverb about a chain being only as strong as its weakest link applies readily to the strength of your customer relationships and the points of interaction upon which these relationships are built.

The bottom line is: if you are not delivering the right kinds of customer experiences at every point of interaction, all your other relationship building efforts will be for naught.

KEY POINT:  one route to a sustainable competitive edge is how your organization interacts with customers.

TAKING ACTION:  have your senior managers brainstorm and develop a list of answers to the question “why are your customers buying from you and not from your competitors?” Analyze these responses in terms of product features/functions and the ways customers interact with your organization.

Which of your customer interfaces are machine driven? Which are people driven? Which are a combination of the two? Survey your key customers to ascertain if these interfaces are delivering the quality of interactions they want and, if not, how would they like to see changes made?

Give us a call or an email to discuss your customer interactions strategy. We can help you analyze your needs and work with you to create better interactions that cannot be copied or replicated. You may also benefit from our two-day workshop on Innovative Strategies for Reaching (and Keeping) Good Customers or from our half-day interactive program Customer Retention: Creating Value for Customers in the Service Sector.

 

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in paperback ($13.88) and Kindle formats ($3.88).

20 Quality Customer Service Practices

Two months ago I wrote about Service Statesmanship, giving the two key aspects of this managerial attribute as:

  • A Service Statesman is a role model, constantly reinforcing the organization’s key service messages and service values.
  • A Service Statesman is seen by staff as constantly engaged and interested in improving service delivery.

I followed this last month with a list of 20 Service Excellence Management Practices that each of you can implement, modify, and adapt to lead your business unit or your organization to higher levels of excellent customer service delivery.

Thus, I thought I would share with you 20 Quality Service Practices that any Service Statesman, from a department or business unit manager to the CEO, can and should instill in the individuals within their organization:

  1. You make customers aware of the options available, including advantages and disadvantages of each.
  2. You respond to customers’ needs in a timely and effective way.
  3. You keep customers involved as you serve them.
  4. You work with customers to completely define their requirements.
  5. You are clear with customers around service issues (e.g. costs, results, options).
  6. You exhibit flexibility in making whatever adaptations are necessary to enhance working relationships with customers.
  7. In proposing solutions to customers, you clearly link the solutions with the customer’s business or personal objectives.
  8. You are flexible in adapting solutions to customer needs and desires.
  9. You let the customer know exactly what is being done and why.
  10. You help customers clarify and prioritize their needs.
  11. You keep customers updated on the status of work.
  12. You do what is best for the customer, rather than what is best for your own function, when there is a conflict between these two.
  13. You encourage customers to give you feedback on your performance.
  14. You pay close attention to small details that make a difference to customers.
  15. You ask what they expect from you when problems occur.
  16. You are committed to providing excellent service.
  17. When a customer experiences a problem, you follow up to see if it has been resolved.
  18. If you cannot help a customer, you are able to refer them to someone else for help.
  19. You will go out of your way to solve a customer need or problem that is out of the ordinary or that requires extra effort.
  20. You will treat your colleagues and peers as internal customers worthy of the same respect, treatment, and concern as you would give to external customers.

In reviewing how Qantas handled my personal situation 10 days ago, I can spot how several of the above practices were put into action (particularly numbers 6, 8, 9, and 14).

Outstanding customer service appears to be ingrained in numerous organizations, and woefully lacking in others. Those who get this right are the ones who have no trouble keeping good customers and getting these to return time and time again.

Those who do not implement these 20 Quality Service Practices in a consistent manner are the ones with high customer attrition rates and high employee turnover levels.

If you want to be a true Service Statesman in your organization, you can lead by example and reinforce the importance of constantly improving service delivery by inculcating these 20 Quality Customer Service Practices into your business unit.

KEY POINT:  outstanding customer service delivery is ingrained in organizations that implement the 20 Quality Customer Service Practices in a consistent manner.

TAKING ACTION:  select four of the 20 practices found in this week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo that you would like your organization to start using.  For each practice selected, list 3-4 things that you could start doing this week to implement these practices.

Review your policies and procedures. Which ones enable your staff to consistently deliver quality customer service? Which ones hinder them in pursuit of delivering excellent customer service consistently? How can the latter ones be amended and changed?

Review your agenda for your last staff meeting. What percentage of the meeting was planned for customer service discussions? For your next 4-5 staff meetings, make sure that customer service is the dominant item on each agenda. Then your staff will know how serious you truly are about this topic.

This article is partially excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in paperback ($13.88) and Kindle ($3.88) formats.