More Customer Service Lessons From A Customer Experience Fail

Boosting Customer Satisfaction Levels and Enhancing Customer Experiences

Last week we shared with you two valuable customer service lessons from a dissatisfying customer experience we had with San Diego cruise line Flagship Cruises & Events. These lessons relate to a customer experience fail as outlined in an earlier post on how this organization fails to understand customer needs.

This week we will add two more customer service lessons on how organizations can enhance the customer experiences they deliver and increase their customer satisfaction levels. You may need to read our blog post on March 6 to get a full background on these lessons: Flagship Cruises Customer Experience Fail.

 

Lesson #3: Set Customer Expectations

If you want to enforce a dumb rule like no personal photography allowed, then it is best to post the rule publicly for all to see.

This will help minimize negative interactions between your front-line staff and your customers.

Of course, this will make your organization look absolutely foolish, which is one indicator that you should not have such a customer unfriendly rule in the first place!

 

Lesson #4: Learn to Leverage Social Media

Had our family been allowed to take a nice photo of our daughter with the ship’s life preserver, we would have each shared the photo using the check-in feature on our respective Facebook pages.

Flagship Cruise Customer Experience Fail

Despite the Flagship Cruises & Events no personal photography policy I got this snap off.

Imagine how many positive Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter posts Flagship Cruises is losing daily due to its ban on personal photography at the life preserver post. This positive publicity would far outweigh any minimal loss in picture sales they incur from a change in policy.

Our personal marketing philosophy is simple:

if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue™

The “no personal photography” policy of Flagship Cruises is definitely a marketing issue, with direct impact on customer satisfaction levels, customer experience delivery, and word-of-mouth publicity. It may or may not be an operational policy, but it is definitely a marketing issue.

As such, these are the lessons for all organizations. Next week we will have two more customer service lessons to share with you from this dissatisfying customer experience at one of San Diego’s better-known cruise lines.

Customer Service Lessons From A Customer Experience Fail

Enhancing Customer Experiences and Customer Satisfaction Levels

In last week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo we shared the dissatisfying experiences we had recently with Flagship Cruises & Events and how this San Diego cruise line fails to understand customer needs.

This week we will share some of the customer service lessons from this customer experience fail. You may need to read last week’s blog post to get the full background on these lessons: Flagship Cruises Customer Experience Fail.

Lesson #1: Birthdays are important.

Everybody likes to have memorable birthday experiences. This makes birthdays a great opportunity for any organization to provide an exceptional experience that is not only memorable, but will also result in positive word-of-mouth publicity as well. After all, the little things matter in customer service.

For instance, Flagship Cruises could have party balloons at its cruise check-in point and use these in the photos it takes of those celebrating a birthday or anniversary. The chances of increased sales of such photos are extremely high.

Additionally, instead of having an attitude that helping to celebrate one’s birthday on a public cruise is “too difficult,” this company could proactively create memorable experiences such as letting the birthday celebrant take photos in the wheelhouse with the captain, or even holding the ship’s wheel. After all, how difficult is that to implement during the course of a four-hour cruise?

The bottom line is if you help your customers create happy and memorable birthday experiences they will be guaranteed to share their experiences with family members and friends.

Lesson #2: Policies are fine. Exceptions are critical.

There may be numerous valid reasons for the “no taking of personal photos” rule enforced by Flagship Cruises. These could include speed of moving customers to the waiting area, hopes of increased photos sales by prohibiting personal photos, reduced agitation by customers in line having to wait a few extra minutes to board, etc.

For each supposedly valid reason I could counter with equally valid reasons and process to avoid anticipated fallout. Of course, I approach such situations from my marketing philosophy of if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™

Rigidly enforced rules, with no empowerment to frontline staff to make exceptions, is bad policy. We are well past the days when being customer-oriented meant operating in order to meet the needs of the typical customer. Every customer has individual wants, needs, desires, likes, and dislikes. Businesses today cannot afford to build operations and policies attuned to meet only the needs of the average customer. To be fully successful, and to avoid negative and dissatisfying customer experiences, businesses need to be flexible in how policies, procedures, and processes are implemented.

So let’s turn this rule on its head. Since Flagship Cruises appears to like rigidly enforced rules, here’s a new rule they can implement:

“Customers celebrating birthdays and couples celebrating anniversaries
today will be allowed to take their own celebratory pictures
at our famed life preserver post.
Thank you for helping us make their special day even more memorable.”

If they posted a plaque with this “rule” at the entryway, other customers would not feel inconvenienced by the handful of people taking their own photos. In fact, some in line will likely shout out birthday and anniversary greetings, or even start a chorus of the Happy Birthday song.

These are just a couple of lessons, and ideas, on how to move from a customer experience failure to a memorable customer service experience.

Next week we will share two more valuable lessons that will help you enhance your customer experiences and customer satisfaction levels.

 

 

San Diego Cruise Line Fails To Understand Customer Needs

Flagship Cruises Customer Experience Fail

I have written many times about the stupid rules and regulations organizations have that prevent superior customer service. I have also written frequently about the need for commercial operations to truly understand customer needs and for these needs to be fully understood by all staff.

Now I have a new customer experience fail to cite in future writing and speeches, courtesy of Flagship Cruises & Events in San Diego.

Last month we took our daughter to San Diego to celebrate her 9th birthday. A highlight of the 5-day trip was supposed to be a whale watching excursion. Good idea. Bad choice of excursion providers.

After booking the cruise I called the Flagship Cruises customer service line a few days before our trip to enquire if there was any opportunity to do something special for my daughter since we would be going on the cruise on the actual day of her birthday. I was politely told that doing anything extraordinary was too difficult on a public cruise. Oh well, nice try but “too difficult.”

We arrived early on the day of the cruise and spotted a beautiful life preserver ring with the Flagship logo and date of the cruise on it. What a wonderful photo opportunity we thought. But the two Flagship Cruise employees would not allow us beyond their entry rope to take a photo of our daughter with the life preserver.

Instead, as we entered the boarding area a half hour later we were asked to pose next to the life preserver so that they could take a photo of us with their camera! We told our daughter to do so as it was her special day. But when mom and dad tried to take our own photos we were shouted at loudly that such actions were prohibited. And one staff member (Leslie) actually knocked my arm tried to physically block me from taking a photo.

Upon querying her actions we were told the two staff members (Julia was the other young adult staff member) were merely following their boss’s orders. Even after explaining the significance of the date to our daughter, they still refused to make an exception to the rules.

All of which, unfortunately, caused our 9-year old daughter to burst into tears on her birthday!

So, for causing a 9-year old to cry on the morning of her birthday, Leslie and Julia of Flagship Cruises are now enshrined in my Customer Experience Hall of Shame.

Flagship Cruises claims to be a family owned and operated company. But it appears they don’t have a clue about what is important to families and customers celebrating an important life milestone.

Even worse, they promise on their website to “treat you and everyone aboard like family.” They certainly don’t live up to this claim with rigidly enforced rules on photo taking. What kind of a family prevents other family members from taking photos?

After the cruise, I posted a short complaint about our treatment on the Flagship Cruise Facebook page. Here’s the reply I got: “Thanks for reaching out Steven. We’d like to hear more about what happened. Could you please reach out to me directly at trongley@flagshipsd.com?”

I guess “trongley@flagshipsd.com” thinks that I need to proactively seek him or her out to further explain my dissatisfaction with their service. And here I was thinking that I am the customer! Well, this Monday Morning Marketing Memo is my further explanation.

At the end of the cruise, the photograph of my daughter taken by the Flagship Cruise staff member was available for purchase at $10. That is not a significant price, especially since it was a lovely photo. But I could not bring myself to buy it for the photo would only serve as a lasting memory of an unfortunate and dissatisfying customer experience.

Interestingly, I have noticed that when my daughter or I talk to others about our San Diego trip we mention the famed San Diego Zoo, the Birch Aquarium, Sonny Jim’s Cave, and the Safari Park. Neither of us speaks of the whale watching excursion and neither of us is recommending this cruise to others.

It just goes to show how a bad customer experience results in the lost opportunity for positive word-of-mouth advertising and social media publicity.

Ironically, the company also states on its website that they are “the best in the business providing San Diego visitors and tourists with experiences they will remember for a lifetime.” Well, I’ll certainly remember my experience with Flagship Cruises for a lifetime, but perhaps not in the way they hope.

There are many customer service lessons to be learned from this experience with Flagship Cruises, which I will discuss in next week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo.

 

Being Customer Focused Means Being Easy To Do Business With

Customers Do Not Want To Be Nomads

Larry Weber, the founder of public relations firm Weber Shandwick , says that “most customers are nomads.”

And rightfully so. Too few companies and organizations deserve customer loyalty.

The reasons why customers are nomads are numerous:

  • Service delivery is inconsistent.
  • Customer service is perfunctory and uncaring, lacking warmth or even pleasantness.
  • There is no recognition of the customer’s previous engagements and interactions with the organization.
  • There is a lack of personalization to meet individual needs, wants, desires, likes, or dislikes.
  • “Value-added” pricing and packaging comes without the value add.
  • Customer rewards programs are thought to be true customer loyalty programs.

Despite all these hurdles, customers do want to be loyal!

After all, loyalty saves the customer time (our most precious commodity in today’s world). Plus consistent service delivery can be anticipated, expected, and planned for. No surprises results in the customer not having to make new plans or contemplate new decisions.

How can you obtain customer loyalty? Does becoming customer focused work? What does it mean to be customer focused anyway?

Call it customer focused, customer centric, customer caring, or any other clever phrase you want. Being customer focused may boil down to one simple question ─ are you easy to do business with?

How do you rate in terms of convenience, easy ordering, customizable products and services, personalized delivery terms, and flexible terms and conditions?

Being easy to do business with is more about pre-sales and post-sales support than about the core features of your products or services.

For example, I buy almost all my books from Internet retailer Amazon. Unlike the big chain bookstores, or even my local neighborhood bookstore, Amazon is easy to do business with because:

  • The titles I want are always in stock.
  • I never have waste time while the checkout person chats idly with the customer in front of me.
  • I never have to search for a knowledgeable staff member to help me find out where the book I’m looking for has been placed.
  • I do not consume fuel driving to Amazon, nor do I have to wait or pay for a parking space.
  • The time and fuel costs I save more than outweigh and offset any shipping charges I pay.
  • My personal shipping addresses and credit card details (yes, both are plural for a reason, another sign of their flexibility and customization) are on file, so I easily check out with the mere click of a few buttons.
  • Amazon notifies me when my order has been shipped, saving me the time to follow up.
  • Amazon gives me an approximate delivery date, thus setting my expectations (which they then always meet).
  • Even when I place an order on Saturday it gets shipped the next day ─ a Sunday!

I cannot think of a single thing Amazon could do to make it easier to do business with them. I have read where Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is passionate about improving the customer experience. For me, he is certainly hitting all the right buttons.

Amazon is a great example of a company that is practicing Customer Retention Marketing by being easy to do business with. As a result, they are keeping good customers (like me) loyal in terms of both buying behavior and brand preference.

Customers do not need (or want) to be nomads. All it takes to change this is being easy to do business with.

 

KEY POINT:  being customer focused may boil down to one simple question ─ are you easy to do business with?

TAKING ACTION:  ask yourself, is your organization easy to do business with? What rules, procedures and processes do you have that make it hard for your customers to do business with you?

How could you make it easier for customers to do business with you? What changes can you make in the areas of convenience, order placement, product or service customization, delivery, and other terms and conditions that would make it easier for customers to do business with you?

Review with your major customers which of your processes, policies, procedures, terms, conditions, and other elements drive them crazy and make them wish you did things differently.

 

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

If It Touches The Customer, It’s A Marketing Issue

Base Your Marketing Strategy On Customers, Not Products

Many years ago I developed a personal marketing philosophy that I believe forms the core principle of marketing ─ if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™

By focusing my thinking on what touches the customer, and how these impact and influence customers’ purchase decisions, I became highly adept at developing marketing and positioning strategies, first for my employers and then for my clients upon creating Howard Marketing Services in 1993.

Of course, everything your organization does touches your customers. This is why I advocate that long-term, sustainable success requires a customer-centric, marketing-led approach.

The key here is being customer focused, not just marketing led. Success will not automatically result from the traditional implementation of marketing techniques such as brand advertising, one-way communications with customers, lack of awareness of customer experiences, and reactive customer service strategies.

Rather, sustainable growth and success, as well as long-term customer loyalty, results from combining and modifying those traditional marketing approaches with TLC (think like customers), proactive customer engagements that lead to long-term customer satisfaction, two-way communications at all customer points of interaction, and a focus on understanding and learning from customer experiences with your products and services.

Prolonged success also results from adapting your current organizational processes and practices to better align yourself with the changing values of customers.

One of those changing customer values is choices and flexibility. Customers want both choices and flexibility, particularly when deciding what products and services will provide solutions to their needs, wants, and desires. Of course, when it comes to the actual purchase and use of a product or service, it is a bit different. As B. Joseph Pine points out in the book Mass Customization, “Customers don’t want choice. They just want exactly what they want.”

Only an organization that is fully focused on identifying the needs, wants, and desires of its customers will be able to provide exactly what they want. Then, if you give customers a little bit more than they expect, you are well on your way to developing long-term customer loyalty. As Susan Lyne, CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia said, “If people get what they expect from a brand ─ and more ─ they’re going to stick with it.”

Product Marketing. Brand Managers. Product Managers. Organization structures based on product lines or product groups. This is where the traditional focus of marketing has been, and unfortunately still remains ─ on products.

But, as I have often stated: “A product is or a service is just your point of entry. A loyal customer is the true goal.”

Having loyal customers should be the goal of every organization. The purpose of business, as the legendary Peter Drucker wrote, is “to create a customer.” In my view, the ultimate role of marketing is to create and keep good customers, to the benefit of customers, the organization, and other stakeholders.

Business is not just about sales, contracts, cash flow, internal rates of return, ROI, and profitability. Even Henry Ford recognized this when he said, “a business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business.”

Using traditional marketing techniques, being “customer oriented” has meant operating in order to meet the needs of the typical customer, or the average customer. Businesses today cannot afford to focus on the average customer. Your future growth, and future profitability, comes from satisfying the needs of your most valuable customers.

To treat your most valuable customers as your most valued customers requires that they be treated as individuals ─ with individual needs, wants, desires, likes, and dislikes.

To treat valuable customers as individuals requires the understanding that anything that touches these customers is a marketing concern. It also means understanding that everything you do as an organization ─ and sometimes the things that you do not do ─ touches your customers.

The bottom line is simply this:  if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue™.

This simple phrase births an entire marketing philosophy that you can use to develop sustainable growth and a loyal customer base for your own products and services.

It means doing things ─ particularly “marketing” ─ differently than you are doing them today. It means putting the needs of your customers first, before those of the organization. It means inculcating the skills of thinking from the customer’s perspective throughout the organization. And it means delivering your brand through customer experiences rather than paid advertising.

It will feel different, doing all these things, of that I can assure you. But I can also assure you so too will be the results.

 

KEY POINT:  if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™

TAKING ACTION:  what is the main focus of your internal meetings? Products or customers? Sales results or customer needs? How can you spend more time discussing customers and their needs and less time discussing other matters?

How do you reward those in the organization that exhibit high levels of customer intensity? How do you publicize their efforts internally? What can be done to improve these areas and turn your customer-focused folks into internal heroes?

What is your marketing strategy based on ─ products or customers? Are your marketing plans based on product groupings and goals or customers and customer segments? Now is the time to change from product-driven strategies to customer-driven ones.

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

Customer ENTHUSIASM

Fire Up the Enthusiasm of Your Staff for Your Customers

While doing research a few years ago for one of my marketing books, I came across a note I had written to myself on creating enthusiasm for customers within an organization.

In the note, I turned the word enthusiasm into an acronym:

Enjoy your work. When you enjoy your work, customers enjoy you.

Never say “no.” Find ways to say “yes” to customers.

Take the time needed to fully satisfy the customer. The best gift to offer customers is your attention and time.

Hustle. Time is valuable, help customers save it by serving them efficiently and fast.

Understand before trying to be understood. You cannot satisfy customer needs until you listen.

Smile. Your smile tells the customer he or she has come to the right person.

Insist on astonishing. Merely satisfying customers is not enough. Astonish.

Ask if the customer is completely satisfied. Ensure customer satisfaction by asking if there is anything else you can do and if what you have done is enough to have them return to you again in the future.

Suggestive sell. Suggest related items that make the customer’s purchase better.

Meaningful “thank you.” A sincere thank you builds loyalty that brings back customers.

Legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi is quoted as saying “If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.”

We are not suggesting that you need to start enthusiastically firing your staff. But we do hope that the ENTHUSIASM acronym might be useful to you in firing up the enthusiasm of your staff for your customers.

Otherwise, it may be your customers who fire you with enthusiasm.

KEY POINT:  never say “no” to a customer; find ways of saying “yes” instead.

TAKING ACTION: are your frontline staff and customer contact personnel only measured on quantitative scores such as how many customers per work shift they handle? Why?

How can you institute some qualitative scoring measures tracking how their handling of customers impacts your customer retention results?

Train your staff to take the time necessary to fully understand the needs, wants, desires, likes, and dislikes of your customers. Time spent with customers is rarely wasted.

Teach your staff not to be afraid to ask customers if they are fully satisfied. Without asking, you will never know their true feelings. Asking shows that the organization cares and wants these customers to return again and again.

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

 

The Customer Experience Is More Important Than Price

Consistently Good Customer Experience Drives Repeat Business

From a customer’s perspective, every interaction with your organization is a customer experience. And each of these interactions has a cost to the customer ─ in terms of money, time, or both.

If these experiences are consistently good, customers are more likely to repeat business with you; giving you the kind of customer loyalty your organization truly desires.

A research study from Amdocs, a leading provider of software and services that enable integrated customer management, supports the importance of the customer experience on customer retention.

Called the Customer Experience Survey, the survey reveals that consumers and businesses around the world say that they are more likely to stick with a telecom provider based on the quality of the customer experience than on the cost of its service. For an industry that seems driven by constant cost pressures and incessant price cutting, this survey may be quite an eye opener.

For those of you who hate being put on hold when calling a customer contact center, you will not be surprised to learn that 57% of the respondents to this survey said they would pay extra not to be put on hold, or have to talk with multiple service representatives, when dealing with a call center.

This survey queried over 1,000 consumers and 400 businesses in the United States and the United Kingdom about their interactions with telecom providers. While the results are industry specific, I believe similar findings would occur in most other industries and markets across the globe.

After all, the frustrations that customers feel about the service they receive, particularly when trying to reach a frontline support person, are universal.

“The Amdocs Customer Experience Survey proves that keeping customers happy is not just about reducing prices,” says Mr. Michael Matthews, Chief Marketing Officer of Amdocs. “By adopting an integrated customer management strategy, providers can get a full picture of their customer interactions. From there, they can identify customer needs and provide a differentiated and intentional customer experience. That is the right strategy regardless of whether the customers are consumers or large corporations.”

Customers buy experiences.

Customers pay for the experiences they receive from your organization ─ either in money, time, or both.

For many customers, perhaps even a majority, time is a more valuable currency than money.

As a result, many customers are willing to pay for convenience. In the Amdocs survey, a majority of respondents claimed they were willing to pay an extra US$5 a month if it meant that they would not be put on hold and not have to talk to multiple service representatives when contacting a telecom call center.

In a world of product parity and commoditization of both products and services, it may seem like price is the most important determining factor in the customer buying decision-making process.

But as the Amdocs survey results show, this may not always be the case. Even in the highly competitive telecoms industry, where product parity and service commoditization are the status quo, there are market segments eagerly willing to make purchase decisions on factors other than price.

In a world of customer experiences, sustainable growth will come to those who monitor and improve the experiences of customers at each and every point of interaction.

After all, good customers place a higher value on their experiences in dealing with organizations over the prices paid for products and services.

And since customer retention is all about the art of keeping good customers,™  focusing your efforts on improving convenience to customers and reducing their time costs when dealing with your organization is one of the best ways to improve the overall experiences of your customers.

 

KEY POINT:  customers pay for the experiences they receive from your organization ─ either in money, time, or both.

TAKING ACTION:  survey the top 20% of your customers and ask them specifically what steps you could take to improve your convenience to them. Also be sure to ask them if they would be willing to pay a fee to receive improved and more convenient service.

Monitor your call abandon rates, as well as the length of time customers spend on hold, at all your telephone service centers. Survey your customers about their experiences with your phone and call centers. Where is improvement needed?

Benchmark your customer experiences with those of your competitors. How can you make the customer experience a point of differentiation so that you do not need to compete as much on price?

A World of Customer Experiences

Every customer interaction is an opportunity to build long-term loyalty.

Customers buy experiences.

That is the premise behind the book Building Great Customer Experiences which I had the pleasure of reading several years ago.

The authors, Colin Shaw and John Ivens, have seven philosophies for building a great customer experience, including:

  • Great customer experiences are a source of long-term competitive advantage.
  • Great customer experiences are both revenue generating and cost reducing.
  • Great customer experiences are an embodiment of the brand.

In a world of product parity and commoditization of both products and services, their arguments make a great deal of sense. And even when customers buy products or services, they repeat buy based on their previous experiences.

It is interesting to observe how many organizations focus only on the customer experience at the beginning of the sales cycle, rather than at all points of interaction.

For instance, how many large retail stores have a greeter who welcomes people as they enter the store, but have no one to say “thank you” as the customers leave with their purchases?

Even worse, there are the stores that have people at the exits checking everyone’s shopping bags to make sure nothing is being stolen. How many thieves are caught or prevented by this? A few a week? That is not necessarily a good trade-off for making hundreds of people a day feel like their privacy is being violated or, worse, that they are being falsely considered as shoplifters.

People often cite the phrase that first impressions matter most. From a marketing perspective, I disagree. I often write that it is the last impression that matters most.

For instance, you may have a wonderful check-in experience and an enjoyable in-flight experience, but if your bags are not on the carousel promptly (or at all) at your final destination that will be the thing you remember most about your flight and the airline you flew.

Or, you may have wonderful help in the aisles of a store, but if you encounter a rude and surly cashier at the check-out counter that will be what you remember most of that particular visit to that store.

The entire shopping experience at Amazon is a delightful experience. This company understands the mentality of people who want to buy books, videos, CDs, and other merchandise from an online outlet. Likewise, Borders understands the mentality of people who want to buy books, videos, CDs, and other merchandise in a “bricks and mortar” retail outlet. Both are sellers of books. But, more important, both are sellers (and deliverers) of unique customer experiences.

The success of Starbucks comes not just from the taste of their coffee, but from the customer experiences they deliver to their sit-down and chat, take-away, and even drive-through customers. Buying and drinking a coffee from Starbucks is an experience, one that an increasing number of customers around the world appear to enjoy and repeat.

One of the secrets to increasing customer loyalty is to fully understand all the experiences customers have with your organization when they investigate, evaluate, purchase, use, and dispose of your products and services. Each point of interaction is an opportunity to build long-term customer loyalty. Each point of interaction is an opportunity for your organization to better understand your customers.

Your competitors can copy your products, replicate your services, and match your pricing strategies.

This means that the customer experience you deliver is one of the few marketing advantages remaining to keep your customers loyal and to convert occasional buyers into long-term and loyal customers.

In a world of customer experiences, sustainable growth will come to those who monitor and improve the experiences of customers at each and every point of interaction.

KEY POINT:  every point of interaction is an opportunity to build long-term customer loyalty.

TAKING ACTION:   walk through every location that your customers visit or see. What needs cleaning, fixing, brightening, toning down? Who are the staff talking with:  themselves or customers?  What do customers see in your environment ─ a company in control or one so cluttered it appears to be in control of nothing?

Touch everything your customers will touch. What feels good? What does not? What is warm?  What is cold? Is it nice to feel?  How do you react to this? How do your customers react to this?

Close your eyes and listen to the environment. What do you hear? Is the music too loud or not appropriate for your target customers? Are the staff talking about themselves or about customers and their needs?

Examine all forms.  Fill them out as if you were a customer. How can these be improved?

Call your call center with a complaint. How is this handled?

Call your call center with a query. How is this handled?

Review your website. How easy is it to contact your organization via the website? What information is lacking or missing (from a customer’s perspective)?

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

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).

Message to CEOs: Focus On Your Customers

The Purpose of Business Is To Attract and Keep Good Customers

Here is a scary thought for a Monday morning: many CEOs have lost sight of the importance of customers.

Oh sure, they do know that customers are the folks buying their products and that such sales are important. However, with a focus on quarterly sales and profit figures, head counts, share prices, mergers, cost structures, and other financial ratios, too many corporate leaders have lost the customer insights required to develop and maintain market leadership.

My long-held suspicions on this were confirmed in an article in Inside 1 to 1, the publication started by the Peppers & Rogers Group. Appropriately titled “Dear CEO: Don’t Leave Customers in the Dust,” the authors Don Peppers and Martha Rogers write that they are “amazed at the number of CEOs who give interviews on how to grow their companies, or even more fascinating, the CEOs who tell the media how they are going to save their failing companies, and yet make no reference to customers whatsoever.”

The authors tracked one month of interviews on business news channel CNBC and reported that “23 CEOs discussed their companies’ strategies and only six used the word customer” in their responses.

The authors also cite a Deloitte survey of 50 technology CEOs, which found that only six percent said building customer loyalty is their biggest challenge to sustaining growth. This was well behind other “more important” issues such as bringing new products to market (27%), hiring salespeople (18%), and developing strategic relationships (15%).

I have noticed this trend for several years in my own reading of business publications. Senior executives are more willing to talk about how they are cutting costs than about the steps their organizations are taking to better understand the changing needs, wants, and desires of customers.

Rare is the executive who claims “we are going to be successful and grow our business because we are listening to our customers and aligning our future products and services with their future needs.”

Fortunately, such executives are only rare, not yet extinct.

It is sad to watch stellar organizations go through cycles of poor leadership, wrongly placed focus, and lack of direction simply because senior management decides to take the corporate eyes off customer needs.

This happened to one industry-leading MNC in Southeast Asia, when several changes in management led to cost cuttings, reduction in staffing, and automation replacing humans at key points of interaction with customers. This company was previously the benchmark for customer service in its industry. Today, customers constantly comment that “they used to be the best, but now they are the same as everyone else.”

Not surprisingly, this company has also seen massive staff turnover within its middle management ranks, something that was unheard of only a few years ago.

As the legendary Peter Drucker wrote, “the purpose of business is to attract and keep customers.”

This phrase should be posted on the walls nearest every CEO desk.

And next to it should be a poster saying “My primary role as CEO is to ensure we build loyalty with our customers and our employees.”

Customers. Employees. Operations. This is what CEOs should focus on, and in the same order as the letters in their titles.

The ones who do this are the ones who will build sustainable and profitable businesses over the long haul.

KEY POINT:  senior management should focus on customers first, employees second, and operations third.

TAKING ACTION:  review your last dozen public or internal pronouncements on your organization’s business strategy. How many of these include comments and directions on customers and customer needs? What priority is given, if any, to customers and customer needs?

Ask yourself, how much time per month do you spend in internal meetings? How much time do you spend attending to operational or financial issues? Then calculate how much time you have remaining for meeting customers and coaching employees. If you are not happy with the results from these calculations, what steps do you need to make immediately to give higher priority to customers and employees?

Go out and meet with customers. Conduct account reviews with your large and high potential customers. Gain insights into their current and future needs. Ask them questions about their business and where their industry is headed. Ask them how they view their relationships with your organization.

Bring together your leadership team for a full-day discussion on customers and customer needs. Enforce this rule: no discussions on sales forecasts, profit projections, cost structures, or internal constraints. Simply discuss your customers’ current and future needs. Then discuss how you can profitably provide solutions to these needs.

 

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

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