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.

 

 

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.

The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo

10th Ranked Marketing Book in Amazon Kindle Store.

Our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo was ranked as high as #4 marketing book in the Amazon Kindle Store over the weekend. This morning it is #10.

To celebrate this achievement, along with a personal milestone birthday, we are giving away free Kindle versions of The Best of the Monday Marketing Memo today.

For many years, the Monday Morning Marketing Memo was one of the most popular marketing e-newsletters around the world. It was read by business owners, entrepreneurs, senior executives, and marketing practitioners in organizations big and small.

Slightly edited, revised, and updated as needed, the 42 Monday Morning Marketing Memo issues reprinted in this book are the ones that generated the most commentary, queries, discussions, and feedback from readers around the world.

These 42 issues discuss a wide range of diverse topics, including corporate branding, customer retention, marketing strategies, and sales management skills.

The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo will help business executives, entrepreneurs and marketers focus on the key marketing topics that will help you grow your businesses, retain customers, and leverage your corporate brands.

Click on any of the book title links above to be taken directly to the Amazon Kindle store to download your free copy of The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo. Hurry though as these free copies are only available until this evening (Oct 17, 2016). Tomorrow the regular price of $3.88 returns.

In celebration of my birthday weekend we are also giving away three other free Kindle books today, including two more of my most popular marketing books and the #1 leadership book in the Amazon Kindle store:  8 Keys To Becoming A Great Leader (With Leadership Lessons from Gibbs, Yoda and Capt’n Jack Sparrow). Details of these books are in this Keeping Good Customers Blog post. Again this is the last day these books will be free in the Kindle store.

Terrible Marketing Advice

The Strategic Importance of a Strong Corporate Brand

A few weeks ago I downloaded some product information from a company selling CRM software.

About a week later I received an extremely delightful email that said in part:

Recently, you requested information about “XYZ  CRM”.  I want to thank you for your interest in our product, which is why I’m going to send you a valuable marketing course that will help you evaluate your current marketing efforts and give you tips that will definitely increase your profits.

This marketing course is called “6 Magnetic Marketing Secrets To Explode Your Profits.” You’ll get an email once a week that gives you powerful marketing advice for your business, which you can use right away to close more sales and make more money with your business.

I was suitably impressed…until I received part one of their six-part so-called “marketing” course.

Called “Secret #1: The Real Definition of Successful Marketing,” this initial communiqué states that “there are only three factors that influence the profitability of any marketing effort. The smartest marketing minds on the planet have sifted these factors down to this simple, but powerful formula:

The Right Message. To the Right Market. At the Right Time!”

That is the problem when someone tries to boil marketing down to a “simple formula.” They tend to ignore factors like having the right product solution, the right distribution and delivery system, the right branding strategy and, of course, a profitable pricing strategy.

Of course, these guys are trying to sell CRM software solutions, so they appear only concerned with the “selling side” of the marketing equation. But nevertheless, that does not give them the right to broadcast such a misleading interpretation of the essence of marketing to their potential customers.

If they wanted to use an all-encompassing phrase to depict the real meaning and quintessence of marketing, they should have asked to use the one created by the mind of this marketing professional:

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

Now, with their focus on selling CRM systems, and their pitch on tracking all customer and prospect communications, these guys compound the error of their ways by offering free marketing advice in this so-called “marketing course.”

They claim that “not using the three marketing success factors and/or little or no direct response offers costs companies millions in missed sales every year!”

That is almost funny because, from almost all the articles I have read about the problems of implementing CRM systems, it appears that it is these implementation problems that are costing companies hundreds of millions in missed sales and lost customers every year.

But that is beside the point, at least for now.

What galls me the most about their free marketing advice is their first point on how to “fix” the problems of these lost sales. This advice is to:

Never waste money on image advertising, or at least keep it to a minimum and only try creating yourself or your company as a brand after becoming profitable!

What utter nonsense! What utter lack of understanding of how to create and leverage a brand. What complete confusion and wrong impression about the strategic importance of having a strong corporate brand in today’s ultra-competitive markets.

In other words, what total idiots!

It is only a sense of professionalism, combined with pity for their misguided ways, which prevents my total outrage at their spreading their mistaken and erroneous claptrap from telling our Monday Morning Marketing Memo readers who “XYZ CRM” actually is.

I will share this week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo with the person sending out their email campaign. I will also point them to the classic advertisement from McGraw-Hill that ran in the 1950s. The copy platform of this ad was quite simple, yet effective:

I don’t know who you are.

I don’t know your company.

I don’t know what your company stands for.

I don’t know your company’s customers.

I don’t know your company’s record.

I don’t know your company’s reputation.

Now ─ what is it you wanted to sell me?

Come to think of it, in terms of the “XYZ CRM” company, I don’t know who they are, what they stand for, their customers, their track record, or even their reputation. All I know is that they give out awful free marketing advice.

And for me, that’s enough NOT to recommend them to anyone now, or in the near future.

Perhaps they ought to reconsider their own policies, and their own advice, by figuring out how to create a strong corporate brand for themselves that can be leveraged for greater sales, higher margins, and better profitability.

In the meantime, I caution all readers to be leery of free marketing advice, especially when this is promulgated by sales people more interested in meeting quarterly sales targets than in helping you to better understand how to use the power of marketing to create and grow your own sustainable business.

KEY POINT:  do not overlook the strategic importance of having a strong corporate brand in today’s ultra-competitive markets.

TAKING ACTION:  be leery of free marketing advice, particularly when it is not proffered by professional marketing people, but by those eager to sell you their goods and services.

When was the last time you took a good, hard look at your corporate brand and the impact of this on both your future sales and your customer retention levels? Have you become so comfortable with your corporate brand that you have forgotten to check its pulse with your customers, prospects, employees, and the communities you serve?

Contact us today for an in-depth discussion on how we can help you evaluate your corporate brand and devise strategies to leverage your corporate image to enhance the sustainable growth of your business.

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.

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.

12 Marketing Principles

The Importance of Core Marketing Beliefs

Do you have a set of marketing principles or philosophies that you follow? I do.

I find having a written set of marketing principles gives me a great reference point when making recommendations to clients on their branding or marketing strategies. It also means my recommendations are based on a core set of beliefs, not current marketing trends and fashionable marketing ideas.

In no particular order of importance, these 12 marketing principles are:

  1. Segment customers based on customer needs, not the needs of your organization and not based around the structures of your existing organizational chart.
  2. In order for customers to see you as a unique brand or service provider, you need to treat them as unique individuals ─ with individually unique needs, wants, desires, likes, and dislikes.
  3. Remember that when dealing with customers (even in the B2B world) you are dealing with fellow human beings, not revenue streams. Thus, every customer matters and every customer interaction matters (especially to the customer).
  4. The era of mass production required mass communications. Today’s era of individual customers and smaller customer segments requires a more individualized approach to marketing communications.
  5. Your fellow employees communicate your brand’s true value to customers. Every employee interaction with a customer or prospect, therefore, either enhances or denigrates your brand reputation and the customer’s brand experience.
  6. With the increased importance of Corporate Social Responsibility, your corporate image is more important than ever. How your corporate image is managed is critical. After all, competitors can replicate your products and services, beat you up on price, outspend you in promotions, and outperform you in distribution. However, the one thing competitors cannot copy or duplicate is a well defined, well managed corporate image.
  7. The Four Ps of Customer Retention (People, Policies, Processes / Procedures, and Prevention) are more relevant for retaining customers captured through the time honored marketing mix than the original Four Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion, and place) created over 40 years ago by Professor Philip Kotler.
  8. It is not what you communicate, it is what your customers hear that is most important. Customers have learned how to filter out traditional marketing messages and now, with devices such as TiVo and email filters, have the tools to do so. Getting customers to hear your marketing messages requires greater creativity, increased innovation, and heightened integration.
  9. Profitability is not very useful or informative for understanding customer needs.
  10. Focus on your customers and their needs, wants, desires, likes, and dislikes. Remember, if you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.
  11. CRM works better when it means Customer Retention Marketing. Customer Retention is the art of keeping good customers™ and should be the cornerstone foundation for all long-term marketing strategies.
  12. If it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™ Marketing is the integrator across all business lines and all internal departments.

I hope you are able to put some, if not all, of the above marketing principles into practice.

 

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

TAKING ACTION:  what are your own personal marketing principles? How do these impact the short-term and long-term decisions you make?

Circulate the list above to your staff or fellow colleagues. Discuss which ones instinctively feel right for your organization. Why?

How could these be disseminated widely throughout your department, business unit, or entire organization?

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