by James D. Roumeliotis
We constantly hear remarks and stories of deplorable customer service. I would think that brands would be more attentive and proactive. Unfortunately, this is not the case. You would have thought that they would make “devotion” a coherent strategy.
It should begin with the “trust” factor. Seth Godin, the much regarded marketer, asserts, “Institutions and relationships don’t work without trust. It’s not an accident that a gold standard in business is being able to do business on a handshake. Today, though, it’s easier than ever to build a facade of trust but not actually deliver. “Read the fine print,” the financial institutions, cruise ship operators and business partners tell us after they’ve failed to honor what we thought they promised.”
“Devotion” on the other hand, is instinctive – an emotional connection to you, your brand, your company, and your products. It’s what your customers (new, existing or former) are saying about you on Twitter, Facebook and other online social networks.
Customer experience as the key competitive differentiator
Your best defense and your competitive differentiator is your ability to create great experiences for your customers. It goes without much thought that loyal customers come back and purchase more because they get their needs served and/or problems solved.
Marty Neumeier puts it clearly in his book, “The Brand Gap: The brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” Talking to prospects and customers is paramount to get a sense of what they’re thinking. What values are your customers receiving from your business along with its products or services? How does that experience compare with what other similar providers you may know deliver? Then how does what the consumers have said about the brand experience line up with what the company believes it delivers?
If we compare the customer experiences of say, Best Buy vs. Amazon, the differences are quite evident as to who is doing a proper job making their customers content and devoted. When a client mistakenly purchases the wrong DVD at Best Buy – one he already had and returns the next day to exchange it for the correct one and all he hears from the customer service staff member is, “Sorry, DVDs are “software” and can’t be returned or exchanged once sold – no exceptions!”, it makes you think how aggravating it is to do business with that big box retailer. Amazon, on the other hand, not only allows easy return or exchange for DVDs without restrictions; the company will even buy back ones you’re finished with. Moreover, even if the customer is outside the return window or is otherwise technically not entitled to do what he’s/she’s asking to do, the company will go out of its way to bend its policies in the interest of happy customers and the enduring customer relationship. The difference? Amazon does what customers want – it completely crafts its business practices, its systems, and its people to support it, whereas, Best Buy does what would be most convenient for the company for consumers to want but don’t, then hope for the best. That’s not a consumer driven strategy by any stretch of the imagination.
Customer loyalty in the luxury domain
Over in the luxury sector, sought after by discerning clientele, the product itself does not suffice. Hermès has impeccable products, the top-tier of luxury goods,” said Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, New York. “In terms of what customers want, they have the top design, quality and craftsmanship. What Hermès may need, however, is a refresher course in customer experience.”
“Consumers tell us in research and anecdotally Hermès is the pinnacle of product delivery, but they could become far better in customer experience,” Mr. Pedraza said.
Automobile manufacturer Audi focuses relentlessly on being the number one premium car brand, and number one for customer satisfaction among competing brands. This approach is firmly rooted in building satisfaction and loyalty among existing customers so when it’s time to replace their car they buy another Audi. In developing a clear differentiation from its competitors, they don’t solely emphasize the quality of their cars – they add the pizzazz of customer experience and service. Achieving this relies in part on two key factors defined by the executives at Audi: delivering excellent customer satisfaction, and making Audi the best place to work in order to attract the best quality people, who will deliver that customer experience.
What can those on the front lines do to enhance the customer experience?
There are companies which spend a significant amount of money in marketing to entice prospects into a paying customer. However, once the prospect is at the stage of dealing with a company’s staff, the outcome lies in the hands of those employees who many are not adequately trained, if at all, to offer a positive experience. This type of “human marketing” undoubtedly moves beyond the marketing department. It’s about every employee and manager in the company delivering on the promise made to the new customer and giving them additional reasons to purchase repeatedly from the same outfit and receive recommendations too. In essence, this requires all employees and managers to be on the same page and understand that their job is to retain happy customers. The name of the game is to build a lasting, profitable relationship with them, and turn them loyal and devoted, thus, repeat customers who become passionate and recommend/refer your company to their friends, family and business associates.
Whether it’s B2C or B2B, sales and marketing people should co-exist, as well as the people in finance who are normally not considered marketing oriented but rather analytical. Equally trained to be customer centric is the receptionist, delivery people, and in the manufacturing industry, the product development division should be well versed with their target consumers’ requirements.
Founded in 1997 in the UK, YO! Sushi brought the concept of a Japanese “kaiten” sushi bar that delivers food to customers via a conveyor belt traveling 8cm (about 3 inches) per second. It has become the original and most famous sushi brand in the UK. The experience is fun and exciting, whilst the food is considered, by many of its patrons, revolutionary and made lovingly. Simon Woodroffe, its visionary entrepreneur and founder, built his business beyond the “buy”. For him the profit is in the “buy again.” He doesn’t want you to just come and eat at his restaurant once, he wants you to become a customer for life and repeat buy from his establishment, so that his marketing spend on initially attracting you to his restaurant in the first place can be recovered. By the time you are on your second and third visit, he has recovered his marketing investment in getting you as a customer, and you are now becoming a profitable, loyal and devoted repeat customer.
All employees should be considered as an entire marketing team. As such, they must be placed at the center of the business and continually developed, inspired, trained and given the tools to perform at the highest level. There is no such thing as an ideal time to do so – regardless of the economic downturn as all companies must work harder to attract and retain customers.
Take into account that:
– In a progressive customer driven entity, training and developing the human assets should be an ongoing process;
– Companies should be an enemy of the “status quo”;
– Mystery shopping (in person and/or by phone, as well as online) should be frequently conducted to get a sense of what an actual customer experiences – then taking action to rectify and improve the experience.
Case Study: Zappos
The following is the Zappos business mantra which should serve as inspiration for customer driven enterprises.
What customers get to see displayed prominently on the web site:
o 24/7 1-800 number on every page
o Free shipping
o Free return shipping
o 365-day return policy
What customers will experience:
o Fast, accurate fulfillment
o Most customers are “surprise”-upgraded to overnight shipping
o Creating a “WOW” factor
o Friendly, helpful “above and beyond” customer service
o Occasionally direct customers to competitors’ web sites
What’s done behind the scenes?
o No call times, no sales-based performance goals for representatives
o The telephone is considered for them one of the best branding devices available.
o Run warehouse 24/7. Inventory all products (no drop-shipping).
o 5 weeks of culture, core values, customer service, and warehouse training for everyone in Las Vegas office.
o A Culture Book
o Interviews & performance reviews are 50% based on core values and culture fit.
All employees should be marketers
• What are you and your team presently doing to make certain that your active customers don’t belong to your competitors tomorrow?
• How is the present customer experience perceived with your organization, product and/or service? How would you describe your internal culture, core values, and customer service policies/procedures?
• Finally: Are your customers devoted, loyal, or simply bored doing business with your organization?
Devotion should be considered a walking and talking advertisement – a potent word-of-mouth. Consequently, customer devotion should be the ultimate goal of every business leader and sales professional.