The doctor is in. And after an examination, we find the patient can only see things that are close and immediate. Long-term goals appear to be out of reach. There appears to be substantial room for improvement.
The paradigms upon which our practice is based:
Happier customers stay longer and buy more. Anyone disagree? Let me see a show of hands.
And the flipside: The number one reason a customer chooses to sever a relationship is dissatisfaction. Again, anyone disagree?
In an age of confusion, stasis and exceedingly low expectations, customer care can become a defining and uniquely compelling differentiator. Customers are hungry for courtesy, recognition, trust, and respect.
This seems completely lost on many corporations. Here are the symptoms:
Customer care is often the provenance and mantra of the customer-facing personnel, who are usually at the bottom of the corporate food chain—the lowest paid and least regarded. Perhaps in the call center. You know, the trolls under the bridge.
The C-suiters, who are usually not customer facing, see customer care as squishy, feel-good stuff—not a hard metric like, say, immediate sales. It's a cost, not a profit center, and costs are to be driven down. And could you please keep those trolls out of sight?
The diagnosis: This disconnect on customer care between the suits and the trolls ensures everyone loses.
Both the customer and the company are short-changed. Customers are herded through turnstiles. The length and depth of the customer relationship, or the investment in customer care, is the time and effort it takes to get each individual to put the coin in the slot.
Companies operate largely by the principle it would be a wonderful business if it weren't for those annoying customers. A customer is measured by the short-term revenue generated, and then we begin the process all over again. The long-term will take care of itself.
If what we really want to do is build a highly projectable, highly profitable business based on substantial and compelling competitive differentiation (which is not spelled l-o-w-er c-o-s-t), change is in order.
Obviously, the power is in the hands of the C-suite. Change simply does not happen from the bottom up. So here is my prescription for you senior execs. Four not-so-bitter pills, so that everyone wins:
1. Turn customer satisfaction into a hard metric. Look, this isn't rocket science. There are companies, among them the largest computer company on the planet, who have figured out how many millions of dollars hang on each percentage point of customer sat (customer care is the strategy; customer sat is a measure).
This is absolutely essential if you are to reap the benefits of customer care implemented as a strategic product, thus lengthening and deepening the income stream from each customer.
Said differently, corporate strategies that do not have a meaningful system of measurement and reward for everyone (like short-term sales) are otherwise referred to a mirage.
2. Walk the talk. If the C-suite bans smoking on premises and then enjoys an afternoon cigar in the executive dining room, everyone's BS meter is going off the charts. If we're going to be serious about this, it starts with you. A suggestion—if you are blessed to have a field sales force, go out on some sales calls. Don't dominate. Listen.
3. Thank-you marketing. Call up customers who have just bought, introduce yourself, and say thank you. No kidding.
One company I know of had experienced a sharp decline in customer satisfaction. Research revealed several reasons, one of them best expressed by the verbatim, "The fastest way to be forgotten is to buy." Customer perception was that the company was entirely focused on immediate sales, and once the sale was completed, the customer dropped off the radar. Once they bought, no one returns a call.
The CEO mandated a change: A senior exec would call after each sale to say thank you. Not to sell, but to simply say thanks and then listen. Customers were stunned. Then bowled over. Then they talked. A lot.
4. Rep for a day. Everyone on staff must spend a day (or a morning, or two hours) handling customer calls and taking ownership of their questions and issues. And each should author a subsequent report recounting what they learnt, how that affects brand, and three action items to improve.
Will all this silly customer care stuff work? Does it make sense? Ask any troll.
Scott Hornstein is the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing" and president of Hornstein Associates in Redding, CT. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.