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Don't Let Customer Service Be An After-Thought

My wife is the acid test for customer experience. She is hell week for the insurance business. God help the person on the other end of the line, at the genius bar, behind any and all desks if she’s the customer. If your engagement is lacking in any way at all, your employee may quit once they get off the phone with my wife. 

But the passive-aggressive folks, which is most of us, are much worse for your company, because you will only know they are unhappy when you check out your sales volume. Focusing on customer experience pays off. And it should be a fundamental business driver. As Rockwell Clancy II, VP at J.D. Power, said during a keynote at The Conference Board’s 11th annual Customer Experience Conference in New York last week, satisfied customers are more likely to refer clients and business. They spend more on ancillary services, come back more and are willing to pay a premium price for things like upgraded rooms, if, for example, you're in the hospitality business. For companies like insurance, renewal rates are higher for companies that deliver a better experience. And, as he pointed out, the cost to serve is less because less friction for the customer means less wasted time and effort for the company. 

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But, as he pointed out, a lot of companies still see customer service as something you do with whatever money you still have in the fiscal budget. “What surprises us is that if there is that understanding, why is it that many companies continue to languish in the mediocrity of subpar performance, or struggle to break out of the path and go from average to above average?” That may have something to do with why the same companies always dominate. 

Corporate culture is a cliche, and he made the point that terms like that have a negative effect: it's part of their culture. We don't have it. What's the point? Well, it's possible to change it, whatever you call it. “We would argue that culture can be developed,” says Clancy. He identifies six elements that get in the way of realistically boosting customer experience. One is simply missing the big picture, preferring instead to play whack-a-mole, as he puts it. Second, which I see as a philosophical extension of the first: not seeing things as they really are. Third, stepping over the dollar to pick up the dime by avoiding committing to long-term investments to fix consumer engagement, which is also a kind of whack-a-mole. And organizational ADD, meaning a failure to focus attention and resources on a vital few versus trivial many. Then there's the issue of not being accountable when it counts. And, finally, there's not seeing the forest for the data: you're measuring but not using the results to actually manage. 

A great example from Clancy of how not seeing reality can hurt business. Take an old-school bank with exemplary customer service driven by personal interaction with personal bankers, tellers and call center. Second, a new bank focused on digital and online, because that's where business is going. That bank understands that good customer service is migrating to digital like everything else. That automatically puts this bank ahead. “The key is looking at the world as it is, versus an insular perspective where you only consider what you see in front of you. Your opinion is irrelevant. It is the customer's perspective that matters.” 

Organizational ADD? That’s a bit like the steaks/chops/seafood Greek diners that used to be New York staple. You could always get food that was pretty good. Not great. Because their menu was the size of “War and Peace” and they aren't great at anything. “Most companies are working on a customer engagement project for an hour or two a week. It won't get done,” says Clancy, suggesting it’s the Nemo challenge. Remember the end of “Finding Nemo,” where Dory is caught in a big net, stuffed with fish, each swimming in a different direction. Only when Nemo exhorts them to get organized and swim down together do they escape. “You have to be able to prioritize, brutally; get rid of whatever won't have an impact; beware of the 'if not now, never' fallacy. The list of the project goes from 10 to 50 because people think if it isn't on the list it won't get done.”

2 comments about "Don't Let Customer Service Be An After-Thought ".
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  1. Joe Marzano from Martius Group LLC, April 3, 2015 at 9:23 a.m.

    Karl, the two big take-aways are that the customer perspective matters most, and prioritize (the customer) brutally.

    Working for decades with dozens of organizations across the US, early on as marketer and later as CEO and senior advisor, I have found that even well crafted business and brand strategy must align with behaviors and be current with customers. The key to great organizations we see is in their commitment to a chosen culture and vision eminating from the board and C-suite.

    Sadly few leader teams effectively align themselves and their organization around common culture and customers, and then fail in executing even clever concepts. Great customer service is not something to "get around to", it is endemic and embedded into the very fiber of an organization's being.

    A service-driven, servant leader culture must come from the persistent commitment of the owner, CEO and/or board. As the ancient proverb says, a fish rots from it's head down. I invest a lot of time helping really smart leaders avoid stinking thinking so they can survive and thrive.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 3, 2015 at 9:57 a.m.

    When there is only one company, one ownership with "branches", even 2, in your area that services your needs, companies are wont to add "expenses". It applies to the mega corporations and to smaller towns with corporate owned, locally run funeral homes. Consumer responsibility is priority only if it is profitable and most of the time it is a cost.

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