Do the right- and left-hand work together?
When was the last time you were a customer of your own business? Undercover Boss may not have really made it as a tv sensation and you may not even like the idea of “fooling” employees, but as leaders, don’t we have a responsibility to verify that what we intend to deliver to customers actually gets delivered? When was the last time you were able to be an “everyday” customer at your own business? By “everyday” I mean not served as the CEO or head of a department but just like anyone else? Do you ever spot check the brand interaction touchpoints with customers such as sales and service? Call the 1-800 number with a problem. Order the product and monitor results against expectations. Review complaints (I mean read the actual complaint and follow up to see the final outcome). Visit “stores” or physical buildings to see how well it works (agree this is harder to do incognito). How do you know if the intention matches the reality?
One of the reasons I bring this up is because I have experienced some disappointments lately from highly thought of brands. In this case, consumer goods, but I have seen it in commercial markets too. What we strategize to do for our customers isn’t always consistent with their experience. So, a few experiences lately:
- A broken promise on delivery time with no follow-up or amends. Happens all the time, right? Customers should expect it, right? In this case it was seasonal goods and we got delivery when the season was over, and all the other seasonal items were on a deep discount by this very same vendor. We were not offered any compensation for the inconvenience. It probably wouldn’t have been so irritating if we were kept apprised, but we were not, regardless of the promises made at the time of purchase. We took away the feeling that we were just cash flow not customers. Make the sale at all costs and don’t worry about anything after that. Does your company ever do that? Promise something in a transaction they can’t deliver on and then shrug when there is a complaint, chalking it up to the “bad supply chain”. That is a reputation basher. Develop a customer-friendly promise about delivery time accuracy, communications, and consequences.
- One of the most common negative experiences I have is anytime the customer service rep says, “It is our policy….”. I know you know this already, but customers don’t care about policies. They care about empathy. As a customer you know the person on the other end of the line didn’t create the problem, but their company did, and they represent the company. You expect them to take responsibility on its behalf. Their job is to make the customer feel valued. While customer service folks may have to regularly field complaints as part of their job, each person deserves to be heard, their frustration recognized, and a heartfelt apology offered if things didn’t go as planned. What is important is how do customers feel about their problem after talking to customer service—better or worse? If there are more than a few who feel worse, your company will have a problem with loyalty.
- A distributor was in the fortunate position of being well respected and ahead of the curve for its state-of-the-art products. Naturally, the company got really busy. When we did a customer survey, we discovered that customers were not as satisfied as expected. While some of it was related to supply chain issues as mentioned above, the bulk of it was aimed at lack of communication. People in the company were not consistently responding to customer inquiries whether it was a request for proposal or bid, or an inquiry on a current project. In fact, almost half were somewhat satisfied or not satisfied. Quick action to change the conversation, acknowledge the challenges, and redesign the process were necessary. Which brings me to an important point. If you can’t go incognito, then ask customers what they think, what they like and what they don’t. Even better—do both! Not many of my clients have hard data on customers and rely on anecdotal evidence. And since we are human, we often remember the great stuff and write off the bad as exceptions.
Accept the challenge of “testing” potential weak links in customer touchpoints, conducting meaningful and insightful customer surveys, and immediately address what you find. Companies who are considered exceptional often have a strong “outside-in” mentality, gathering information from customers and adapting to increase the high bar of how well their products and services meet and exceed expectations in every way.