Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Even though Brogan talks of this idea in an online context (Read more here: Every Day is Someone’s First Day) the power of this idea can truly be tested if it can be replicated in a brick and mortar situation. New customers walk into a store everyday and identifying them no doubt is an improbable task. But if retail stores can find a method to the madness it can create loyalty and in an increasingly congested market, differentiation.
So how would you create a First Day experience for your customers?
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Friday, December 2, 2011
Friday, November 25, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
The city of Oshawa in Canada is an exemplary example of a city that made customer service a priority. The city hired RBosch Consulting to execute this impressive plan. A study was initiated through interviews with the Mayor, city councilors and a Working Committee instituted for this purpose. Using data from these interviews, RBosch designed a set of guiding principles which define Oshawa’s customer service. They identified opportunities for service improvements and finally delivered a roadmap for them. Goals were drawn up which would be assessed time to time and a plan for a Contact Center implementation was also put into place to enable a centralized service delivery mechanism.
Many elements came together for the city of Oshawa to get it right. The critical success factors for this ambitious project were:
- Senior Management and Political Support
- Adequate Resources
- Staff Buy in and Communication
- Clear Vision
- Enabling Technology
Monday, October 10, 2011
Expensive advertising, flashy brand ambassadors, thousands of minutes of prime time television space and ‘shout at the top of your voices’ ambient campaigns seem to be the only way companies believe a brand can be built. They cannot be blamed for this view as it as an approach that has worked effectively but only in the short term. Companies do not realize that the only significant outcome of the above measures is creating excitement and not necessarily building the brand. So how about using ‘customer service’ as a game changer for your brand building efforts?
To build your brand using customer service, aligning your brand intent to a strategic intent becomes imperative. A company needs to look at its overall strategic direction and brand related communications. From there it should look at its available resources and develop a plan around its existing customer service practices to ensure the brand spends more time building itself in the customer service stage. To do this a company has to put certain checklists in place.
The above measures mainly emphasize the need to align your brand with all customer service related activities. By doing that a customer can easily connect with the brand, instead of just connecting with the product, which in the long run builds stronger brands with defined brand commitments and not just flashy flirtations.
This is what we think, what do you think?
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Sub context – that of alignment. Every part of the organization needs to align to the thought and goals of the thought of customer experience. Enough examples of great copy and tag lines and completely divergent behaviour on the ground. Not surprising – each of us as customers experiences this dissonance every day between what the brand promises and how we get treated by our service providers.
Going out on a limb: “the changing nature of the human being” is something that is wrongly ascribed (IMHO) solely to all these ecosystem factors and changing technology. Mostly we (businesses) TEACH customers to be disloyal! Every day in every way most of my service providers tell me that I am in NO way benefitted by being an old and loyal customer. “Change brands as often as you can” - they tell me. And who am I to resist?! J
Reflects the core points made by all the speakers. Too much focus on scale, growth, acquisition and practically everything at the cost of experience. Disengaged, un-empowered employees consistently fail to internalize and deliver the promised experience. Non-aligned (desirable as a mechanism of foreign policy perhaps, but here, disastrous!) structures, systems and processes. Teaches little old me to be disloyal!
The views expressed are mine, ONLY mine, and nobody else can be put in jail for them!
Thursday, August 11, 2011
All of us are consumers and some of us are service providers and every consumer is different in her own way. Some of them are constantly teaching us a thing or two while most of us obstinately refuse to learn or change. Having made some dramatic statements that run the risk of sounding pompous, let me cut to the chase and to my own story and see if there is any learning. It started on a Sunday afternoon, which, incidentally, happened to be the third day of the Nottingham Test which was at an interesting stage. At least, it was, when I was watching it at the airport waiting for my flight to be called. England and Bell were just turning it around.
I am sure you are asking me why any sane guy would travel on Sunday evening, particularly on the third day of an important Test match. But then I am a committed executive (!) serving his company and (hopefully) his clients in the bargain and more importantly because I wanted to start a training programme at 9 a.m. the following day. At times my own dedication shocks me!
But less of me and more of my travails as a customer, as I flew into Mumbai on the day that city received the maximum rainfall this year.
King, pauper or in between
As I am a King Club Member, I flew with the “king of good times”. After all, who wants to be a mere passenger when he has the option of being a guest at Mr Mallya's house? The flight was on time, which was great news to a passenger to whom delayed flights are as common as Praveen Kumar's altercations with umpires, who are reluctant to raise their fingers to fervent and frantic appeals. But that was later. Before that, I settled into my seat ready to watch a third-rate Hindi movie as has been my habit for several months now. I kept pressing every button in the seat and kept looking anxiously at the screen as a teenager might at the bill when he takes his girlfriend to an expensive restaurant. There was no light at the end of the television screen and there was neither a C-grade movie nor a news channel which might have the score at the bottom of the screen. I almost lost it.
But then I remembered I was on good behaviour (which my family might not believe). I have these bouts of geniality, which, sadly though, are not all that frequent but come to the rescue of service providers. So I politely asked the stewardess what the problem was. She smiled sweetly. Sometimes I wonder how airline stewardesses can smile after pouring scalding hot coffee on your thigh! While she had done nothing as exciting or as hot, she said politely that the entertainment system was not working.
Of course, while there was a glossy brochure in the pouch which listed all the programmes and which is one of the reasons why I travel by Kingfisher, the reality was that the entertainment was not working. While mechanical failures are a fact of life, human failures are a little more difficult to stomach.
I wish, I only wish someone had made an announcement or better still made an apology for the entertainment not working. Is that too much to ask for? Do guests have a say, or is all this talk of treating passengers as guests a mere line?
Ian Bell has a good time
Whether I was having a good time or not, Bell was having a great time as Indians were treating him to long hops outside the off stump and full tosses on the leg stump. He was being truly treated as a guest in the Indian dressing room. Well, soon the batsman was thinking of scones and tea and trooped off for tea even before the umpires called for the break.
The Indians woke up and pulled off the bails and the dozing Bell suddenly realised that the party was over. Soon the Indians had a couple of guests in their dressing room as they tiredly sipped their tea. The English captain and coach promptly made their appearance. After all, mental disintegration is complete when the opposition team is not allowed to have its tea in peace, right? Anyway, they asked Dhoni to reconsider the appeal and Dhoni, perhaps recalling what his ancestors were regularly doing till 1947, agreed, albeit reluctantly.
I had missed all that though I was being flooded with Blackberry messengers and text messages. I went to my hotel, keen to catch up.
Who wants TV; radio is the medium of today
Our hosts had put us up in a hotel called VITS. I had never heard of that hotel, but trusted the judgment of our hosts. I was pleasantly surprised to note that it was from the same group as Orchid, a hotel I had stayed in several times in the past and where the South Indian restaurant Vindhyas had effortlessly increased my weight.
The room was nice, the layout similar to the Orchid and I switched on the TV set, in pleasurable anticipation of an Indian revival. Imagine my horror when I realised that the TV set had a mere 15 channels and Star Cricket was not one of them!
My geniality evaporated and my scowl matched Harbhajan's expression, which has been a feature of this English tour. But one of the features of the Ramanujams is that we don't take things lying down, particularly when it comes to the gentleman's game, more so when Dhoni had done the ultimate gentlemanly thing even if it was under duress!
I called the duty manager and there was a Maharashtrian gentleman there. I asked him in my sweetest tone as to why there was no Star Cricket in the room and as a Maharashtrian whether he watched the cricket at all. One of the basic principles of service providers is not to try to be fresh, particularly when their customers are angry. Perhaps thinking he would endear himself to me, he said that he too wanted to watch the cricket but what to do the cable had a technical problem. I asked to speak to his boss and he said I could do so the next morning.
I was quickly losing it and ran the risk of being banned as I asked for the number of the boss. He politely refused. I was ranting now and asked for the technician. The technician promptly arrived and said in his truthful way that Star Cricket was not being subscribed to. I was mad, but not mad enough to not follow the match and did so on my computer, as I heard the Test Match Special as I had done three decades ago, even as I waited for the next morning and the general manager of the hotel.
The morning after
Morning followed murkily, India was in the doldrums and I was getting more annoyed by the moment. I promptly met the Front Office Manager of the hotel, who was all smiles and said he knew about the problem and would fix it. I reminded him that the match started at 3.30 p.m.
I went back at 5 p. m., after the sessions, hoping against hope. Well, nothing had changed, neither India's fortunes nor the TV channel. When I confronted the manager, he said he had called the cable operator and there was a ‘technical problem”. I was amazed.
Did he really think I was born yesterday? Even an eight-year-old would know that it was DTH, which could be subscribed to at short notice and I had volunteered to pay! In hindsight it was probably better that I did not watch India's humiliation but my misery was complete when Geoffrey Boycott compared India to Bangladesh and unfavourably at that on radio, my now trusted media partner.
I walked morosely out to dinner to the restaurant to be greeted by posters of Mr Kamat, the owner of the hotel (someone I admire enormously), speaking of his inspirations. I just thought that he might have been better served worrying about his customers. But then who am I to complain about big hotel magnates? And yet as a customer, I started wondering about what ails customer service in the hospitality industry specifically and in the country in general. What was the problem? The money or lack of empowerment?
Do we empower routinely?
I believe we handle routine service issues well but get into trouble when the issue is non-routine. Should the lobby manager have been empowered? Should the manager of the hotel not have tried to be “smart” with his guest and told him something that was patently false? Should I have quietly gone away thinking dark thoughts? Sadly, I am today's customer. I have a voice and I will share it. But, if only, if only the hotel had shown the slightest empathy for me or even tried to handle my problem I would have been satisfied. I would have told the whole world of how much they cared. Solving a customer's problem is the easiest way to her heart and wallet.
But is someone listening?
I flew back by Kingfisher. The entertainment system was not working. Now, of course, I am used to this.
And yet, I believe some good came out of all this. I was so mad at everything that I cancelled my trip to England and shelved my plans to watch the third Test at Edgbaston.
Who knows, that might well be the change of fortune that India needs!
Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
Read my blog @ http://www.brand-comm.com/blog.html
A Customer Iceberg as explained by Avinash Narula, the man credited with this concept, is simply put; every dissatisfied customer who in time turns into a Customer Iceberg. The more unhappy he is, the more dangerous a Customer Iceberg he turns into.
The concept though simplistic is very relevant to companies at many levels. Dissatisfied customers become even bigger icebergs when they are ill treated continuously. Customers are way more vocal of their concerns these days with innumerable avenues to express their disgust with companies available. Social media has become the favorite melting pot for many Customer Icebergs. They seem to find haven on these outlets and companies have to dedicate resources to tackle them at this stage. But to do this, companies need to thoroughly understand the threats posed by this phenomenon.
Like an iceberg, only the tip of the Customer Iceberg is visible to a company at times and therefore they react with very little decisiveness. The hidden part of the iceberg is where the danger lies as companies ignore the damaging abilities of these Customer Icebergs until they get hit head on by it. If companies can dedicate resources and time to discover threats before they run into them, they can immunize themselves from mass attacks from unhappy customers.
Working this concept to your advantage is what every company should aim at. Breaking down customers into various sizes of Customer Icebergs and laying out plans to tackle them should be top of mind for every company. Customer Icebergs are not a phenomenon new to companies but at the same time it also is something companies have shown great incompetence in managing. So can this concept be a tipping point for customer service in companies or drown like so many other ideas bandied around?
This is what we think, what do you think?
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
“Customer Service Isn’t Just A Department” – Tony Hseih, CEO, Zappos
When you decide to make customer service your competitive advantage, you are making a huge commitment to your customer. This commitment would not come to fruition unless there is a concerted drive to build this into the company’s culture. And no company has quite perfected that art like Zappos.
Las Vegas-based Zappos started in 1999 by selling shoes online, and has since grown to a US$1 billion per year retailer. It has expanded into clothing, handbags, sunglasses, and numerous other categories. The company early on decided to focus its marketing budget towards delivering exceptional customer service. To enable this, they have manufactured from the bottom up a very open culture in the organization. From allowing vendors to view what products are in stock along with prices and profit margins to allowing other companies to have a look at the way they run their Contact Center operations, Zappos has built a very strong image in the minds of the industry of what they are trying to achieve. Even internally, their Contact Center agents are not given scripts and are not bound by rules which force them to complete calls quickly (the record being 4 hours for a single call). Zappos sees their greatest brand building opportunity in speaking with their customers. They encourage trial of their products with a guarantee that it can be returned even a year after purchasing it, thus building a very strong chain of trust with the customer. This and many more such initiatives place Zappos on a whole new pedestal in the minds of the customer.
Taking this sort of positioning in the market can be a very daunting task. But Zappos have made this belief in customer service all pervasive across the company. This can truly be achieved when the initiative begins from the top. Tony Hseih has always believed in living and breathing the values set by Zappos. Many companies have similar values stated in the reams of company literature they print every year, but delivering on them sometimes needs motivation and a directive right from the top.
If you are looking to implement customer service the Zappos way, a very conscious effort is required. It may well need a complete overhaul of processes, people, culture and most importantly - a healthy dose of top management directive.
This is what we think, what do you think?
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Outsourcing has become an intricate part of various business processes. In service industry, there has been a pronounced shift in the direction of after-sales support outsourcing. Today, manufacturers, suppliers and retailers believe that outsourcing after-sales service helps them slash overhead costs, streamline service management, and sharpen their focus on competencies which are core to them. (http://www.zed-axis.com)
But is your brand ready to withstand the possible downfalls of such a move?
The moment a company outsources its support services to a third party, it immediately brings into its fold a group of people who may not necessarily understand the brand promise. The brand promise is crafted by a company after a deep understanding of the customer. The customer in turn expects this promise to be delivered across every touch point with the same consistency. This becomes the inherent challenge of outsourcing customer service.
When a company outsources their after sales service needs they are also outsourcing the brand. An outsourcing partner may not always make keeping up the brand promise its priority. With cost savings being one of the selling points, the outsourcing partner may allow the client’s brand promise fade into the background. Therefore, if a company centers its entire marketing and sales pitch to the consumer on a brand promise, outsourcing that very commitment can prove fatal to the brand.
This is what we think, what do you think?
Friday, July 15, 2011
How is it possible that customers are more loyal after failures of products or services than they have been before? Excellent service recovery is the key and with the right activities, companies can fully utilize the service recovery paradox. ( www.customerthink.com )
The service recovery paradox states that with a highly effective service recovery, a service or product failure offers a chance to achieve higher satisfaction ratings from customers than if the failure had never happened. A little bit less academically, this means that a good recovery can turn angry and frustrated customers into loyal customers. In fact it can create even more goodwill than if things had gone smoothly in the first place.
But before reaping the often unknown benefits of a service recovery paradox, developing that all important service recovery process becomes imperative. Companies cannot be expected to deliver exemplary service at every touch point and with every interaction. Therein lays the inherent need for a service recovery program. Addressing the chinks in your service delivery mechanism becomes the start for designing a recovery program. Even though such a program will differ from company to company, there are some underlying strategies which always need a visit:
1. Anticipate the need for recovery
Every company has to first accept that their product can quite easily fall prey to a problem of some nature. Figuring out what these problems are, listing them down and putting in place practices to tackle them is the next step. This need to anticipate problems is core to a service delivery culture in an organization.
2. Build an organization that is fast in decision making, and fast to respond.
Your organization needs to be built to withstand the pressures of a service recovery program. It needs to be able to deliver it consistently and fast. To do this, roles must be set and responsibilities determined to enable quick responses. Processes need to be defined so that there is no confusion about any situation. Consequently, escalations of any kind can be handled swiftly.
3. Empower front line employees
Your front line employees are the ones who generally bear the brunt of consumer frustrations, but, they also have the least power to affect change most of the time. Giving these employees greater power to exercise their discretion within limits is a sure shot way of delivering good service and in case of a failure, service recovery. A Call Center agent who can authorize a refund incase of a service failure without unnecessary escalations can go a long way in pleasing a customer.
Every company would love to believe that their customer is in a perfect state of bliss with their product, but that cannot be a constant reality. On the other hand unbridled loyalty can be achieved by just attending to a service failure and solving the problem. This should be enough encouragement for any organization today to build a service recovery program.
So what do you think are the other factors companies should look into for building a service recovery program ?
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
“Relationships customers form with brands are stronger when they're built on ‘thick value’, on spontaneous relationships, more than on ‘thin value’ and transactions” (‘Is big brand customer service getting worse’ – www.director.co.uk)
A clear thought emanating from this line is that customer service is becoming purely driven by transactions (thin value) and not relationships (thick value). After empowering the consumer with your product, the next phase is to continue gauging her needs and orienting customer service to drive loyalty towards your product. But companies today and especially big brands have decided to orient customer service by just enabling the customer with the most basic of services which include completing simple transactions and answering basic queries.
Big brands are the greatest culprits at creating transactional relationships and not being able to transition to providing customers with ‘thick value’. At the point of interaction with a customer which invariably is the Contact Center, a company is driven by cost efficiency and ends up frustrating customers further. Even at touch points such as service centers, a host of procedures and waiting time weakens the will of the customer. A surface level investigation into customer service objectives will always reflect a need to make life easier for the customer. But as a customer, when was the last time you felt that way? Are big brands lounging in their market leader positions and ignoring the fact that true customer service is driven through relationships?
The answer to the above is an overwhelming YES! One will have to really search their mind to remember the last time a big brand placed emphasis on the customer’s needs and made that the priority. Companies have begun to make huge outlays of money on making a customer service promise and building that ‘thick value’ in terms of resources but the results are debatable. Customers still feel let down and jumping brands have become the norm.
Companies need to find ways to reach out to customers, build real relationships, understand needs and deliver on those lofty customer service promises. But companies continue giving the customer a cold shoulder and concentrating on building ‘thin value’ by fulfilling service requests and never walking the extra ‘customer service mile’.
Changing the conversation from ‘we can solve your problem’ to ‘we know your problem’ is the genesis to creating ‘thick value’. Big brands can surely afford to enter such territory but seem shy of doing so. They need to be able to commit themselves to this cause and understand the value of such a move. Letting a customer know that they will be taken care of at any touch point can be a start. Training employees to understand the value of being proactive, in the long run, can be priceless. And finally, building ‘thick value’ as a result of this into your brand promise can easily make the brand unbreakable in the minds of the consumer.
Any such initiative now will enable differentiation in a market where customers have come to expect sub standard service quality. In today’s highly competitive market, the core product has pretty much become a commodity. Therefore, companies have countless customer service opportunities lined up at their doorstep and they should use them before the customer walks out their door.
So, do you think companies comprehend the importance of building ‘thick value’?