Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Vendor Stakeholder

Nearly every company in the world pumps in millions of dollars into serving their customers better and even further millions to repair the wrongs committed on them. But very few seem to have the same attitude towards their vendors. So when a company has one strategy to bring in customers and a completely counter-productive strategy towards its vendors, the question really is – Who is winning?

Companies take great effort in understanding the needs of a customer, learn to talk their language and help deliver a product which in turn will bring them revenues. Why can’t they do the same for a vendor too? After all a vendor also helps in bringing in revenues. In fact better relations with a vendor can result in more leads, better support, greater engagement, protection in key accounts, and recognition that can help a company generate more business.

Consequently companies should look at ways and means of building strategies to maintain relationships with vendors as they would with customers. A simple strategy would be to just replicate your customer sales cycle with your vendors and in the process make your vendor, a stakeholder. Such a strategy can only help forge a relationship of mutual benefit that in turn can be routed back to a customer in terms of price, product features and overall service.

And in the process, everyone wins!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Creating a First Day Experience

Chris Brogan, a prolific blogger on the use of new media in marketing indulges us with a very interesting thought. A customer experience idea that seems to have evaded most of us. In his own words:

‘How often do we build experiences such that we’re welcoming of new people? Do we work enough on that? Do we help people get connected and involved? Do we make them feel like we realize it’s their first time and we’re here to guide them?’

Through this he introduces us to the idea of creating a ‘first day experience’ for new customers. New customers join a company somewhere in between the evolution of a company. Customers need to be invited on board with a story that helps them understand the company and feel a part of it at the same time. 

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. 

Stores can explore ideas of putting up the story of their birth, pictures of how the store evolved or even have a ‘First Day’ officer who can help customers with a few additional services. Stores need to figure out what lengths they can go to and the bandwidth available to them. But an endeavor in this direction can be invaluable.

So how would you create a First Day experience for your customers? 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Signing On

A company’s signature experience is what it does especially well. It’s the odd or unique process that makes your company stand out in people's minds ( (Read this HBR article). Most companies, in time, always end up providing a signature experience. They may either not know about it or may know and use them as foundation to their positioning. Either way it’s something that needs to be harnessed because in that special moment of delivering something different may lie the key to attracting and retaining customers.

Companies need to search their organization and look across their customer delivery structure at possible signatures they are leaving on their customers. If companies can pick three such experiences and package them and sell it consistently, they may have a winner on their hands. Linking these experiences to its brand can help reinforce their brand image. For example it will give more tangibles to customers to associate with the brand promise.

Most successful brands have distinct signature experiences that they leave behind in a customer’s mind; it is these experiences that are spoken about to other customers. Bringing together these voices under the banner of your brand as a signature experience could be your next brand building move.

Tell us about some signature experiences you have come across with the companies you interact with.

Friday, December 2, 2011

With great power comes great responsibility

A good day in the office for most of us involves meeting targets, cracking that tough code or just making sure your boss is happy. But what if your job description involves bringing a smile on a customer’s face?

Imagine walking into your favorite breakfast place in the morning and encountering a smiling staff who responds to your requests, proactively helps you and gives you top class service. On occasions such as these even the quality of the food can be overlooked to an extent. This can set the mood for the rest of your day. At the same time, I’m sure you can imagine the opposite. Not a pretty picture at all, therefore I shall not paint it.

Customer Service representatives need to realise that they have great power in their hands to lighten up a customer’s day (As seen in this video)  By doing this they can ensure loyalty to not just a tangible i.e. the product but also an intangible which is the service. Companies need to understand how strong a differentiator this can be and devise ways and means of getting their employees involved.
How can companies help set the tone for the day for a customer?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Take the 'easy route'

Matt Dixon and Lauren Pragoff in their HBR article ‘Call Center Confidential: The Underbelly of Customer Centricity’ remind us of the following 3 statements you always hear when you call into a Contact Center


·         "This call is being recorded for quality and training purposes" 
·         "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"
·         "How satisfied are you with the service you received today?"
When you hear them, these phrases are good warning signs that you're dealing with an organization more focused on internal priorities than on what customers actually care about.      
The true problem here is that these questions help in determining certain metrics which are religiously churned up but never converted into anything concrete.  Companies concentrate way too much on numbers which are really internal measures and not looking at specific customer needs which begs the question – ‘Are you reducing effort and making interactions easy for your customer?’
Companies obsess over metrics such as post call CSATs, quality assurance ratings and call closure. They have people working on just improving these stats but rarely is anyone working on making that conversation, which generates these stats, easier for the customer. Efforts need to start shifting to reducing customer effort. A customer should admire a company for quick response and resolution time as it is surely, what they want.
There is an urgent need for top management to start looking at metrics that indicate ‘ease of use’, ‘lack of effort’ and the like. They need to realize that customer centricity can be about metrics such as reducing customer effort and that driving these numbers up can also considerably improve service delivery.

So can customer service leaders begin to usher in an era where ‘Ease of Use’ becomes the defining metric?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Oshawa's Customer Service Strategy

We as consumers are tuned to demand good customer service from product vendors we deal with. Yet never seem to expect the same from our government and municipal bodies. We resign with an attitude that ‘this can never change’. This sentiment holds true across the world. We always seem to expect a lower standard from our government bodies. When we go to pay our utilities bill or enquire or complain, the response is far from satisfactory. Generally, having several contact points or multiple locations offering government service may cause a barrier to efficient service delivery for citizens.  As a result, service delivery strategies that worked in the past need to evolve to reflect changes in attitudes and expectations of customers. So why aren’t we demanding better service? And more importantly are our elected bodies looking for solutions?

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
The above points are important for any customer service strategy implementation irrespective of the scale and scope of the project. This initiative by the city of Oshawa isn’t unique because it is a city municipal body realizing the importance of good customer service, it is because when expectations are low on that parameter, they still went ahead and executed a strategy that can only improve customer satisfaction and goodwill in the long run. That is true vision, something many service and product vendors need to learn.

So why is customer service not as important a priority for companies jostling for market share and mind share today?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Making your Brand All Pervasive

In the HBR article by Anand Subramaniam, ‘Six Ways to Build Your Brand Through Customer Service’ highlights the manner in which companies seem to forget brand building, as an exercise, at the customer service level. Building on this thought, he further outlines steps which can be taken by companies and the next ten minutes of reading shall, hopefully, take this thought to its fruition.

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.
-          Companies need to ensure they can build brand aligned processes into the various touch points accessible to the customer. This can start from a quick response system to customer complaints to even human assisted customer service over self service in case of high touch brands. Care of this magnitude will always be rewarded with greater brand recognition and loyalty.
-          Companies need to follow up the above measures with brand aligned metrics that allow them to judge success and work on improvements. Brands which are high touch need to look beyond routine customer service metrics to numbers that can help map service intent to the brand intent.
-          Unifying knowledge bases and customer service touch points can be another valuable step in aligning brand and service. By brand aligning your touch points a company can ensure similar treatment of customers across channels which guarantee the customer hearing the same brand message across channels.

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

What I took away from Chapter 7

Just done with the two day Custommerce National Convention Chapter 7. Wonderful event. Good speakers and some key insights.

Experience is clearly here to stay. Heard from the speakers: “Business IS Experience”.  Focus on growth, scale and acquisitions, probably drives attention away from delivering critical and promised customer experience. Data presented to establish the co-relationship between great customer experience and bottom lines. The focus on customer experience is a new way of doing business.  More data and some hilarious anecdotal evidence showing how companies promise an experience only to deceive.
Bruce Temkin first articulated the thought of experience as a differentiator in 2007. Having said which generating a desired experience and using that to differentiate is as old as marketing thought , as old as positioning, as old as differentiation itself, or any of the core tenets of marketing. Closer to home Servion articulated the thought of customer experience as the key differentiator at the time of creating its contact optimization model.

Employees are critical to the process of creating a differentiated customer experience at the service point. The examples were uplifting particularly in the case of the Taj employees under attack on 26/11. There is a moment in every conference where the entire crowd is caught up in it mind heart and soul – and I must say that that moment belonged to the Taj. Much is spoken and written about employee engagement and empowerment in this space – there has been little measurable action on the ground.  Senior management sit up and take notice.  Pushing out the vision around the desired experience to the employees and translating it into behaviour on the ground is YOUR job.

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.
Last and not least was the thought around change. Change IS the only constant.  Lot of insights around changing generations (X,Y,C), changing ecosystem (connected, mobile), changing information/media eco-system (ability to blast dissatisfaction across thousands in seconds) Increasing disloyalty. Startling fact – 75% of SATISFIED customers changed their brands! Scary!!

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! 

G.Shankaran Nair
President - Corporate Strategy
Servion Global Solutions

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Service? What service?

What's the problem with customer service — money or the lack of empowerment?

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 @

The Freezing Point of a Customer Iceberg

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

The Zappos Way of Customer Service

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

The Outsourcing Conundrum

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. (

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

The Service Failure Advantage

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. ( )

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

The Thick End Of Customer Loyalty.

“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’ –

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’?