Thursday, February 23, 2012

Loyalty, Advocacy and Beyond!

Companies today talk of how customer advocacy is key to the growth of their brand. Loyalty programs are expected to retain customers and push them to advocate their brand to new or undecided customers.  Stopping at this can be enough for most brands but not pushing for something beyond that can be a missed opportunity. Your most loyal customers, quite possibly know your brand and services much better than most employees in your organization. Using this priceless knowledge and mining it to its best can become a game changer for you. The idea that immediately emanates from this is to bring your customer in as an advisor. Use her to help you know your brand from her perspective and give you ideas as to how processes can be improved and customer service in turn, made more efficient.

Restaurants have been known to ask customers for opinions on new dishes being introduced. The risk of asking certain loyal customers for their opinions can lead to skewed feedback which cannot always be translated back into the business. But when a restaurant takes that risk of introducing that dish on its menu with the feedback from its closest customers, it’s not only a tremendous show of faith, it also is a statement of how valuable loyal customers are to them. Companies may not find such a program easy to execute primarily because executing all that these customers ask for, may not be tenable. But even telling them why it’s not possible is a grand gesture in taking the relationship further.

So ask yourselves if you can execute such a program. Ask yourselves what will stand in the way and if the problems seem difficult, think of the value of a small army of your most loyal customers backing your every move. That should be enough reason to get you started.

Friday, February 17, 2012

God of small things?

A brand’s greatest service challenge may actually manifest itself before your customer even walks into your store. A million factors can contribute to changing a customer’s mind from wanting to enter your service environment. This can range from a perennial long queue to a badly located store. The impact of these factors on designing your service strategy is critical. In the process we create an acute condition called ‘unsatisfied demand’ wherein we lose a customer’s business before him ever getting fully introduced to it. So how can the scourge of unsatisfied demand be sorted out with a well crafted service design?

But before you start drilling down to find an answer, you need to understand the kind of incidents and severity of them which are causing the aforementioned, unsatisfied demand. Incidents that will talk about how customers have turned their backs on long queues and in the process a brand. Walking into an ATM with the air conditioning turned to minus 20 and receipts strewn across the floor can leave one scarred about the brand, quite literally. Your day can go quite pear shaped when you spend an hour looking for parking outside that new restaurant while your stomach goes on a disobedience movement, demanding justice and some food. A badly lit coffee shop which is neither romantic or understated but just plain cheap, makes that immense need for a coffee disappear and attraction towards a brand too. The examples are countless yet are so simple and avoidable. These are just the few details brands forget to include in their service design which lead to a very forgettable experience for a ‘could be’ first time customer.

Taking stock of this and then acting upon these situations is not as easy as it seems. Customers can get turned off by very different things and identifying them and tackling them can be the game changer with today’s unpredictable customer. Companies need to ask themselves a couple of questions to get them started down this road. When I walk into my company’s store, is there anything that inhibits my interest to enter? How can I make that first visit as comfortable as possible for my customer? In the answers to these questions, quite possibly lies the key to never losing a customer even before you get to show them what you got.  

Friday, February 10, 2012

Blueprinting the Service Design

When we experience exceptional service, we are instantly taken by the person who delivers it and give some amount of credit to the company. We talk about it to friends and family at tea parties and tell them how a certain guy changed our day with some great service. We talk about it at every opportunity and gradually the story becomes the story of the heroics of one service representative. In the process we often forget to give enough credit to the company who set the right conditions for such an act to be performed. You might just have overlooked a very well planned service design which is in play to provide you that memorable service. So let’s explore this idea a little further.

Southwest Airlines is miles ahead when it comes to a well planned service design. They have manuals and instructions for every action that seems so unique and memorable to you. Southwest has designed things in such a manner including their training formats that allows any newcomer to embed themselves in the Southwest service culture. At no point does a well detailed design take away from employing the right kind of people. But identifying the right set of people in a market where they are in incredible demand makes for a challenge of a very different kind. Building a service design that allows an employee to adapt and deliver can be the key to providing that elusive customer satisfaction your brand is expected to deliver.

A couple of questions you might want to ask yourself as companies are: Do you already have a design in place which is not adequately defined? Do your employees fully understand it and is it being audited from time to time? Are there any loopholes in your design which allows employees to under deliver? Does your service design need a revamp to manage your brand’s current expectations? A plethora of questions, but ones that need pointed answers. Answers that can help you design that memorable service experience that your customer would talk about at that next tea party.  

Friday, February 3, 2012

Standardized Personalization?

In a time when customers have become all powerful, finding a way to please them all individually has become a gargantuan task. Customers know that in today’s networked, ‘Facebook before breakfast’ world they have the option to take companies to task at their discretion. At the same time, they have become extremely choosy about every element of the product. Customization can be blamed and so can companies’ need to impress and retain customers. But the end result is a customer who is exposed to many choices, wants more and wants it now, leaving companies with a very difficult question; ‘How do we build a customer service strategy that is personalized yet standardized and effective?’

Marketers on a daily basis deal with reams of customer intelligence telling them what homogenous sets of customers want from their product and base decisions on this research and deliver a product which is largely accepted. As long as the product satisfies a majority, they have a hit. But customer service is a wholly different ball game. Where a freebie may work for one customer, a cashback and a lifetime supply of the product may still lose you a customer. Standardization of customer service in such an environment is no more an option. 
Delivering experiences which resonate with a customer’s behavior, needs and desires has become paramount.

The need to come up with personalized strategies for all your customers may be an uphill task but at the same time generalizing can be suicidal. So the questions companies need to ask themselves are: Where can your service strategy differ? At what stage in the sales cycle can you affect the change? How do you find smaller sets of similar customers to whom personalized service can be standardized? Where does it all begin? Marketers need to start looking at customers from a very different lens then they used to before, because customers are no more a set of people with similar needs and rights. They are now deciding before you react and demanding before you produce.

So how are you going to deliver a one to one strategy?