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Building customer loyalty takes one-on-one effort

The most difficult things for a company to manage are its image and customer expectations.

It’s all due to the fact that innovation is moving at an accelerated pace and by the time brand managers figure out where the customer is, he/she has moved on.

Today, it’s not just about satisfying customers but delighting them — everything else is secondary.

That’s a tough task today when next-generation products are introduced every day or a loyal customer has an issue with an old competitive product that was “lying around.”

It happens because consumers tend to retain/use products beyond their expected “expiration date” and support (or even parts) are no longer available.

Admit it … you still have a five-year-old XP or iMac system, an iPhone 3 or GoPro 2.

But that’s when the really customer-focused company rises to the occasion.

They understand consumers have long memories.

In survey after survey, consumers rate good customer service over saving a few dollars.

That means:

■ Focusing on the person on the other side of the communications – the customer;

■ Paying attention to the entire customer experience, even when solutions aren’t easy, because how issues and problems are handled have a way of finding their way onto the Web and a spark can become a raging fire;

■ Accepting that not every customer wants to be – nor will you want them to be – your BFF. Just focus on a good customer relationship;

■ Being an organization humans can easily contact in the way they prefer – phone, email, text or online chat;

■ Being transparent to establish trust and loyalty by offering the right price (easily checked with a few search engine clicks) and reasonable return policies as well as friendly, knowledgeable people-focused support people;

■ Empowering the staff to make their own decisions and do what is best for the customer;

■ Encouraging everyone in the organization to put a face on the customer and understand that the person who is frustrated or confused could just as easily be a friend or relative.

Management often tends to overlook the fact that the people who interact with customers are not only essential to the company’s business but are the company to customers.

Their attitudes, communication skills and style of service establish the customers’ image of the company.

Consider the positive example of a filmmaker friend.

She had used an old hardware RAID device – she had switched to software RAID solutions about a year ago – she had sitting around to save hours of irreplaceable content.

Despite hours of work, she couldn’t get the hardware/firmware to release her content.

Why did she use the old device when she had better solutions?

“It was here, I figured what could it hurt? If you can tell me how to get the video content back I’ll never do it again,” She promised.

I painfully explained that because of the fundamental difference between hardware and software RAID, she would need an exact twin of the stubborn unit to rescue the content.

Since that probably wasn’t possible, the only option she had was to enlist the help of the folks at DriveSavers who have a well-earned reputation of doing what often seems impossible — rescue data from dead storage devices.

She talked to a friend there and he said they’d do their best. They would have to remove the drives, use technology they had perfected over the years and copy the content onto a new storage device.

She contacted a member of the support team at her new “best friend” storage partner and explained the situation. Surprisingly, he said he could temporarily loan her a fully tested drive unit from their engineering lab; but after she had copied the content, she would have to return the unit or buy it.

He sent the storage device, DriveSavers rescued the content (every frame) to the loaned unit, sent it to her and she copied the film work to one of her newer software RAID systems and returned the device.

DriveSavers kept their 30-year old service reputation intact and had another filmmaker who will happily tell you that storage devices may fail but there are people who can save your hundreds of hours of creative work.

That she expected. What she didn’t expect was to deal with a customer service organization that would creatively do what’s right for the customer.

In today’s online world, you can get product and price everywhere you click. What sets firms apart and keeps people coming back, posting positive comments on social media and referring friends/family are organizations that understand that their reputation and customer base grows because of satisfied customers.

Explaining it differently, Mitch Lieberman, managing partner at DRI (Discovery-Reinvention-Integration) who is focused on CXM (Customer Experience Management) has been credited with noting, “Customers do not want a relationship with your business, they want the benefits a relationship can offer to them.”

That is the foundation of customer relations – aligning corporate goals to create a customer experience that meets customer expectations every time they contact you.

In any organization, customer service/support situations have to be handled quickly.

Customers expect to buy from firms that will address their questions/problems quickly and keep them informed on what is happening, via phone, online chat or email until the situation is resolved.

It’s important that employees understand that the customer isn’t an interruption to their daily business, it’s the reason for their business.

As the late Peter Drucker said, “The sole purpose of business is to serve customers.”

What most people don’t realize is that you aren’t done serving the customer when you think you’re done. You’re done serving the customer when the customer is satisfied.

In today’s connected world, every touchpoint with a customer has the potential to build loyalty or breed dissatisfaction, reinforce or damage the firm’s image/reputation.

People you please or infuriate with your customer service have the ability to instantly share their opinions about the firm with prospects around the globe.

Reflecting on her complete disaster recovery experience, our filmmaker said she was impressed with the people she talked with, noting that the service person at the Mac upgrade/storage solution provider told her he would stay on the phone as long as it took to work through the problem. He emphasized that he was paid to resolve issues, not process as many calls as possible

The focus needs to be on happy customers, not quick ones.

When the company views customers as a homogenous blob of people whose needs are all the same, companies miss the chance to deepen and extend relationships —one customer at a time.

While many managers focus on getting new business and expanding the customer base, it is important to focus on keeping existing customers.

They attract new customers through credible recommendations.

People tend to overlook the fact that disgruntled customers often won’t complain; they just won’t come back.

The ripple effect of a bad customer service experience lives forever on the web and can be very damaging

That’s why firms have to view customer service as an investment in growth, not a cost.

Turning service operations into a key competitive advantage is vital in today’s always-on consumer market.

Andy Marken of Marken Communications in Santa Clara, Calif., writes on a host of cultural topics. Reach him at Andy@MarkenCom.com.

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