Differentiate Your Customer Service or Perish

I am going to give you the secret to Customer Service. This is the one thing that you have to do if you want to use Customer Service as a competitive advantage. You will be shocked when you hear what it is, I promise you. It is not a specific application, or a channel you must support, or a certain function you must provide. Neither is selecting the proper people, training them right and empowering them. And, of course, it is not about collecting and leveraging feedback. Yes, these are all things I have written and spoken on in the past… and they are critical for Customer Service success. Alas, they are not THE critical success factor.

You probably heard of Zappos’ customer service, right? It has been making the blogosphere rounds lately with things like “pay your employees to quit”, “empower your agents”, and “deliver exceptional customer service across all interactions”. Their approach to Customer Service is legendary and they do a tremendous job of implementing all best practices they can get their hands on. However, if you were to do the same and implement all best practices known to humankind, you probably won’t be seen the same way. This is because you would be seen as a copycat, not an original, and not given the same credit for what you do. Why? Because you did not use Customer Service Excellence as a differentiator, rather as another way to get and retain customers. And that is the critical differentiation (no pun intended).

To become a master at Customer Service, to truly excel at it you have to find your differentiating factor. The one thing that will set you apart from every one else. That’s it. There is no preaching about how you must do a multi-channel implementation, or whether you cannot last longer than a week without collecting feedback. If you look at what you do, learn your strengths and work on your weaknesses — and constantly strive to maintain that differentiating factor you are guaranteed to succeed.

Are you differentiated? Tell me what you are doing differently and how it has proven successful for you…

The End of Customer Satisfaction

I want to tackle, again, a pet-peeve of mine. I want to put an end to Customer Satisfaction.

Before you start flaming me (that sentence brings back memories from the BBS days), hear me out. I want to end Customer Satisfaction as a metric, and as a corporate practice – yet, in the process, I want your customers to be so satisfied with the way you do things that you will never have to worry about satisfaction. I want to change the way you deal with them, and how to ensure they get what they need.

In the old days, back while at Gartner, I wrote quite a bit about this. Of course, you would have had to be a Gartner customer or attended one of our conferences to get the concept. I am saying this so you see the value of the information below. This is truly stuff that can change your career and your business. It did so for many other clients I had.

There are two things you need to do for this to work. First, you need to change your processes from efficiency-centric to effectiveness-centric. Second, you need to confirm the conclusion of each and every interaction. Let’s dig a little deeper.

When I say change your processes i man it is not about getting the RIGHT information to the customer quickly and efficiently. It is about getting the PROPER information at the RIGHT time. You will have to change the process from asking questions that match your answers to finding out what they need to complete their task, and figure out how to deliver that information best. It may not even be in your knowledge base — it may not even be documented, but it will be after you are done. For example, if a customer at a bank asks for a balance in a savings account, it would be interesting to know why they need to know, what they intend to do, and propose certain service or solution that may match their need. It is about complete delivery, not just get-off-the-phone delivery.

In the same manner, when we talk about confirming the finality of each interaction, you MUST ask two questions at the end of each interaction (methods vary, results won’t): did you get what you needed? did we do a good job delivering? Sure, the exact wording can change to match your needs and to customize or personalize in each interaction, but the concept should not. This is the key part of this concept. Not only MUST you ask the question, you also have to have the processes in place to reach out and complete the interaction to the customer’s content. If they say NO to either question, you need to continue working with them until it is YES.

If you follow through on changing your processes and systems to incorporate these practices I can guarantee you will never worry about customer satisfaction again — since all your customers will be satisfied. If you don’t believe me, pilot it.

If you need more information on how to approach and accomplish either of these tasks, let me know.

Finally, a definition for Enteprise Feedback Management

There is a lot of confusion surrounding what EFM (Enterprise Feedback Management) is and what is not.

Lately it has been used as a substitute for surveys. Whenever we used to say “surveys” we now say Enterprise Feedback Management. Problem is we are just using a fancy term to describe the same, short-sighted approach to managing customer feedback: ask ‘em and forget ‘em.

Enterprise Feedback Management goes much further, if done properly, than that. Contrast the two following cases:

Case A – company purchases an “EFM” system (surveys by any other name). Produces and distributes a few surveys a year, mostly for customer satisfaction (another no-no), and collects some data. They look at the data collected, produce some simple reports (x% said this, y% said that), and are overall satisfied with their results. Yet, they cannot seem to affect their churn rate, nor can they focus on bringing new customers — not to mention that their marketing program seems to be aiming for the wrong customers. They conclude, erroneously, that EFM is not really a solution for them… even though the vendor told them they would be able to understand their customers better, they are at the same place they were before… but with a “good” customer satisfaction score.

Case B – a similar company deploys an EFM initiative within their organization. They create a strategy to manage customer feedback, which tells them where the feedback can obtained (no more than 40-50% should come from surveys), what they can do with the feedback they collect (think insights and data-mining for new data), how are they going to integrate and mix their survey-data with existing enterprise-data, what metrics they need to implement and follow, what insights and analysis they need to perform — in short, a complete strategy on how to collect, manage, leverage and utilize customer feedback. As a result, they can identify the three sources of churn and address the problems, they can create a better demographic, socio-graphic, and psycho-graphic picture of their clients, they can finally focus on improving and developing new products per the needs of their customers, and more.

You probably already noticed the difference in the two cases above, but just in case you need to read it. Enterprise Feedback Management is NOT a piece of software, it is a organization-wide initiative that needs to leverage three infrastructure elements: surveying software, data-mining and analysis software, and integration points into existing data and applications. When you implement it you will spend more time building a comprehensive strategy to understand where the feedback is (surveys, blogs, unstructured data through the world, interaction wrap-up notes, etc.), and how to collect it and integrate with your existing data. You will also know, before you seek feedback, what you will find out, how to analyze it, and what you will do with the insights your obtain.

Ready to start? just let me know… glad to be of service.

Customer focused strategies, the missing element

Glenn Ross asked a question a couple of days ago to fellow bloggers: how to define customer-focused strategy. Several replies followed with a similar answer: it is about listening to the customer, and delivering to their needs and demands. I agree, for the most part, but I would like to add one item to this discussion that I learned to emphasize while at Gartner.

The most interesting part of working as an analyst is the exposure to both theories and practical approaches to deploying solutions. We wrote and pushed our customers to adopt customer-centric (the old term) strategies for many, many years. Several times I felt I was talking to the wall – but once in a while a good example showed up. Now, without naming names (confidentiality clauses still apply), I can tell you the difference between a successful customer-focused deployment and one that did not do so well over time was a throwback to an older concept, that still applies today: make sure that each deployed solution is a win-win solution.

Countless solutions I saw deployed failed in the long term because, even though they delivered to what the customer said they wanted, they were too expensive to maintain, they did not reflect the corporate culture, or simply “got boring” (yes, those were actual words). The ones that succeeded were the ones that had been built and deployed not only considering what the customer wanted (a win for the customer), but also what the organization could deploy and maintain for a long time. In other words, if it made sense for the organization to do something – and there was a gain (either financial or other) that arose from it – it was a win for the organization. Alas, if the customer got what they wanted at the same time, then it was a customer-focused, win-win solution.

Quite simply: to deploy successful customer-focused solutions, you have to make sure that both the organization and the customer benefit equally, or at the very least that they both obtain a benefit or gain. Else, well – it will be one more of the customer-focused failures.

Agree?

The One-Two Combo to End Customer Satisfaction

I read a lot of blogs to get an idea of what’s going on around the world and the industry, probably the same you do. I prefer, instead of taking the ideas at their worth, to extrapolate ideas from other areas into customer service – shake the core beliefs if you may – to improve our current situation and create a better system. Seth Godin has two posts in his blog that got me thinking. He talks about how to improve the role of marketing for an organization, but I could not stop thinking of the implications for customer service… and the power of implementing these two ideas:

Make big promises; over-deliver
Connect like-minded people

We are so obsessed with measuring customer satisfaction that we don’t take the time to think what we could do to replace it or even ignore it. Forget trying to get to 70-75% of satisfaction, ignore the NPS (net promoter score) and the likelihoods to do something – we are talking about long-term guarantees your customers will remain loyal and continue to bring you their business. Two steps to achieve it, but it is a great revolution from where we are. Ready?

First, over-deliver. Often I have expounded on the virtues of SLAs (service level agreements) and the place they have in customer service: managing customer expectations of service by setting the standard. I said, as much as I could, that SLAs are external guidelines – not internal. Our internal guidelines and processes should always, always be set to over-deliver what we promise. We should never, ever simply just do the best we can – we should always do better That is what impresses customers, creates loyalty, and provides stickiness to the relationships. In this time and age, it takes no more than two seconds to move to the next provider and leave the current one behind. Over-delivering is THE differentiating factor you need to stick out among them and to retain your customers.

The second question that comes up, what do you do with your customers when you have them? You know how customer relationship works: what have you done for me lately. You can over-deliver only so many times before the customers get acclimated, your competitors copy you, and the novelty is gone. That is the second punch, the one that knocks them down and keeps them coming. We talked about using communities for collaborative customer service in the past, customers helping customers, but how about for customer retention? Yes, it is a crazy idea – but so crazy it just might work. You build the communities to bring customers to your site, and use it to make them stay… not just for customer service or collaboration, but simply to stay. Connect like-minded people and see what happens.

Final words: don’t just nod your head in agreement (or disagreement), don’t scream at the computer – it won’t make me any smarter or more reasonable. Try this advice… it is not hard to do, and can give you the simple results you need. Oh yeah, let me know how it goes (or, if you already did it, how it went). If you don’t know where to start – or are not comfortable, let’s talk..