Posts Tagged ‘Customer Relationships’

Time spent with Richard R. Shapiro

December 29, 2016

A couple weeks back, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting and having lunch with Richard R. Shapiro. We were introduced by a mutual trusted friend, and I knew initially that Richard was a customer experience guru, but very little else. We had communicated and uncovered a common New Jersey connection, and of course, I had checked out his web site (http://tcfcr.com/about-richard-r-shapiro/ ) and LinkedIn profile.

While what I had learned about Richard was truly impressive, it in no way prepared me for the wonderful experience of having lunch with him. At the end of our meeting, he the-endangered-customer-3dprovided me with a copy of his latest book, The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business. Since I had met and spent time with the author, I could hear his voice in my head as I read. But I assure you, that is not necessary to learn from this book.

Put simply, the book is well worth the read, even if you consider yourself to be a customer service maven. The “thought provoking questions” in Appendix 2 alone are worth making the effort.

As a starting point, I will list the 8 (important) steps that form the basis of his book:

  1. Make me feel welcome (hope)
  2. Give me your full attention (control)
  3. Answer more than my question (connect)
  4. Know your stuff (trust)
  5. Don’t tell me NO (frustration)
  6. Invite me to Return (feel wanted)
  7. Show me I matter (caring)
  8. Surprise me in good ways (feel special)

Most of these may seem obvious to people who have been involved in either B2C or B2B customer and client relationships, so instead of further elaboration, I will recommend reading for Richard’s perspective on these points, a perspective that is very clear and somewhat unique in this day and age when we seek to distill everything into a formula.

There are, however, a couple of the points he made throughout the book, I would like to elaborate on.

The most important point overall is that Richard speaks to all the customer annoyances, both large and small, that can undermine or break a relationship with your organization. In essence, this is really the focus of each of the eight points above. Often these annoyances go unnoticed.

Many organizations feel today that technology can be substituted for human contact, emotion and thought. There certainly is a place for machine technology (AI or machine learning, historical databases) to supplement and support the human-to-human experience, but at this point, the human factor cannot be completely replaced. Nor should it be. So, while marketing automation and CRM can be incredibly valuable tools, they also cannot yet be put on autopilot and allowed to run the show.

This is how we end up with communications with no personality…and communications that make no sense…and communications that fail to build relationships with our customers.

I have seen that even younger generations than myself enjoy human contact, although expectations and tone are very different. All generations still have respect for people who know “things” and can add the additional information into the mix that make the experience better and at the same time, make them feel important and like they have choices.

And it is not just customers that are important: The importance of employees to the mix of relationship building cannot be underestimated. Not only do highly adaptive employees keep the organizations vibrant, but they add to customers feeling connected and add to the continuity of the relationship. Key employees must not be viewed as a cost, but as a resource. These resources, like any other organizational resources, should be protected and cultivated, and allowed to grow and develop.

With this in mind, cultivating long term employees to aid with the customer journey is also a must for most organizations, especially employees that frequently interact with their customers.  Long term employees are typically better able and equipped to say “yes” or at least, not say “no”. As Richard points out: “Even when you cannot say yes, you must never say no. Tell customers what you can do, not what you can’t do.”

Employees at the end of the sales process (especially in retail) often determine whether the customer leaves feeling like they had a good, neutral or bad experience.  Your front-line team must be able to recognize the signs and empowered to act on this. I have personally seen this in practice first hand, and have seen how much impact to build or save a relationship that a cashier can have, especially one with a level of authority to rectify a situation or at least the mandate to display empathy.

Finally, remember the entire product or service life cycle or what we often call today, the customer journey. Many organizations are great at developing leads, many do an excellent job at point of sale (or bringing the sale to a point of close). Fewer organizations recognize the need for further building the relationship after the sale. This is often because they do not fully grasp the concept that repeat business is better ensured when the relationship is appropriately continued.

All too often when attempted, the effort is a perfunctory thank you email, more efforts to sell additional products or services, or nothing at all. And these contacts often do not provide time for the customer to properly evaluate their decision nor do they fit with the usage cycle.

True relationship builders recognize the value of building customer loyalty after the sale; in other words, closing the loop with our new friend, the customer. Invite the person to return before breaking contact during the sale and tell them how to do it, including how to contact you. Tell them in advance what to do if they have a problem or concern. Make sure to follow up after resolution if they do have a problem or concern.  An example from the book highlights a wedding shop that calls after the wedding to see how the event went, and if the bride received compliments and is still pleased with her choice.

This discussion only scratches the surface, as the book is short but also highly compact. There is a great deal packed into this short book, and Richard is an amazing storyteller.  I can only state that you should make the effort to pick up and digest this great book.

“Complexity kills convenience.”

June 12, 2016

“Complexity kills convenience.”

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Terry B. Jones speak Thursday evening (for more info on Terry, see http://www.tbjones.com/ ) at the NSU Art Museum Auditorium. Terry has started several successful ventures throughout his career. It was yet another fine speaker brought in by the South Florida Interactive Marketing Association (SFIMA – https://www.sfima.com/ ).

T Jones (2)

He made several telling points during his presentation. But the one that stuck with me was the one I used for the headline of this post: “Complexity kills convenience.” I have seen the validity of this statement rear up throughout my career, but today, with the open availability of information and alternative opportunities, it is even more true. People and organizations who can create the simpler experience – one that is more convenient for others to use – will win the day, every day.

From an organizational perspective this approach of making interactions simpler and easier needs to apply to our Customer relationships, our Vendor relationships and also our Employee relationships.

One of the benefits of having some gray hairs is being fortunate to have worked with numerous organizations over a number of years. In many instances, the people in some of these organizations have often expressed the thought that “it takes a great deal of effort to work with us.” While they were most often referring to their customers, it was also reality for vendors, partners and employees who were also expected to “work hard” to maintain their relationship with the organization. This is not an approach that works very often today, as the costs and obstacles of vested parties making a switch away from that organization have been drastically reduced.

Part of this is the shift is due organizations today are leaning toward a more service driven offering. In a product driven world, (most) consumers never liked complexity. But it was often part of the “package” because of a need to buy a product to cover all contingencies, and have a useful life that justified the purchase.

This was particularly true in the B2B world, where we often invested in the more complex, expensive model because we did not know what we would need in 5 years. We had to make an investment that could return a positive ROI. Services, on the other hand, have a shorter shelf life, and purchases can be justified (or terminated) on a more immediate basis.

We see this everyday with cloud computing, subscription software, consulting, marketing services… organizations can often switch rather readily if they feel they are not getting the service (think convenience) they want. And if the service provider seeks to make that switch difficult, their competitor is more than willing to ease the transition.

In closing, I find it sadly ironic that the efforts organizations make to increase customer engagement often make life and the relationship more complex for their customers, not simpler… and simpler is what customers really want. Everyone is busy and in most cases, they want ease of use, not what passes as support from the organization.

Many times this support forces customers to think too much, engage too much and waste more of their time than they are willing to provide. When this happens, we increase the possibility of defection, not reduce it. To steal a phrase from Gerry McGovern (http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/ )…sometimes the customer just ran out of coffee…

Empty Coffee Cup

Empty cup from My Favorite Kind of Crazy –

 

 

How would I know; why should I care?

December 17, 2014

Some of you may reading this be aware that this is a phrase from an old Zombies song. (Here I define old as it is a song that predates me:). I have always liked this song, and specifically this particular phrase. Little did I know when I first heard the song that this phrase would become essentially the essence of modern marketing. If I was asked today to provide one sentence that defines customer interactions and perspective, this phrase could well be the one.


How would I know…
In a dizzy array of communications sources that people need to deal with, how do they determine where they get their information, and who they should listen to? On the other side, marketers are faced with a myriad of communication channel options, but with very little real prospect for breaking through without a distinct advantage. This advantage must come from the consumer perspective.

Consumers are looking for credibility, trust, authority, and for them, this is mostly likely to come from a referral or what is perceived as an unbiased third party observation. These communications must often stem from other potential members of the consuming public in early stages of the brand relationship. The brand owner today is often not considered a credible source at the beginning of the journey, even when they are the first party the potential customer has heard from. This is one of the reasons that reviews and external third party communications that reference your site/offer help a brand site to rank higher in SEO today.

In order to achieve this, you must leverage people already in your court. Recognize that this is more than social media likes and +1s…we are looking for people who will actually talk about you (positively) either proactively (or at least responsively) on your site, in blogs and on other social media. While there are still some brand evangelists that will stump for you unprompted, gaining discussion time from the rest requires critical relationship building with your customer base.

Assuming we do get our message through, there is still the “Why should I care?” question. Despite our lip service to “the customer being king” and “relationship building”, the majority of marketing emphasis today still often relies on touting and conveying information that is important to the communicating organization, not the person being communicated to. It really needs to be reverse of this.

More than ever, it is crucial to determine what matters to the consumer segments you hope to sell to. Does what you offer match what they want or need, or will someday want or need. If yes, find a way to engage. If not, find a way to adapt (if you want that segment) or move on. Transparency of information makes it unlikely you will convince many mismatches to buy you offering, especially on substantial purchases.

Once you find the target segments you want, build a rapport with them and develop a relationship, you still need to stay in touch to keep the relationship alive. Without ongoing, valuable interaction, it is too easy for what you have built to die on the vine. Inertia is not your friend in a fast paced world , so staying in touch and nurturing the relationship is a must do.

Otherwise don’t bother trying to find her, she’s not there…