Why Can’t Business Get It Right?
Stories of lousy customer service far outnumber good experiences. What’s going wrong. Chris Bell explains…
Succeeding in business is a straightforward matter: focus on the customer and amaze them with experiences that exceed their expectations. They will respond with repeat business, greater loyalty and they will tell others about you.
Sounds simple enough, but the reality is often alarmingly different.
Businesses know all the lingo but their words are all too often empty promises. Sure, they will say, ‘we are committed to our customers,’ but what do they do to prove it? Loyalty is a rare commodity today and, ironically, fostering it is a point of difference for savvy businesses. Those who do not commit to customer relationships do not keep customers. These commitments cannot be faked, they are long term by nature.
There’s no doubt that there are plenty of good intentions and plenty of initiative. The problem is that these campaigns or programmes invariably run for short periods but are never embraced as a full operational strategy.
Why is sustainable success so rare? Why is it that so many companies fail in what should be their number one task? How is it possible to spend a heap of money on training and advertising yet still show such poor results in gaining and retaining customers?
For a customer-focused strategy to be effective you must first gain total commitment, it must be implemented for the long term and must be accompanied by changes in leadership style, company culture, systems and people to adapt to the customers’ expectations. The customer is judging you by what you do, not what you say. Making the choice to adapt and change is necessary for a relationship that goes beyond the occasional superficial act.
What is business doing wrong?
For many companies the answer is a combination of several factors. Companies fail to notice these things and to understand their significance in successfully attracting and retaining customers. Unless companies address these aspects of their business, any customer-focused strategy will fail.
Pursuing new customers at the expense of building stronger relationships with existing customers. In this culture, maintaining and nurturing existing customers is regarded as secondary. Customers quickly get the message that the honeymoon is over and their business is being taken for granted. They then start looking for new suppliers who will treat them as new customers.
Failure to commit fully to a customer strategy. These companies treat customer strategies as cosmetics. After years of broken promises, customers are well trained in detecting genuine actions. Business has unwittingly trained us to be suspicious and cynical, which is why there is such a strong showing of emotion when they do experience the real thing.
Lack of passion. Without passion for customers no strategy will work. It is not the products or service but the way people interact with customers that creates the appeal and the drive to purchase. Without this passion, products and services become commodities, similar to what everyone else has on offer. Customers now associate value with the service they receive from people. They will pay a premium for better experiences delivered by passionate people.
Competing on price and the resulting internal cost cutting, with no thought for the impact on the customer. There is little chance of building a strong relationship with customers and increasing loyalty, when trying to compete with a low price strategy.
Most incentive plans relate only to productivity. It’s all about how much stuff you sell. But you cannot continue to pay people on the basis of productivity alone and expect the focus to be on the quality of service – it simply will not work.
Lack of leadership. Customer strategies require leadership that views the business from the customer’s perspective, not through a spreadsheet. Leaders must have a sincere appreciation and respect for both their people and customers. True leaders that “get it” are missing in the ranks of today’s upper management.
Most customer relationships are not structured to continue beyond the initial sale. Every sale is seen as a one-time accomplishment, instead of a long-term commitment.
Businesses serious about change need to ask themselves:
- What is the role of the customer in the business?
- Which customers are you trying to attract?
- What defines your customer experience?
- What needs to change to become totally customer focused?
- Who do you want delivering your customer experience?
- What mechanisms will you put in place to ensure you are listening to customers?
- How will you measure your success?
– Chris Bell is managing director of Customer Experiences, a company that specialises in helping businesses improve the way in which they interact with customers and clients. – 027 2792360