Before my father went into marketing, he was in sales management and took sales training seriously. This was the era of John Cleese training videos and my brothers and I always had the first viewing.
The age-old customer service messages weaved into the entertaining and memorable format were tenets of sound business:
- The customer is king
- Don’t make the customer a pawn in your organizational chess game
- The customer isn’t there for your gratification or to make your life easier
- Neglect your customer at your peril – the competition is waiting to make a move
Fast forward nearly 50 years and those messages are as relevant and poignant today; unless Customer Experience has become irrelevant to business success over the last 6 years…….
This from 2012:
“The customer is the ROI of customer experience. The philosophy and strategy and effort and skill we put into creating an effective and pleasurable interaction for the customer results in a customer. Customer experience is the sustenance of a business, not an indulgence.” 1
Closer to 70 years ago, business guru Peter Drucker said the purpose of a business is to create a customer.2 This has often been expanded to: find and keep a customer.
Back even earlier, Buckminster Fuller suggested a business is there to produce value, not create money out of ‘obnoxico’ (goods and services that have no inherent value).
“You have to decide whether you want to make money or make sense, because the two are mutually exclusive.” Buckminster Fuller34
I see a connection here with Fellow John Thorp’s work in value management.5
Customer Experience – Risk and Opportunity
If the above ideas are still relevant, how come positive Customer Experiences remain in the minority?
Customer Experience is visceral before it is digital. Speaking for myself, service and product purchases impact every part of my life – almost all experiences I would rather not have:
- I live in an apartment block which over the last 20 years has increased service charges way in excess of inflation while consistently deteriorating the level and type of service and overall experience
- I attend a gym that has, likewise, over the past 20 years consistently and determinedly destroyed the fitness experience, and indeed threatens the very health and safety of members (while claiming to do the opposite), while asking for feedback that results in actions in the opposite direction
- I purchase fresh juices from a well-reputed hygienic chain but got violently ill straight after I consumed the last purchase a few days ago
- I buy food from a local reputable chain that I suspect is not as fresh and healthy as they claim. (What do you do if you can’t eat the food you buy?!)
- I received a bill for legal services last week that I did not engage, nor do I know anything about
- I use an airline for international travel (the most direct route) that continues to frustrate and annoy
- I’m sure I am not alone in experiencing a spike in blood pressure when purchasing services online….and the list goes on.
Customer service all but a dream?
I do wonder:
- Am I particularly fussy or is it reasonable to assume that I won’t be annoyed, frustrated, poisoned, harmed, over-charged and/or denied the service I was led to believe I purchased?
- Has life become more complicated and is great customer service simply a thing of a nostalgic past?
- Were the previously-described business tenets simply not true and they died a natural and irrelevant death? Or, are they still true, but simply too hard and therefore largely ignored?
There are exceptions which are a pure delight, including:
- TransferWise which provides an awesome online experience at a fraction of the normal cost to gift money to my family overseas
- The local Automobile Association, who not only provide a superbly easy online experience but are also a phone call away from personalised – yes, human! – help
- A local bank whose Digital leader ensures his team regularly spends time talking to people on the street (literally). He was surprised that I was surprised.6
- A television programme called Fair Go that is celebrating 40 years of broadcast, in an era of rapidly shrinking traditional media. Customers’ rights continue to be publicly defended each week as examples of unfair treatment are investigated and broadcast. Companies respond to this in a number of ways, but for all, it a chance for resolution.
Every organisation starts out with the best of intentions; no business I have heard of (possibly other than Fawlty Towers) prides itself on poor service.
One-to-one marketing now possible with superior technical expertise?
The digital era is surely one in which one-to-one marketing – purported in the 1990s to be the competitive edge – can at last be actualized. At a time of AI and stretchy sensors, brain implants to control prostheses and driverless cars, has the time at last arrived for the Customer to ascend the throne?
It seems not. Last week my 90-year old mother was assured her phone simply could not support an App she had lost access to. The millennials in the local telecom shop (where she purchases her service) did their best – they phoned colleagues in other branches, tapped into their knowledge database, tried this, that and the other, all to no avail. Fortunately, mum doesn’t believe that things can’t be done and with her younger (80-year old) friend, simply downloaded it from the App store and her life continues in the manner to which she has become accustomed.
(I suggested she offer her tech support services at said shop. I can vouch for her pleasant manner and good old-fashioned common sense.)
Pawn to Bishop
Is it a matter of voting with our feet? If being treated like royalty is a move too far, should we simply refuse to move in directions that suppliers insist we move.
Is it just me, or is there anyone else out there who resents having your computer controlled by an outside entity, stealing your time? I find myself longing for a time when the business I pay for a service simply does what it claims.
Considering markets like India and China, and emerging demographics, I do realise I am a mere speck of dust on the global market chess board and maybe the Customer Experiences that companies design simply aren’t targeted at me. But I still dream that I am important; that as a customer, I count. (I blame John Cleese for this delusion.)
1The Purpose of a Business is to Create a Customer. August 13, 2012 by Whitney Hess. https://whitneyhess.com/blog/2012/08/13/the-purpose-of-a-business-is-to-create-a-customer/
2Drucker, Peter. The Practice of Management. Harper & Row Publishers Inc. 1993
3Fuller, Buckminster. Critical Path. 1981
4Consumption for consumption’s sake. Adrian Tout, 23 Jan 2013 http://tradethetape.com.au/consumption-for-consumptions-sake-obnoxico/
5Transforming governance and leadership for the digital economy. John Thorp. 1 May 2014
6Digital Engagement. Cherri Holland. November 2016 www.institutefordigitaltransformation.org/digital-engagement/
About the Author:
Cherri Holland is a performance and change specialist who works with leaders transforming their organisations in response to market pressures, technology change or both. Long influenced by leaders running successful staff-driven businesses, she combines this partnership-approach to enterprise with the neuroscience of super-performance.
Having worked with clients at all levels across most sectors in nine countries, Cherri has validated these high-performance approaches in diverse cultures and types of enterprise.
Described as commercially-savvy, engaging and inspirational, her clients have consistently said their high expectations of change outcomes have been exceeded.
She uses organisation purpose as a vehicle for collaboration and human ingenuity to co-create programmes that outperform those traditionally imposed by ‘experts’.