Tuesday, January 24, 2006

On Line Customer Service

In the on line business community there seems to be this feeling of autonomy amongst its business owners when it comes to those who purchase their items or services. You can't see us so why do we need to serve you seems to be the prevailing attitude. In other words you buy at your own risk. Customer service this year was at an all time low.

Talk about creating the all time negative customer experiences. You want to contact someone, send an email, get an auto responder and wait. If you’re lucky you will get a reply, but if your like the rest of humanity your probably still waiting, or if you did get a reply it was far from satisfactory. The Christmas buying binge is over and the overall approval rate by customer of online customer service is down. In fact it was down some 36 points below 30% to be exact. Now that ought to set off a warning light somewhere.

The kind of issues addressed were not a lot different than those of the traditional business. However they were more acute. Most consumers cited the lack of response to help enquiries that dealt with ordering issues or failed order confirmations. You would think that by now with as much as the online community talks about it they would have their order systems functioning correctly. Next, were orders that were delivered to the wrong address or not at all? Again besides the obvious the tracking was incomplete and customer’s ability to reach the companies was terrible. Most complained of either the inability to reach a live person to help resolve problems or the actual company instead of some international or regional call center. Many listed that many companies just wouldn't respond at all to their request.

The next complaint was the inconsistency in the information or instructions that were provided for either the product or the ordering process. Another of the top five was the ability or unwillingness of the online community to address return issues. Apparently a large percentage of online businesses failed to provide return policies and infrastructure for their clients. The last one that I'll mention was the inability to fill orders. Three weeks before Christmas 60% had reported out of stock on major items. Stock levels were at an all time low this year. Can anybody venture a reason as to why or was it just bad planning?

The point is that the online community, including established online businesses, failed to address customer need and to consider the negative response of poor customer support. This has always been an issue with the industry and most of it is do to managements disconnect from the customer with the web as the barrier. The sad thing is that come Christmas next year 80% of the businesses that sold this year won’t be there. I wonder why?

The solution is really quite simple. Use traditional business modeling for you online businesses. This includes customer service policies. Listen to customer feedback and provide early solutions don't ignore your customer. Online spending fell short of its expectations this year for a reason and it appears that in the area of consumer items it will continue to fall below expectations unless something changes. Customers are what drive your businesses and the markets. If you ignore them you do it at your own risk.

Customers remember and the number one reason cited for not buying on line is a previous bad experience. The markets are not unlimited and in fact have huge limitation. How many people do you think in this world have or can qualify for credit cards? Most don’t even make enough money to buy food let alone something over the net. The main market is still the US and Canada with Europe a very distant second. China, Southeast Asia, India, South America, Eastern Europe and Africa are emerging markets not participating markets. Less than 2% of these can purchase on line and even a smaller percent of that will try. If they do, there are the problems of logistics and payment verification, credit card and payment fraud etc to deal with. Take note, over 90% of all internet fraud comes from these emerging economies.

Limited markets mean declining markets when you mistreat your customers.

We invite your comments and suggestions as always.

For more information on Customer Service and the Customer Experience go to
The Customer Development Center.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

"The Whine Syndrom"

This was actually written as support for a post on another blog.

As rational (?) people in a forward thinking society one would expect problem solving to be approached with an open and somewhat reticent mind before taking action. This particular blog involved a broken link to a free book down load for an e-zine subscription. The person who wrote the e-mail complained and carried on threating to take the issue to various forums if the link wasn't fixed and they didn't get the book along with an apology. They were very rude actually. They got the apology, but no book and yes, the link was fixed.

Customer experience management would be the key here. It isn't the happy customers we really need to worry about, but how to disarm and tranquilize the un-happy ones. The point of this is as people dealing with customers, fellow employees or bosses we do the same thing and create the same kind of issues. I can't count the number of times that I have observed on the store floor in front of dozens of customers an employee whine to a manager or fellow employee about an issue like my 4 year old. This also happens in business meetings as well and in front of clients no less. First it isn't the place and as professionals we should be neutralizing the issues and proving solutions not creating the problems. Yes, even in small businesses if you are part of that organization you are supposed to be a professional

So here it is, to all the "Whiners".

I have six kids and I love them all. The one thing that frustrated me the most as a parent was the "Whine". Apparently some people have never grown up and I agree it is just as irritating hearing it from grownups (adults?) as it is from a 4 year old.

In business it is not uncommon to observe this behavior in our customers especially if they get to address the issues in person. I guess I blame their parents for not teaching them the right kind of communication skills and behaviors or is it for not discouraging the bad ones?

What takes this to another level is that I also have seen this at a B2B level with professionals or not so professional. As a customer experience consultant one of the hardest things to deal with is the "Whine" so I appreciate your insight. Perhaps someone can create a "whine bomb" hmm, I wonder how disruptive that would be?

In business a customer and the employee/manager or owner all has an un-defined responsibility to use good and proper communication skills and to approach challenges openly and to solve problems with an unobstructed view. I guess this person had a mountain blocking their view.

I can't believe they still insisted on the book. Maybe they needed some kind of validation that their "Whine" threat and intimidation of exposure has its reward. Maybe we should call their mom and dad and have them put this person on the time out chair until they achieve better behavior and say I'm sorry for their rudeness. Maybe we should all think about this before we put our own selves in this position when we are hurt, or feel threatened, or feel the right to complain. My mom told me if you can’t be apart of the solution shut up or something like that. Maybe someday I’ll hear the cry, Death to the “Whine”.

As always your comment is invited and encouraged.

For more information on Creating “The best in Customer Experiences” go to
The Customer Development Center.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Customer Experience - Touch Point Madness

Recently I came across a site that boasted of how its software could track 100 Touchpoints throughout the customer experience as it applied to the primary sales process. I had to stop and really think about that one. Even the most ardent marketing manuals don't count that high. So I sat down using my new customer experience model and went to work.

What I found, and already knew, is that they had grossly understated the number of potential Touchpoints that are associated with the sales process alone. Most Touchpoints are outside of the direct sale process and yet have a direct effect in the “will I buy” emotional mentality of the customer. The emotional triggers connected to these are connected to the same primary triggers that most marketing and branding methodologies touch on, but fail to connect to because of their indirect placement or that they may be once or more removed from the direct process of the buying experience.

Never underestimate anything especially small anything’s that might influence a client’s potential appraisal of your company or product. One good example would be the negative advocate. A friend of a friend who says, or the dirty road poster that is tattered and torn. What about the truck driver in a truck that is bearing your company name and logo. In his un-thoughtful haste cuts through an intersection causing people to slam on their breaks and curse the company. I could go on and on with this. There are so many more Touchpoints that they would be hard to even boil down to 100 in general terms.

This is really an issue that we in business need to attend to. Whether in marketing or management we can't be cavalier about this any more. As the customer’s importance to the business process is redefined so is the direction in which we interact with them. How we manage this new perspective and new definition of what a customer relationship is as it applies to a business will determine the success of our placement in the market place. For small to medium size businesses this is crucial. To overlook the extended reach of customer interactions (Touchpoints) is to slam the door shut to future business.

Remember it isn’t the obvious that makes the deal it is the non-obvious that set the emotional tags in the sales process.

We invite any and all comments. Please share your thoughts so that others can grow.

For more information on Customer Touchpoints and Customer Experience Management visit The Customer Development Center.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Internal Customer Service

In a recent Inc.com article this study appeared.

"Of 600 HR managers polled by Monster, 40% said turnover has increased in the past 12 months, while 55% expect workforce retention will be a serious challenge in just the next five years.

Facing this, many businesses are already starting to re-focus recruitment efforts, largely aimed at retaining the top employees they already have, the study showed.

A majority of firms -- nearly 70% -- have begun conducting regular employee satisfaction surveys, though just 32% said they've made workplace changes based on the results, the study found.

Business owners are also increasingly trying to create a work place that promotes a work-life balance by "instituting policies that encourage and support a satisfying personal life," the study said"

What about it small business, is this what's happening? I have found that in most cases the employee who is critical to businesses success is the last to be appreciated and the first to go. Customer service includes what I call "The Silent Customer" the employee. Rarely does a business treat its employees with the same respect that it treats its external customers. Recent studies have also shown that most employees leave because of the lack of trust and proper training. A business who hires someone and then doesn't properly train them for their position is playing Russian roulette with their customers and business success.

Train for the present when they arrive and train for the future before they leave. Many owners say hey! If I train them they just go somewhere else. Yes, some do, but the majority will stay home and benefit the business and your customers. And I'll bet you picked up a few employees along the way that were trained by someone else and where very thankful for it.

Guess what? They left for the same reason your employees will leave and that is because they are under valued and under appreciated. Good employees make the business.

Have an opinion? Please share it, we’re listening.

For more information on Customer Service or Customer Experience Management please visit the Customer Development Center.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What Are Customers Saying

I have been all over the net today looking to see what the general everyday writer is saying in regards to customer service. It's amazing what I have found and scary at the same time. Businesses should be out there every day listening to what's being said and the general unhappiness of the general public.

I took a sample of two hundred from a general search and this is what I found. There were almost as many disinformation pieces by companies as there were complaints. The number of good service comments was one third as many as those had complained about customer service or should I say the lack thereof. 80% of the complaints were about large companies while the others were more general in nature. 5% of the complaints were about small companies. Nearly 58% of the complaints were about online businesses and IT (technology based) businesses. While 22% were about customer services connected to the Telco industry.

Now this is by know way a representative sample although it was a random sampling, nor were the numbers extrapolated in a clear fashion. Just straight old here it is observation. However it is a good indicator that some industries need to be worried about their clients. Someday there will be a consumer uprising that will hit these people in the pocket book by those they take for granted.

Customers drive the competitive market place. Owners, directors and managers better start listening more attentively to what is being said by the customer. Then apply the magic of Customer Experience Management to shore up the gates and start increasing their customer retention and sales conversion rates. Dell just recently got taken down a few notches because of their arrogance with their customers, so who's next.

For more Information on Customer Experience Management we recommend theCustomer Development Center.

And as always we invite all comments and feedback.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Loyalty Factor and The Customer Experience

I have been somewhat distracted over the past few days by the ideology of Customer Loyalty. The variances in definition depend on who you talk to. One thing that I have come to grips with is that marketers, sales and branding people (Sorry) have no clue on what true customer loyalty is comprised of. The rush to define customer loyalty in their terms has so distorted it that most of the industry is really ineffective when it comes to developing Loyalty programs (which are also ineffective).

So what is customer loyalty? Good question and I'll try to keep my perspective simple. I went outside of the Industry to gain insight from those who would probably have the best understanding in this area. Loyalty isn't just a business concept. Psychological research is what best defines this. Loyalty doesn't belong to anyone process. Sorry again to those in business who think it belongs to them.

Simply put, loyalty is the extension of trust in exchange for an emotional reward based on previous experiences, observations and instinct. Yes, in the context of customer experiences as they apply to acquisition this is a highly emotional and psychologically based process. Most of it is derived in the subconscious. It is also noted that people have an inherent desire to trust. It is part of who we are and this applies to even the greatest of skeptics.

In terms of marketing and branding, the sensual inputs delivered through various media (visual and suggested) are only a fraction of the over all process that extends outside our direct intervention. These experiences provide the reason or desire to extend trust by the customer toward the company, product or service, but beyond that influence the customer relationship stops. Loyalty is derived from experiences and influences outside of this context such as personal relationships.

What if a particular branding or marketing project promises to delivery a certain psychological experience and that experience is less than suggested (promised). The trust is shattered at that point and trust is withdrawn. In almost all cases this is what happens and as a result there is a large abandonment of first time buyers from the ranks of perceived loyal customers. This is also a key reason for abandonment by long time supporters of a given company.

Recently in Singapore (sounds a bit exotic) the National Kidney Foundation experienced a huge abandonment by over 60% of its donors on news of ethics violations in management and that only 10 cents out of every dollar was passed on to potential patients.

The promise was shattered and trust withdrawn. The promise was perceived and the perception was extended by the marketing and branding efforts through various media. When a selection of donors was interviewed they felt that not only did the NKF violate their trust but they also felt that they were deceived by the marketing media. This is a very common response in cross industry analysis of those who abandon both short and long term business/ customer relationships.

If you have an existing customer contingent and they have shown loyalty to the brand, product etc and they perceive or experience negative interaction direct or indirect with a brand, company, product etc the withdrawl of trust will take place removing the loyalty factor. In reality true loyalty exist in less than 5% of company’s clients at any one time.

The importance of in-depth customer experience management cannot be overstated as it applies to generating loyalty in customers. Customer management, sales management, marketing, accounting, customer retention initiatives etc are just extended components of what customer experience management entails.

Small companies or small businesses, if understanding this concept correctly, will have the greatest effect on their customer/clients. The experience transverses all aspects of a business and all interactions whether direct or indirect. It is also in the context of small that identifiable relationships are formed. Simply put you manage those experiences you can and pray the ones you can't are positive. For more on this aspect read my other blogs or visit the Customer Dvelopment Center for more material and articles.

There, I have had my say and I will continual to address related issues in future blogs and articles.

As always I invite your comments and input. Growth comes through the free exchange of ideas.

Monday, January 02, 2006

For Contingency Planning, Use Customer Experience Management

In a recent post at TheIntuitive Life Business Blog a question was proposed. What happens when a customer gets mad or frustrated enough with a company to start a blogging campaign? What can you do fro damage control?

It is something to consider. The writer had a client that was faced with such a dilemma. I’ll let you read the post and the following comments, mine are also included. Risk is what we deal with every day and in business, contingency planning should be a first level survival task. There should be a contingency for all conceivable mishaps that can be forthcoming to any kind or type of business. Of course there is the obvious such as fire, hazardous spills, lost hard drives and the resulting data, employees gone mad, etc; but what about customers where customer policy dysfunctions create loss. One recent example of a blog campaign by two very unhappy customers that created huge loss for a company is the recent story that involved Dell Computers.

Suggestion could run from using a PR firm to gorilla war fare and subversive blog attacks. This is of course a reactionary political ploy to cover up where the real responsibility lies. If a company, enterprise or small business were to practice customer experience management and center the customer in the business process, as apposed to sales and sales outcomes the nature of contingency, in this aspect anyway, would change.

A proactive customer experience program would allow a company to create up front intervention before it became too late to control bad fall out. There are numerous ways in which this can be handled and using the blog as a feedback tool is perhaps the strongest way to address preemptive contingency planning. Please see “Feedback via The Blog”. There are interactive client management policies that can be implemented by way of your sales team or in the case of small business maybe just a sales person. These can be on the retail floor or in a B2B direct sales/marketing campaign. E-mails used not as a marketing tool, but as a customer update tool or just to say thank you. Contingency planning takes on a different position when it is preemptive and centers on using customer experience management as the delivery tool. In this case it is much easier to isolate and control damage if not just plain avoid it.

Creating rich feedback environments and fully interactive customer support environments is a effective use of Customer Experience Management for strong contingency solutions.

For more information on Customer Experience and Feedback visit The Customer Development Center.

Please share your comments and insights and help others gain from your knowledge.