Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Customer Service and The Business Environment

Over this past weekend I had the delicious experience of eating at a most delightful restaurant in south Singapore. For those who didn't know, Singapore sits at the southern tip of Malaysia. It is a beautiful and modern tropical city state. Foremost of you Singapore is probably on the other side of the world, but in business terms it is no different than the restaurant next door or down the street from where you work or live. Perhaps you own a restaurant in which case it is very much the same. Regardless, customer service and creating the Total Customer Experience" is much the same in theory for every business regardless of the country.

The ambience was great, a definite plus in offering a great customer experience. It radiated an open party and festive mood and it delivered. In any business it is important to make your customers feel like they belong, this also includes employees. If your store or office etc is always dirty and clutered with files boxes and old furniture many clients or perspective clients will go elsewhere where they wil feel more comfortable. It is this feeling of comfortable, relaxed, belonging or whatever you want to call it that provides the first fulfillment of the customer experience. This is also a very big first step in the delivery of customer service. The condition of the side walk, parking lot and other outer facilities are also a big part of this first offering of customer service and the development of "The Total Customer experience".

In the case of the restaurant, the environment was perfect. The environment of any business is always key in the customer’s internalization of its products and/or service fulfillment. In the case of a restaurant, the food and those who serve the customer, including the kitchen and other support staff, are big part of this. They all serve either an indirect or direct role in creating the business environment in which the sales or acquisition process is fulfilled.

This could be applied to any product or business. From a hair salon to an auto body shop, from a small book store to a large department store what a customer visually sees in the visual apperance, smells and sounds the expectations of experience fulfillment. The will see the fulfillment or lack of fulfillment in this perceived quality, service and sensory delivery. Some would call this fulfilling the brand promise, but I believe that it goes beyond this and is embodied in the fulfillment of the “Total Customer Experience. From a small architect’s office to an accountancy or law firm this principal is worth taking notice of.

In my next blog I’ll discuss other aspects of my night out experience. There are many aspects of how customer service helps to fulfill not only the brand promise, but more importantly the promise of the “Total Customer Experience”

We invite your comments on any of our postings. They add depth and perspective. If you want to find out more on the "Total Customer Experience" please check out
The Customer Development Center

Thursday, March 16, 2006

email and the Customer Experience

In a blog from the University of New Jersey a professor was reminiscing on the task of teaching students proper e-mail etiquette. With a "smile" I also remember the task that I have in teaching my clients the importance of e-mail etiquette.

What we often forget is that customer experience management goes beyond the most obvious of experiences enjoyed by a customer/client and it is in those less obvious experiences that we create perhaps the longest lasting impressions. E-mail is a perfect example of this. After all it is what isn't said that sends the biggest message.

Remember such things such as;

Proper titles, spell check, grammar
Keep it short (if it’s going to be long email, please write a letter),
Don't abuse the privilege, (in other words don't take advantage of a customer/clients trust by selling or sharing the address or by constantly up selling),
Broadcasting e-mails to vague audiences is rude,
And use, opt/ opt out email list

How you treat your customer with the message that is sent is reflected in the way you write and use your e-mail. This sends a huge message to your customer/client or your potential customer/client and they push you away without you ever knowing why. Email is an informal medium with formal taste. It is a great way to reach people, but it is never to replace the use of a formal letter. It should contain a formal structure i.e. heading, greeting and signiture, but it also delivers an informal message.

Making an email a positive customer experience can provide another peg in the development of long term customer loyalty and customer value development (long term sales potential)

As always we invite comment and respect your position. If you would like more information on customer experience management please visit the The Customer Development Center,
or
If you need help with your e-mail and its distribution check out this superior email program

Creating email based positive experiences

In a blog from the University of New Jersey a professor was reminiscing on the task of teaching students proper e-mail etiquette. With a "smile" I also remember the task that I have in teaching my clients the importance of e-mail etiquette.

What we often forget is that customer experience management goes beyond the most obvious of experiences enjoyed by a customer/client and it is in those less obvious experiences that we create perhaps the longest lasting impressions. E-mail is a perfect example of this. After all it is what isn't said that sends the biggest message.

Remember such things such as;



How you treat your customer and the message that is sent by the way you write and use your e-mail sends a huge message to your customer/client or your potential customer/client. Email is an informal medium with formal taste. It is a great way to reach people, but it is never to replace the use of a formal letter.

Making an email a positive customer experience can provide another peg in the development of long term customer loyalty and customer value development (long term sales potential)

As always we invite your comment. If you would like more information on customer experience management please visit the The Customer Development Center,
or
If you need help with your e-mail and its distribution check out this superior email program.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Brand, The Customers Experience and Positioning

In a recent post by Laura Ries in here blog "The Origin of The Brand" (Original post “Alta is for Skiers”)she injects the premise that it is more important to position the brand than to serve the customer. This is pretty much a very traditional middle of the road position in the marketing and branding industry. She also suggested the reason that the "Alta" ski resort in Utah (subject of her post) used a brand positioning strategy to position themselves opposite of the current trend of snow boarding. They did this to distinguish their brand from others who follow the trendy side of snow boarding thus giving themselves a stronger marketing position. Snow boarding vs. skiing and they found it in skiing.


Below are my comments in reply to her post.
___________________________________________________
Positioning isn't always as important as the customer experience. The Brand offers the promise or at the very least hope, but if not delivered it alienates the market (customer). The customer needs to be the prime focus in the success formula.

Alta new this, they kept getting more and more ski enthusiast from other slopes and were smart enough to realize that for that market segment others (competing slopes) were alienating their market. Alta was astute enough to capitalize on the trend and focus on their core competency (key) and that was concentrating on and delivering a superior product to their particular segment of the market, the skiing enthusiast.

By the way they had considered snow boarding and had made a decision to open up one of their runs to the boarding public. In doing so they also lost most of their cross over market. Thank goodness they didn't follow the trend. Purest need the real thing and they new this.

This market segment is large enough for now, but upward market pressure may still eventually force a change. Pure skiers are a dying breed and as they mature and move out of the market a younger more board centered user will move them back into the mainstream. They will survive at the top regardless because they put the customer ahead of the brand.

Alta's positioning strategy wasn't their main concern, but delivering on the brand promise and continuing to provide a great customer experience was.

Now I agree that positioning can be a great tool, but not always, and when you create an enemy or go the opposite direction to distinguish your brand it may backfire and alienate you from the very market you’re trying to attract. Yes, you made a name for yourself, but it left a negative impression and a bad customer experience.

As always we invite you to post your comments and share in the blogging experience. You don't have to agree, but please comment.

For more information on the customer experience and its management you may want to visit The Customer Development Center

Using "The Customer Experience to Define Product Development

In a recent article by Karl Long “Features don’t Matter Anymore” that appears at “Experience Curve” he offered the following list as the “10 fundamental rules for the age of user experience technology”, or what might be called the “10 truisms of customer experience:”

This list was obtained from an article entitled by the same name that was offered by the “Association of Computing Machinery” Now of course I don’t totally agree with the list because it fails to recognize the customer and second it was developed by IT people and we all know they have no clue as to the real world of business and its relationship to customers.

So I will break down each of the ten in attempt to correct the misperceptions that would come from allowing this to exist without challenge.

1. More features isn’t better, it’s worse.

In the terms of IT people who get bothered if a client ask for more than two options this is a true statement, but in the terms of real world customer diplomacy and customer use variations it is rather simplistic and narrow minded. Now, I agree that a load of features that do nothing to fulfill my need as a user are quite useless. However, what would happen if in the product development cycle someone actually involved the particular user market in developing and designing functionality and features they want? Probably sell a hell of a lot more units wouldn’t you think?

2. You can’t make things easier by adding to them.

There goes the controlling ego of technology again. What they are really saying is that it isn’t easy for them to go back and do it right the second time and those customers really are second class citizens without a clue so we will decide for them. Well maybe they should clue into the 21st century concept of customer experience reality. Developers and solution designers hate to have non industry customers involved in their work. No wonder 80% of their deliverables are miserable flops.

3. Confusion is the ultimate deal-breaker.

Well in this case I agree. If you aren’t sending a clear message and you are communicating on a level not in tune with your client the deal is off. In an IT context this is a real truism because they can’t lower their standard and drop out of their industry based clich├ęs and buzz words to really explain to their potential client what is going on. Ever read a user manual written by a techy and one written by a market or customer centered writer? There is a BIG difference. One makes sense and the other doesn’t

4. Style matters

Style does matter, but it has to have potential customer input or more often than not it will be rejected by the majority of the designated target market. I don't no if they added this because it was a self afirmation or they saw as piece of new enlightenment.

Customer developed design and functionality are now a perquisite for new products that are delivered to the market. If not then there is a substantial amount of redevelop cost that are associated to the design and manufacturing development of the product. Ops, there goes the ROI.

5. Only features that provide a good user experience will be used.

Now this really does make sense if the user experience is defined by the user and not by the designer. Most industries ignore the user in the design and functionality concept phase of product and service development. Remember what the user wants as an experience outcomes and what the IT technocrats want are no different. Just the roads they take. Then end result usually ends up in an end user nightmare.

6. Any feature that requires learning will only be adopted by a small fraction of users.

If the customer wants the feature or product they will have the desire to go through a learning curve and that includes the majority of users. How you design the learning curve (customer experience) and the associated materials will determine their acceptance. If again you include the customer or target market in this process the buy in is much greater than if you ignore them.

7. Unused features are not only useless, but they can slow you down and diminish ease of use.

Well yes, another truism out of the annals of technology development. This would not be the case if they created user interactive development and feedback in a proactive environment. Not only would all the uses be relevant to the potential user they wouldn’t have unused elements developed by a design team that thought they would show off by installing something tricky or in other words “garbage” to the end user.

8. Users do not want to think about technology: what really counts is what it does for them.

Actually users do think about technology and dream great things that involve it. They think about it in terms that relate to them in their perspective. SO, when designing look at it through your customer’s eyes, the view in which your target market would view it. IT development companies never starts with the client view and rarely ends there. Maybe they should think about a change in their approach.

9. Forget about the “Killer Feature”. Welcome to the age of the killer user-experience.

“Killer features” = “Killer Customer (User) Experiences”. Only if the killer features was designed to solve a particular issue or need of the client not as some techy star war show off piece. Of course if you were a Star War follower that would be pretty cool. There is nothing wrong with developing a master feature especially if it differentiates you from the competition. Leave out the customer or potential customer in the design and development process and you can kiss your “Killer Feature” goodbye. Of course if you accidentally discover a masterful relationship between your killer feature and your target market no matter how it happened all will be forgiven and you will be called genius.

10. Less is difficult, that’s why less is more

I assume a non responsible moron made this non-sense statement. If they mean simplicity is defining value ok, I can work with that. If they are trying to justify their down sizing customer options because they can’t cope with the customers complex need and intelligence then it is no more than another industry copout, which is more true than not.

Micro technology is difficult, but sensible and customer centered technology isn’t difficult if you make the customer a part of the process. If in doubt read customer 101.

We as always want to encourage your feed back and comments as part of the blogging community.

If you want to learn more please visit The Customer Development Center and explore the many articles that are written on the diferent aspects of customer service and customer experience management.