The Perfect Customer Experience

Turning Satisfied Customers into Advocates – Dale Wolf, Editor

The Perfect Customer Experience - Turning Satisfied Customers into Advocates – Dale Wolf, Editor

Ten Ideas for Increasing Performance of Your Social Media Strategy

Nearly every marketing manager, director or VP who is attending my MBA class in International Marketing tells me that increasingly larger percentages of their budgets go to digital over traditional marketing.  The primary driver is social media and the urgency to stay on top of what is going on with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the relentless need for content to fuel their corporate blogs.

The students in my class are divided on the value of corporate blogs however; some see it as critical for defining thought leadership and others use them purely for Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  While they are split on this issue, the class is unanimous that the era of digital marketing driven by social media is here and moving very fast.

What does Success Look Like in Social Media?

Just based on my class alone, only one in ten social media programs today is delivering on the goals they were designed for.  That’s just 10% of social media programs attaining the goals they were originally funded to achieve.  We’ve spent a good two to three hours debating this in class, looking at success stories of BestBuy, Comcast, Southwest Airlines and many others.  What I really like about teaching at the MBA level is that you can have these debates in class and everyone gets very engaged, even passionate about their beliefs.  It is a great learning experience for everyone to just hear the varying opinions.  Based on these discussions and analysis of our own companies, the following ten ideas for improving social media strategy effectiveness emerged.

  • Be original and define key performance indicators that closely capture progress to your awareness, selling and service goals.  The most successful social media programs the students had run and we studied were bold and defined their own key performance indicators and metrics of performance.  Those managing these programs were not afraid to define their own unique metrics, creating an entirely different approach to defining success.
  • Realize that defining success of social media strategies on popularity and clicks alone, followers and fans is like watching mile markers disappear in your rear view mirror as you speed down a freeway. They are both comforting as they show velocity and distance – they are great measures of progress – but what’s more important is the direction and time to the goal.
  • Give each social media channel you explore a good year of effort to understand prospects’ and customer’ expectations with regard to how and what information is delivered. Personas emerge from each social media application or platform over time; watch for the nuances of differences as they will show how prospects and customers vary in how they choose to get information.  Behavior varies widely across social media channels as does participation.  Take a good year to track that and understand it, with no expectation of payback. Once insights are gained by personas, making strategies work is much easier.
  • The best content is compelling and evokes strong emotions through stories. This is a major point and a secret that emerges from the analysis our class did of successful social media strategies.  The companies charging out of the recession right now appear to have found a way to use stories to change the frame of reference and priorities of potential customers.
  • The best social media marketing campaigns tend to be run by people more on a mission of service than salary. You can definitely see this in the case studies and the inspiring stories from the marketing directors and VPs in my class. Better to hire for passion and find someone who wants to excel at this, and who has social networking innate skills including communicating, collaborating and conflict resolution.
  • Planning for customer complaints by giving front-line social media strategies control over escalation paths and budget to solve customer problems is a win. The companies we reviewed in our case studies that range from BestBuy to JetBlue, Southwest Airlines to Comcast all defined escalation paths for dealing with customer problems.  Customers choose which social media channel to learn from, they also choose which to complain through.  Anticipating and planning for that, and creating escalation paths as part of a social media plan pays off in responsiveness and customer satisfaction.
  • Capture user complaints that come in over social media and analyze them to see how you can improve products, services, the customer experience. This is a radical concept and underscores the mindset change that must pervade companies if social media strategies are ever going to succeed.  Instead of seeing your most loyal customers’ complaining as a pain, look at them as a source of ideas for improvement.  It is a chance to understand how you are really doing; pay attention to what is being said and find insights on how to improve.
  • Failing fast is the best way to learn how to make social media work. Companies hung up on every plan being flawless all the time will find it tough going in social media.  The mindset of failure providing the insights into how best to define shifts in strategy and approach stood out in our class analysis as a key success factor.  Failing fast is a mindset that a social media team has to embrace to succeed, and that means continual experimentation until a given mix and approach works.
  • Use Google Analytics to gain insights into what types of content matter most by each type of social media and audience. One of my students found that engineers liked blogs the most and Twitter the least, while one student who runs and electronics distribution business found Twitter-based offers with urgency associated with them worked well.  Using Google Analytics, you will be able to see trends in how your various content is used by each social media application.  It is free and invaluable in the lessons learned.
  • Set up social media marketing teams to win by giving them the budget, freedom and autonomy to make the needle move on key performance indicators. Much of what is going on today in social media marketing is experimentation – the trouble is that it is not called that – especially in front of C-level executives funding these programs.  It’s time to level set expectations and tell the truth: social media is a long-term investment and the rules and assumptions used in other media just don’t work.

Bottom line: Taking a mindset of experimentation over perfection, creating your own metrics over popularity-based ones, and failing fast to learn as much as possible increase the chances of success with social media strategies.

Process simplification becomes a matter of survival.

The processes we use to deliver our products and services become the fingerprint of our organizations. They are how we get things done. They determine our productivity. They define our company from the competition. They reflect out to our customers and tell them who we are and whether we care about their needs.

On the other hand, our processes can take on a life of their own and become a bewildering maze of handoffs. They grow complex and proliferate, making us more difficult to work with. They remain labor intensive and paper-driven. In many companies, these proliferating processes come to reside in functional silos with the corporate left hand unable to communicate across the maze efficiently, quickly – or, sometimes at all – with the corporate right hand. The result is internal and external complexity and confusion.

Simplification becomes a matter of survival.

We know instinctively that there are rich opportunities in restructuring our processes. And staring at our dropping ROI and listening to the thunder of our competition’s feet in the background, racing to overtake us, we are painfully aware of the need to do something and do it now.

The Value of Your Product to the Customer Sets the Boundaries for Process Change:

 It is easy, once you’ve set your mind to change your process, to be enthused by all the things you can do to improve efficiency, reduce delivery costs, and engineer new products. This is largely good but runs the risk of being destructively self-reinforcing, of making the benefits you’ve identified grow in importance as they are talked up internally beyond what a reality-test of some kind would permit. That’s a potential trap. No amount of process improvement means anything unless it enables you to deliver a product perceived by your customer and prospect base as having value to them. “Behind any winning strategy must stand a superior value proposition – a clear, simple statement of benefits that your company will provide, along with the approximate price you will charge each customer segment for those benefits.”[1]


[1] “A business is a value delivery system,” Michael J. Lanning and Edward G. Michaels, adapted from a McKinsey staff paper

Leveraging a Great Value Propositon into Great Customer Experience

Information-based strategies leverage expert knowledge of the profitability, preferences and transaction histories of individual customers to increase the effectiveness of marketing, sales and service. To transform your ho-hum, run-of-the-mill value message into an eye-popping, head-turning, “must have” proposition that positions you head and shoulders above the competition, we suggest you implement the following solutions:

  • Define what makes your product-service offerings unique and better than those of your competitor.
  • Improve customer service and market it as a key differentiator.
  • Offer value-added services to your most profitable clients.
  • Provide highly customized, one-to-one relationships, through a personalized marketing and selling environment.

4 factors are either barriers or opportunities; good or evil.

Understanding our barriers gives us the ability to size up our situation more objectively, and to see where extra effort is needed to smooth the path to success. “While we look for new ways to serve customers, I don’t want to do anything to upset what is already working.” This comment came from the CIO of one the world’s largest financial services providers “We now have 28 different mainframe databases. We spend half our annual budget keeping these systems working with each other. How can we gain leverage when we are fighting every day just to do the basics?”

Four high-level factors are either barriers or opportunities; good or evil.

  1. People and Politics – People are either attributes or detriments. I find it somewhat amazing when working with some of the best companies in America how often, inept people reach senior positions. Everyone around them knows it, and they know it. That is precisely when internal politics becomes a factor that limits success. Inept people in positions of power play politics to hide their inabilities. When they make mistakes, they point fingers. Wars break out. If these people are not identified and given training to strengthen their ability to lead wisely, they will need to be demoted to a position in which they can be effective or be dragged off the bus.
  2. Process Resistance – Another form of fear is the disruption of process improvement. Transformational leaders need to spot the fearful and help them see the benefits of change. If they stall progress to protect their current position, they need to be pulled aside and shown how they can succeed when the organization needs to update or improve processes. Resistance or silent subversion cannot be tolerated.
  3. Culture – This is the way “we do things around here.” Every organization should strive for a Culture of Productivity. When laziness, absenteeism, missed deadlines, relational conflict, lack of respect for others or other such negative factors become embedded in the culture then costs go up, over-staffing occurs and value to customers drops.  Culture then becomes a barrier to success.
     
  4. Resources including Technology – Failure to equip people with the resources they need to do their jobs well is a huge talent-waster. If leadership expects the people they have hired to do the work and achieve their goals, it must provide everyone on the team with the resources to do quality work in a timely manner. Leaders need to be skilled at understanding every job in the organization and know what resources are needed. If finances are limited then a plan should be put in place to prioritize the most critical resource needs and then acquire those left unfilled as soon as they can reasonably be provided.

Customer Experience Marketing: The Value-Strategy Scorecard

Your list of customer promises will be added to the Value-Strategy Scorecard – a tool for evaluating how well you line up with customer expectations, and where you want to refine your marketing strategies.

The Value-Strategy Scorecard illustration below defines what a particular strategy looks like from the customer’s point of view. Have a panel of customers from each of the targeted Personas rate the match-up. Also have key employees within your company rate your ability to deliver on the promises. Place a symbol in each box to indicate how the product strategy aligns with customer needs. Use a High, Medium and Low scale where H = 10, M=5 and L=2. If there is no match, leave the square blank, where Blank=0. If you want to place “weighting” of the entries, limit yourself to no more than three High’s, Medium’s or Low’s to force a tradeoff between factors.

 

For a finer-grained look at Value-Strategies, break down each overall strategy into its component parts. Examples might include: reliability, durability, appearance, cost, ease of purchase, quantity, service, speed, accuracy and emotional satisfaction.

 

Total the columns and graph the results for a fast visual impression of what the Scorecard is telling you. Which Personas are worth pursuing? What products will align best? What communication strategy factors will resonate best with reality of the market?

There is one more piece of reality that must be analyzed to answer these questions. Where are the gaps? Which of the highly valued factors do your targeted Personas take for granted and are mandatory and which are they not now able to satisfy … either from you or from your competitors?

Plot out the highly valued factors that are not now satisfactorily delivered. Have them rank those factors on a scale of 10 to get a sense of priority. Then have your staff rank the same factors on a scale of 10, based on consensus opinion of your ability to deliver. The difference between these two groups gives you a metric on which factors you most need to improve so you can delight customers with exceptional value.

You now have a quantifiable means of looking into Reality and using metrics to guide your customer experience marketing strategy.

Mesh with the Experience your Customers Want

We insert our conversations into a point-of-view (POV) that already exists in the customer’s mind.

But this time we are armed with the axiom Yes-Maybe-No. Still our job is not easy.

This point-of-view (POV) includes values, beliefs, biases that collectively determine how we engage in conversations with our friends, associates and with the companies from whom we buy things.

The POV explains how we can see the same information and make totally different decisions.

Changing the POV is difficult and often impossible.  Early adopters are a very small subset of any market.

  •  It is hard to convert a Republican into a Democrat.
  • It is hard to convince an alumnus of Ohio State University to support Michigan University.
  • It is hard to convince a vegetarian to eat at McDonalds.
  • It is hard to get a cost-driven purchasing agent to buy a high-end product.
  • It is hard to get a CIO to put versatility ahead of security.
  • It is hard to get a brand-loyal shopper to switch to a new brand.
  • It is hard to … well, you get the point.

Our task as customer experience managers is to leverage the POV that already exists in the minds of our customers. You gain this leverage by first identifying clusters of customers who share a certain point of view. Then you can frame your conversation in terms of that viewpoint.

Customers sniff out imposters fast so your conversations must be authentic … you cannot lie your way into a point of view. A good conversation engages the audience fast and holds them tight with relevance to what they already believe. If it does not ring true, the conversation is over.

Customers are listening for what’s new and different and relevant to their needs and beliefs. If your story is unique, they will listen and then make a very quick decision to engage in the conversation, or not. Once the customer has decided that the story fits into her POV and hears a few supportive factors, the customer will stick around to hear the complete story. If it continues to ring with authenticity, the customer will move with you – might even consider altering the POV – and share the story with other people who have a similar POV.

The Acquisition Power of Yes-Maybe-No

With the “Yes-Maybe-No” axiom in hand (see my previous post: The Axiom for Changing the Customer Conversation), you can now map out the entire campaign for conversing with every customer in your database; not just those two percent who might say “yes” but now to the 98 percent who have not yet said “yes.”

Now a “no” response is just as important to you as is a “yes” response.

Let’s see how this might look in a customer experience initiative where you want to invite prospects to attend an educational Webinar.

    • The mailing goes out to 1,000 individuals.
    • 20 say “yes” when they go to your registration landing page and sign up (the typical 2% response rate). Your pre-planned action for any “yes” response is to send back to them an email with instructions for attending plus a whitepaper that positions you as an expert on the subject.
    • Another 20 say “maybe” when they go to your registration page and request more information be sent to them by email. You have now collected their email address which goes into your customer database. Your pre-planned response for “maybe” prospects is an email with a sample audio clip. Of these, 10 come back and register. (The other 10 are moved into your “no” list … but we will ignore this complexity for the moment).
    • You hear nothing from the other 960 prospects on your mailing list. Normally, you would ignore these people until your next episodic campaign in a couple of months. But instead, your pre-planned action for all “no” responders is to send them the same mailing a second time (statistically this always produces a bump that is about half the number of “yes” responders). From this group who get the mailing the second time, you get 10 responders who are now fulfilled as “yes” prospects. The remaining 950 get another touch to encourage participation … in this case, our pre-planned action is to have the telemarketers call 50% and to send the remaining another mailing with a promotional overlay as added motivation to register. The telemarketers call 480 to discover if they are interested in the Webinar topic and to gain further information regarding their issues and needs. The telemarketers gain another 20 attendees. The information they gather is entered in the customer database. The upgraded mailing is sent to 480 and it gets a 5% response rate for an additional 24 attendees.

 

You have launched a new kind of customer conversation.

Instead of the 20 who said yes to the initial mailing, you now have a total 74 attendees. But even more important, you have initiated a different kind of conversation with your marketplace. The task is to learn something new about each of your customers every time you talk with them. You begin to string these conversations together into a longitudinal experience, you collect information about their needs, wants and expectations and you use this information to fine-tune future conversations.

This then launches a different kind of promotional sequence. Instead of the quarterly episodic direct mail initiative, you begin running more frequent but smaller campaigns to customers who have similar attributes or needs. The campaigns are smaller, but the returns get bigger. You can move from 2% response rates to 50% and higher. And your marketing programs will begin delivering greater value to your customers. Marketing then shifts from being an intrusion to being a valued part of the relationship between your company and your customers.

The axiom for changing the customer conversation

Conversations can be a lot like watching a game of soccer. Players on two teams run back and forth until someone finally scores. If you do not know the rules and the strategy, the game looks confusing and with no apparent rationale. Just a lot of running around.

When we are in a conversation with a segment of customers, we send messages out. Some break through and cause a response; others just ricochet into oblivion. Such conversations appear to be a lot of running around with no strategy to guide it in a purposeful direction.

A customer calls your customer service line and gets one answer and they go on your website and get an entirely different answer. You send them a statement that is confusing so they call your sales rep. He can’t help because he’s never seen the statement. The whole thing seems like an unmanageable, quagmire. Mostly when you talk to them, you hear nothing back. Sheer frustration.

It can be confusing until you understand one essential axiom for changing the conversation. The customer must do one of three things whenever you contact her.

Knowing this axiom gives you a means of managing the conversation.

  1. The customer can say “yes” and respond back to you.
  2. The customer can say “maybe” and send back an ambiguous response.
  3. The customer can say “no” and ignore the fact that you were even talking with her.

There’s great power in knowing this.

When you send an outbound message, the customer can only do one of three things. The customer must choose. Once chosen, you can then respond back with a pre-planned next step. This then, is the molecular structure for each conversation and it provides a pathway to a manageable process. No matter how the customer responds, you are ready to keep the longitudinal conversation going.

5 Steps to Operational Excellence; The Cornerstone to Customer Experience

Too much time spent around the water cooler talking about the boss?

A Franklin Covey Survey [1] confirms that most organizations suffer from major “execution gaps” that undermine the achievement of their highest priorities.

Overall, U.S. workers gave their organizations a score of 51 out of 100 for their collective lack of focus on and execution of truly important goals.

These execution gaps result from a combination of factors, including a lack of focus on key goals and a surprising lack of mutual accountability and follow-through.

For example, only 30% of workers plan with their workgroup how to support each other in agreed-upon goals and tasks, and just 19% say their organization helps them meet its most important goals by removing barriers.

Only 28% of U.S. workers say they decide with their manager what they need to do to achieve important goals, and just 46% hold each other accountable for doing what they commit to do.

1. Clarify the top goals of the organization. There is no more important activity than for leaders to establish clear, key goals and then communicate those goals to all levels of their organization. The reality is, most leaders haven’t clearly defined their top goals, have too many, haven’t prioritized them, and haven’t communicated their goals effectively when the front-line workers are clearly not aligned with them.

2. Translate top organizational goals into action. For organizations to be successful, workers at all levels must clearly see how their work aligns with the top goals. Great strategies that don’t include detailed tasks for the front-line workers are doomed to fail. As Peter Drucker said,“All good strategy eventually degenerates into work.”

3. Ensure buy-in and commitment to the top goals. Involving people in the formulation of the goals not only creates better goals, but also creates buy-in and commitment. Having people’s backs and hands in their work is fine, but having their hearts and minds passionately involved is where the real leverage lies.

4. Follow-through with discipline. It’s shocking how much time workers spend on things that are superficially important and urgent—needless interruptions by other people on minor issues, reports no one reads, unscheduled and unproductive meetings, or low-priority e-mail and voicemail messages. Every day people should think through their priorities, determine where they can contribute most, build a plan around their priorities, and then have the discipline to stick with their plan. The simple acts of individual workers and workgroup planning and coordination on a weekly and daily basis could solve many complex organizational problems.

5. Encourage workers to execute on top priorities together. Workers today spend far too much time in unproductive activities, such as infighting, politicking, and covering up. All of this is done because there is a lack of trust. Nothing works as fast as the speed of trust. When workers are committed to a common cause, they feel like they can contribute and trust the basic character and competence of one another. Then, true synergy takes place, leading to extraordinary results.

Lead Generation Calls for the Whole Iceberg; Not just the Tip

Any of us in marketing know how the proliferation of broadband and social media, and a whole host of other marketplace and cultural changes have dramatically altered how growing business is harder and harder. A one-medium campaign not likely to be successful. MarketingSherpa data indicates that buyers now find sellers 80% of the time. Buyers enter vendor searches in non-traditional media and sellers frequently do not even know that a particular company is looking for a solution that they provide.

30 years ago, the agency I once ran figured out that the  main reason marketing was getting 2% response rates was timing. The buyer was not yet in the market. If you are not in the market for a product, you will pay very little attention to the marketing. That is when we started using databases to keep track of prospects with longitudinal campaigns that nurtured the relationship until it was time to buy. The results for our clients jumped up dramatically.

Today, it is even more complicated. One medium campaigns now have to include multiple media. Every channel we use adds to the cost, even if only incrementally. But the companies who work the system are getting results. Design a differentiated, valued customer experience … a brand promise based on the value delivered to the customer is the first step of building an experience that pays off in generating loyal customers.

A survey by Rubicon Marketing Group cites that multi-media lead generation pays off.

  • 18% more revenue
  • 9.3% higher level of quota achievement for sales executives
  • 7% higher win rates
  • Nearly double the size of the deal closed

The “New Marketing” as I have posted on before, has become “Content Marketing” — it is through educational content that marketing contributes to the customer experience. In reality, marketing has become a publishing business. The reason is quite simple: all these new media demand content like a hungry lion hiding in the tall grass. Feed the beast or it will come out of the grass and get you.

Writers, story tellers have never been in more demand.

Graphic design has never been more important.

It is a great time to be a marketing strategist, writer or designer. Mastering these crafts is challenging, but great fun!

Channel Issue No. 2: Waning Customer Satisfaction

With more channels in which to communicate, customers become disenchanted due to inconsistent service and transactions among channels. Lack of confidence and satisfaction are the leading causes of customer defection.

In fact, nearly one in five customers have left their current retailer in favor of another that proffered a value proposition more geared to meet their specific needs. Two out of three customers leave because of unsatisfactory service, and one in five leave because of the institution’s indifference or lack of attention.

Every customer that defects must be replaced and the process and expense of developing that customer’s potential value begins anew.

When channel strategies fail to deliver customer expectations, channel productivity goes down.

The cost of churning dissatisfied customers grows when channels are not managed around a strategic customer service vision. Channels should be revamped around the firm’s customer strategy, forming an integrated system with each channel supporting the same end goal.

The real issue is how the consumer wants to buy: customers continue to seek different options, and often select their vendors from competitors who offer such options.

Channel Issue No. 1: Proliferation without Strategy

It all happened so fast. Change was everywhere. Technology promised new ways of distributing products and services at a dramatically lower cost. A few innovative companies jumped in and opened up remote and electronic channels. No one could sit back and let others pass them by. And so, the race was on. Unfortunately, strategy was left behind at the starting line. We rushed into multi-channel distribution before having a firm grasp on effective channel management issues and strategies. As new channels were opened up, silo management structures were created to manage them. Expectations were high everywhere.

But now, years later, we see that “the more, the better” channel approach did not work out like most managers had hoped. With perfect hindsight vision, all can see that these channels should have been developed as part of a larger, customer-focused business strategy. That would have prevented a lot of the problems.

Proliferation of channels is a fact of life and will continue into the future. New and innovative technology is actually creating even more channels. And with more channels coming, as engineers find new ways to deliver sales of products and services, management must assume more channels will be the story instead of fewer channels. If you cannot keep pace with the demands that come with multi-­channel operations, you will not be able to keep your customers or grow your revenue profitably.

Channels need to be reconsidered from the customer’s viewpoint. Merely having a multi-channel platform is not enough. Leading managers have recognized the need for an entirely new delivery system that serves customer needs economically, and is easy to use, flexible and available wherever and whenever the customer needs it. Strategies can only be successful if they help differentiate you from the competition, attract new customers, and grow existing customers more profitably.

3 Ways Channel Complexity Impacts Customer Experience

The intent of multiple channels was not only to attract new customers, but also to reduce the cost of frontline sales reps and agents by shifting customers to lower cost channels. Instead, however, customers used channels based on their own convenience and, in many cases, used all the channels. As a result, new channels simply added to the overall cost of distributing products to customers, with little or no increase in the ROI. For example, a survey by Oliver Wyman & Company revealed that 87% of financial services providers have experienced an increase in cost since shifting to a multi-channel distribution offering; only 3% saw an increase in ROI while the remaining providers stayed the same. Other industry resources report similar troubles.

Our research has identified three key reasons for this decline in productivity and a diminished customer experience.

  1. Proliferation without strategy
  2. Declining customer satisfaction
  3. Lack of process and data integration

A 6-Step Customer Experience Change Process

6Everything you do depends on who your customers are, what they want or need, what they expect from you, and when they want it. Everything depends on the context of each customer’s personal situation.

When you know the context, you can market and sell more effectively.

Manage each customer’s contextual situation well and you will have a happy customer for life and a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

To make the change from traditional to customer experience marketing, consider implementing the following processes:

  1. Differentiate customers by value and needs into segments.
  2. Discover the precise needs of each customer, by segment.
  3. Access customer data and distribute it to authorized users.
  4. Evaluate and develop products and services that can be customized around segment or individual customer needs.
  5. Redesign compensation and rewards to cause needed behavioral changes.
  6. Communicate across the media being used by targeted customer segments.

We must understand the changing needs of different customers and transform the business so that you can respond with simple, relevant processes, products and service as customer needs evolve.

Simplify the Experience so You Can Move Faster

You don’t have to rebuild the entire company in one single sweep.

IBM, in its own publication “Understanding Our Company,” took several years to transform their business around their view of what their customers most wanted from them.

Smaller companies, of course, don’t have to turn Queen Mary around in a river … that is their advantage in the marketplace, but they must still contend with their own lack of customer understanding that leads to confused direction and overly complex operations.

Large or small, identify the areas that can make the biggest immediate impact within a long-term customer experience  plan.

For example:

  • You might revitalize the contact center as “the new ears” of your organization with a systematic plan to have these representatives collect customer data.
  • Or you might install a data cache that captures and cleans customer data and feeds it into a customer profile system.

Once the immediate pain is resolved simply and inexpensively, you can organize for the long haul and integrate knowledge, systems and technologies to drive a future vision.

Bad Customer? Or Good Customer?

Unknowingly, we treat our most profitable customers to a complex maze of processes that hinder good service.

Not knowing our customers’ needs will cause us to introduce the wrong products for the wrong reasons. Our production processes will create inventory of parts or finished goods that turn too slowly, with a direct impact on overall profitability.

Customer profitability is not constant over time, particularly for industries directly serving consumers where life events such as marriage, children, and a family death greatly influence a person’s wealth and their ability to be profitable to you.

We literally push customers out the door, only to discover that one firm’s unprofitable customer is often another firm’s most profitable customer – just because the competitor had a different process for recognizing customer profitability and serving the customer’s needs.

Without a clear idea of who buys your products and from whom you make the most money, you’re setting yourself up to be run down by a more informed competitor.

All this process improvement work should be informed by a deeper, richer understanding of the customer and why the process is being performed in the first place.

Customer Double-Talk Can Mislead

Most of us do not know enough about our customers to change how we produce our products for them or how we interact with them.

We might have facts, experiences, anecdotes, but not a true understanding of customer behavior.

Have you noticed how often customers say they want one thing but buy another.

A client of Sterling Cooper (the fictional ad agency on AMC’s TV show Mad Men) virtually dictated what he wanted in a commercial for Patio Diet Cola. The agency produced the commercial, word for word, scene by scene. Female copywriter Peggy Olson sat quietly, knowing the commercial would not reach female buyers … she understood the target audience while the men in the agency and at the client assumed they knew what the consumer wanted. When it came time for the Patio commercial viewing with the client, the client agrees the spot is exactly what was ordered, but it’s nevertheless a failure. It was not, after all, what he wanted to promote Patio. The agency team failed to take the time to truly understand what made their client tick.

Change Customer Experience from Within

We all have to learn to trust our customers to define their needs and to make decisions about what they need. Instead of selling, we need to help them buy what they need. This means we must look at the products we offer, the culture we work in, the processes we use to get things done, the way our business is organized, even our compensation and motivation systems. It all has to change.

Choice and Flexibility – There is no one right way for the customer to interact with you.  The right way is the way the customer wants to interact at each particular moment, and that method may change occasionally or daily. Regardless of their preferred method of interaction, your internal processes must be consistent and clear and they must deliver value to customers.

Ease-of-Use – All channels of communication must be user-friendly – even for a novice or first-time user.  Difficulty in finding information or getting service is one of the quickest ways to lose a customer.

Quick and Knowledgeable Responses – Customers should be able to locate information quickly about products and services. When information can’t be located, the customer should be automatically directed to a channel that can quickly complete the request. But by sending your customer on a merry-go-round chase through siloed channels, you will soon chase your customer to another provider.

Assurance – The customer must feel that your word is as good as gold. When a value promise is made, it must be kept.

Best Value – In the end, customers want to feel they are receiving the best value for their money.

The challenge of transforming a product-driven company into a customer-focused enterprise can be hampered by internal processes. Most companies operate independently functioning business lines rather than basing the firm’s organization on the particular customers or groups of customers being served.