Category Archives: Customer Care

Keep it simple stupid – but don’t be simply stupid

Albert Einstein allegedly said:

“Everything should be as simple as possible but no simpler”

The constant drive for efficiency and effectiveness has encouraged the use of standardised solutions in situations where similar issues or events need to be handled but we need to take care that we don’t over simplify our approach or over-standardise our solutions. Perhaps we need to take note of this observation:

“Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.”

Harry Day – Royal Flying Corps First World War fighter ace.

A short story to illustrate the riskPay and Displays.

An early morning visit to a local town-centre supermarket led me to park in their underground car park. The store offers short-term parking at competitive rates and the fee is refunded to shoppers who make modest purchases. The system is managed using a pay and display system which dispenses a ticket and a voucher for the refund.

Approaching the nearest machine, I noted that it was out of order as was the next nearest. Looking round the car park, I spotted two security men at one of the more remote machines and decided to approach them. I asked whether that machine was out of order too. Their response took me by surprise. “They are all out of order at this time of the morning, until we have replaced the batteries – they are solar powered!”

This system has been in place in both the above ground and basement car parks for at least 10 years.

Some observations:

  1. The design and selection of the pay and display machines was probably appropriate to the most of the locations in which they were required – but clearly not all. The choice of a standardised solution is also understandable but perhaps it would have made sense to have considered the situations where the standard design would not be appropriate.
  2. There are mains powered items in the basement, lighting, signage but did anyone do an analysis to compare the cost of running cables to the machines with the cost of changing the batteries every day?
  3. What does it say about the culture of the organisation and the engagement of the staff if this situation was not reported to the management [or perhaps it was reported but not acted upon]
  4. Many organisations outsource their facilities management, one could question whether these arrangements encourage the reporting of such absurdities and whether the people employed in these roles have any incentive to report them.
  5. Does this demonstrate an organisation which knows how to learn and improve?

Do you have any problems caused by inappropriate standardisation?

Would your people report it to the appropriate manager?

Would any action be taken?

What do your customers think when they spot this type of situation?

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Being “Best in Breed” may not make you “Top Dog”!

In services it is very difficult to differentiate yourself from your competition and it is even more of a problem for professional service organisations. It is very difficult to be distinctive, memorable and stand out from the crowd when everybody is qualified, capable and seems to be the same.

One route you can take is to become the very best at what your business does – what you might call a “Best in breed” strategy – but is this the best way forward?

“Best in Breed” Strategy

In a dog show, such as Crufts which has just finished, the best in breed winner is the dog which most closely matches the “breed standard”, it ticks all the boxes and has no faults but you have to ask whether the fine distinctions which gain favour from the judges are noticeable let alone memorable to the general public. And of course, there is only room for one “best in breed”.

Moving into the business arena, being “best in breed” may be a useful approach if you have a very narrow niche or have the resources to get ahead of and stay ahead of the competition but it won’t work for most businesses. You need to be different, you need to have personality and you need to build a community of customers who value who you are and how you do what you do. That’s what makes you “you”, makes you distinctive and makes customers [and employees] come to you.

Distinctive and Memorable?

Family DogYou need to have the key elements of the “breed standard” demonstrate capability but it is the other factors which make you distinctive and memorable. Unless you want to compete in Dog Shows, you don’t pick your family dog because of how closely it matches the standard!

All your competitors will have similar:

  • People [qualifications and experience]
  • Processes
  • Experience

Or they wouldn’t be in the business. You need to find a way of being different and that is best achieved through your people and your processes [what you do and how you do it]. To turn some customers on you may have to take the risk of turning some off, not everyone will like what you do and if you try to please everyone, you will end up being bland! You need what my friend Andrew Thorpe calls a “Marmite Pitch”

Very good but very ordinary

If you want to stand out from the crowd, you can’t be ordinary and it is very easy to be very good but very ordinary. Barry Gibbons then of Burger King was quoted by  Tom Peters’ as saying “Even when we did it right, it was still very ordinary”

Ordinary is not memorable and it’s not distinctive.

Extraordinary Expertise

Whether you are in:

  • Accountancy
  • Law
  • Architecture
  • Engineering
  • Project Management
  • Financial Services

You and your people need to be extraordinary and that means paying attention to how you do things and how you interact with your customers, it’s not about getting better at what you do. That is obvious and easy to copy – if you can do it, everyone else can do it. To be distinctive and memorable and maintain this, you need to get brilliant at things that your competition doesn’t take seriously.

This means building outstanding customer care, building strong customer relations and giving your team extraordinary expertise by developing what are often called “soft skills” but they are not soft, they are hard and they are crucial to your business success. You need to encourage enterprise and build distinctive capabilities.

You don’t get to be top dog by being best in breed!

Encourage your customers to desert you … why don’t you?

Last week’s debate on energy costs and the recommendations by Chris Huhne [UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change] for us to switch users really got me mad – why on earth would any sane business encourage its loyal customers to take their business elsewhere. When I’m helping my clients with customer care, I always start out with a recommendation that they work on customer retention.

All the evidence I’ve ever seen says that it costs more to get a new customer than it does to retain an existing one and even more to recruit one who has defected to a rival. Yet the strategy of the major energy providers [aided and abetted by the Energy Secretary] is to penalise loyal customers and reward those who defect.

I’ve just seen exactly the same strategy in play with my car insurance providers – my policy was due for renewal at the weekend. Last year my insurer quoted a renewal premium which was eye-watering! So I visited a price comparison site and I eventually got a deal with a reputable insurer for just over a third of the quoted cost. This year, my insurer’s renewal quote was higher than last year’s premium but the increase was less than I had expected from stories in the press.

I got a reminder from the price comparison site so I submitted a request and got three surprises:

  1. My renewal quote was about 15% over the lowest
  2. The company I was then with offered me a lower priced deal via the price comparison site!
  3. My previous insurer offered the third lowest price [and included an introductory bonus!]

All this with no changes to the conditions, same car, same record, same job etc.

My next surprise was when I phoned my insurer to ask if they would do the renewal at the price I’d obtained over the internet – but they wouldn’t honour the offer, so I’ve got a new insurer now!

So three questions for the insurance and energy companies:

  1. Why don’t you just offer your current customers the best possible deal?
  2. Why do you encourage them to check out your competitors’ offers?
  3. How much does it cost you to process all of these changes?

When I work with customers I recommend that they focus their attention on the “3Rs”:

  • Repeat Business
  • Referrals
  • References

Give it a try! Building customer loyalty works for me and my customers and is the theme of this upcoming conference: Loyalty Beyond Reason

Company Watching – 7 Ways to understand your client’s personality

We are all very used to the idea that individuals have personalities and moods that affect their demeanor, manner and behaviour. Skillful communicators can adjust their content, style and delivery to take account of these difference. But have you ever thought of applying similar thinking to the companies you deal with?

By understanding their organisational culture [personality] and climate [mood], you will be able to tailor your approach to meet their needs and maximise your chances of success.

When I visit a potential client for the first time, I try to arrive a little early; early enough for it to be likely that I will have to wait but not so early that it looks as though I got the time wrong. In those few minutes, I try to gauge something about what makes the company tick by watching what goes on.

In this short period, it is only possible to get a few initial insights into the way the company works, but any information is better than none. I try to use the following 7 topics to guide my assessment as I get to know the company and its people. As I wait, I’m normally able to pick up a few tips on the first couple of ideas.

Interaction

What is the level and style of interaction between the people you see? Is it formal or relaxed? Do they know each other’s names? If so what do they call each other? [In particular what do they call “the boss” and do they all use the same name?] Do they only talk about work or is there some social chat? etc

Rules and Procedures

The issue here isn’t whether they have rules and procedures, every business needs them, the question is whether they are proportionate to the business and the risks it faces. Are the number and method of publication of rules and procedures appropriate to the business. What is relevent to a major business operating in a highly regulated industry, is different to that required for a SME in a low risk business. Do the rules seem about right, over the top or too slack. [and are people following the publicised rules?]

What is [real] work?

Which of the organisation’s activities are considered as real work – is it just their core activity or is it broader activities, such as marketing, people management etc. Sometimes, this can be picked up from what the departments are called!

It can also be interesting to work out whether informal communication, discussions over coffee / water cooler etc are counted as work; favoured or frowned upon.

How important is time?

Is time seen as a valuable resource or as an enemy. Are deadlines real or purely indicative? Is getting things done by a particular time more important than how it is done [are rules and procedures “bent” to meet deadlines]? Does process and protocol beat the importance of time?

What is the level of acceptance and challenge

Do people accept things as they are, do what they are told and accept management’s explanations or do they challenge, raise alternatives and concerns? Would they point out that the Emperor’s new clothes were non-existent?

Do people co-operate?

What are shared areas like – do they all do their share to keep things tidy or do they leave it to others?

When asked a question do they answer exactly what is asked or seek to provide the required information?

Are people judged by their intentions and actions or the results they get?

This is fairly straightforward – do those who get the right results in inappropriate ways become better regarded than those who do the right things but don’t get the desired results.

If you keep these ideas in mind and keep your eyes and ears open, you will get to know what makes your clients tick and that will help you build better relationships with them – to benefit you both.

Why you should care about customer care

If you read the earlier post [“Don’t call us”], you’ll know that I am very serious about customer care, so I was delighted to be invited to attend a seminar by Jo Causon CEO of the Institute of Customer Service. Jo was introducing their report “Return on investment in customer service: the bottom line report”

The report focuses on how to get the best returns from your customer care activities. Jo’s presentation highlighted the importance of:

  • Creating an organisational culture which supports customer care
  • Making sure you have an engaged and enthusiastic work force
  • Understanding requirements from the customer’s perspective and
  • Listening and acting on feedback

The need to have effective, engaged and enthusiastic staff was a recurrent theme in the presentation. To achieve this you need:

  • Commitment from the top
  • To send consistent signals
  • To select the right staff
  • Train and  them in soft skills
  • Empower them to take the necessary action

There is a good chance that in doing this you will strip away some of the unnecessary, burdensome policies, procedures and systems. This will simplify your approach and make it more effective too!

Too often in business we focus our attention on the results rather than on creating an environment which enables the results be acheived. For sustainable success we need to focus as much of our attention on enablers as on results [a key concept behind the EFQM Excellence Model].

Good Listening to

To improve your bottom line, you need to focus on giving excellent customer service. It’s good business, it doesn’t need to be complicated and often is easier to do than what you do now.

So, get your approach right, get the right people on board, give them the best tools and let them get on with it – the profits will follow.

You can take the first step by giving your customers a good listening to! If you don’t know what they think is important, how are you going to give them the experience they deserve?

Don’t call us …

Customer care is something I have a real bee in my bonnet about and I really enjoy helping clients improve their performance. I’m always on the lookout for stories of good [and not so good] customer care. Some of them are so good / bad that I’d willingly pay for them but some businesses are just so good at shooting themselves in the foot I don’t have to.

My current bête noir is British Gas whose every contact throws up a learning point – take this recent episode as an example.

I was working in my home office last week when the house phone rang. Making my way to the kitchen, I answered to be confronted with an apologetic voice on the other end of the line; “I’m not sure why we’ve phoned you – I only answered to save you getting a silent call! Let me have a look at your file. Oh, it looks as though they want to arrange the service visit for your boiler maintenance contract – do you mind waiting whilst I connect you”. Reluctantly I agreed but after three minutes of “music”, I hung up and went back to work.

So they interrupted my work and then got me to wait! Great! This must be the greatest customer care faux pas.

Presumably, this is because their systems are set up to make it easy for their staff to get through as many calls and tasks as possible. You might ask where the customer fits into this. Surely, the systems should be set up to make life as easy as possible for the customer!

Do you think this enhanced the customer relationship?

Do you ever do anything like this to your customers?

Are your systems set up with the customer in mind or are they aimed at making your life easier?

What are you going to do about it?

You could take the first step by looking at “Give your customers a good listening to!” and the associated white paper on “The Voice of the Customer”