Sometimes I wonder if this is the customer service policy at some places. I have my own list of service nightmare stories just like everyone else. Over the years I have gotten better at getting what I want by address the needs of the company or their fears. I’ve learned that the best way to get better service is to really sell the company on why they should treat me nice, it’s a bit sad, customers shouldn’t have do that, but sometimes, that’s the best route to getting what I want. In many ways, the issues of customer services is as much about marketing and brand performance as any and to really get to the heart of it, one has to look at the issue of perception and reality to fully understand where the misalignments often arise.
Seth Godin wrote a great book called All Marketers are Liars. He’s right, if you are doing your job, you are probably lying. Not to the customer but more to yourself. No two people perceive reality in the same way, in order to sell, you need to adopt or understand the reality of the customer and master it. A good marketer knows it is far less expensive to sell an idea, service or product that re-enforces the beliefs of a customer, than it is to change their beliefs or sense of reality to fit yours. So you don’t sell them what you believe, but more or less you sell them what you perceive to be what they believe. And that’s where the trouble starts.
Few companies can sell their idea of reality to customers and do so in a way that maximizes profit performance. So we often go for the path of least resistance, sell them what they want. There is nothing wrong with that, after all, the first rule of business is “the customer is always right.” So if the customer is always right, sell them what they say they want. Of course we are assuming the customer knows what they want, or that we know what the customer wants or that our data analysis was done in a non-bias way to allow us to really know what the customer wants. Can you see how trouble can creep in? There are many ways assumptions can enter the picture and assumptions are the bad guys of marketing. Assumptions are lazy marketing because they are not based on real understand but our own perception, not the customer’s perception, which is where the real money is to be made.
Assumptions are filled with biases and half truths that lead to bad service, because we are assuming we know. Best Buy sends me cards to go shop at their store all the time; they assume they have something I want. I am in the market for a new business application software package, I went to Best Buy, and they didn’t have it. They had a ton of games, but almost nothing in terms of business applications. And this was at their flagship store. I went to a restaurant where the waitress changed my order; she assumed I would want to try a different dish. No, I ordered what I wanted because I like it. Assumptions can really cost you, both the restaurant and Best Buy assumed wrong and lost my interest. Best Buy uses stats and past purchase history and assumes what I want, but they don’t bother to ask. The waitress, assumed (for reason’s I never did understand) that I wanted something other than what I ordered; she did ask for my order but ignored it.
But there are more pitfalls. Often the corporate culture takes over and dominates the conversation between customer and provider. A lot of people locally who drink coffee have moved away from Starbucks for local or regional coffee shops. They felt the whole Starbucks culture was being forced upon them upon visiting a Starbucks. When Starbucks started it was very good at creating a good link with customers, now it seems to have lost that edge a bit, at least in this market. This can happen when the company forgets who the real customer is. It’s not the brand it’s the people paying for the product or service. When companies forget this a lot of problems take place. This can be seen in different ways.
Sometimes one department gets it and another doesn’t, this can be a real disaster. As a customer when you go in and the sales person sells you the reality you already believe in and shows you how their product fits in, we get excited and are happy. Then you have a mechanical problem and the service department doesn’t seem as excited as the sales people, wait a month, no two months to get service and the service guys act like they are doing you a favor and spend more time bragging about their skills than actually doing the job. They just smashed your reality and it can cost them a sale in the future. This happens a lot, more so than any other type. It comes down to poor training, service reps are not trained well enough or motivated enough to really sell the customer the right way and this always costs a company in future sales.
How do you fix the problem then?
Perception is what branding is all about. It is actually a very abstract area and selling customers what they want is the key. Business is about serving others, doesn’t matter what you do. If you serve others you will get what you want in return for your efforts. Do it unique and better than anyone else and watch the profits come in.
First, clear out all the assumptions, never let assumptions rule the day. I am never happy when I hear a company says, “Our market are women between 18 and 64.” Why not just say, “we want to sell to every woman we can talk into buying our stuff.” That’s essentially what it means. But that doesn’t translate into really addressing a woman’s needs or why they would want to even buy your product. Target the belief system and then show how you fit in, that means actually asking and getting to know customers and setting up channels for real communications. Not the suggestion box email that so many companies have, but a real dialog. I used to have a message board on my site, I made a promise, anyone who asked me a direct question, and I would answer there. The response was amazing and the loyalty factor went through the roof translating into higher profits.
Some people when I tell them of the message board they complain it would eat up too much time. What else do you have to do other than selling to customers that you are the company to buy from? What could be more important? If you are doing paperwork or spending time in meetings, you are helping your competitor. Train people to understand that their paycheck comes from serving the customer, demonstrate how they can really impact their own financial well being, by serving the customer in the way the customer wants to be served.
It’s really that simple, this isn’t rocket science. People are people and business is just another form of human relationship. You don’t need to get fancy to say hello and ask someone how you can help them. Once you understand and they agree you understand, you’ll be able to close the perception and reality gap between yourself and the customer. This helps you by serving them in way your competitors can’t, ensuring a customer for years to come.