Tag Archives: Customer

Customer experience without competition

Water skiers on the OzarksThe only sustainable competitive advantage

If our business has to compete in the long-term, there are (with apologies to Michael Porter and his chums in the business theory business) really only three ways to do so – and just one that endures.

There’s no point in competing solely on price because that kills margins and can’t be sustained.  And there’s no point in competing just on innovation because sooner or later everyone catches up and no-one, no matter how good, can churn out new technologies on a treadmill forever.

Which is why so many companies now choose to compete on customer experience.  It’s one of the few ways an organisation can offer genuinely sustainable differentiation and protect margins; it makes for more enduring, loyal customers; and it is very effective in building a strong, sustainable brand.

The purpose of customer experience

But most government departments don’t have competitors.  Their customers typically have to use them, whether they want to or not. So does this mean that public sector organisations can ignore customer experience? Or should they, if they want to minimise costs? After all, it’s just another management fad, right?

Quite the opposite. Competitive advantage is not the goal of customer experience – it is merely an excellent side-effect.  Let’s not forget that the main purpose of any organisation is usually to offer a product or (more usually for public sector organisations) a service that their customers value.  If an organisation can offer a good customer experience, this enables that organisation to do what it exists to do – but better.

This applies just as much whether an organisation is selling cars, building houses, collecting taxes or handling planning applications. The only difference is that in the public sector, value to the taxpayer is paramount and the purpose is service, not profit.

The return on customer experience

The benefits of offering a good customer experience have particular resonance for the public sector.  Benefits such as these:

  • Fewer people complain, so an organisation saves on resources it would otherwise spend on handling exceptions and resolving issues.
  • A good customer experience relies on consistent service delivery (how else does an organisation keep its promises?), enabling organisations to benefit from reduced variation, lower complexity and more economical  service delivery.
  • Better and more fundamental understanding of the customer, so organisations learn how to adapt and learn faster and more flexibly.
  • And organisations that offer a good customer experience are usually good places to work, so they keep good people and help them to stay motivated.

The public sector payoff

Any organisation would value such returns. So would their customers.  And for public sector organisations, these translate into two other, distinctive benefits.

First: any public sector organisation that delivers services well, efficiently and in ways which its users value – this  immediately reflects well on the elected officials responsible for it. This political dividend has unique value in the public sector.

And second: we are all invested in public services, as taxpayers and users – so when a public service delivers an excellent customer experience with all the return that we see here, we all benefit.

And that has to be a good thing.

This is slightly revised version of a blog I originally posted at Business Value Exchange; a site well worth a visit.

(Image credit: Ralph Walker, Commerce and Industrial Development Collection, Missouri State Archive, Public Domain).

 

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Your competitors are not who you think they are

bad_spellers_untie_postage_stamp-p172016310883664861uuftb_216Customers don’t compare the online experience they get from us with that from our competitors. They benchmark instead against the best they have seen, regardless of sector. We have to understand this if we are to use customer experience to help us sell and keep customers.

Don Peppers is one of the pioneers of the customer experience industry. In a recent LinkedIn post, he  tells the story of a bad customer experience a colleague had with Stamps.com when trying to unsubscribe from their service.

The customer horror story, however, was less interesting to me than that he (like we all do) compared this experience with Stamps.com with that offered by another company – and found Stamps.com wanting.

That company was Amazon.

Amazon does not sell anything which Stamps.com sells.  Amazon is not seeking to take customers away from Stamps.com. I would be astonished to find that Amazon features in any strategy document which Stamps.com use to understand their competitive landscape.

In the traditional sense, they are not a competitor.

But when you think in terms of the customer experience, are they a competitor?

Damn right.

Customers do not compare the online experience they get with one company with the experience offered by competitors in the same sector. Instead, they compare their experience with the best experience they have had online, regardless of sector.

If we do not offer an experience  which measures up to the best experience which our customers have had elsewhere, then we will have unhappy customers.

It’s not fair, I know.  Customers are not even comparing apples with pears; they are comparing stamps with books.

This really matters.  Because if we aren’t aiming to be cheapest (and very few of us can, in the long-term) and if our market is crowded with me-too products with pretty much the same features (as in almost every consumer market sector), then how do we compete?

The experience we offer our customers, that’s how. When we make it easier, faster and more pleasant to buy and use our products, we win and keep customers.

If this is how we choose to compete, we need to understand that our ‘competitors’ aren’t our competitors.  As far as our customers are concerned, our competitors are everyone who is offering a service, or a sale, or an experience which follows the same grammar of customer engagement that we do. And if we aren’t competitive when compared with these, we won’t get or keep the customer.

Worse, as Don Peppers is showing, they will tell the World about how unhappy we have made them.

But, as Amazon demonstrates, if we choose to compete in this space, with the right attention and commitment, then maybe we could become the benchmark: and that is a very powerful place to be.

(Picture courtesy of Zazzle.com).

Release the brilliance of your colleagues

Team GB Olympic Track Cycling teamGood customer experience is a result of great people doing great things. Luckily, your colleagues are great.

Think about the people you meet in the workplace. In almost every case, from the janitor to the CEO, two things are true. The first is this:  your employer believes this individual is the best person for that role whom they can get. If they weren’t, your employer would get someone else. Second, this person believes that this is the best job for them. If they didn’t, they would go get a better one.

That’s right: pretty much most of the time, you are working with great people in great jobs.

I have been lucky enough to have worked around the World with almost a hundred companies and in my experience this is overwhelmingly true: your people are brilliant.

But so many companies don’t believe this.  They seem to expect that their people are unmotivated and are doing mediocre jobs. So that’s how they manage them and guess what? That’s what they get.

But mediocrity is not what we promise our customers.  If we want to do things better for customers, it isn’t good enough.

So let’s not manage for mediocrity.

Let’s manage for brilliance.

How do we this?

Here’s what we don’t do.  We don’t police our people’s activities to catch them doing the wrong thing.  We don’t set up elaborate reporting of pointless metrics which make no difference to the customer.  We don’t have a big kick-off meeting with a motivational speaker and hope that this is enough.

Instead? We set important goals (maybe unreasonable goals?) and standards for performance. We do what we can to make achieving these goals as easy as we can. We give people what they need, pay attention to how well they are doing and look for ways to help them.

Then we keep paying attention so that they continue to  know this matters: to us, to the customer and to them.

Then we get out of their way.

Brilliance will happen, I promise you.

Your people will love making the difference.

And your customers will love what results.

 

How Amazon turned a chore into a positive customer experience

five acesReframing the experience can make things better for customers.

About fifteen years ago, a client in the US told me how her company had improved the customer experience – by making their service worse.

Their call centre’s promise to pick up any customer call within three rings was key to the company’s competitive positioning. It was fine most of the time – but at peak periods, it was a promise they could not keep.  The delays weren’t bad – four or five rings at most – but they were breaking their customer promise. Result? Unhappy customers.

My client tried the usual things: rejigged rosters to provide extra agent cover, optimised call routing and, despite tight budgets, hired a few more agents to cover peak periods.

Ring, ring, ring, ring….Three-ring nirvana seemed as far away as ever.

Then an agent, at home on her time off, called to make an appointment with her doctor. Waiting on the line, she noticed – nothing.

More precisely, she noticed that she only became irritated by the delay on the line once she heard the ring tone. Waiting for the phone company to connect her call, however, she didn’t mind at all. She discounted this ‘dead time’ when she heard nothing as acceptable, while a ringing telephone line was a failure of service by the doctor’s receptionist.

Her company acted on her observation. They suppressed the first two rings on the line while the customer was waiting, so the customer thought that the call was still trying to connect.  Agents now had five rings in which to answer, while customers on the line heard only the last three rings.

The average time it took to answer the phone did not change. But the customer experience did. Customers were impressed by the speed of response they perceived: “Wow! You answered even before the phone even rang!” was a typical comment.

Was this sleight of hand? Perhaps. Did it matter? Perhaps not.  Customers got the service they wanted and were happy. Nothing wrong with that.

Nowadays, Amazon does something similar. Normally, paying for things online is a pain. We’ve filled our shopping cart and we want to order. So we have to sign in with user name and password, get out our credit card, type in the number and details, fill in the delivery address and wait for payment to be authorised.

Amazon’s great secret is that they get us sign in to browse their shop when we arrive. We do so happily to get offers and ‘Personalised recommendations.’  But this sign-in process also sets up payment and delivery. So we think we’re signing in for a personalised experience, but we’re signing in for payment.

So when we want to buy, we pay by ‘One-Click‘ and think how great it is (cycle time of zero, anyone?). We don’t associate the chore of signing in with the business of payment. Like my client, they are employing customer experience sleight of hand.  And it’s so good they licensed it to Apple to use on iTunes.

Customers hate waiting on a ringing telephone line and they hate signing in to pay.  By reframing how customers perceive such things, we can transform the customer experience.

Question: is there anything which your business does now which your customers hate? Could you could reframe this to make into a good experience?

And if you have to use sleight of hand, don’t worry: I won’t tell.