This week, Nick Hague demonstrates the importance of putting yourself in your customers’ shoes
Just the other week I was presenting at a conference in Venice, delivering findings for a client of mine who works in the MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) industry as a distributor of all manner of goods from bearings, belts and pulleys through to motors, clutches and couplings.
A Bunch Of Flowers
My presentation was about changing what is already a good company to become a great company and, in wrapping up, I used a personal anecdote of buying a car and how in the past the bunch of flowers on the back seat of the car had left more of an impression than the car itself – small things can really make a difference!
As is often the case, discussions carried on following my session with people from the audience struggling to understand what, in their particular line of business, was the similar equivalence of the ‘bunch of flowers’.
After a couple of glasses of wine (just to lubricate the mind!) on the plane ride home, it got me thinking about why so many business-to-business companies can make and deliver excellent products but with a service experience that is inconsistent and can damage a reputation and relationship forever.
Thinking back to the many people I had spoken to during the two days, something clicked; most were technical people hired and promoted within the company because of their technical competence and engineering background. Until my session, their natural instinct was to continually focus on their internal processes to not only take cost out of the system but analyse what wasn’t working and fix it so to provide on-time delivery, every time, and remove any variances from the process. This may in the long run produce the faultless process but it won’t ‘wow’ the customer; it will just improve what they weren’t doing previously and, from all the research we carry out, we know that this doesn’t engender loyalty.
Of course, replication of systems is very important in the wider business context; that is why so many global organisations implement SAP and Six Sigma systems. However, these systems don’t create world-class service, and just meeting expectations won’t ‘wow’ the customer and leave a lasting impression. I would therefore argue that delivering a world-class customer service experience is more important than delivering the right product at the right price at the right time, as this is a given in any business.
The Zappos Model
For many of you that are based outside of the USA, you may not have heard about Zappos. Zappos.com is an online shoe retailer and through a mixture of e-commerce and world-class service, Zappos has grown to become the world’s biggest online shoe store on the back of a business model built on delivering the best customer service.
The company was founded in 1999 and was acquired by Amazon in 2009 for a reported $1.2 billion. What is the secret of this much talked about company? Well, much of the company’s rapid growth can be attributed to repeat customers and numerous word-of-mouth recommendations and this is a result of their loyalty business model and relationship marketing. Instead of putting their entire advertising budget into paid advertising, they invested the money into customer service and improving the customer experience. Therefore, the number one driver of their growth has been from repeat customers and word-of-mouth recommendations.
For all of you that don’t know, Zappos has a stated goal to offer “best service in the industry” – and it is this obsession with service that has reaped rewards. However, they don’t want to just deliver the best customer service in their industry; they have set aspirations to be the ‘online service leader’. At the moment, their service promotes the following benefits:
• Free shipping both ways
• A 365-day return policy
• A call centre that is always open
However, even though the company promises free 4-day shipping with all orders, they often deliver next-day anyway, so as to pleasantly surprise customers. It is these small delights that exceed expectations (like the flowers in my car) that will make customers loyal for the long term (and needn’t cost the earth!).
Doing Things Differently
As can be seen from the Zappos model and from my recommendations to my client, delivering a service experience really can be a differentiator in business today and can deliver many other benefits on the side, including increased profits and turnover, and a happier, more engaged workforce too.
Therefore, the next time you are dealing with a customer, ask yourself these three questions and put yourself in their shoes as to what they are thinking:
• How am I making them feel as a customer?
• What will they remember most about this experience?
• How likely are they to recommend us to others?
You never know! Changing the way you view customer service might just start changing the way you act and do business subconsciously in the future!