Posts Tagged ‘customer satisfaction’

How B2B customers talk

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Some years ago, our company supplied billing services for a mid-sized telecom provider. It was old technology, and we were very interested in migrating them over to a new platform we’d just begun to offer. They were referenceable and complimentary of our work with them. The IT group, our liaison, was happy to set up a meeting with the various groups that would be involved in a decision to change platforms.

At that meeting we learned the other groups didn’t hold us in such high esteem. Not only were they not ready to migrate, they had a list of issues with our current system they wanted fixed. And while we were there, they let us in on a lot of other ideas they had about what we could do better, ideas they had clearly been storing up for years.

We (me included – I headed the group that managed customer satisfaction) had made a big error – we had mistaken good feedback from our direct customer, the IT group, for good feedback from the whole user base.

When B2B customers talk, it’s a lot different from how consumers talk. It’s not uncommon to have a B2B product used by hundreds or thousands of employees in a single company, spread across multiple departments and geographies. “How are we doing?” in this case is a much harder question to answer. Weekly status meetings and yearly customer surveys sent to a handful of people will not let you know whether the company as a whole likes and values what you do for it – or whether there are pockets of dissatisfaction that could derail your strategic initiatives with this customer.

Don’t get seduced by the viewpoints of the people you deal with every day. It’s the people in the field, who use the product, who aren’t saying anything aloud – they are the customer you need to listen to.

Customers Are Talking: In Praise of “Customer-Oriented Defiance”

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Behind many great customer-service stories is a front-line person who went outside standard operating procedure to solve a customer problem. Now this practice has its own name: Customer-Oriented Defiance.

In “Customer-Oriented Defiance [COD]: Exploring Righteous, Sacrficing and Sneaky Behaviours,” co-authors Cheryl Leo and Rebekah Bennett of the Queensland (Australia) University of Technology comb existing sources and do first-hand research of their own to flesh out the phenomenon. Leo and Bennett show that it is not a completely altruistic practice, nor always (or even primarily) beneficial to the companies involved.

Yet it’s clear from reading this paper, and backed up by my experience, that exceptional customer service doesn’t happen without front-liners (the most vulnerable staff in the company, the least paid, often the least respected) stepping out and taking some personal risk by addressing a customer problem in a non-standard way.

In the past, management has been able to avert its eyes and allow this to happen without explicitly sanctioning it (a pretty shameful practice when you get right down to it). But, with auditing/control technology on the rise, it will be harder for COD to occur without a paper trail, increasing the risk that stepping outside the lines, even “righteously,” will be caught and punished. (See this post on the benefits of lighter access-control policies.)

Which means that exceptional customer service will become even rarer than it now is – unless leaders recognize that some processes are art rather than science, including customer-service processes, and provide lighter constraints that reflect the values of the business, the worth of the customer and a respect for the judgment of the front-line employee.

After all, just because you can audit and control something, doesn’t mean you should.

Related posts:
Processes as art & science
Carnival of Trust (the benefits of lighter access-control policies)

(Thanks to Arie Goldshlager for pointing out this research.)

Customers are talking: David Pogue’s “Take Back the Beep”

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

There have been expressions of customer outrage in the past, but this one feels different. David Pogue, the widely read tech columnist of The New York Times, wrote a couple of weeks ago about the instructions wireless companies force you to listen to when you leave a voice mail for a cell customer, or retrieve them from your wireless phone.

Pogue asserted that the lengthy instructions were intended to boost usage and thereby carrier ARPU. He followed the initial column with a series of posts (begin here) on a campaign he titled “Take Back the Beep,” in which he asked readers to contact their cellphone carriers to complain about this practice.

The campaign was referenced by bloggers Doc Searls and Umair Haque (creator of the Edge Economy blog and possessing a, say, radical view of the vices and virtues of corporate America).

What’s different this time? Pogue, Haque and Searls enjoy a large, influential audience via the blogosphere and Twitter. This gives them real-time weapons they can deploy without going through editors’ approval. And their voices support each other, and inspire other writers (um, like this one) to further spread the word.

How different this is to one enraged customer browbeating a poor customer service rep! Perhaps this is the first strike in the battle against companies customers hate.

Related posts:
Companies profiting from customers’ mistakes, watch out
Doc Searls runs up against Simply Everything’s limits

Customers are talking: companies are investing in customer satisfaction, and it shows

Monday, July 27th, 2009

During the downturn, companies have quickly and deeply cut into their headcount, postponed capital investments and otherwise conserved cash. At least some companies, however, have focused on improving their customer satisfaction, with notable results.

According to the Wall Street Journal
today, the University of Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is at its highest level since the index began 12 years ago.

Companies cited in the Journal article include Sprint, which has had a high-profile campaign to improve its customer service since CEO Dan Hesse joined the company in 2007. Comcast, Southwest Airlines and Cheesecake Factory are also mentioned.

Sprint has focused more on customer issue resolution than on minimizing call times, according to the Journal. The result has been a net decrease in calls to customer service and the higher satisfaction level (up 12.5 percent, according to the Journal). Cheesecake Factory has been surveying their customers, analyzing patterns, and implementing changes based on what they learn.

Readers of this blog know that we’ve endorsed both of these actions (though we feel that collecting and evaluating customer narratives is far superior to surveying).

Cheesecake Factory CEO David Overton said this in his statement about the company’s most recent earnings announcement:

Of particular note is our ongoing, steady improvement in guest satisfaction scores at a time when we are streamlining our cost structure. We are carefully balancing our cost containment efforts so as not to reduce the experience that guests have in our restaurants, and we are pleased with the results that we are delivering in both areas. We continue to focus on ways to better align our operations with current sales volumes and identified a second round of cost management initiatives that we are already rolling out. Ultimately, these efforts should aid in our goal of rebuilding margins back toward historical levels over time.

Overton’s statement points to another opportunity with story-gathering. What you take away from a product can be as important for profitability as what you add. Customers don’t value everything a company does, but can’t really articulate what they don’t value. Companies looking to reduce service without impacting customer satisfaction should experiment with removing certain features, then collect stories to see if the removal has a big or small (or no) impact on the customer experience.

Focusing customer service on problem-solving and making small, simple changes to address customer pain points in products or services is a very cheap way to improve results. And that’s good in any economy.

Related posts:
The invaluable stories inside customer-service calls
Customers Are Talking: The Hot Line
Using values: connecting deeply with customers