This piece was originally published in The Huffington Post on June 22, 2017
Organisations aspire to be customer-centric. They launch big transformation programs to try and align the entire organisation towards this goal. To make it happen, they look at customer insights, understand customer journeys, launch specific customer propositions, train employees and work on employee engagement programs. A CEO committed to customer-centricity tries to create a sense of urgency about it and gets involved herself or himself when required.
Irrespective of the efforts put by the organisation, what counts is its performance when the rubber meets the road. A company’s commitment to customers can be ascertained by three instances. They may look like simple cases that are easy to deal with but they can make or break the relationship with the customer and also put a question mark on a company’s commitment to its customers. So, here are the three instances which companies need to manage effectively.
1.When there is a product & service failure
No business likes instances when their product or service doesn’t meet the customer’s requirements. For a consumer goods company, it could be a washing machine breaking down within a month of purchase. For a hotel, it could be a vegetarian guest receiving a meat item in her plate. For a credit card company, it could be a customer’s payment not getting credited into her account as a result of which she receives a letter from her bank talking about the consequences of not paying dues on time. Each of these are cases wherein the organisation has let the customer down. It could be due to myriad causes, such as broken processes, inept product design, or negative employee attitude. Ideally, such incidences should never happen but if they do, the company should go all out to resolve the issue and take additional steps to ensure that the emotionally charged and angry customer turns into a loyal customer. Research has found that satisfaction with service recovery has a direct impact on a customer’s repurchase decision.
When a problem occurs it is critical is to act with a sense of urgency, understand the customer’s concerns, apologize and ensure that the problem is resolved.
When a problem occurs it is critical to act with a sense of urgency, understand the customer’s concerns, apologise and ensure that the problem is resolved. The company should also give something of value as a compensation for the inconvenience caused to the customer.
This is also called Service Recovery Paradox, which is when the customer thinks highly of a company after her problem has been resolved.
Unfortunately, many companies don’t get their service recovery right. They just look at it as a cold process and forget the elements of emotion and empathy required to engage with customers. As a result, the customer gets further aggrieved and doesn’t hesitate to talk about it with her friends.
Take Away: Look at service failure as an opportunity to deepen customer relationship. Institutionalise a service recovery process and administer it with empathy.
2. When customers want to sever the relationship
Companies go all out to woo customers. They try and make it easy for customers to come on board. However, what they ignore is making it easy for the customer to get out of the relationship. A customer-focused company will make sure that both customer-on-boarding and customer-exit are smooth for a customer. Sometimes companies deliberately make it difficult for customers to exit. This is because they don’t want to lose their business. However, they forget that imprisoning a disengaged customer is of little value. Forcefully keeping a customer could make her badmouth the company which can dent its image. When the company knows that a customer is peeved with something, the company should try and resolve her concerns. However, if the customer insists on walking out of the relationship, make it easy for her to go out. Rather, if the company has not been able to manage her concerns which have led her to exit, it should ensure that the exit is smooth and hassle free.
However, if the customer insists on walking out of the relationship, make it easy for her to go out.
I would recommend that wherever possible, have an “exit conversation” with the customer (this may not be possible if the customer base is large but could be done for high-value customers), hear her out and try and make her leave on a high. This is to ensure that she does not badmouth the company and instead talks about her smooth exit. Also, let’s not forget that the customer can always come back. Rather, if she is a profitable customer; the company should go all out to woo her back. I always recommend that companies should not only have a robust customer acquisition process but also a rock-solid exit process.
Take Away: Make it easy for customers to exit. If they haven’t made up their mind yet, try to change it. If that does not work, make it easy for them to go.
3.When customers write to the CEO
Sometimes customers directly get in touch with the CEO with their concerns (if they can lay their hands on her or his email id or telephone number). This could be out of desperation or because people under the CEO have not been able to resolve their concerns. This is another of those moments that can make or break a relationship. When a customer writes to the CEO on a customer issue and nothing happens, it not only puts a black mark on the brand but also on the quality of leadership.
Ideally, a CEO who is committed to customers should not only respond to customers but also ensure that the issue is resolved. Yes, there are CEOs who do it. For instance, in the UK, CEOs of Metro Bank British Telecom, easyJet, Thomas Cook regularly respond to customers directly.
Ideally, a CEO who is committed to customers should not only respond to customers but also ensure that the issue is resolved.
I had a very different experience with the CEO of a leading mobile services company headquartered near Delhi which is known for lavish advertisements on TV. When my problem did not get resolved by the store and customer-service team, I wrote a mail to the CEO. There was a flurry of action but my problem did not get closed. I could sense that they were not following a structure and just trying to close the issue. When the problem did not get closed and I got my connection disconnected. All the advertisements and claims about customer-centricity appeared so phoney.
CEOs should learn from Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. When someone writes to him on his email, firstname.lastname@example.org he just forwards it to the concerned person with a “?”. The employee who receives the email knows that it is a ticking time-bomb. He reaches out to the customer and ensures that the problem is resolved.
When someone writes to Jeff Bezos on his email, email@example.com he just forwards it to the concerned person with a “?”. The employee who receives the email knows that it is a ticking time-bomb.
CEOs concerned about customer satisfaction should provide their email contact. And, it should not be a mailbox that is handled by the customer service department but an email box used regularly by her or him.
Take Away: When a customer writes to a CEO, her concerns should be taken up with utmost urgency and closure ensured. When a CEO is not able to close a customer issue, not just the company but the CEO’s commitment to customer becomes a question mark.