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Friday, 23 June 2006 16:27

Why Customer Efforts Crash and Burn

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If you have tried repeatedly to get a focus on customers, customer loyalty, and customer profitability inside your organization with less than stellar results, you’re far from alone. Most companies jump in without evaluating how the organization works together, whether the CEO is truly committed, and if the patience exists for the long road ahead. These are the key issues that usually get in the way of making progress. See if you recognize any of them in your organization.

CEO’s aren’t clear about where they want to take the company for customers.
When the CEO says ‘go focus on the customer,’ every one takes it differently. People want to salute the flag - they just don’t know exactly what that means. The shot gets fired into the air and a proliferation of tactics, vendor proposals, and actions get going. But they often don’t aggregate up to something meaningful for customers.
CEOs with customer passion have a ‘gut’ about how they want to show up to customers. It’s woven into how they give directives and inspire people and lead them directionally on where to take the company. When proposals are made, they have an inner compass which forces proposals to examine customer impact and whether factions of the organization are working together on a solution. They challenge how new ideas contribute to the realization of an end state for customers, which they have thought deeply about. Their clarity is palpable and understandable and they have found a way to communicate it to the organization – and the organization ‘gets’ it.
For example; a spa company CEO wasn’t getting the engagement from the frontline in delivering the customer experience he had envisioned. The problem; he hadn’t engaged them in understanding it, living it, and framing what their role would be in delivering it. This lack of clarity was brought up to him and he did something about it. The next meeting with the frontline was spent defining the emotional stages customers needed to be brought through in their experience with the spa. He clarified that EACH AND EVERY CUSTOMER must first be brought to a place of calm – then and only then would the treatments have the most impact on restoring the client. Finally, after the first two emotional states were achieved, the client could be transported emotionally to where they could feel that the experience let them escape daily life. Knowing that helping every client achieve a sense of escape was the ultimate outcome, everyone worked together to re-craft the customer experience, the operations, and the frontline responsibilities in making it happen. They actually wired in what the tactics, touches, and actions would be to bring a customer through the emotional stages of calm - restore - escape. Then they did something truly magnificent, which locked it all in: The spa technician’s titles were changed to “Customer Escape Artists.” It was magical – the company transformed quickly into a haven for customers.

The ‘commitment’ doesn’t frame and modify actions for leaders and the organization.
What we have now is a frenzied awareness of a problem that often leads to an even more frenzied approach to a “solution.” These are the questions I always want to know from CEO’s who say they’re committed to the customer mission.

a. Are you clear in your mind about what you want to accomplish?

b. Will you develop the new skills required for the company to thrive with customers?

c. Are you willing to commit company time and resources to make this happen?

d. As the CEO, do you sign up to be a true partner?

e. Will you insist on corporate patience?

f. Do you have the guts to drive reliability in company operations?

g. Do you have the focus to define the differentiated value you want to deliver to customers?

Skill development is especially critical in a spa environment where the service is frequently the product. The frontline skills and the skills of everyone working together to deliver a seamless experience is paramount. You may be hiring people today, for example for their technical skills, but you need leadership to stand by you when you pass by a super-competent candidate who isn’t as strong on the restorative and interpersonal abilities. If the skills of your frontline vary, you will deliver something, which I call “biorhythmic” service. This means that your brand and your service – what you are known for in the marketplace will be dependant on the varied approaches and skills of the individuals who interact with customers. Without a central focus from leadership on the standards and end result everyone must deliver to, each person will make their own interpretation of what good, great, and mediocre are…and your customer experience will suffer.

The ‘customer’ still isn’t elevated as the major asset of the corporation.
Organic customer growth drives long-term profitability. So why isn’t it as important to CEOs as quarterly sales goals? Understanding the state of customer relationships and even something as simple as customer counts still pale in comparison to quarterly sales goals in the rate, at which they are understood, managed, and held up as a success factor of the business. No one knows the goal line for customers. Most CEOs haven’t told their company what it is.
Customer issues still aren’t making it as a priority in the company or to the boardroom level. According to a November 2004 Harvard Business Review article entitled Bringing Customers into the Boardroom, customer management issues being kicked upstairs are on the decline. Among the large U.S. companies surveyed for that article, over a third of them said that their boards spent less than 10 percent of their time on customer-related or marketing issues.
In your business you may want to establish, a customer review board, where you actually spend every month reviewing the state and strength of your customer relationships. Since your business is so dependant on these relationships, this kind of action is well worth the time and effort to ensure that your revenue stream is strong and sustainable.

The metrics and motivation don’t line up with the commitment.
CEOs say they’re committed to customers, but don’t make any modifications for how success is defined and what people are compensated and rewarded for. Or if modifications are made, it’s at such a high level such as attaching bonus to customer satisfaction survey score increases – that people don’t really know how to change their behavior. The metrics aren’t attached down to relevant operational changes. There are even times that satisfaction score goals can be negotiated out of relevance if a high sales performer doesn’t make the grade on customer satisfaction but hit the ball out of the park bringing in new business. The company takes a queue from where people are rewarded and what the company really cares about and will act accordingly.
Client loyalty is so critical in your business. You should be actively measuring and tracking the incoming and outgoing customers into your business and why they stay or leave. Monthly you should be doing a loss review to know and fix what drove people away. And most importantly, you should be tracking and developing referrals. This is your marketing lifeblood – people will walk in your door because someone sent them with an increased disposition to stay longer and they will send others if the experience you deliver lives up to the recommendation. If breeding referrals isn’t something you are actively pursuing, you should start doing it now!

There is inconsistency for driving accountability.
Companies who do this right spend the time to lay out what the new metrics are down to the operational level. And they establish meaningful forums and methods to hold people accountable. The ‘customer stuff’ is not wedged into an over-crowded meeting agenda and potentially pushed completely off when time falls short. The work is done to clearly identify how the different sections of the customer experience are accountable by individual areas and through collaboration. And accountability is clearly attached to each.
Your customer’s experience is the amalgamation of the different parts of your business interacting. Map the flow of your customer throughout your salon or spa and determine who and how the customer is handed-off. Then establish the metrics and accountability to make sure this is seamless. There’s nothing worse than bringing the customer to a place of serenity with a great Swedish massage, then jolting them out of that place when they’re forced to sit and weight 30 minutes for their next service to begin.

Fleeting corporate patience exists to drive sustainable change.
This work is not for the mild-hearted or quarterly inclined. Becoming a ‘customer’ company is a multi-year endeavor. CEOs can't bail in the first year because the results don't come as simply and cleanly as seeing response rates on a marketing campaign, tracking sales goals, or the number of page views on your web site. The CEO must have the belief and commitment that this is the right course. The company must hear that the company ticker on proclaiming something a success or failure has a much longer timeline here. When things seem to waver (and they will), people will need to hear that the corporate patience exists to stay the course.
We have been programmed to worry about lack of results in increments of quarters, and so people will be anxious unless timelines and expectations for results are reset. If leaders don’t personally commit to corporate patience, people will see right through it. They'll abandon efforts when their performance rating is at risk for staying focused on the "customer stuff" that's not yielding results quickly enough for the impatient corporate machine.
As “Chief Customer Zealot” for five U.S. market leaders; Jeanne Bliss has fought valiantly to get “customer” a place on the strategic agenda; redirecting priorities and creating transformational changes to the brands’ customer experience. At Lands’ End, she reported to the company’s Founder as leader for the Lands’ End Customer Experience. She served Allstate Corporation as their Officer for Customer Satisfaction & Retention. She was Microsoft Corporation’s General Manager of Worldwide Customer & Partner Loyalty, Vice President of Franchise Services for Coldwell Banker Corporation, and Senior Manager, Customer Satisfaction for Mazda Corporation.

Jeanne now runs CustomerBLISS (www.customerbliss.com), where she coaches leaders on how to wrap their company’s focus around customers and customer profits. Her new book is: Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action.

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