If you want to know the easy way to tell whether an article on the CRM-Forum is worth reading, there are two dead give-aways for articles that have been up for some time. Firstly, how often it’s been read, and secondly, how many comments members of the CRM-Forum have added to the article. Often these comments turn out to be more interesting than the original article.
A recent piece (Unhappy with the broadband hippies... ) by Stuart Lauchlan fairly rapidly attracted 9 comments (including one from me) and that encouraged me to re-visit it. It raised the issue of customer service for broadband connections to the Internet, and in particular, poor customer service from Freeserve. Rather than commenting on the CRM aspects of the issue, the responses from members were nearly all from a personal perspective, outlining their own experiences of broadband connections (6 bad, 3 good – incidentally all these good comments were for the same supplier, Telewest). What is interesting about this is how willing people are to share their experiences (bad and good), so they can learn from each other, perhaps particularly for complex, leading-edge products and services.
This week’s article from Stuart (Rotten to the core) re-emphasises the point. Stuart is sounding off about poor customer service he’s received from Apple. His article highlights another interesting, and increasingly common problem. More and more of the services that we consumers buy, are made up of a number of products and services from different suppliers. When the service breaks down, the consumer is often bounced from supplier to supplier, each one ‘confident’ his own piece of the service is working, and it’s someone else’s fault. Of course, each supplier wants to avoid the potentially high cost of solving the problem and so passes the buck elsewhere. This approach has to be wrong. Instead of treating this as a problem it surely could be treated as an opportunity.
Again, the comments provided by members add significant value:
- Firstly, a comment from T M Lutas (who doesn’t appear to work for Apple) provided Stuart with a solution to his problem. I don’t know if the solution worked, but it’s more than interesting that Stuart seems to be getting more support from members of the CRM-Forum in solving his Apple / BT / Alcatel problem than he got from any of the suppliers. The obvious question – what motivated T M Lutas to offer the helping hand?
- Secondly, both T M Lutas, and another contributor, David Bradshaw, suggested using knowledge bases and discussion forums to help solve such problems. Apple run a knowledgebase and discussion forum, and if they’re anything like the ones I use, although they are of course supported by the suppliers, frequently the most useful help comes from other customers. Again customers helping customers. David speaks more generally, saying: “We really need proper forums for sharing our customer experiences. There are some specialist forums, but I’ve yet to find anything as useful as www.epinions.com, but unfortunately this is specific to the US.”. Now there’s an interesting idea!
- Both David and Malcolm Wicks, another contributor, make the point that Stuart’s problem is really an opportunity. Malcolm suggests “Perhaps we really need is for one of the finger pointing suppliers to change sides and bat for the customers. In this case BT would be best. Imagine if BT said to Alcatel and Apple that unless they fixed the problem they would notify all users, and those who want to order broadband service, of the difficulty with those vendors’ devices… BT, the people’s champion!” David’s take is more hard nosed. “There really ought to be good business in providing superior customer service.”
So what’s my take on all this? I think these two articles and the comments on them highlight a number of developments that will have a significant impact on CRM and customer service in the future.
The world continues to get more and more complicated, with more and more sophisticated products and services being offered to us. These are frequently made up of key components from a variety of suppliers. As long as those products and services are relatively unstably integrated, there are really only two ways that satisfactory customer service can be offered to the consumer:
- Either one company takes ‘prime contractor’ role and sells and supports the complete bundle, or
- Companies learn to ‘federate’ to offer a single solution to the consumer. In this case, I suspect, along with Malcolm, that one of the suppliers may have to change sides, and ‘bat for the consumer’. That supplier would be the obvious port of call for customer services. Along with David, I agree that ‘there really ought to be good business in providing superior customer service.’
There are also very interesting developments going on amongst consumers. In this world of complex products and services, with all sorts of complex interactions amongst themselves and others, it seems clear that consumers are often better providers of support than the suppliers. Let me use myself as an example. As a bit of a techno-nerd myself, in the last year I’ve got interested in three different bits of relatively new technology: DVD+RW, Home Cinema, and semi-professional quality digital photography.
How have I gone about deciding what to buy, and get at first line support? Well, whereas before I might have relied on a local dealer + brand, or a copy of a consumer magazine such as Which, in each case I’ve used a different approach:
- Search the Internet for a discussion group / forum (preferably supplier-independent) on the topic.
- Check that the discussion group / forum covers both an understanding of the technology and requirements, and also has an active ‘support’ discussion group.
- Use it to get an understanding of the technology, my requirements, and recommended solutions for my specific requirements.
- Buy the goods from the supplier
- Use the discussion group / forum as first port of call for customer support, and for evidence to beat up the supplier if necessary.
- Become a contributor to the discussion group.
This process goes on through the life of the product, so that I still frequently use the Dell and Sony discussion groups / forums for support of my PCs.
It seems that more and more consumers are beginning to work this way, and it is a small part of what we are calling the shift to a buyer-centric world. The implications for the future of CRM and hence CRM professionals should be obvious. Buyers, to take control, are using the technology of CRM. Sales, marketing, and customer service are moving from ‘push’ processes (from the suppliers to the customers) to ‘pull’ processes (from the customers to the suppliers), and how much better it will be when we have taken control!!!
As always we’d like to hear your comments. Make them below or email me at mailto:[email protected]