Ten past nine on a Sunday morning, a rich gold light pours into the cosy warmth of my dining room, frosted red twigs and evergreen shimmer outside the window, the sky is azure blue and the coffee smells good – I anticipate the pleasures of Christmas. "Humph," says my suddenly animated husband, pushing his newspaper at me, "we ought to try that." The headline shouts disharmony, 'The two keys that almost always put you on to a real person'; above is an oversized picture of a telephone zero and hash key, below it a list of the 'cheat codes' for major UK companies, Comet, Dell, Egg, Halifax, Sky, Tesco, O2, American Express, the list goes on with a promise that the major US companies can be found on www.paulenglish.com/ivr/.
I smile feeling vaguely pleased, revenge at last for the hours of wasted time and temperature raising annoyance. How many times was that feeling replicated last Sunday morning across the UK? And the hero of the story? An American computer hacker called Paul English who is compiling lists of ways to override IVR systems in the US and UK in order to get straight through to a real person. Of course, whether that person will be able to really help you, is another matter. But that's not the point - the system can be beaten! It’s a start.
Miss-Match Between Intent and Reality
Now given my trade I have to ask myself just what is going on? Corporate interest in customer experience is huge. In the last 3 weeks alone I have attended a lavish IBM/Ogilvy dinner with a number of marketing 'big wigs' from major companies discussing how they are improving customer experience: been party to a well attended research briefing for the Financial Services fraternity on the state of play of Treating Customers Fairly (the Financial Services Authority’s drive to improve customer care): and customer experience consultants are telling me business is booming. Yet customer frustration has reached such a pitch that they/we are declaring war on the corporate world. Why is there such a catastrophic miss-match between intent and reality? (see Mind the empathy gap!).
Maybe Stuart and I should change sides and push for renaming CRM, 'Company Relationship Management'. However, I suspect customers would drop the relationship and just call it Company Management!! Indeed, the increasing number of rants on the site against various companies suggests we are already moving that way. (see The Customer is Always Right)
Green Shoots in an Icy Winter
But, wait, there is many a true word spoken in jest. As Narnia* hits our screens with its story of the green shoots of altruistic spring, thrusting into the icy, self serving domain of the all powerful White Witch, maybe its time we noticed the green shoots of company management sprouting in the hearts of customers, as we munch on our corporate Turkish Delight.
Only this week I was alerted to a book which will be out in 2006 on how customers should manage companies to get value out of them – hopefully full of further tips on breaking through defence shields. Alan Mitchell and Iain Henderson’s recent article on personal knowledge banks – where customers keep control of their own data in data stores and give permission to companies to access certain parts of it - is attracting a lot of interest from service suppliers. (full article due on the CMC in January, here are some appetizers: Personal Knowledge Banks to Kill off CRM and Consumer Managed Data) And an increasing number of business customers are including questions like "Is there a process by which you assign the importance of client relationships?" and "How can you demonstrate your commitment to our goals?", in their invitations to tender. Green shoots indeed.
Avoid Terrorists in a Community
This time last year I forecast that 2005 would be the year of the customer community, (see 2005 – The Year of The Customer Community) and indeed there has been a surge of interest from major companies in this means of customer 'engagement'. Consultants, whose skill was in building staff communities, have moved their focus to the customer kind. But before we all get hung up with customer communities, co-creation and collaboration why don’t we do what Jo Thomson from the Procter Consultancy advises in her work training call centre staff, and get the basics right first. Because if we don’t we may well find our 'communities' over run with what Moria Clark from Henley Management College calls customer terrorists – the opposite of the valuable advocates we are trying to achieve.
We must start listening to customers, if we don’t then customers will band increasingly together – as they already are. They will information share and problem solve between themselves as blogs and workspaces increasingly allow them to do (see Measuring the Influence of Bloggers on Corporate Reputation). Word of mouth is changing the balance of power, and, according to Nigel Howlett of OgilvyOne, the very essence of the marketing model.
Customer Battles or Customer Engagement?
So, in 2006 I believe we may well see customers fighting back and managing us. If we don’t want a full scale war, then maybe its time we 'engaged with customers' as Carlson Marketing's President Jose Ferrao puts it. The Marketing Directors at the IBM debate took the same view; we need to 'make friends with customers' said one. They generally felt that price competition was going no where, the battle to improve operational productivity was won, (a view economists would support), and so the competitive front line is now customer development – but how many realize they will be quelling an uprising, rather than herding sheep.
To that end I asked a number of CRM practitioners and experts what improving customer engagement would mean:-
"That companies become 'engaging' (like a film can be engaging) so that an interaction is wanted and is of consequence and depth," said Bryan Foss, ex Head of Financial Services at IBM and now partner in Foss and Stone Marketing. We all warm to engaging personalities, so why not engaging companies.
Harold Russell from Blueprinting Excellence looked at it from the customer’s viewpoint. "For the customer," he says, "that means;
- Buying from this company is being me. It's my type of supplier. (Link with 'Identity')
- I like what they say they pay attention to i.e. their customer ethos. (Link to 'Values & Beliefs')
- They are good at what they do i.e excellent product knowledge and empathy. (Link to 'Capability')
- They always do what they say they'll do e.g prompt delivery, refunds etc. (Link to behaviour)
- Their set-up (e.g location, opening hours etc) gives me flexibility. (Link to 'Environment')"
(The Links refer to Robert Dilts Logical Levels model.)
"I do believe," he continues, "that the customer has to experience a 'yeeesss' at each one of these levels. It's very similar to employee engagement." A point which Alison Bond from The Halo Works concurred with, "the 'think and feel of the customer will match the 'think and feel of the people in the organisation delivering the service. It has very little to do with transactions and everything to do with a value fit," she says.
The most 'out of the box' reply came from Futurist Chris Macrae, "what it could mean is collaborating with the customers who care most about the greatest social vision your sector can come up with – only three corporations on my radar have dared to do it to date." Great forward thinking, but best kept for an offensive, not the defensive position many organizations are going to find themselves in, in 2006. For that listening and fulfilling the basics requirements of value for money, convenience, availability, problem solving, and authenticity will be a start. (see Seven Ways to Improve Customer Value and Making your Business Fast and Simple for Your Customers)
Support from Technology
For technology companies providing the customer management software, this new 'theatre of war' suggests you ought to pay more attention to how your clients’ customers are going to feel about the services supported by your software. Don’t just look at your client's pain points, but the end customer’s pain points as well. Don’t be reactive to corporate wish lists; proactively understand what end user friendly systems entail. Help your clients solve their customer’s problems.
The Light of Collaboration
So now the light outside has turned dark, and a rainbow of colours beam from my neighbours Christmas lights. Years ago there were only the official Christmas lights down the main street, but year by year a growing number of individuals have taken to illuminating their gardens – no one has organized it, and yet this mass movement for lifting our winter darkness grows; bringing benefit to all!
A very Happy Christmas to every member of the CMC and an engaging New Year.
My particular thanks go to the large number of consultants and practitioners who helped and supported the research for this article.
Please add your own thoughts and opinions by clicking on the 'Add your own comment' link below.
Strategy & Business Analyst, CMC
- *The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
- 20:20 Customer Experience – IBM
- We don’t need another hero – Alison Bond, The Halo Works
- Customer Advocacy Drives Business Growth – London School of Economics
- How does you customer value you? – Jennifer Kirkby
- Customer experience – the voice of the customer – Jennifer Kirkby
- How well do you know your customers?
- Consumer managed relationships and data – the future of the Smart Bank? - Bryan Foss, IBM
- Mind the empathy gap! - Jeremy Braune, Brandspeak
- Treating customers fairly through the distribution value chain - David Hicks & Bryan Foss
Jennifer Kirkby Strategy Archive
Download previous strategy reports by Jennifer Kirkby:
- Forget leaders, we need inspiration
- In case you missed it...
- How do your customers value you?
- Governments Redefine Marketing
- You have permission to talk to my wife
- Customer Experience – The Voice of the Customer
- Pick and Mix – Choosing Marketing Service Suppliers
- Heroic Tales of Leadership in a Competitive World
- Marketing is Change Management
- The 'Must Have' Customer Strategy - Linking Vision to Execution
- Winning friends and influencing people!
- Plans Reveal Political Storms Ahead
- 2005 – The Year of The Customer Community
- Insight from your CRM Strategy Polls
- New Learning in Implementing CRM Successfully
- What is stopping companies capitalising on customer information?
- Seven Ways to Improve Customer Value
- Collaborate or perish! – Lessons in building partnerships
- The Next Hot Topic in CRM