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The Only Question You Should Ask Yourself

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3rd Jan 2007
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“What would you do if I could provide you with a new business model that would allow you to meet all of your financial goals without ever needing to deal with a single customer? Would you still be attending this presentation, looking for ways to excite and delight your customers?” These are the questions that I recently posed to attendees at a customer experience management conference. The response to these questions was total silence as I could see chief executive officers, VPs of customer service and other customer-focused professionals smile at the prospect of never again having to deal with a single customer.

The smiles and silence illustrates the distinction between customer relationship authenticity and customer relationship superficiality. Those organisations and individuals which are truly committed to customers relish the opportunity to serve customers and improve the customer experience any way they can. These companies and individuals are genuinely committed to their customers and are motivated by a sincere desire to help customers, not just as means to increase the bottom line. Those organisations with superficial commitments to their customers will drop their customer-centric strategies, processes and policies the moment they find a cheaper method to increase revenue, cut costs or improve margins.

The desire to work with customers and seek new and innovative ways to delight them is the basis of a long-term, healthy and profitable relationship. Sincere customer-centric organisations cannot be built on the cheap and customers can recognize insincerity immediately. If your attempt to build customer relationships centers on utilitarian and conditional policies, the result will be higher attrition, lower profit and higher costs. Customer loyalty cannot be built on empty slogans and a superficial commitment to customers.

Utilitarian and conditional relationships form the basis of the majority of customer experiences. Those experiences suffer from on going decrease of the value delivered to customers. The symptoms of such conditional relationships are many. Among them: lower prices, cost reduction, devaluing products and services, customers’ dissatisfaction, higher defection rate, growing customer acquisition costs, more intense competitions, inability to differentiate products and services. And so the story goes. Lower customer commitment leads to further devaluation of the experience which leads to even lower customer commitments. A catch 22 that does not seem to end but only gets worse every year.

As you approach your strategic planning sessions for 2007, it is time to address the root cause of high customer attrition, growing costs and declining margins. When you stop applying superficial band-aid solutions and begin addressing the root cause, your organisation and the experiences you deliver, will never be the same.

Do you really love working with customers?

The honest response to this question will drive your organisation’s customer-centric initiatives. Customer satisfaction will not improve and attrition will not decline if you genuinely dislike customers. Competitive pressures will continue and customers will seek better experiences and greater value from competitors who love their customers more than you.

Simply put, if you don’t love your customers, your customers will never love you.

Another way, if you don’t love your customers, someone else will.

As you read this article, you may be thinking that what matters are actions not disposition. Indeed, actions matter. Your employees watch your every action, actions which are ultimately driven by personal values and beliefs. Each employee brings different beliefs and values which also may stand in stark contrast with strategies and initiatives dictated by corporate. They will watch you closely for any indication that they can ignore the latest strategy, plan or vision. Employees will recognize actions that stem from a fundamental and deeply held appreciation for customers, or if they are driven by a requirement to follow a corporate directive. As such, the centrality of genuinely loving customers is not academic but a necessity for customer experience success. It will guide the type of customer experiences you build and the manner in which you deliver them. Customer appreciation will have a ripple effect on the entire organisation and will drive initiatives and successes to greater heights.

This year, you are challenged not to adopt slogans, hand out posters or look for short cuts. They have not worked well in the past and there is little chance that they will work well in the future. Before embarking on a customer strategy initiative, think about whether you really love your customers. If you do not, find customers you do love and delight them in ways that no one but you can. If you do, ensure that everyone in your organisation shares this feeling and commitment, and acts accordingly. It is only after you determine where the love is that the rest will fall into place – enabling you to forge a differentiating and profitable customer strategy.

Lior Arussy is the President of Strativity Group and the author of several books. His latest book is Passionate & Profitable: Why Customers Strategies Fail and 10 Steps to Do Them Right! (John Wiley & Sons, 2005). Read an excerpt of this book.

To learn more about customer strategies, sign up for Lior’s newsletter at www.StrativityGroup.com.

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