Most people on the planet who deal with companies at least once in their lives – and that’s almost all of us – have encountered customer service that’s been less than stellar.
That’s the polite way of putting it. Now let me be blunt by quoting General Electric CEO Jack Walsh, who once said “most employees have their face towards the CEO and their arse toward the customer”.
The companies those employees belong to may well talk good game. They may spend thousands, even millions of dollars on fantastic branding and livery, catchy jingo about how they’ll make your life easier, or an ad campaign starring GI Joe lookalike from an American police drama.
But then you’ll encounter surly serf from the lower ranks on the helpline, or want to hit your head against brick wall when confronted by an account manager with rulebook, and realise the much-vaunted passion for service is only skin-deep.
Increasingly, the customer experience is king. At time when bad service can ricochet around the world instantly, companies have to ensure good customer experience is their defining purpose.
That’s particularly true for New Zealand companies striving to make global impact and I am certain it is trait of the World Class New Zealand Award winners and their companies profiled in this magazine.
If you want to retain customers, and make more money, you have to have higher purpose, an authentic big ideal that centres on making customer’s life easier. And if you want evidence that this is true, turn to that ever-reliable measure, market research. That’s what Procter & Gamble global marketing officer Jim Stengel did when he wanted to know which businesses create the most shareholder value over time – and how they did it.
He teamed up with Millward Brown, the owners of the world’s largest brand equity database, to study 50,000 brands over decade, really drilling down into the top 50 of those to understand what made them so successful.
The findings were unequivocal. The world’s fastest growing enterprises were organised around ideals of improving people’s lives, and activated these ideals through their business ‘ecosystems’; in other words, customer experience excellence permeated every customer touch point, and became the embodiment of the brand ideal.
That some of the world’s brands can sum that up in tiny symbol – that seeing that symbol immediately represents excellence in the mind of consumer – is proof positive that the ‘ecosystem of excellence’ within an organisation has worked – Apple, Toyota and Moet & Chandon are just some examples.
So why can’t some companies, even with genuinely great service or product, achieve this impact?
In my opinion, the answer is that many companies are trying to ‘do’ customer satisfaction with their heads rather than their hearts. They try and legislate customer service behaviours, with formulaic, unauthentic result that customers can see through in seconds. What the modern consumer is looking for is something real and preferably personalised; and they ain’t gonna get that from someone with their head stuck in 500-page customer service manual.
Branding has to jive with reality; it has to represent an authentic world. customer is in fact more apt to define your brand for you than group of Gen Y marketing creatives in baggy pants and sneakers in brainstorming session.
That’s why, in order for company to uncover its grand ideal, its crusade, you need to understand both your customers and your unique strengths. Do some market research, and consider what grieves you about how this market is currently serviced. What’s your point of view? What could you stand against, or better, stand for? What could you change or put right: how could you make difference?
And, if my branding really meant what it said, how would it deliver that to customers?
And once that has been mulled over comes the ‘really’ difficult part: ensuring the experience you have just devised is delivered at every customer touch point. The most valuable brands are built and sustained by leaders who keep the brand ideals foremost in mind: who inspire shared vision and model the way.
The gravity of many companies – especially large ones – will always tend to pull employees inwards, looking at the interior experience, rather than the customer experience, but company needs to fight this tendency. Especially when there is so much at stake. Because if all they are seeing is wall of ‘bottoms’, to paraphrase Jack Welch, there’s very little, if anything, keeping them from walking away. M
Dick Brunton is co-founder of market research company Colmar Brunton.