Is It Possible Your Customers Don’t Notice?


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Is it possible that you have invested all that money in your CRM system and it has had little or no effect on how your customers feel about your company or your brand?

Step back for a moment and ask yourself what you are really trying to accomplish with CRM. Ultimately, relationships are about emotions. If you are going to continue to use the "R-word" to describe what you are trying to achieve, then you must continually remind yourself that relationships are emotional things. They are also complex, multidimensional and dynamic. Customer retention does not make a relationship. Retention is all about behavior; relationships are about emotion.

Customers know about relationships; they are not stupid. To borrow loosely from Pogo, "we have seen the customer, and she is us." We are all customers, but our relationships are principally with people who are close to us. When asked about their relationships, most people will not immediately offer up United Airlines or IBM or Burger King, although there are undoubtedly customers who have very close relationships with these firms. The point is that each of us as customers has close connections with a relatively small number of brands and companies, each of whom we would sorely miss if they were no longer available.

FedEx does not deliver packages as much as it delivers peace of mind. Starbucks does not create a great cup of coffee as much as it creates communities. Heinz Ketchup not only tastes great but also is reliable and dependable.

Forget the card
The customer of 2006 has evolved and, to a very great extent, has grown up with and understands the power of technology. She knows when a message from a company is "systems generated." A birthday card from your Chrysler dealer is not personal, nor are contact center scripts. Which may explain why Lloyds TSB, a major U.K. bank, has just eliminated scripts in favor of allowing its agents greater flexibility to enter into conversation with customers.

Categories of emotions

I’ve been listening to customers express themselves for more than 30 years, in various forms of qualitative research, across a wide range of industries, both B2B and B2C. I have long been intrigued by the fact that, when allowed to use their own words, rather than being constrained by the researcher-designed questions of a survey, customers use very emotive language to describe their interactions with and feelings about firms.

As I revisited this research and began to categorize the words used, I realized that it’s important to view the emotions expressed by customers in a form of hierarchy, ranging from mildly- to deeply-felt, both positive and negative. Low-intensity negative emotions may represent mild irritants and will get you a second chance; high-intensity negatives represent relationship-terminators. Low-intensity positives will lead to short-term customer satisfaction; high-intensity positives will get you customers for life. What kind of emotions are you creating?

Companies are guilty of doing things that, in the minds of their customers, are really stupid. Retailers spend millions on CRM systems and then motivate their salespeople to follow customers around the store and (in the customers’ words) harass them until they buy or leave, thereby creating very high levels of frustration: the universal customer emotion.

Volvo sends its valued customers a magazine and various special offers. I regularly receive such mailings from Volvo Canada; in fact, one arrived just yesterday. The problem is, I haven’t owned a Volvo for more than two years.

Such examples suggest that companies fail to give sufficient thought to how customers are likely to feel as the object of such initiatives. I have identified, in my qualitative research with customers across many industries, a pattern that suggests a hierarchy of emotions. There are literally hundreds of words and phrases that customers will use to describe how they feel or were made to feel, having dealt with a certain firm.

Mildly negative emotions that customers often voice include irritation, annoyance and disappointment, while intensely felt negatives include disgust, betrayal and even hatred. Somewhat positive emotions include liking, contentment and affection, while intense positives include pride, enthusiasm and love. Customers do say quite often that they "love" shopping at certain stores. Some of these emotions are internally felt, such as humiliation, dread and relief, while others, such as anger, delight and affection, are directed toward a particular company or brand.

The concept of intensity of emotions is central to an understanding of customer relationships, simply because we need to understand how important it is to create the most intense positive emotions possible and to avoid creating intense negative emotions. Few customers go back to companies where they are humiliated, embarrassed or mortified. Many companies that I meet are unaware that they may be creating negative customer emotions and are equally unaware of the possibilities that exist to create intense positive ones.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to the concept of small occasions and how they might be celebrated. Each of us passes through a series of life stages that are marked by such small occasions. Some are really small, such as when a toddler moves from a crib into a "big girl’s" bed. Others are more significant, such as moving into a new home. They are not public events like birthdays and anniversaries, which may show up in customer databases, but are much more personal and show up as photos that are sent to family and close friends.

But such events are, nevertheless, occasions for celebration. In one sense, they represent "graduation" from one stage of life to another. Yet, how many moving companies, telephone and cable TV companies choose to congratulate their customers on moving into their new home? Why would a furniture retailer not send along a teddy bear or a helium-filled balloon to celebrate Sarah’s graduation from a crib to her first real bed? Why would a retailer of customer-made, high-end leather furniture not deliver a set of leather bookmarks or coasters made from the same leather as the sofa, to send the message that the customer’s business is appreciated?

Opportunities to make an emotional connection with the customer are lost every day. Many products and services are closely related to occasions in the lives of customers that are cause for celebration. They represent opportunities to turn mere transactions into personalized emotional experiences. It is such initiatives on the part of companies that create surprise and delight and the establishment of an emotional connection. These have much greater potential to impress customers than a special offer ever will. Relationships are personal and emotional; much of what we do in the name of CRM simply isn’t.


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