We all know that a customer-centric initiative involves many elements. It starts when you define your strategy, deciding to compete differently and focus not only on great products and innovation but also on relating and treating customers differently.
It continues when you recognize the need to know your customers; you segment them; and then treat different customers differently and consistently. To do that, one of the first things you need is to integrate all customer contact points. Sales, service, provisioning, billing, claims and returns, communication, marketing campaigns—these are all customer touch-points.
That is the customer-centric initiatives recipe. Sounds easy. But many companies are still not getting it. They forget that there are two things they need to do flawlessly: give customers differentiated treatment and deliver it consistently.
Your pal, the customer
Think of it this way. Customers are a lot like friends. We all have different friends. You know what your friends like, other members of their family and what they do for a living. You know their background, what university they attended and their ages. You know the way they like to party. If, after a long week, you want to invite a group of friends home for a calm, early dinner, you call those you know would enjoy quiet and calm. You may even know when one of them suffers from high cholesterol—and prepare a dinner that accommodates his diet.
But if, on the other hand, you are in the mood for a long party, you do not invite the same people. You invite friends who enjoy tequila and tacos and with whom you can drink and dance until late in the night. If you call one of them, and she says she cannot come because her small daughter is sick, what is the first thing you do the next time you talk to her? You ask her how her daughter is doing. You continue the dialogue where you left off. It does not matter if you see her on the street, call her on your cell phone or chat with her online. You act the same toward her.
That is exactly what you need to do with customers. And therefore, integrating customer contact points involves three basic elements:
- Being able to recognize and remember who the customer is
- Acting consistently through out all customer contact points
- Continuing the dialogue with the customer where it was left off, no matter the communication channel
Obviously, technology helps with the logistics. With a good shared database, you can store who your customer is and recognize him at all touch-points. With software systems that automate customers’ processes, you can replicate the behavior with the customer, no matter where or how he gets in touch with you or gets touched by your company. But more important than technology to your success are people and processes—the most difficult components in a customer initiative.
People can be trained to recognize and remember customers. They can remember who they are, what they like and how they like it. People can be trained to continue the dialogue where it was left off.
There is a children’s clothing retail store in Colombia that has trained its salespeople to do that. They surprise me every time I come to the store. They say, "Hello, Mrs. Botero." They remember I have a daughter, and they remember her age. And they always offer something that they think she might like.
That’s evidence of good training. There is no system involved. If they waited to check a database, they’d have to do it at the register, when I am paying. But if they waited until then, they would not be able to make me feel remembered. It’s the same if you visit the store online. Once I sign on, the site remembers who I am, the fact that I have a daughter and her age.
Processes have to be designed and implemented consistently. People need to be trained on processes. Web sites and call centers need to be designed accordingly, especially when channels get mixed. Consider this. Which retail outlets allow you to return products to physical stores that you bought online? Those are the stores that get it.
The other day, my pension’s fund investment company called me. It was a campaign executed by an outsourced call center. The agent told me the company was concerned because it had noticed "strange" withdrawals from my account. I thought I was the victim of fraud! I panicked. I immediately called my sales agent and asked for her help. An hour latter, they had sorted out the problem.
Two months earlier, I had called the sales executive assigned to my company to tell her I was going to withdraw some money. She helped me with the massive amount of paperwork, which was not simple. It seems all that information was not shared with other contact points. The call center received the database of customers to call in the fraud prevention campaign two months later, and it still lacked the information I’d given the sales executive. The very fraud campaign that was meant to protect me (and the reputation of the company) and make me feel valued wound up alarming me, because the company did not make sure information was shared across channels.
What do you think is the result of the investment firm’s failure? This is a company that has been losing market share and did poorly in a brand recognition study published by Gallup Colombia in May 2006. Now I understand why.
People and processes play a definite role in integrating customer touch-points. They play a fundamental role in guaranteeing that customers receive and perceive a consistent experience no matter where. Technology can be a great add-on to a well-executed strategy. But lacking technology does not mean you cannot remember who your customers are, and cannot treat them differently—consistently. Forget systems. People and processes are key to a customer-centric strategy.
But you know that.