Customer Intelligence Is Meaningless If You Don’t Tie It to Strategic Action


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I have three growing kids in the house, so my refrigerator door gets plenty of action. That explains how the bottom hinge broke, which prevented the door from closing. My milk was getting warm and butter was melting. A refrigerator that doesn’t keep cold air inside isn’t a good thing, so I immediately called for service.

But the problem is my refrigerator, and my food will soon be spoiling!

Years ago, the future held the promise of our appliances knowing all about us and calling in for service without our involvement. Today’s world isn’t so far off. Businesses have the means to know about us. And, as you can read below, the ensuing phone conversation between me and XYZ appliance showed that that the company that markets my refrigerator is making use of that information. But you’ll also see that the future is not here yet.

(For quality purposes, the following dialogue was transcribed by the customer.)

XYZ Appliance: Good afternoon…is this Mr. See?

Alan: Why, yes. How did you know?

XYZ Appliance: I show that you are calling from your home phone number. How can I help you?

Alan: (Cool! This is going to be quick and easy because XYZ already knows me!). My refrigerator door is broken and is letting all the cold air out. I need to get it serviced as soon as possible.

XYZ Appliance: I’m sorry for your inconvenience. I show that you are one of our platinum level customer’s and have purchased several appliances from us. Thank you for your business! Is this the same refrigerator you purchased in the packaged deal with your washer, dryer and dishwasher?

Alan: (Great! XYZ understands my problem, appreciates my business and knows my value. The company already has records on all my appliances, and with my priority status I’ll probably get immediate service!). Yes, it’s the same. Can someone fix it soon?

XYZ Appliance: Yes, of course. Is Thursday a good day for you?

Alan: Tomorrow would be perfect! What time?

XYZ Appliance: Actually, I was referring to Thursday next week.

Alan: But that’s eight days away. If this was my washer, I could go to the Laundromat, and it wouldn’t be a big deal. Or if it was my dishwasher, I could just wash the dishes in the sink. But the problem is my refrigerator, and my food will soon be spoiling! Are you sure I can’t get service sooner? Didn’t you just tell me that I was a platinum customer?

XYZ Appliance: Yes, but next Thursday is the first available day. We can have someone there between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Is that OK?

Alan: Hold on a minute! Not only do I have to wait until next week, but I also have to take off from work the entire day to wait on service because you can only give me an eight-hour window concerning the expected arrival time?! Gee, if my status was less than platinum, when would I be getting service? Because right now, I’m under the impression that platinum is really not buying much.

At this point I let my fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages and called the first vendor listing on the page.

Alan: Good afternoon, I have an XYZ brand refrigerator, and the door hinge is broken. My milk is getting warm, and my butter is melting. Can you help me?

AAA Appliance: Well, warm milk and melting butter can’t be good. Yes, we can service that brand. If we sent someone early…like between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. tomorrow, we could adjust our schedules and actually work you in before our first appointments. How’s that sound? By the way, who am I talking to and where do you live?

How’s that sound? You’ve got to be kidding! I gave AAA my name, home address and all the other particulars and booked the appointment. I didn’t even ask for the rates. Now get this, not only did the repair worker show up on time, but he also fixed the door in the same trip.

So which company delivered the customer experience I’ll remember? A couple of months later, my washer needed attention. You don’t have to guess which company I called. This time AAA didn’t work me into its schedule the very next day. But a washer is not mission critical, and I didn’t have that expectation.

The AAA worker did show up on time and did an excellent job. The fact that I had to provide my address again for the second service call seems like a minor point.

Customer Intelligence solutions provide the ability to identify your most valuable customers and empower your sales and service organizations to make smart decisions that result in wonderful customer experiences. Consider XYZ brand, though. It was collecting the data and using it. The service person knew who I was in terms of the other purchases I’d made and, so, my value. Why did the company collect that information? To be able to sell to me? Perhaps market new appliances at the end of the average lifetime of the ones I’d bought? To get me to buy an extended service contract? From my vantage point as the customer, all the information XYZ was collecting came to nothing. It was for XYZ’s benefit, not for mine.

This breakdown in strategic action is too often the rule and not the exception when it comes to customer intelligence. Intelligence without strategic action may very well be worse than not having the intelligence at all—if it means that you don’t retain your customers and, worse, engender poor word of mouth. When it comes time to replace my appliances, I’ll be looking closely at AAA.


  1. I absolutely agree with Alan. What is the point of investing in a whizz bang customer recognising, data storing, knowledge sharing system when the one thing the customer expects, service delivery at their convenience, cannot be achieved.

    Why can’t we deliver both? Because in my experience, the whizz bang systems have been financed in part by extracting the very staff who should be delivering the service to the customer.

    As a senior manager within a large organisation, yes I fully appreciate how vital the systems are, how important it is to be aware of who our customers are, their spending trends, buying habits etc etc.

    And yes, as customers we’re all suitably impressed by the professionalism of businesses that invest in such systems, feeling valued and important but I too would walk away if at the end of all the friendly salutations my expectations were crushed by the lack of ability to provide the response I was hoping for.

    There must be a strategic compromise, keep the whizz bang systems (maybe less of the whizz) but also hold onto a few of the whizz bang people who can actually deliver the service therefore helping us meet our customers expectations. If we did this, there would be fewer people turning to!!


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