Before You Sell, Satisfy the Existing Customers


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I attended a company meeting in the financial services sector. The director responsible for customer satisfaction talked at length about evoking emotions and the need to be customer-centric. It sounded impressive, and the management team seemed up for the challenge. I visited the contact center and a branch to see for myself what it was like where the rubber hits the road, where the customer touches the organization.

In both locations, there was not a lot of customer empathy and very little positive emotion in front of the customer. The call center agent was taking calls, and the branches were offering Visa credit cards to everyone who came in. Apparently, it was Visa promotion week and the product manager needed to hit his targets. It was a large branch, and a member of the staff told me that one customer had been offered a Visa three times in the same week. The company was not increasing sales and was certainly not developing sustainable relationships with its customers.

Yet, I believe that you can profitably focus on satisfying the existing customers and increasing their loyalty. As a consumer who also has 20 years of experience in the contact center industry, I know that far too many organizations, in the quest for market share, forget about their existing customers. Assuming you have a good product that is competitively priced, it is essential your contact centers focus on the customer and what matters to them.

I believe that you must create the conditions in which the operational teams choose to deliver an experience that customers enjoy. The starting point is in understanding the customers’ present situation and satisfying their initial need. There are four key questions you should ask:

  1. Why are the customers calling?
  2. What process do we put them through?
  3. How do employees/teams recommend improvements?
  4. How involved and supported are the internal teams?

In research I have conducted in the financial and telecommunications sectors, I have found more than 40 percent of the contacts in some centers to be repeat calls. These customers wanted to be satisfied the first time, but for some reason they were not. They had to ring again.

When I investigated further, I found that the local management team and team leaders were not focusing on understanding why customers were ringing. It was costing their organizations millions and also upsetting their customers.

Instead, the planning teams were focusing on the automatic call distribution (ACD) statistics and the numbers. Numbers are fine, but when you have a target of 80 calls a day, all you’re doing is taking calls. Sometimes, teams are so focused on hitting their figures, they have no time to think about improvement.

Listen to the customer

Management teams cannot manage what they do not understand. Yet, the only way to understand is to listen in on calls. It is amazing what senior executives find out when they listen into customer contact. Try it!

While listening to customers, operational leaders need to look at the process the customer is put through, considering these points:

  • Are rules stopping the team from satisfying customers?
  • What delays are customers facing?
  • What capabilities do agents need to satisfy customers?

Often, contact center agents do not have the tools or the freedom to satisfy the customers, and this leads to frustration that can easily be transferred onto the customer. Giving the agents the freedom to satisfy customers is vital. For example, I was in a mobile call center where a customer explained that his mother had died and he wanted to close the account. The agent explained that the company would need to see the death certificate (not a copy, the actual death certificate). Why? How many people would phone up and lie about their mother dying?

There has been much talk recently about delivering an improved customer experience through the evoking of specific emotions. The key is to ensure that the agents take time to understand the customers’ circumstances and be given the freedom to do and say what is necessary for the customer to be satisfied. When an agent is asking for a death certificate, he or she is making no attempt to empathize with the customer (or the deceased customer’s loved one); the agent is merely following an impersonal process.

Clearly, the agents know more about the customers than anyone in the organization. Yes, even more than the marketers do.

At the end of each customer contact, each agent should ask why the call came in and what has gone wrong that could be improved. Involving the agents in the improvement effort is essential if organizations are to improve the customer experience.

Empower agents

Often, the agents are not involved in the changes that affect them, which is de-motivating for many. When you are disgruntled and disaffected, no amount of motivational messages or behavior training will improve the situation for you or your customers.

When agents feel involved and supported, they choose to contribute enthusiastically, developing enduring relationships with customers. They are absent less and never think of leaving the team for something better.

Getting the transaction right is now the price of entry for many organizations. Concentrating on the emotional connection, combined with ongoing process efficiency with existing customers brings you rewards in the form of increased revenue, customer loyalty and people satisfaction.

Of course, once you have got the basics right and the customers trust you, you can offer advice and guidance about new products that might meet their need. When organizations get the customer service right, customers return for more and are emotionally committed to the product or service. You make money, and everyone is enjoying it.

Richard Brimble
Understanding & Learning
Richard Brimble is the managing director of Understanding & Learning in the United Kingdom. He has advised companies in the U.K., Europe, Australia and the United States on how to bring about improved customer satisfaction and results through the sustained contribution of people.


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