“Sorry. I’ll Make Sure We Fix That”

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Almost every company in the last two years has told me “our products [or services] aren’t really very different from our competitors’, so we have to differentiate based on delivering great customer experiences … so how in the heck do we do that?”

Good question, and the reality for too many companies today. Bill Taylor addressed this challenge in his article in The New York Times four years ago (“Companies Find They Can’t Buy Love with Bargains”), lamenting that years of innovative product development hasn’t budged customer satisfaction scores. Why, you ask? Well, I keep running across this situation:

  • Marketing and IT create all sorts of new stuff that we might need, asking “the market” to sort the wheat from the chaff, thereby confessing that there will be failures and that’s part of the game.
  • Customer Service keeps hearing all sorts of wants and needs from customers who call, email, send chat messages, and otherwise contact them, but Marketing and IT often don’t seek their advice and counsel.
  • Customers get some good products/services and features/functions, but not the full plate that they’re seeking.

So how can your company scale the cliffs, and answer the core question? First things first = ask yourself what “customer experiences” are happening today, and what would represent, as specifically as you can manage, “great customer experiences”?

To me it’s actually quite simple, especially since all of us are customers of lots of companies and “experience” them every day. Here’s what I like – how about you?

  1. I want everything to be clear, and to work right the first time, so that I don’t need to contact the company to ask questions, complain, or change something.
  2. But, since “stuff happens”, I want to find answers online + do not want to have them happen again.
  3. And, when I do complain or offer a suggestion, I want to hear “sorry, I’ll make sure that we fix that for you and for other customers” + I want the company to know who I am, what I’ve done in the past, and where I want to go + (as much as possible) get notified before I even have to pose the question or register the complaint.
  4. Then, I want to hear back that the situation’s been corrected, or my wish list has been fulfilled.

What companies deliver these four steps to great customer experiences?

One of my favorites is McDonald’s whose “customer recovery” program has been one of the hallmarks of the company’s leap ahead of its competition. Are they perfect? No, of course not. What McDonald’s does is listen intently to customer complaints in the restaurant or if customers call or email their support center – with 70% of their locations owned and operated by independent businessmen and businesswomen, you have to bet that that McDonald’s reminds them how crucial it is to listen and act upon customer complaints ? they will return to your store, and to others’ stores.

Another good example is India carrier Kingfisher Airlines whose flamboyant CEO, scion of a beer fortune (yes, also called Kingfisher Beer), has invited his “guests” (what a wonderful term to use – by the way, McDonald’s also calls its customers “guests” – mmm?) to email him if they have any problems with “the good life” that he wants them to have, or any suggestions to improve the airlines. For all of us who have suffered interminable delays trying to get from the States to India (2 or 3 legs, winter fog in Delhi, and worse), Kingfisher listened to us and has started the first nonstop flights to Bangalore – way to go! Now that will produce great customer experiences.

It’s all too easy to pick on the opposite extreme, companies that have never provided great customer experiences, or even good ones, but in the spirit of sharing a good news/bad news story that protects the guilty while applauding the good guys, try this one. A few years ago some of Motorola’s hot new RAZR mobile phones collected dust under the casing, making it hard to see the numbers on the screen. Two mobile carriers, Cingular (now AT&T Wireless) and “Brand X”, both heard from their subscribers that this was happening, and both started to trace the problem to specific batches of phones built between certain dates.

Cingular decided to alert its subs to come into their stores to exchange the affected phones (they could do the match) or send it into the company for a replacement; Brand X chose a different path, waiting for its subs to see if they had a bad phone and then reacting to it by replacing it. Which one delivered a great customer experience, at least for this event? Hat’s off to Cingular, not so for Brand X!

Build your customers’ expectations for prompt, recognized support and proactive alerts into your product and services plan, and then listen closely to them if (more like when) they have problems, and you’re well on the way to build a high-performance brand with differentiated customer experiences!

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