Targeting Customer Service at Your Best Customers Is Critical in a Recession


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Hardly a day goes by without me reading another story about someone having had a rotten customer service experience. (You only have to have the misfortune to fly through British Airways’ new Terminal 5 to know exactly what I mean.) And the inductive logic that almost invariably follows about how important it is to improve customer service. And how that will help differentiate you in a recession. Sounds sensible doesn’t it? But is it really?

The problem with anecdotal evidence like this is that it is laden with cognitive biases – recency bias, confirmation bias, impact bias, you name it. What is needed is more robust research that looks at the broader picture and tries to discount these biases through an appropriate survey design.

Fortunately, Accenture has just done exactly that with their 2008 Customer Satisfaction Survey. Their findings are broadly in line with the received wisdom, in particular that:

  • The customer experience is a key driver of customer loyalty (and hopefully of profitability)
  • Customer expectations are continuously increasing – 84% of BRIC respondents said their expectations had increased in the past 5 years and 64% in the past 12 months
  • Customer satisfaction with the experience is continuously decreasing – 55% of all respondents said that their expectations were only sometimes, rarely or never met
  • Customers do defect from service providers because of that – 67% of all respondents had switched service provider in at least one industry, at least once in the past 12 months.

But the answer isn’t just to blindly increase customer service levels and hope for the best. That would be unconscionable in these cash-strapped times. Much better is to understand:

  • Which customers are most valuable to you – you should be focussing your customer service on the most valuable customers, rather than spreading it thinly over all of them
  • What jobs they are trying to do and outcomes they are trying to achieve when they come to you – you need to understand exactly what they are trying to do and what they want to achieve by doing it, rather than just smiling inanely when they need help with their unmet needs
  • How you can provide them with effective help – understanding customer jobs and the outcomes will help you provide customers with exactly the right customer service, rather than being helpful but unprepared
  • How you can do that at low cost to yourself – you need to be lean in this day and age. Lean is about cutting out non-value-adding waste, thus leaving more resources to focus on helping customers with their jobs and outcomes.

      This provides a simple foundation for targeting customer service improvements where they will do the most good for your best customers and therefore, for you as well. Remember, all customers are not the same, so don’t treat them the same. Of course, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t treat customers badly. You only have to look at the recent Sprint 1,000 disaster to see where that leads.

      What do you think? Are you targeting customer service where it will have the biggest impact? Or are you still spraying and praying?

      Post a comment or email me at graham(dot)hill(at)web(dot)de to get the conversation going.

      Graham Hill
      Customer-driven Innovator
      Follow me on Twitter

      Further Reading:

      Accenture, 2008 Customer Satisfaction Survey

      Ulwick & Bettencourt, Giving Customers a Fair Hearing

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn


  1. Research by Keith Roberts using the infamous PIMS (Profit Impact of Market Strategies) database identifies three factors that separated those companies that beat previous recessions from those that didn’t:

    • They invested in targeted marketing that delivered a high return to the company
    • They invested in innovation that delivered high value to the company’s best customers
    • They invested in quality improvements that cuts costs for the company whilst delivering further value to customers.

    A win-win-win situation. Customers win because they receive more value – the company wins because it creates more value – the company’s shareholders win because their total return increases too.

    Obviously, it isn’t just as easy as throwing money at marketing, innovation and quality improvements and hoping for value growth: The best customer have to be identified, the value they are looking for in terms of help to do core jobs better must be identified and complementary capabilities must be developed to maximise the return on the company’s investments. But it does show what can be done if you can avoid the recessionary reaction to “Cut this, Cut that, Cut everything!”.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager


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