The Challenges of Addressing the Right Customer Needs and Solving the Right Customer Problems: Three Examples and Three Important Questions


Share on LinkedIn

One of the major repetitive findings of organizational effectiveness studies is the inability to have, or sustain, a single view of the customer across the enterprise. And, related to that, are the abilities to undertake programs, modify processes, and begin initiatives which are assured of optimizing customer value delivery.

If a company is truly serious, and committed, to optimal customer centricity, perceived value has to be its first priority. In our broad consulting, research, and training work with clients, in many b2b and b2c verticals around the world, over and over again we’ve encountered corporate frustration with a) identifying real (as opposed to presumed and intuited), prioritized customer needs and problems and b) having plans and methods in place which make best use of scarce resources (time, money, people, facilities, and technology) to achieve that goal on a consistent basis.

Poor customer-centric orientation is the strategic root cause of inability to identify, and rectify, elements of the experience which can undermine customer value perception. And, within the enterprise architecture and plumbing, all too often the culprit is systems. Inflexible systems for learning about and interacting with the customer, once put into place, seem to have a life of their own. And, they are also quite resistant to change, thus becoming a major impediment to building a bond and lasting relationship.

Here are three examples of customer experience-related systems challenges, thoughts for how to rework them for more effective use of resources, and fundamental systems questions to ask.

1. Red Herring Complaints – There’s a long-held heresy that gathering voluminous customer comments, especially negative ones, will help an organization improve experiences and cut down on problems. Especially in the case of complaints, where such a trifling percentage of b2b and b2c customers with troubling issues actually express them to the supplier, generating unexpressed complaints from the entire base is the only way to have a full inventory of problems, and their potential and actual severity. Without this full inventory, available through targeted research and/or training customer support staff to solicit them, any organization is on a red herring quest, trying to use anecdotal information that may have little to do with customers’ future behavior.

Does your company act only on complaints received by the call or service center, or is there a full and representative inventory of the actual value delivery impediments?

2. Archaic Call Center Metrics – It’s a fair assumption that most customers dislike contacting customer service operations. Part of the reason is that there’s a disconnect between what customers want from support and service, and what these operations are set up to accomplish. Some of this is cultural. Much of the disconnect, though, is systems-based. Why? Look at how customer service centers define effectiveness. Hold period, standardized work flows, minimal handling time, first call resolution, etc. These are the traditional, often benign metrics associated with call center “efficiency.” What, if anything, does this actually mean to the emotional context of customer response to the transaction, not to mention downstream customer behavior as a result of the experience?

Most companies, even those that are more customer-focused, train service employees to use existing processes and systems to address superficial and immediate customer issues. There is little or no training for being proactive, for going below the surface, thinking outside of the dots and handling unusual situations, and for taking emotional ownership of the customer’s problems. Also, there is little investment in intuitive workflow systems, which makes problem solving easier. Slow systems often make getting accurate customer information a challenge. All, or any, of these are places to start experience and value systems improvement, and this can negatively impact future customer behavior.

Are any, most, or all, of these systems-related situations existing at your company?

3. Big Data Systems Tsunamis – Big Data has become a catch phrase for the sheer volume of information in data sets now available for business intelligence and decision-making. Over the past 20 to 30 years, business’ ability to generate transactional, interactional, and observational data has moved from basic structured (in SQL databases), to semi-structured, and now to unstructured data generation and mining. It is estimated that, each day, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created (so much that 90% of the information in the world today has been created in the last two years alone).

Data can come from traditional sources, such as research and customer purchase records and databases, and new unstructured sources, such as emails, posts to social media sites (Twitter processes 400 million tweets every day), digital pictures and videos, cell phone GPS records, etc. Cisco has predicted that, in 2013, information flowing over the Internet would reach an annual volume of 667 exabytes, 2.6 million times the amount of information stored in the Library of Congress. Whew!!! Companies should be assessing effectiveness of their systems and techniques for:

– data gathering,
– storage,
– management,
– integration/organization/summarization,
– mining/analytics, and
– actionable application/leveraging for addressing needs and problems

Shortfall in any of these data architecture and systems areas can undermine customer value delivery. Are any of these potentially damaging issues impeding data systems in your company?

Today, companies are challenged as never before to harness the volume, variety, velocity, and value, of systems and content as waves of information flow into, and through the enterprise. The opportunity presented is to provide the business with greater marketing and brand-building decision-making flexibility and agility, and to address issues that were previously beyond the scope of most organizations. With the right systems in place, experience and process design, or redesign, becomes much easier. Here’s the question: Will (or do) their systems allow for identifying the right customer needs and solving the right customer problems?

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here