Where to focus: product or customer?

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Over the weekend I received an email from a New Zealand consultant who is working with a bus tour operator to transition from a product focus to a customer focus. For a bus tour operator, a product focus emphasizes the travel itinerary and mode of transportation for the current trip, whereas a customer focus considers the traveler’s experience throughout the current trip with an eye toward future trips. The consultant’s question dealt with how to move an organization from a product focus to a customer focus.

My reaction to this question is why not value both the product and the customer?

For instance, I appreciate when a bus tour operator pays attention to the product—the travel itinerary and mode of transportation for the current trip. I want the company to take into account the route (e.g., traffic patterns, road construction, and weather) and the bus itself (e.g., safety, seating capacity, cleanliness, etc.) when making tour preparations.

At the same time, I recognize when a bus tour operator considers the customer—and the totality of her experience with the goal of creating a promoter (a delighted customer who is less price sensitive, has higher repurchase rates, and is responsible for 80-90 percent of the positive word-of-mouth about a company or brand). I want the company to value the entire customer experience (e.g., website, reservations, payment, pre-tour communications, reception, tour, amenities, comfort, etc.).

It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum proposition, one or the other. It can be both. Intellectually, this makes sense. The bus tour operator needs a scenic route, a reliable bus, and a knowledgeable tour guide. It also must pay attention to its customers’ experiences with company personnel, policies, and protocol. The problem I tend to encounter most often is that companies become so immersed in their products that they lose sight of their customers—and the totality of their experiences with the product or service in question.

An example: My wife and I have purchased bedroom sets from Pottery Barn Kids for each of our four children. The last items purchased were a navy blue desk/hutch, a full size bed, and a nightstand for our son—all in January 2014. The nightstand arrived with a nickel-plated handle matching the handles on his 5-drawer dresser, but the desk arrived with flat silver-plated handles that didn’t match either of the other pieces.

So I called PBK, mentioned the inconsistency and was told that replacement handles/screws would be sent. About a week later, UPS delivered a packet of nickel-plated hardware but it contained cams and cam screws rather than the requested handles/screws. So, I called back and spoke with a rep who said he’d have the correct hardware shipped the following week.

After four weeks, I called back to check on the handles. After a lengthy hold, the rep came back on the line and informed me that my request had been denied because the desk only came with flat silver-plated handles. He apologized that no one from PBK had bothered to contact me regarding the denial of my request and then began to end the call when I interrupted saying, “That answer is unacceptable. If you can’t send me three nickel-plated handles and six screws for the desk (because it only comes in flat silver), then send me three nickel-plated handles and six screws for the 5-drawer dresser.”

As I often do in such situations, I asked the PBK rep if he thought my request was unreasonable. He didn’t. I then asked him if he recognized the absurdity of PBK denying my request. He did. He confirmed my shipping address and assured me that he would take care of it. That was more than two weeks ago. As of today, more than seven weeks after my initial call, I have yet to receive the handles/screws requested. In its rigid adherence to product protocol, PBK lost sight of its customer.

Whether a bus tour operator, furniture retailer, or some other business, a myopic focus on one’s product or service without considering the totality of the customer’s experience may reduce customer satisfaction, curtail customer loyalty, and limit business success. The opportunity lies not in determining whether to focus on the product or the customer, but in choosing to value both.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.

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