It's all about the
When customer service alone is not
You have probably heard a zillion times the value of making customer
as number one. But how many times have you had a miserable experience as a customer? I continue to be amazed that our business executives simply don't get it. In my opinion, no matter how good your business or product or technology is, you don't exist if you don't have customers. Secondly, you will not exist for too long at your current level if your customers are not delighted with your product or service or whatever you do for them. I have also not come across a study
yet that establishes a strong correlation between size of the business and quality of customer care (which is not service as many executives tend to think). To me, customer care includes the complete experience that a customer has with your business (and that is why I will use this term henceforth, instead of customer service, which to me has a relatively narrow meaning).
Is there anything that we can learn from large companies? Yes; but as I said above, size does not matter when it comes to customer care. But I can cite several examples
of large companies that consistently provide excellent care to me. Here are a few that I personally like:
Airlines, Ritz Carlton
Bank. And please do not ask me to name the ones that do a terrible job; the list is too long. Can we learn something from small companies? Absolutely. I like a few restaurants in my town, I get a great hair cut at a local salon, and I simply love the bagel place a mile from my home where I am literally made to feel like a family member.
So why do we continue to screw up?
Because we forget that "Itís all about the customer, stupid!" Business executives frequently
do not realize that the actual offering that we pay for is a very small part of the overall customer experience. So why do I say great things about the Ritz Carlton hotels? When I have stayed at a Ritz, I have not found the rooms to be exceptionally comfortable or plush. What I value about them is the way I am treated from the moment I pick up the phone to book a room to the moment I leave their premises after check-out. And not everything that they do well costs extra. I am not sure if making your employees smile and greeting customers costs anything. On the other hand Microsoft keeps adding bells and
whistles to its software and we continue to hate it even more with each new version. (Related
to develop products that will please your customers and allow
you to create high-value companies?)
How do the Japanese do it?
I want to talk about this briefly because I have
spent many years studying and working there. Marketing in Japan is not limited to sitting in an office and looking at the pie charts generated by market researchers. While such data is collected, people who develop marketing strategy spend time with their customers. They do not have a questionnaire that they ask their customers to fill. They actually "talk" to their customers to get to their hidden needs: things that they really want but don't always know if someone is interested in listening. These are the answers no market research firm can collect by cold-calling customers and giving them the choices to pick from (typical market research process in most
cases). It is not unusual for Japanese executives to drink endless cups of
sake with their customers to find out what really is terrible about their
product (Related link: Key
account management). Senior Japanese executives will sometimes simply stand on street corners or work in their stores or answer phones to observe for themselves that what customers say during a phone discussion with a market research is actually true in real life. It is widely known that Japanese executives will take their suits off for casual clothes and hang out in Shibuya or Harajujku or Omotesando neighborhoods in Tokyo to see for themselves what teenagers are doing. This is the best way to observe trends. (By the way, a company that is following some of these practices in the United States is
Who else can tell you the most creative ways of using a cell phone than a teenager who is always trying to find something new that she could do with it. For instance, being able to send a short text message without disclosing her identity or finding the nearest place for a hot bowl of ramen.
So identifying your core customer and learning what she or he
truly wants is key.
Outside Japan, the new product development teams are heavily staffed by the R&D types: people who want an easy ride and make sure they point
out what Ďcannotí be done so that they are not stuck with a project that is difficult. The marketing types simply follow their advice because they do not understand technology and if their
PhD's say NO, it means that it must be impossible.
That is not how things work in Japan. The people who are closest to customers are the ones who conceptualize the product. How they are going to make it is not an issue. The diligent researchers will figure it out somehow. If it will take several years (rather than the next quarter, as is the case in the US, where Wall Street will hammer the stock if the company fails to introduce x% of products, as promised), that is fine as well since the goal is to do something that is not incremental.
If there is anything to learn from Japan regarding marketing, then it is a simple message: go to your customers and listen to them. Not only what they are saying but also what they are not saying. Step into the shoes of your customers and try out the offerings of your own company. Find out what was delightful and what was frustrating. Then make sure you sit down with some of your customers to find out how you can turn everything frustrating into delightful. If you have no idea how this all works, just take a month-long trip to Japan (even if you do not speak the language), notice everything, take notes and pictures, and then come back and synthesize it all. You might end up changing the face of your
company (Related link: Innovation strategies for small businesses).
In conclusion, a business relationship is not just the offering you provide (almost anyone can imitate your offering)
to your customers but extends to the complete interaction that they have with you. So think of the big picture and do not focus only on what your
tangible offering is.
Recommended links: How
to improve customer service?
to improve online customer service?
Knowledge exchange with virtual customers
How to partner with your customers
How to empower customers
How to build a customer facing organization
How to deal with marketplace change
How to build a community of customers
Questions, comments or