- They tell you if customers are happy or not.
- They help you understand what to fix, to make them happier.
That question gets asked a lot:
"What does customer centric mean?"
It means a lot of things; some definitions can be long and drawn-out, while others are more succinct. But one thing is certain: You know "Customer Centric" when you experience it, and you know it when you don't.
I had an experience of the later variety recently. I was scheduled to have a stereo installed in my wife's automobile at a local electronics retailer. The dealer from which I bought the vehicle was covering the cost of the stereo and installation under the warranty. They gave me a purchase order number to give to the electronics store.
Thursday before the scheduled Saturday appointment, I phoned the store, gave them the purchase order number, and confirmed the appointment.
Then came Saturday. I arrived at 10am sharp, and introduced myself to the man behind the counter, who happened to be the manager. The manager was quick to tell me that they would not do any work, without receiving a purchase order directly from the auto dealership. Even though I gave the P.O. number to one of his employees over the phone, and that employee told me that I was "all set," the manager was quick to inform me that that was not the case, and that I must have misunderstood. And he said it with the classic "hey, that's not my problem - I just work here, and abide by the rules" demeanor.
The store manager's mind was stuck between the pages of the company's policy and procedures book, and as a result, couldn't see the my dilemma as I stood right in front of him. His focus clearly was not on the customer.
A more customer-centric approach would have been for the manager to offer me a seat in the waiting area while he took the intiative to call the dealership to confirm the P.O. number. Instead, he threw me - his customer - between the pages of his company's policy and procedures manual, essentially telling me to dig my own way out.
Customer-centric, in its simplest and most pure sense, means making the customer's life easy; designing processes that are focused on delivering a positive experience to the customer; making it extremely easy for the customer to learn about you, buy from you, and get support from you when they need it.
There are always situations where the designed process doesn't flow as smoothly as intended. And those situations are the ones where your "Customer Centricity" is really tested. When a process goes off the tracks, customer centric businesses don't let the customer feel the bumps. They stay focused on delivering a positive customer experience, while they absorb the bumps through alternative or ad-hoc procedures.
That's the essence of "Customer Centric" - keeping the customer at the center of your focus, to ensure that you're always delivering a positive experience, regardless of the circumstances. Consistently positive experiences delivered repeatedly are what keep customers loyal, and prompt them to tell others about you.
Customer Centric Definition #2: When something goes wrong, own the problem, so that your customer doesn't have to.
Everyone has a story of how about they arrived at where they are today, but not everyone can tell it. And even if they can, not all of them do. A happy exception is the Smiling Cow gift shop in Camden, Maine.
One of the great things about vacationing is that you're exposed to a lot of customer experiences that you don't enjoy during your normal daily routine. You go to new places, buy new products and services, and see the world from unique perspectives.
Customer Service Representatives (CSR's) are often among the lowest paid employees in most organizations. Yet they're among the highest influencers of the customer experience. Let's look at the logic - or the lack thereof:
Employees who interact with customers all day long are in a position to influence the customer experience in a positive or negative way. Because they're in this highly-sensitive tactical position, it would be wise select employees for this job who are inherently capable of delighting the customer with better discretion.
But most companies hesitate - and rightfully so - to grant such latitude to such low-paid workers. After all, their pay is low, because they lack the aptitude and experience to warrant higher pay (and greater latitude in decision-making with respect to customers). There are five big reasons why the Customer Service Representative should be a higher-paying position.
1: A higher wage will attract higher-quality candidates.
If companies offer a higher wage for CSR's, they'll attract more experienced candidates for the position. Candidates with a higher level of experience will have more likely learned and acted upon what it takes to delight the customer, and to do so judiciously, with the mutual interests of the customer and the company. They'll be more capable of making the right decisions in those moments of truth, where the experience could go either north or south, depending on the actions of the CSR. This type candidate can warrant the trust to please the customer without giving away ranch, as is often the fear of call center managers. This brings us to the second reason...
2: Higher-quality CSR's can deliver a better customer experience.
CSR's who can be trusted with the latitude to make the best decisions in the moments of truth are better positioned and more capable of delivering a superior customer experience. When a first-line representative at a bank is allowed to waive an overdraft fee without putting the customer on hold to seek approval, the customer immediately has a better impression of the bank, and will feel their loyalty to the bank grow stronger. And this brings us to the third reason...
3: Higher-quality CSR's increase customer loyalty.
A consistently higher quality experience drives greater customer loyalty. When a customer is delighted with the service provided every time she comes in contact with the company (often through a CSR), the customer will actually look forward to engaging with the company. This is the heart and soul of customer loyalty. And loyal customers often don't keep it a secret - they recruit more customers, bringing us to the fourth reason...
4: Higher-quality CSR's are catalysts for increasing market share.
When a customer has a great experience, they tend to talk about it. This positive talk from a customer is more credible, and more powerful than the most expensive marketing campaign. Strong positive word-of-mouth attracts more new customers, and does so at a relatively low cost. And that brings us to the fifth reason...
5: Higher-quality CSR's generate higher profits.
One of the highest expense categories for a company is Sales & Marketing. But when a current customer "sells" a friend or family member on becoming a customer, the company gains the customer and the additional revenue, without the expense of sales and marketing. As a result, word-of-mouth customers are higher profit customers.
When a company invests more in their customer service team, they're more apt to generate a better customer experience. And a better customer experience increases the loyalty of existing customers. Loyal customers recruit new customers through positive word-of-mouth at a lower cost of sales and marketing, which increases profits for the company. This virtuous cycle begins when an organization makes the decision to recruit higher quality, more experienced CSR's, by offering a higher wage.
If the shoe doesn't fit, should you still wear it?
We've all hear the saying that "Timing is everything." Surveys are no exception.
The entire customer experience was going well.
My wife and I were greeted immediately upon entering the showroom, and offered help in a non-intrusive, low-key manner. The salesman was not at all pushy; in fact, we found him to be quite helpful. When we settled on a vehicle, and agreed on a price, we were introduced to the finance manager, who promptly completed all the paper work with us.
When our new car was brought to us, the salesman demonstrated all the controls, gauges, levers and buttons, showed us where each of the 32 cup-holders were located and even offered to connect our phones to the blue-tooth stereo. We were happy customers.