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Listening to your Customer

Steve Jobs famously eschewed focus groups and market research in designing new Apple products.  He did not want to supply what customers wanted.  He wanted customers to want what he created.

Whether Apple will be able to sustain that level of creativity is a question only time will answer.  But Jobs’ attitude did not mean that Apple was deaf to its customers – quite the opposite.  Having created the kind of loyalty that just about any other corporation can only dream of, everything Apple does has been tailored to retaining that crazy loyalty.

Marketing departments typically spend their time and resources looking for ever better ways to ensure that potential customers hear their message.  Customer service departments focus on fixing customer problems.  Who in your business is dedicated to listening to the customers you have, to build loyalty?  It’s cheaper and easier than acquiring new customers, and it’s cheaper and easier than fixing relationships with disappointed customers.

The big question is ‘How?’

How can you really listen to the voice of your customer? 

Surveys are great – especially low cost, easy-to-implement online surveys using tools like Zoomerang or Survey Monkey.  These have the benefit that they take little effort from your customer (and why should they make a big effort?) and can be supported by an appropriate incentive like a small reward or a competition entry.

The gold standard for good feedback on what you do (and don’t do) is follow-up calls or meetings from someone separate from the team that serves your customer.  To make it work for both you and your customer, you must welcome absolutely frank assessments and ask good questions to secure details that make appropriate actions easy to target accurately.

But what if your customers won’t talk to you?  You can always employ a ‘professional customer’ – mystery shoppers.  They are great for thorough, detailed and accurate assessment of what you do.  Unlike real customers, however, they cannot give you information about what else they want, from your product or service lines.

Customer focus groups or ‘customer panels’ can do that.  They are a lot of work to plan and organise and expensive too – often requiring specialist consultants, room hire, and inducements to participate.  This is a form of market research and the Marketing Pocketbook offers eight more variants on what we have above.

The forgotten question is Why?

In case ‘why would you listen to your customer?’ seems like a pointless question with an obvious answer: ‘of course you must’ – stop for a moment.

Of course you must, but unless you know why you are going to do it, you rune the risk of asking the wrong questions, choosing the wrong format, and mis-using the answers.  It is all too easy to feel like you are doing something useful by sending people out to listen to your customers, but before you do so, make sure you have a purpose and design the process accordingly.

A Paradigm Shift

Michael Porter identified two sources of competitive advantage:

  1. Industry Cost Leadership
  2. Product Differentiation

Arguably, Apple has neither, with high prices for products that are being successfully emulated by their main rivals.  So how are they succeeding?  I believe by a third source of competitive advantage: brand loyalty.

As a prevailing business strategy, this is new force in big business, but one we can all exploit, by building an organisation that excites and values its customers so much that we win the kind of fanatical following that Apple has.

If you can do that – with or without one of Porter’s two other sources of competitive advantage – you have the basis for a long-term business.

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A Bigger Bite

What is management without vision and inspiration?

The sad news about Steve Jobs’ untimely death has spurred more blogs than anyone has the time to read, so a shorter than usual pocketblog and a simple observation.

A bigger bite out of Apple

Making the complex seem easy and the sophisticated, a doddle to use: this is more than talent, or skill: it’s art.

Last week, for the first time in my life, I heard a major news story first, not on the radio, not on the TV, not in the press, nor even from a colleague, friend, or acquaintance.  I heard it on Twitter.

… on an iPad.

The world is a better place for everyone who is bringing us new technology and more effective communication.  Yes there are compromises and a price to pay, but who would trade it?  Very few.

Steve Jobs brought us the Mac, Pixar, the iPod, iTunes and more.  But here’s the big one for me: without him, we may still think of a mouse only as a small mammal.  Without Steve Jobs, what would the move to touch screen mean?

This image is the landing page of the Apple website, as I write this blog.  (c) Apple 2011

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Another reason to offer great customer service

By Sean McManus, co-author of  The Customer Service Pocketbook

Just before Christmas, news came out that Google has updated the way its search engine works, so that it discriminates against companies that offer bad customer service.

Google counts a link to a website as being a vote in favour of it, and uses those votes (among other things) to decide how highly websites rank in its search results. The problem was that if the links appeared with complaints about the company, perhaps in a consumer rights forum, Google still gave companies credit for that link. Now that’s all changed, and Google says it now penalises companies apparently offering poor service.

The change responds to a claim in a US newspaper that one company deliberately offered bad customer service, just so that people would gripe about it online and give it lots of links that would boost its search engine ranking.

For online businesses, this means it’s never been more important to offer good service. If they don’t, they risk sliding down the search engine rankings, which can have a big impact on new customer acquisition and sales volume.

Google has always been committed to giving people the best web pages for their search queries, but this represents a subtle change. It means Google is now prioritising the reputation of the website operator too, including factors that are independent of the website itself.

imageGoogle holds a huge amount of data about customer behaviour that could also be factored in. Let’s not forget that Google knows how often people search for your company name together with ‘complaints department’.

It can even benchmark these figures across different companies, industries and countries, to identify companies that have significantly more complaints than their rivals.

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If Google is committed to good customer service, you should be too

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Find out how to improve customer service across your organisation in …

Never has there been a time when retaining your customers has been more important. The Customer Service Pocketbook, by Tony Newby and Sean McManus will give you lots of hints and tips about communicating with your customers, dealing with complaints and monitoring your performance.

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Making Customer Service Count

We recently wrote about the secret of customer care.  Now, Customer Service Pocketbook co-author, Sean McManus, considers the implications of a recent survey from consumer organisation Which.

The Best and the Worst Customer Service

A recent survey by Which named the UK’s best and worst companies for customer service. Top stores included Lakeland, Richer Sounds, Apple, Lush, John Lewis, Body Shop and Ikea. Those at the bottom of the table of 100 companies were Currys Digital (in last place), WH Smith, Focus, PC World, JJB Sports, and Currys.

To compile the chart, Which surveyed over 14,000 members of the public about their shopping experiences in the previous six months. Over 130 people rated each shop in the top and bottom ten.

What Differentiates the Best and the Worst?

Roughly speaking, the bottom ten shops are those that compete strongly on price. The top ten shops compete more strongly on differentiation and specialisation. You could argue, then, that people get the customer service they pay for. Good customer service doesn’t have to be expensive, but in businesses where costs are under pressure, it can be difficult for the team to keep customers happy.

You might think that stores like Homebase and Focus (both in the bottom 10) have to compete on price because they’re fighting each other, but all the shops in the top ten have strong competition too. By investing in differentiation and great customer service, they’ve managed to create the impression they don’t.

Mediocrity is Instantly Forgettable

Since people were being asked to recall their shopping experiences over the previous six months, mediocre customer service will have been long forgotten. What people remember is when the business goes the extra mile to really deliver above and beyond expectations. That’s what will encourage people to return again next time they are ready to buy, which, in the case of most of the top ten shops, is likely to be months or perhaps years later. (Of course, outstandingly bad customer service is also memorable).

The quality is determined by who is working on the shop floor on the day

Ask around and you’ll probably find plenty of people willing to quibble with the results. I’ve had bad customer service at times from Ikea and excellent service from WH Smith, which runs contrary to the trend. But that highlights a key challenge with customer service: the quality is determined by who is working on the shop floor on the day, how committed they are to delivering to good service, and whether they have the resources to do so. Customers never think ‘that salesperson’ wasn’t helpful, though. They think ‘the company doesn’t care’.

So here’s the deal

Make sure everyone on your shop floor is trained in customer service and, more important, is motivated to really care about it.

The Customer Service Pocketbook

CustomerService Companies that want to be known for chart-topping customer service, the only kind that customers really care about, need to make sure that the whole organisation is geared up to deliver it. For tips on how to do that, see chapter 5 of The Customer Service Pocketbook.

Other Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

This blog was written by Sean McManus

Sean McManus is a writer specialising in business and technology. He is co-author of The Customer Service Pocketbook.

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The Secret of Customer Care

. . . is to actually care.

So here’s the deal

This could be our shortest ever blog but, in case you would feel short changed, here’s a little more:

Shocking Customer Care Statistic

Two surveys, by Harvard Business School and Dun & Bradstreet found a consistent result.  When they asked customers why they stopped using a company, they got these results:

Left the area, died, otherwise unable to use the company
– approx. 20%

Found the product, service or price to be poor
– approx. 14%

Don’t think the company cares about me
– approx. 66%

CustomerCare

What to do about it

The answer is simple.  Make time to listen to your customers.  Ask them questions, listen to their answers and act on their feedback.

So here’s the deal

The secret to customer care is to actually care.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Customer Service Pocketbook is filled with tools, tips and techniques to help with your customer care.

Customer Service Pocketbook

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