Mitch Joel, digital marketing guru and he of Six Pixels of Separation, tells us the consumer has never been more in control. I think he’s being generous: I’m sceptical whether as entrepreneurs we have any control of the agenda today, let alone have the power to resist.
I’ve been watching the slow and unyielding digression of power from the C-suite to the guy and gals in the customer service hot seats who are the ultimate decision makers to whether we keep or lose our most valuable asset: The customer.
Today everything about your business has to smell of concierge. Whatever the customer wants, you’re there. You have to be. There’s someone over the road who’s innovating way harder than you, while the shop round the corner has coated its products in the best marketing since Crispin Porter + Bogusky changed the game.
As business creators we feel the sharp end of competition. Whatever industry you’re in, there’s someone ready to pounce on your clients. Whatever new idea you had, it’s been done before. Going beyond the call has never been more critical to the future progress of your organisation.
I want to take you through four real-life consumer experiences that’ll help you understand why you need less worry about going too far with your generosity, and more about why delight is more important than product perfection…
Zero to hero
Longhorn Steak House once made us wait. The waitress was in the back making dressing. She came out, apologized up and down. Later she gave us free dessert. We appreciated that. Then they brought the check – for $0.00. We ask for that waitress every time my wife and I go there.
I’ve read a lot of reports telling me if you tame an angry customer with sense and satisfaction, you’ve got a lifelong brand evangelist.
It makes sense, and there are companies who go out of their way to cause customers to call them so they can demonstrate their incredible professionalism and kindness. There are of course a bunch of companies, mostly in the telecoms sector, who forgot about the second part of the process and have missed the chance to leapfrog their peers to coveted best-in-class status, but I digress.
I have people who say to me: “Business is tight. There’s no way I can afford to hand out when things go wrong”. Believe me, just as there are people who question the cost of implementing social media strategies, I always ask them to count the cost of being average - because often in modern commerce, it’s terminal decline.
I had a projector installed. It was problematic, and the company tried everything to make it right including replacing it twice. By this point the projector was over a year old and they not only replaced it again, but without any charge and upgraded it to their most recent model with far more features. The new unit is and has been working great. The company is Optoma Inc, and they have forever secured my loyalty as a company and for personal use. They make an amazing product and when something does go wrong, they do what it takes to make it right.
It is sometimes as simple as matching your promise – and making that promise sing at the point of purchase. Here in the UK the premium department store John Lewis has just launched a never-ending refunds policy and we all know about Tony Hsieh’s libertarian attitude towards shoes coming back into the Zappos warehouse.
On the flipside there are companies I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole on account of them being dissed by a friend. Take the restaurant example: We recently sat down as a family to an eatery on a retail park. Few customers, and a whiney front of house guy who maligned his working conditions. The food was dry, the bill high, and from that point I went on a crazy machine-gun (rat-a-tat, not literally shooting at people) vendetta aimed at saving other diners the heartache of feeling ripped off.
You have to know where the line is, and cross it – for the better. If you know who your competition is, become a customer and sense-check their operational standards. Then be at least three rungs higher up the ladder. By the time you’ve refined your proposition and strove for even greater things with a continuous improvement attitude, you’ll be untouchable.
Kill it with kindness
My fibre optic installation was during a blizzard. 8 inches of snow before the technician arrived – on time – and 4 more while he was working here, which included finding the underground vault to connect the fibre and drilling through my foundation from the outside to connect it up. There were some compatibility issues so the technician replaced every single end, replaced the splitters, ran a new coax and cat-5 connection to where I wanted it, and cleaned up the interior wiring in the basement.
Verizon was the brand getting the kudos back there. Preparedness is a very important part of the machine when it comes to over-satisfying the customer.
Bending the rules
I had ordered 2 pieces of furniture from Crate & Barrel. One item was back-ordered and because I’m way out of their local delivery zone, I was going to have to wait until both items could be delivered together. However, within days of placing my order, the company called and said they were delivering something to someone nearby and would be glad to drop off the available item with no extra delivery charge to me. They came when they promised, carried the item into the house, and even helped me unpack it to make sure everything was right.
From the mechanic leaving a bunch of flowers in the car after a difficult repair job, to the supermarket sending out vouchers to cover the cost, and more, of a tough steak, there are many ways we can learn from pioneers in the please-me paradigm. We just need to be sure that it’s front of mind, every time, otherwise it won’t just be your customer looking for a different fix.