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Customer service - ‘Walk two moons’ if you want to out-run the competition

Ask a group of people if anyone has received great customer service in this country in the last twelve months and it’s my guess you will be hard pressed to find more than 15% responding with a really positive experience. Most of us simply struggle to find any great examples at all but are only too quick to offer stories of poor service. This is good news for those organisations that do go out of their way to delight customers because it shows how little competition really exists.

The overwhelming majority of retail service experiences are at best non-events and at worst simply bad. Non-events are bland, typified by experiences that go as well as the service provider expected but from the customer's perspective there is nothing remarkable or memorable about them.

In the retail motor industry a non-event is where all the required work carried out by the dealer or garage was done on time, the bill was accurate, the car was presented back as expected, where there really wasn’t anything that went wrong. But from the customer’s perspective it was just a ‘bland experience’; there were no positive surprises, nor any disappointments.

If interviewed immediately after their visit as they step back into their car, the customer would rate their experience as no more than “OK” or “It was fine”. And therein lies the danger, because although these non-events may be ‘transactionally’ faultless in themselves, they will not build long-term customer loyalty. Non-events do not create customer champions who actively talk enthusiastically about their experiences with your business.

Non-events may lead to repeat business but the level of loyalty that follows is only behavioural. That’s not the same as attitudinal loyalty which is far more powerful. Behavioural loyalty leads to short term repeat sales; it does not mean that your customer has mentally allied himself to your business for the longer term. Furthermore, bland experiences such as these do little to differentiate one supplier from another.

The Fourth DimensionBusinesses have traditionally taken a fairly superficial view on developing the right levels of customer satisfaction. A simple model has evolved which suggests that there are only three areas that need to be worked upon: the premises, the processes and the people. This may have served you well in the past when the difference between one competitor and the next was marked, but as brands become closer and products become technically very similar, this traditional model is no longer sufficient.

What needs to be added is another dimension - 'emotional value'. This is about being able to connect with customers and offer a level of service that is uniquely personalised to them. It entails breaking away from habits that have developed over time and being prepared to bend company policy occasionally in order to satisfy the customer.

Adding the Emotional FactorSo what exactly is this ‘emotional factor’? It’s about standing in the customer’s shoes, personalising a response to their needs, ensuring they feel valued, being creative with solutions and going beyond their expectations wherever and whenever possible.

Exceeding expectations does not necessarily mean having to spend more money. Often it’s the simple things that can make the biggest impact such as personalising a letter’s content according to the person it is being addressed to rather than simply sending a stock or pre-written letter from a template. Or for all employees (not just customer facing staff) to acknowledge customers that are within three to four metres of them.But there is no point in just one or two individuals behaving in such a way, or even a single department. To make a difference, the whole business has to be aligned.

Here are a few ideas that will help you to begin your journey along the route toward great customer experiences:

  • Ask your customers how they want to feel when doing business with you. This will help you to understand what their emotional expectations are. They will include statements such as “that I can trust you, to feel respected, to feel valued, not to be patronised, to feel as if you are listening to me, to feel as if you care”. These are just a few of the typical examples we experience when working with clients.
  • Create a customer experience statement that describes how you want to make your customers feel based upon both their emotional and physical or tangible expectations. This statement will include the specific feelings you wish to trigger within your customers.
  • Build in specific actions within the customer’s interaction with your organisation that trigger the desired emotions or feelings. For example, if your customer statement were to include “feel welcomed” then your organisation must build into its ‘way of doing business’ specific actions at specific points which trigger this feeling. For such a feeling to happen with every case then triggers must be designed-in, not simply left to chance.
  • Communicate the customer experience statement to every employee and help them to understand what they need to do to meet these expectations as a minimum. Encourage them to go beyond these.
  • Walk Two Moons. There is a Native American Indian saying, which translates as “To understand the man, first walk two moons in his moccasins”. Put another way, “to understand your customer, stand in their shoes”.
  • Think creatively about how to eliminate Pinch Points - situations where the customer’s experience may be negatively affected - or reduce their effect by adding a Nice Touch.

One of our clients, a prestige dealer group, uses the Walk Two Moons’ process and as a result has eliminated over 100 Pinch Points. One of these arose from customer concern that the driver calling at their home to collect a vehicle for service or repair was indeed a bona fide employee of the dealership and not a conman. So each driver now has a security badge issued with their name, photo and company contact details. It helps customers feel ‘safe’ and ‘confident’ when dealing with this organisation.

Another Pinch Point concerned possible customer irritation at having to locate their car on a busy site after paying for a service. So customers now have their car brought around to the front door where the keys are handed to them. An example of the customer feeling valued.

For a free survey which will tell you how customer centric your organisation really is and further ideas and suggestions on how to add the emotional dimension to your customer experience, please send your contact details with a brief message to mark.gregory@thecustomersshoes.com, or call Mark Gregory, programme director with MTU plc, on 0784 3284310. Website www.thecustomersshoes.com.