By Dr David Cliff, Managing Director of Gedanken.
Almost every organisation talks about customer services and attentiveness to consumer needs these days. The truth is this need is so endemic in the provision of goods and services that it would be an unwise company that failed to have some form of observance.
All too often, however, customer service is reduced to a rhetorical transaction where disgruntled customers typically have to make approaches to people other than those involved in the sales process, either by an array of call centers or some form of specialist customer services operatives. This approach is fine in principle, but if operatives fail to take responsibility for what has gone wrong, and appear to respond with scripts and platitudes rather than with what the customer actually needs, the experience can be a threadbare one indeed.
Let’s face it, the bulk of business these days over focuses on the transaction itself. Such a lot of things are now bought online or contracted via email and other interactions. The face-to-face relational spaces between supplier and customer have been squeezed somewhat in recent years. In a world where new generations coming into the workforce expect to contract with people for goods and services remotely and expediently, it’s all too easy to look at business as a purely transactional relationship, where the rights and concerns of the consumer are viewed through a law-based framework, rather than as an experience.
Often, the key component of the business transaction that leads to lasting and repeat business is in the nature of the ‘psychological’ contract. This could be best described as a ‘cognitive overlap’ between supplier and customer where the relationship itself has meaning and needs to be weighed alongside the other rights and responsibilities of the transaction in hand.
There is a danger for organisations seeing serial transactions as simply repeat custom, rather than observing the nature of this relational process. It’s very apparent to customers, who often place more stock in these relational factors than suppliers do. Only recently have certain industries cottoned on to the nature of retaining and incentivising loyalty for long-standing customers. Maintaining a simple sales target focus, however, focuses primarily on discounts and incentives rewarding the newcomer to the business, rather than those giving value to loyalty. It is a failing where many companies rely on re-routing the calls of those customers thinking of leaving an organisation’s services, with an aim to try and broker retention, rather than managing this as an integral part of the process.
Customers are getting used to the psychological contract being deficient. They often put up with severe neglect of this contractual process until they consider switching to another supplier. The motivations for switching are numerous and usually avoidable. They include price exploitation, reputational loss by the provider, failure for goods and services to be delivered in truly person-centred ways, respecting individual need and wooden, unhelpful responses when things go wrong. Most of all is the denial of the identity of the customer as unique and important. Research conducted a couple of years ago indicated that even the most mild-mannered of customer often gets angry after three or four transactions with an organisation who failed to acknowledge the individuality of the need. Such customers are then often labelled as undesirable or are tolerated with scripted platitudes rather than the organisation realising that they have truly missed a trick with an individual, and are incapable of providing truly the tailored service that would actually restore confidence.
It starts at all levels of the transaction. Ever walk into a supermarket these days to be confronted with an array of scanning machines where the only alternative is a long queue for the few humans that are serving? It’s strange how we sacrifice the relational space every time for what is seen as more efficient, transactional and affects the bottom line. Too many, shareholders are simply looking for fiscal outcomes and do not easily translate that back to the customer experience, which could result in a loss of custom long term.
Staying with retail, although the principles apply to all businesses, it is no small wonder that some of the giants of the high street and internet are open to competition. That microbreweries, artisan bakers and specialty shops are coming to the fore to cater for this substantially unmet customer need. The reduction of the customer to a unit of purchasing power who is psychologically manipulated by the convenience of the net and product placement by psychologists in supermarkets registers with the discerning consumer and many will vote with their feet. Even the array of loyalty cards, trying to reward repeat custom, are themselves tokenistic and arguably a form of behaviour conditioning. Diverting these resources into fostering human interactions would be better. Customer surveys that offer you paltry free gifts to elicit reviews and other factors deny customers the opportunity to give your organisation unsolicited feedback born of truly great customer experience.
We have the most sophisticated and well-off society we’ve seen since the dawn of the industrial era. Our people are better educated, often discerning and demanding in their needs and simply do not like to be treated as simple purchasing units to be harvested, or like lab rats in some kind of psychological conditioning experiment.
It’s a simple truth, people are people first and customers second. Organisations that forget that lose out.
Gedanken is a leading edge executive and business-coaching organisation, providing businesses and individuals with the thought processes and strategies for personal and professional advancement.
Gedanken was founded by Dr David Cliff, an expert coach and mentor with over 35 years of management and personal development experience. David works with dozens of companies and individuals across the North East, and he and his colleagues have personally supported thousands of people.
The coaching Gedanken provides helps business leaders and their team members to find a clearer direction and purpose, and to improve performance; which often results in a qualitatively better experience of life.
Dr David Cliff has recently been named Lead Ambassador for Mentoring and Lead Ambassador for Business Crime by the Institute of Directors North East, and was awarded Mentor of the Year at the 2017 Entrepreneur’s Forum Awards.