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Don't Want Your Customers to Leave? Act Like It!

Friday, 15 February 2019  
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Suffocated by their experience with studies confirming the financial advantage of retaining a customer over attracting a new one, customer management leaders know little of more importance than the need to build meaningful relationships with customers.

And yet so few assume full responsibility for establishing and preserving those relationships.  Customer retention sounds like a great goal in theory, but when the clock strikes execution time, leaders are content to sit on their hands and hope it all works out for the best.

Even though businesses want long-term relationships that yield repeat business and brand advocacy from customers, they only approach customers from a transactional mindset.  Instead of viewing a customer’s experience as one, ongoing encounter with the brand, they view it as a series of individual, start-and-stop moments.

When it comes to the potential impact on customer satisfaction, the difference is enormous.  The transactional brand defines success by its efficacy in accomplishing tasks relevant to the customer experience.  Once it achieves those tasks, its work is over—even if the customer has not yet completed his journey with the product.

The point at which many brands walk away from a customer interaction content that their “work is done” is not always the point at which the customer stops experiencing the brand.  As a result, the customer could be making serious judgments—and meaningful ones at that—about the brand’s commitment to the customer relationship when the brand, itself, is not even present to influence those judgments.

Successful brands, however, recognize that they must own every step of the customer relationship, even those steps for which tasks are actually fulfilled by a channel partner or vendor.  These brands know that a customer is not only a customer for the specified tasks that directly fall under the brand auspices; each customer is in a perpetual relationship with the brand and expects an exemplary experience at every touch point.

Brands who value this relationship approach to customers cannot wash their hands of a situation once it falls into the hands of other vendors, partners, agents, distributors, suppliers or whatever third-party descriptor is relevant for the situation.  Since the customer-facing brand is the one with stakes in the relationship, it must own that relationship and do everything it can to assure consistent customer satisfaction.

Customers are realists, and they know that some things are out of the customer-facing brand’s control.  They know that shipping companies sometimes drop the ball.  They know that suppliers make mistakes with inventory.  But before they can even begin to excuse these issues and wipe the customer experience slate clean, they have to know, for sure, that the brand with whom they are in a relationship is as frustrated by the shortcoming and as committed to resolving it as they are.

They need to know that breakdowns in the channel are never acceptable, regardless of whether they happen before or after the customer-facing brand completes its “active” role in the process.

If I buy a nutritional product that does not arrive at my house on the scheduled ship date, it is certainly true that my greatest beef should be with the shipping company.  But I am not specifically in a relationship company, nor will I always be able to choose whether or not to rely on that shipping company (since that choice is made by the merchant).

I can, however, choose which merchant I use in the future.  And if the merchant disregards my issue because it correctly did its part of finalizing the transaction and preparing the good for shipment, I will not use that merchant again.  It, at the end of the day, is responsible for assuring my ongoing experience is satisfactory—and that means taking accountability for the work of all channel partners.

Most tragic about the situation is that despite eluding so many organizations across so many industries, the path to meaningful relationship-building can often be an easy one.  Sometimes, all it takes are a few small gestures for the brand to show that it cares about the customer relationship rather than the isolated customer transaction.

Take Eat 24 Hours.  A fairly low-impact business—like competitor Seamless Web, it facilitates online takeout ordering in major cities—there is little nuance associated with the customer experience.  Show me some menus, take my credit card, make sure the restaurant receives my order…and you have very likely done your job.

But Eat 24 Hours was not content to be a credit card processer.  In recognition of the importance of offering something meaningful amid a crowded sea of faceless online food merchants, Eat 24 Hours made the call to ownits customers’ experiences.  Since customers are far from satisfied the second they hit “submit” on the order form, it, too, refuses to give up at that point in the process.

In demonstration of its commitment to meaningful customer relationships, Eat 24 Hours stands by the orders its processes.

After waiting ten minutes longer than advertised with no update on my pizza delivery order Sunday night, I returned to my confirmation email to locate the restaurant’s number.  While the restaurant information was there, so, too, was a link to check “order status” directly through Eat 24.

The link ended up opening a live chat window, in which the agent, without provocation, confirmed she would find out what was going on.  She answered back two minutes later, confirming that she called the restaurant and was assured the food would arrive within five minutes.  It did.

Is calling the restaurant a major inconvenience?  Absolutely not.  Does making that call do anything significant to hasten the delivery process?  Most likely not.  But the value here was in the gesture and mindset—Eat 24 Hours knew that it had as much at stake here as the pizzeria, and it was going to own the resolution process until I reached a point of satisfaction.  The brand understands that its relationship with customers does not stop once the order is processed and payment is received.

When something breaks down in the order execution process, brands will often have a “fall guy” that they can scapegoat for the disappointment.

But brands that understand the importance of walking the walk (and not just talking the talk) when it comes to customer management know that customer management is not about minimizing one’s role in spurring disappointment.

It is about maximizing one’s role in driving satisfaction.

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