Category Archives: Customer-centric

Time for Tech Support to Eat its Own Dog Food (and that includes Google & Microsoft)

We users of tech support services are getting lots of pushback from technology support services of software sellers in particular but tech support in other sectors. Your problem? You believe we’re being rude, disrespectful and otherwise inappropriate. And you’re right. But you’re wrong, too. Rather than bitch about us, how about doing something to address the problems that make us so ornery? Yeah, you’re doing something. You’re exacerbating our problems by eliminating all possible human contact and pushing every possible means of support to the web – so when we do finally get you on the phone or on chat we’re already boiling from trying to use the junk you throw up on the web and call “self-service” (and I do mean “throw up” literally).

For example, Google just directed me to an endless string of “self-help” areas without ever leading me to a person – or even usable information. I finally stumbled across a live chat facility; got connected to an agent; who knew nothing about the problem I was trying to solve; but who did know a link that would supposedly show me how to correct the problem. As usual, I followed the link; was directed to do something with buttons nowhere to be found on the indicated screen, or any other screen I brought up; end of “help.” The next day I figured out on my own a workaround that gets me what I want but will leave Google endlessly running AdWords reports for imaginary ads. At least it’s their problem now.

Then you have Microsoft. Same policies, although they give you an offshore phone number to call for “support” from someone who speaks English as a fourth language. Seems like a means of discouraging calls and forcing those needing support to use their FAQs and links to useless information that’s rarely even on topic.

Here’s a novel idea for you. If you don’t want irate calls from us when we finally find a phone number to call, just try using your own instructions before posting them. Or better yet, have an admin person with only basic computer skills try them. You’ll be shocked. And the end results of fixing before posting will be a whole lot better than “blaming the customer,” which is all you’re doing now.

Why Don’t Companies Base Head Count on Meeting Customer Requirements?

 

I just read two news articles this morning of the type that make me gnash my teeth and shake my head. Both involved Fortune companies planned to cut staff by the thousands based on bad financial results. Say what? To these companies, I ask, “Why were you carrying so much excess staff you could do without?”

Most service companies carry double-digit percentage excess staff. Likewise for product companies in their back and front office settings. How do I know? Process redesign, streamlining in particular, plays a primary role in helping clients meet and exceed customer requirements. And we constantly find excess staffing over-distributing decision-making authority, leading to employee disempowerment and creating excess bureaucracy, both of which drive customers nuts. Today’s customers want to deal with well-trained, empowered employees and as few of them as possible – and on the web an increasing percentage wants to research and order commodity goods without any personal contact.

So how does head count typically change after streamlining? By a negative 15% to 20%, in our experience. But rather than streamlining, most organizations throw people at problems, and the more they add the less efficient and effective work becomes. So instead of streamlining to create a win-win for both company and customers, they create lose-lose by overstaffing.

Why do they do this?

Why Do Marketers Latch Onto Whatever’s New & “Hot”?

The numbers are disturbing. A 2011 Nielsen survey of advertising credibility ranks mobile device advertising 14th in a field of 15 and advertising on social media dead last. Yet these two venues are at the top of many marketing preference lists. What’s in the makeup of marketers or the state of their profession that makes them cling to whatever’s new and “hot?”

BTW, personal and online recommendations from consumers grabbed the top two spots. How does that add to the story?

How Much Does Corporate Design Fight Customer-Centricity?

Historically, virtually all corporate entities have been designed from production/service delivery out (inside-out). And a few unlucky companies have been designed from accounting out (upside-down).  In either case, when companies try to redesign strategy and process from the customer in (outside-in), they run smack up against their organizational structures.

Inside-out and upside-down companies are aligned and managed around functions. Customer-centric (outside-in) companies are aligned and managed around customers. Unfortunately for customer-centricity, companies can’t get from A to B by throwing a switch. The journey is rough and risky, which is a core reason why most customer-centric companies either started that way or transitioned before they were fully formed.

Based on my experience, the alignment change issue stops more companies in their path to customer-centricity than even lack of executive leadership. Do you agree?

If you’d like to do a deeper dive on this topic here’s a new white paper (parts of which will be folded into the book).

http://www.h-ym.com/articles/Alignment.pdf

“Averaging” Customers – Necessary? Misleading? Or Both?

What’s your knee-jerk reaction to hearing someone say, “our average customer?” Mine is to wince. Describing customers according to statistical averages – age, income, net worth,  shopping trips per week, number of employees, annual revenues, number of vendors used for each purchase category and on and on – tells us something about customers. Seeing a statistical distribution across each of these parameters tells us lots more. But still not very much. We can’t understand customers without understanding their behaviors,  And you can’t average behaviors. What’s the average of leaving a restaurant angry and believing you overpaid?  Might as well average a tomato and a pork chop.

Nonetheless, we let the impracticality of assessing and responding to individual behavior dictate use of statistical averages to describe customers. Then we enhance the data by imputing behaviors to people we don’t know. Is this the best we can do?

How should we go about understanding our customers?

Book Research

Before asking leading questions (and using your answers), I should share that I’ve started a new book exploring the inherent conflict of interest between buyers and sellers and how it should influence customer-centricity and CEM. The working title is “I am Buyer. You Are Seller. That’s the Problem,” and I plan to solicit input using Linkedin, CustomerThink and my blog. If I want to quote someone directly, I’ll ask first.

First leading question: Is designing customer strategies and enabling process to suit “average” customers (customer models) consistent with customer-centricity and CEM – or should sellers be designing “process-on-demand” (term from my Linkedin colleague, Bob Starinsky) that accommodates each customer individually?

Are We Witnessing the “Half-Life” of Customer-Centricity?

The optimist in me says, “Probably not.” The realist in me suspects we are, for several reasons.

-Customers were initially grateful that many companies appeared to be searching for comity. However, buyers now appear to be moving through this phase, which I call “play nice.” Now they’re seeing through the many insincere seller efforts to look and sound more customer-centric and becoming more cynical and mistrustful of sellers than ever. Hence, an increasing percentage is no longer “playing nice.”
-Influenced not only by transacting business over the web but by not seeing the “what’s in it for them” from forming relationships with sellers, many buyers are trying to minimize contact with sellers, preferring efficiency over spending time interacting with sellers.
-The more latitude sellers give buyers to “have it their way,” the more idiosyncratic customer behavior becomes – to the point where finding common approaches to satisfying varied customer preferences is becoming very difficult. “Process-on-demand” (term coined by my colleague Bob Starinsky) is beginning to replace customer best practices.

I’ve gone into much more detail in a new white paper, titled, “After Customer-Centricity Comes…?” http://tinyurl.com/9huk63k

 

Please know in advance that I’ve “trampled over” a number of customer-centricity’s sacred cows, and even more of marketing’s. But please don’t shoot the messenger :-) .

Layoffs – Where’s the Learning Curve?

One touchy subject inevitably arises when we design customer-centric process. And I hate to see it happen.

Redesigning process from the customer inwards produces an ancillary “benefit,” which to many execs becomes their short-term ROI justification. While new process designs are adding new value to customers, they’re also streamlining the organization, which can dramatically reduce front and back office FTE requirements, raising the specter of layoffs.

While we always consul clients to first consider using temporary functionless staff for special projects, then reabsorbing them to create “no hire growth,” some layoffs inevitably occur. One of our clients, post process redesign, eliminated 600 front office positions, and our process reworking contributed to the eventual closing of multiple plants. Worse yet, overall demand in their industry was declining, leading to very slow growth.

Two things really bug me about this situation. First, too many companies practice “boom or bust” staffing. They lurch from overstaff to understaffing, because they don’t have a clue how to avoid either excess. Second, necessary layoffs often cut people but not their functions or positions. Process streamlining should reduce functions and positions and does not target specific workers. And in neither case are they learning anything from experience. They just keep repeating their destructive practices.

Not a pleasant topic at all, but I just read an excellent post an excellent post by Ron Ashkenas (co-author of “The GE Workout”) that spot on addresses both things that bug me. If the subject’s relevant, I strongly suggest reading it (link below).

http://tinyurl.com/c329on8

Is Customer-Centricity Already Irrelevant?

I’m right now in the process of writing a full article on this topic, which is how I get to the bottom of perplexing questions.  The article is far from done. In fact, I want to read portions of Doc Searl’s excellent new book, “The Intention Economy,” before I wrap it. However, I can already share what I’m seeing through customer lenses.

Customer-centricity is a halfway point between win-lose favoring sellers and win-lose favoring buyers, with the latter being a place business absolutely doesn’t want to go. So in a sense, business (at least enlightened portions) created customer-centricity to stop customers from “crossing over to the dark side.” But a sizeable percentage of customers in developed economies have already pierced the customer-centric line of defense – and have crossed over. And a lot more are coming.

The consequence? Companies have to be prepared to become “customer-reactive” and deal with customers who don’t give a rat’s a** about whether or not sellers survive. Very different business model than customer-centricity.

Are others seeing the same trend lines?

Selective Customer-Centricity – Is Ikea Shooting Itself in the Foot?

Many in the group have commented about “what’s customer-centric for one segment might not be for another.” Perhaps the most commonly cited example is Ryan Air, which helps the knapsack crowd get around dirt cheap while utterly offending many suitcase carriers. Recently, I’ve run into another example, but the seller advantages aren’t as clear cut.

Recently, my wife and I sold our house of many years and moved into an urban condo. While I wouldn’t stick even our college-aged son with Ikea furniture, they do offer good deals on “safe” items including bookshelves and cabinet/drawer pulls. So I went in there, which I’m generally loathe to do. And once again I discovered that Ikea does not want my business.

First, Ikea is overdue for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) penalties. While I’m still erect, hip and back arthritis can make walking long distances difficult. That can make shopping at Ikea very painful, because once you enter the store, they make you walk in bewildering loops past every piece of merchandise on display before you can find an exit – and the only way out is past the registers (unless you turn back early and retrace your steps). The day I went to buy drawer and cabinet hardware I hurt like hell before uncomfortably standing forever in a seemingly interminable checkout line, especially because I had to walk another mile to find a clerk who could find the online catalog items we’d selected. Of course, I could have stayed in my La-Z-Boy if they’d take orders over the web, but that doesn’t bring you face-to-face with every damn item they sell. No accommodations whatsoever for an aging Boomer, never mind someone disabled.

But then came bookcase shopping. First, walk the entire circular route to see items to make sure they’re right. Then, keep walking to the furniture warehouse, where they expect you to load your own cart (but only after walking another mile at the direction of three different clerks to find one). And then one unit is 80 pounds, and Ikea expects you to bring your own help, if you need it, to lift it onto the cart. They will pull the items and deliver them for a hefty charge. But if you want to get them into your car, so your ripped son can unload them, you’re outta luck. After two shoulder surgeries, I ain’t messin’ with 80 pounds. Next to impossible for anyone older, never mind someone actually disabled.

But hey, I’m just an ordinary aging boomer. And there’s the proverbial 78 million pound elephant (the Boomer generation) walking across the time line towards or past the day when they can no longer comfortably handle a shopping experience designed for younger, sounder of body generations. I do believe Ikea is shooting itself in the foot. What about you?