Is the Customer Finally in Charge?

It's not What You Say it is
Businesses work with suppliers, across divisions, and with distributors. In the age of relationships, when the art of conversation has made a big
come back, and more and more people have access to search and
publishing tools, the answer to the question "who are your customers?"
may not be as straight forward.

Break any one of those connections, make it less than smooth, and you have a hard time servicing the end customer. The answer never was straight forward, it just got easier to see inconsistencies.

Organizations used to be able to separate customers from prospective customers until they were ready to put them in the same room. Or, as the discussion in the comments at Jackie Huba's post about Groupon shows, it was easier to separate the experience of buyers from those of suppliers.

How about the treatment you receive as a customer buying books and goods on their site, and the experience you have as part of the Amazon affiliate program? Do they reflect the same company culture, or are there gaps in execution?

The way we were

Nine years ago, Charles Fishman set out to discover why so many customers feel betrayed, even though everyone believes in delighting the customer. See if this conversation from his article sounds familiar (both from the inside and the outside of the situation — an alleged fraud case):

Fraud: "He thought he was cloned, but he wasn't."

Chad: "His bills did go from almost nothing to sky-high …"

Fraud: "We can send him to a cloning specialist and make it 'official' if you want … "

Chad: "He's denying that he made or received the calls."

The impatient woman from fraud dials the Sprint PCS cloning customer-care department and … is put on hold.

Do you ever wonder what's going on while you're waiting on hold for customer service? Really, you couldn't even imagine.

Chad, the customer-care advocate, is talking to a woman who is
Chad's customer-care advocate. She has called her customer-care
advocate, who is busy on another call. So now we have two customer-care
advocates on hold waiting for a third customer-care advocate. Meanwhile,
a fuming customer from Lubbock (who may or may not be trying to rip
Sprint off for $1,600) waits. On hold.

That, right there, is customer service in the new economy.

Read the whole article, it's well-researched, and much of it is still very relevant today. Maybe customer service is not worse than it used to be, or as bad as we'd like to say it is as customers. Twitter accounts are only raising expectations if the business is not fixing what is the problem in the first place.

I'm with Fishman, although as customers we can be quite bitchy and irrational,

what is striking is how little it takes to make people happy, how little
it takes to get it right, and how long 40 seconds really is. But what
is also striking is how hard it would be to automate this process. To do
it right doesn't require much, but it does require a spark of human
intelligence on both ends of the transaction.

What's possible

Customer service can be an endless source of ideas for the business, an opportunity to analyze problems and devise solutions, kind of like the way Amazon treats it. Problems are bound to creep up with so many moving parts in business. It's what you do with the information that makes a difference.

Armed with the ability to spread information and attract others who are having a similar issue, research options, and mobilize teams on the inside of the business, is the customer finally in charge?

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0 responses to “Is the Customer Finally in Charge?”

  1. As always, thanks for stirring things up with your posts Valeria.
    I like this observation of yours, “It’s what you do with the information that makes a difference.”
    And I might add, what you do with the information tells me (the customer) who you are regardless of your marketing messages.
    Thanks again!
    Keep creating…and imagining,

  2. If only it were 40 seconds … I’d be overjoyed to wait ONLY 40 seconds! I’ve logged my customer service waits this summer, and I’m waiting an average 11.3 minutes per call (21 calls so far.)
    When the expectation is set to wait so long, callers begin to plan to do “something else” during the wait time. So, we are also distracted. I wonder how much of this is planned by Customer Service to keep us off our game, to keep us from being focused on why we called.
    Also, about that “a spark of human intelligence,” scripts are nice organizational tools; but, too often I already know more about the problem, and root cause analysis than they do. Perhaps, I can be deemed an intelligent human being until proven otherwise? I’m a professional problem solver, and I know there are much more productive problem solving processes and systems.
    O, and don’t get me started on tech support calls …
    Best Regards,
    Mike Schleif
    Marketing Local Business Online

  3. I’m probably not qualified to say whether the customer is in charge. However, I can relate a recent experience of mine.
    I had a day trip to a client planned, so I got to the airport at about 6am for a 7am flight and then of course did not board until 9:30am. Why? Because one of the flight staff had been delayed the night before due to weather and there was no one else available to take his place. Now, I’m willing to accept that we should all have to plan for occasional delays, but that should not just be my responsibility. The airline needs to be accountable as well…especially when it’s had an entire night to find a new person. It did not help that my flight home was delayed an hour too.
    Of course, I tweeted my displeasure to the airline, not in an angry manner…but just that I was frustrated, and I got a number of uncoordinated, unhelpful responses from different members of their Twitter team. It was not until I pointed out that they weren’t helping me, but rather wasting my time again, that they directed me to a complaints department.
    In the end, they gave me a measly 5,000 miles, which I would have complained about, but I didn’t even know that I had a miles account with that airline beforehand, and it turned out that I have enough for 2 roundtrip tickets, so I saw that as a win overall.
    Will I not fly that airline again because the delay cost me a few hundred in billable time and their compensation equates to, what, maybe $50? No, I will. Really, I just wanted them to acknowledge my frustration, but next time, I hope they plan a little better and raise the level of coordination on their Twitter team so that it only takes 1-2 @ replies to address the issue and not 20.

  4. @Mike – we already have too much data. What we need is better processes and actions. Best publicity you can buy is fix the problem so it doesn’t show up again.
    @Mike – I feel your pain coming through in the comment. As I was reading Fishman’s article I kept thinking that surely it was not written nine years ago, we have better tools now. Customers knowing more about the problem is what has made online forums useful to many. Although, to be honest with you, I still prefer to connect with a doer by phone or Twitter.
    @Eric – I would have gone from zero to Italian in no time under those circumstances. At least you got an answer from the airline. AirFranceUSA will only tweet promotions, I found, even as nobody picks up the phone over there. I wrote a post titled “5 Hours” where I outlined some ideas on connecting airline employees internally for better coordination and intelligence, etc. A PR agency guy representing American Airlines reached out to me to tell me AA implemented text messaging, one of my suggestions, and ask me if I wanted to speak with them. Since I had never flown AA, I said sure (I know better now, after my recent experience). When I didn’t hear back from the PR guy, I followed up by email. He responded he was traveling and would get back to me at some point… so I started digging and found all kinds of nightmare before Halloween kind of stories. Maybe it was an agency answering the tweets, and they had to coordinate with the company?

  5. @Valeria Sorry for the delay in response…back from the honeymoon now.
    If a large company that was not my client implemented one of my ideas and then told me about it, I would feel like I was king of marketing and/or customer service. Well, for a while at least. 😉

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