Lessons Learned About Consistent Customer Care

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Consider me one of your customers. I expect the same level of service in my business dealings with you, the Global Enterprise, as I do from my local butcher shop.


To help you gain insight into what serving me consistently might entail, I talked to my local butcher, Sam, to explore his philosophy on customer care.


"If you call me and ask how much I charge for Delmonico steaks, I will tell you $6.50 per pound, and that is the price you will see in the store," Sam said.


Sure enough, when I go in the store later that day, the price is posted as Sam said, so the information is consistent across the channels of customer contact. By phone, on the Web or face-to-face in the store, I get the same answers to the same questions. (OK, Sam does not have a Web site, but I am sure the same would apply if he did.)


Like most businesses, Sam's store does not just sell one product and he also has other people working behind the counter who sell meat for the butcher shop. How is my experience affected when there are several departments within the enterprise?


"You take a number. When it is your turn, I will get your beef, your pork and your chicken with no problem. I don't make you take another number or wait in another line."


At the butcher shop I am not forced to navigate the units within the business. Each employee is able to help me with anything Sam sells, and I am given the same information from each salesperson.


"When I post a special for the week, you will get that promotion guaranteed. And everyone in the store will be aware of that promotion."


Promises to customers are consistently upheld because they are thoroughly communicated throughout Sam's business. Between business units and across channels, the promises are honored.


OK, Sam does not really exist. I do not have a local butcher, but I wish I did. Or better yet, I wish Sam ran one of the Global 50 companies with which I do business.


Along with craving better service for my carnivorous needs, I am familiar with the demands of enterprise-class customer relationship management. I know that the challenges that GiantCo Inc. faces are somewhat larger in scale than those faced by Sam, the mythological butcher.


Problem No. 1. The large-scale environment in which you most likely live is populated with prospective customer interactions numbering in the tens of thousands per day. Some of your companies may exceed 1 million customer interactions per week. The volume of interactions surely reduces your ability to provide individualized service. Doesn't it? Well, it shouldn't. You have plenty of data about prospects and customer preferences. The software tools are readily available to turn that data into individualized content.


Problem No. 2. Big businesses are typically amalgams of unrelated medium-scale businesses marketing under the same company brand. Often business units are added through acquisition. Different cultures will almost certainly result in islands of customer data and various customer-care cultures. Does your clientele get that integrated brand feel from their interactions? Your customers do not think of your business units as separate entities; your brand must succeed or fail monolithically, all or nothing. One tainted interaction with the credit card arm of your enterprise may affect that customer's relationship with your retail business.


There are plenty of challenges. But as your customer, I do not care what your problems are. I only care that I am handled evenly. So let me share three critical elements that can be applied to give your fiscal giant the cozy feel of Sam's Butcher Shop.


o When you provide information to your customers, it must be consistent across your enterprise and across the channels of interaction. If I call your contact center and follow up with a look at your Web site, have I received the same data and the same message? Keep your information consistent across interaction channels. Demand that your CRM software solutions be able to access data where it lives. Avoid data replication at all costs. Duplication of data leads to data staleness and, inevitably, to different information being delivered through different channels.


o Your customers should be able to access information on anything you sell by placing a single phone call, surfing a single Web site and talking to a single person. Never transfer a customer from one place to another because he did not realize that your online business was separate from your bricks-and-mortar operation. Why would you put someone through that?


Leverage your CRM applications across business units; let your software do the heavy lifting - not your customer service representatives, and certainly not your customers. Insist that your CRM software allow contact specialists to be able to access information about any product for any customer. The ideal application will lead the contact specialist through the interaction, providing information in a way that does not require him to be an expert in the subject matter. Provide the information in a context-sensitive script that your conversationalists can use as a guide to good customer service.


o Service-level decisions should be made by the business, not by individual contact specialists or sales representatives. You can and should train your employees to provide good service.


However, when an individual makes a decision about how to treat an individual customer, that experience cannot be reproduced at a later time. People will make different decisions based on external influences. How many of those influences are relevant to your company's customer service strategy? How does a bad commute affect the level of service you provide your customers? Use software that allows your business to set standards for customer service, and use a CRM solution that uses the encoded standards in the course of all customer interactions.


Challenges abound in the struggle to acquire and retain customers. You can bet that your competitors are trying to lure your customers away by offering them a branded experience. Don't worry. Who knows your customers better than you do?


Knowledge and a well-conceived information technology strategy are all it takes to bring the smooth, hometown feel to your customer interactions.


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