Saturday, February 13, 2010

Customer service key to building business

Put as much energy into retaining customers as acquiring them and you will profit.


It's bizarre and baffling to me that companies expend so much time, money and energy on customer acquisition and then follow it up with crappy service after the sale.

Think about it: Advertising, marketing and sales department are all geared toward convincing prospects to buy the company's products and services. But after asking for the order and getting it, the customer — especially if it's a consumer and not a business — is often ignored. Worse, they're frequently forced to deal with incompetent, unhelpful or ignorant people several continents away when they have a problem.

There's nothing inherently wrong with outsourcing customer service to India or South America, for example: I've had exceptional service, in fact, from friendly and well informed people in those places. But I've had also awful ones, too.

Every interaction with a customer holds the potential to not only serve their needs, but turn them into evangelists and advocates for your company and continued sources of sales and revenue. So why is this not obvious to every enterprise?

Joseph Jaffe wonders the same thing. In this new book, he looks at every aspect of the client experience, including, obviously, "customer service" interactions. But he goes well beyond that, too. Engaging people is the challenge. Your product is secondary. After all, they're not buying what you're selling; they're buying a solution to a problem or a fulfillment of a need.

But the big challenge, he writes, is to grab their interest: "Getting people to care these days is like climbing Mount Everest. People today are skeptical, jaded, cynical and wary — and increasingly so, due to the hardships and hangover of the recession. And those are the good ones! The rest are apathetic, uninterested, indifferent, and detached. Most messages don't make it through the multiple layers of consumers' near-impenetrable defenses, and the ones that do are greeted with either a pitchfork or a pillow. It's a catch-22 of dire proportions."

How do you do that? That's the problem: there's no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer. But the good news is that there are plenty of tools to extend the human experience to address the unique requirements of each customer. But first, according to Jaffe, companies have to look at these things in a positive, proactive manner and devote the necessary resources to ongoing efforts. And then they have to make sure that they not only accommodate needs, but also delight everyone they touch.

Jaffe cites companies like Nike, Comcast and others that flipped the funnel by building their business through customer retention. Prime example is Zappos, which was so impressive in its customer relation-building that Amazon acquired the company lock, stock and sandals.

In addition to case studies (good and bad), Jaffe looks at social media (naturally!) and provides steps for companies to take in implementing the flipped funnel for fun and, of course profit.

Much of what Jaffe advocates seems self-evident, but too many companies are oblivious to the obvious, so if you are seeking a true competitive advantage, this is an excellent place to start.
Originally published in The Miami Herald

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