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It is generally accepted that successful CRM comprises much more than just software. However, one researcher says common customer courtesies are a necessary, but often missing ingredient in the CRM cocktail.
John McKean, a Florida-based researcher and author of Customers are People: The Human Touch, says that 70 percent of what determines which company a customer will buy goods or services from is based on how humanely they are treated. "What people remember about any interaction is how human or dehumanized they were treated," McKean says. "Were they acknowledged and respected? These things determine if they can trust the company."
McKean, who has spent the past three years working in academia and with businesses frustrated by company initiatives, says that 80 percent of most companies' efforts have gone into better selling and marketing to the customer. What businesses should be more concerned about, he says, is better treatment of the customer. His most-recent research shows that only 10 percent of a company's resources go into how it treats customers.
But McKean is not the only one shifting the focus away from technology and getting touchy-feely about CRM and customers. Lior Arussy, corporate vice president and general manager of NICE Systems' customer-experience management product division, has written a book called The Experience: How to Wow Your Customers and Create a Passionate Workplace, which looks at how call centers can better handle customers. Meanwhile, Tim Sanders, chief solutions officer at Yahoo, recently penned Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends.
Denis Pombriant, vice president and managing director of CRM practice at Aberdeen Group in Boston, says that when technology acts as an intermediary, customer interactions are very different from when they are face to face. He says that the downturn in the economy may account for an increase in theories and philosophies that focus more on the human aspect of CRM. "In a down economy people want low prices above everything else. But when cost is low something has to go, and that is usually service. This might be some backlash by people saying they miss good service," Pombriant says.
McKean, who espouses a CRM strategy that sounds like a mixture of your mother and etiquette maven Emily Post combined with a CRM proponent and Zen master, says his research shows how extending common courtesies like saying please and thank you, and acknowledging the customer as a human can go a long way--as far, in fact, as increasing the bottom line. "Top sales and marketing people know this on an individual level, but it seems to get lost across entire companies" McKean says. "Corporations have struggled to quantify this, but if they can they are sure to raise revenue and profits."
McKean says it all comes down to acknowledgement, respect, and trust. "It's so simple and so obvious, and costs nothing," he says.
He also notes that if customers are treated well they will continue to do business with the company, even if that company made a mistake or repeated mistakes. But the Web is another story. McKean found that customers are five times as intolerant when interacting with a company via the Internet. "People expect technology to function in a specific way and not to make mistakes," he says. "Sometimes people may want to conduct an efficient transaction, but there are times when a they want a rich human interaction to reassure them that they matter to the company."
According to McKean, there is a seven-step, optimal emotional sequence to take customers through that ensures a successful interaction.
First, company representatives need to acknowledge a customer's efforts or concerns. Then, the representative needs to acknowledge that the customer's emotions are valid. Third, the customer service rep needs to get specific information on why the product or service didn't work, or just get more detailed information on the complaint. The fourth step is to help fix the problem. Next, companies need to get smarter, McKean says, by asking the customer, "How could we avoid this problem in the future?" The sixth step is to enter the customer feedback into a database to ensure that someone who acts on the information to avoid future problems will see it. Finally, the seventh step is to ensure closure by asking if everything has been resolved to the customer's satisfaction.
Skipping the last step can be costly: McKean says that more often than not, customers get off the phone feeling less than confident the issue will be handled correctly and end up calling back minutes later and talking to another agent.
"It's not about customer satisfaction. That's passe. It's about giving the customer fulfillment as a human being," McKean says.
But before any of the above can happen, businesses need to hire the right types of employees. McKean's research also found that there is a direct link--an 80 percent correlation--between how businesses treat their employees and how they treat customers. "Happy employees translates to happy customers," McKean says.
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