• February 10, 2010
  • By Lior Arussy, founder and president, Strativity Group

Customers Don’t Buy What You Sell

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It was a simple transaction: The customer arrived early to the airport, several hours before his ticketed flight. Eager to return home as soon as possible, he requested a ticketing change to get a seat on the next available flight. A few phone calls and computer clicks later, the agent was able to swap the customer’s ticket to secure him the last available seat on that flight. All in a day’s work for the agent—after all, processing these transactions is routine.

Now consider the customer’s viewpoint: Filled with trepidation about exorbitant change fees and expectations of encountering a “No, we can’t do that” attitude, the customer was nervous when he asked to be on the earlier flight. His daughter’s first basketball game was that evening. He’d told her before his trip that he couldn’t get back in time, but the opportunity to surprise her meant the world to him. In other words, the agent’s ability to make it happen—without any additional charges—meant the world to him. And when he was able to arrive at his daughter’s game, the big, appreciative smile on her face was priceless.

The story above is real. It’s also the story of why companies too often fail to grasp the whole concept of customer experience. When employees merely operate processes and the company is merely the sum total of the transactions it completes, the view of the customer gets lost. There’s a significant gap between the transaction as perceived by the employee and the outcome value as perceived by the customer. In short, what you sell is not what they buy.

To become customer-centric, you need to raise your eyes from the keyboard and look at the customer. You need to learn what the service you provide actually does for him. Every employee and executive must, on a personal level, be able to answer the following:

  • What is the customer’s lifestyle and where does our product or service fit?
  • What dreams and aspirations does our product or service support?
  • What are the consequences to the customer if we deliver inferior performance?
  • What impact will an exceptional experience have on the customer?

The same product may serve totally different needs and moods for each customer. Failing to understand that will impact your ability to innovate and to expand your value proposition. It will also impact employees’ ability to relate personally to your customers. 

Consider a candle: just a stick of wax with a string in the middle, providing nothing more than a utilitarian value—light. When a customer attempts to purchase a candle, his intended use for that candle makes all the difference. If the candle’s meant for a birthday party, you better be ready to celebrate. If it’s part of a wake for a beloved father, you better be ready to cry with your customer. If it’s part of a romantic vacation, you better be ready to share the spirit. It’s not about the wax with a string in the middle, but what your customer will do with it. In fact, it’s about how different customers relate to your product. If you fail to see those differences, you will fail to be different. 

Your ability to deliver a differentiated value proposition is directly linked to your willingness to really look at each of your customers. That means leaving the safe domain of sameness and opening yourself up to the diversity that those customers represent. You need to embrace that and deliver individualized experiences. 

Where do you start? Start by teaching your employees that every day they’re making it possible for a father to get to his daughter’s first basketball game. Have them relate to their work in a very personal way, just as they’d want others to serve them. Have your employees stop delivering transactions and start working with human beings. 

Lior Arussy (lior@strativity.com) is the founder and president of Strativity Group. He is the author of several books, including Excellence Every Day (Information Today, Inc., 2008), an excerpt of which appeared in CRM’s May 2008 issue. To learn more about customer strategies, sign up for his newsletter at Strativity Group’s homepage (www.strativity.com).

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