Random Acts of Customer Kindness

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The consumer market is becoming more global and fragmented every day. Reaching and appealing to buyers in ways that capture their attention, satisfy them, and motivate them to become repeat customers requires a concentrated, coordinated effort. Certainly, you must deliver carefully targeted experiences. But at the same time, you also must deliver these experiences on a broad, even global scale. That gives rise to a question: Is it really desirable -- or even possible -- to invest resources toward becoming customer-centric at scale?

I spoke with two colleagues who specialize in, respectively, the macro and micro ends of the customer relationship continuum. Ann Grackin, a managing director at Marsh, the insurance broker and risk advisor, has spent years researching and teaching global supply chain practices. Keith Ferrazzi, founder and chief executive officer of Ferrazzi Greenlight, calls his firm "the relationship company." (Keith himself has been called one of the world�s most connected individuals.) I asked them to share their views about being customer-centric in a global market.

Woody Driggs: You�ve both done work helping companies create interactions that bring colleagues, customers, and other companies closer together. In your experience, what are the defining characteristics of a successful interaction?

Ann Grackin: Successful interactions are the result of processes and people�professionals who understand the service that�s being delivered and who can fulfill that delivery with a customer-centric demeanor. It�s a huge issue for companies�in many sectors�when they try to bring the demeanor and the process together. A famous retailer used to say, �When a customer wants to know where the drill bits are, don�t just tell them. Show them.�

Delivering such a rewarding experience is the result of doing a lot of things well. It reveals the process, and produces useful data. Customers signal desires, but businesses are generally bad at reading them. Companies need to observe the way customers ask for information.

Keith Ferrazzi: Ann gets right at what I think is most important to a successful interaction, at whatever scale: building a relationship based on generosity. Generosity is immediately reflected in the way a company puts its foot forward: How can this product meet the customer�s needs? versus How can I sell this product? What are the customer�s needs? How can I solve them?

When we�re constantly thinking about ways to improve our customers� lives, and listening without prejudice to their desires, we�re much more likely to get it right when it comes to making them happy. And the more personal we can make the relationship, the better, because it creates the grounds for a more candid discussion where the customer�s needs are more easily understood. Creating the opportunity to interact with customers without a direct sales focus is vital to fostering this kind of relationship.

Driggs: Keith, you seem to be suggesting that organizations need to change their intent from I�m trying to sell you products and services to I need to understand your needs and then determine how to satisfy them.

Ferrazzi: Yes, but it�s more than that�it begins earlier. Doing more than business with customers, building that relationship first, is essential to being able to truly understand their needs. Acts of generosity that are outside of the sell pave the way toward real transparency and candor.

Driggs: Today, doing that is increasingly difficult as companies globalize and seize opportunities in new markets.

Grackin: Everyone wants to go global. The biggest risk is always about getting the customer wrong. The new generation�s exposure to information is beyond our imagination. The ability to embrace the customers� thought processes is challenging. How big can a focus group get?

Ferrazzi: Generosity and intimacy look very different when you�re talking about appealing to a market versus a single customer or client company. But the challenges posed by new markets and cultures only underline the need to make a connection, difficult though it may be. Fortunately, we�ve found that, when it comes to deepening relationships, people are people�globally. Despite sociological and cultural differences, many needs are universal.

Driggs: Thanks for your insights from opposite ends of the relationship-development continuum. Fostering valuable customer relationships at scale can be challenging, but the effort is essential to success in our global business environment. 

Woody Driggs (CRM.Woody.Driggs@accenture.com) is the global managing partner responsible for the CRM service line at Accenture.

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