Keep Customers Happy

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"People want what they want when they want it." That sentiment is how one-to-one marketing guru Martha Rogers sums up customer expectations. Today, meeting those ever-rising expectations has become more challenging--and more rewarding.

The recent financial collapse of such big businesses as Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, ImClone, and Andersen has left consumers feeling skeptical and cynical. Call center and Web technologies often leave customers frustrated, so reinforcing and rebuilding customer relationships has become more important than ever. It can cost about six times more to acquire a new customer than it does to cultivate and retain an existing one, but a mere 5 percent improvement in customer-retention rates can yield a 25 percent to 100 percent increase in profits.

One of the best ways for a company to increase customer satisfaction is to make sure there is a thorough understanding throughout the organization of what customers really want, then use that information to follow up with actions, solutions, and resolutions. It will be the difference between good business and bad.

Make It Simple and Specific

Michael Johnson, senior director of customer service communications for satellite television provider DirecTV, claims that first and foremost people want an ease of doing business. "That means a choice of how to do business: a phone with an automated system, over the Web, with a customer agent," Johnson says. "The customers want it on their terms."

However, says Rogers, president of Peppers & Rogers Group, a consulting firm headquartered in Norwalk, CT, giving people what they want does not always mean giving them more choices. For example: The average grocery has 30,000 product SKUs, yet the average consumer purchases the same 300 SKUs over and over. To Rogers that proves that people don't want more choices. She claims people are often forced to go through twice as many options to get to what they want. Once customers decide how they want to interact with businesses, they want that experience to be speedy, efficient, and pleasant.

John McKean, a Florida-based researcher and author of Customers Are People: The Human Touch, says 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 [well or not] they were treated," says McKean, who notes that it all comes down to acknowledgement, respect, and trust. "It's so simple and so obvious, and costs nothing."

Steve Horne, president of ANALYTICi, the CRM and database division of ad agency giant Foote, Cone & Belding, says, "People like to feel special. Today most people are aware that they are one of many filed away in a customer database, numbered and tracked. They know that when they receive a letter that says Dear Valued Customer, they are merely a name and a number in a database. They feel insignificant. They are not being spoken to. There's no bond."

But, Horne says, if a person receives a specific, personalized message, there's a greater chance of eliminating that feeling of insignificance, of connecting with that person, of forming a bond with them.

Dianne Durkin, president of Loyalty Factor LLC, a training and consulting firm in Portsmouth, NH, says customers want human interaction--most of all, they want someone who understands and can respond to their needs.

But that doesn't mean people are totally averse to automation. They want processes that are streamlined and automated, but they also want some kind of guidance or at least human confirmation that at the end of the automated process their issues, complaints, orders, etc., have been resolved or fulfilled, Durkin says.

"I was at a local grocery store that had installed a self-service checkout lane where customers put their purchases on the belt, scan them, and use a credit card to pay," Durkin says. "I was having a problem with my credit card and there was a helpful person standing there who showed me how to do it. If that person was not there to walk me through it and make me feel comfortable, I would not have used that checkout the next time I shopped in that store. But instead, I will now use the more efficient automated process."

Be Consistent and Thorough

DirecTV's Johnson says users want consistency. That's not always easy to achieve, but automation of some processes can help.

Headquartered in El Segundo, CA, DirecTV provides satellite television to about 11 million homes and to many businesses across the country. To support its customer base DirecTV has 10 call center locations employing about 7,000 agents, who answer about 6 million calls a month; all but one of those centers is outsourced.

For users contacting DirecTV for service that means putting out a consistent message and having the same response to a question across the entire organization. To do that DirecTV created a knowledge base that employees can access via an intranet. The company is using Interwoven Inc.'s Teamsite product to manage the data. Teamsite also allows DirecTV to link from its Siebel Systems Inc. CRM application directly to specific pages in the knowledge base. "That is a huge challenge when you've got a complex product," says Johnson, who adds that it becomes even more of a challenge when customers have multiple interactions with the company.

Agents and representatives asking the same basic questions over and over tends to frustrate already frustrated customers. "People want personalization. They do not want to repeat the whole story [to] each person they speak with," Johnson says. He says DirecTV is now using software from Siebel to capture customer history to ensure customers are not required to repeat basic information.

In addition Johnson says that by having the basics about a customer, DirecTV can be more proactive and helpful to customers. "We probably don't need to suggest certain promotions to all 11 million of our customers. It is certainly better to deal with only those that might be interested," he says. "That means that customers are getting more tailored, more informed offerings and services."

That's great for the company and its customers, but it's not quite enough. According to Johnson, customers want to know they are dealing with a representative who can speak with authority and get things done. It also means that agents have all the necessary information to make decisions about what they can do proactively--like offering discounts and reduced-price services--to save a good customer who might be close to canceling the service.

Rogers uses 3M Corp. as a B2B example of a company that has taken great steps to improve customer satisfaction and seems to really know what its customers want.

"If you were a 3M customer three years ago, you would be buying the sticky tape that holds your diapers closed from one division and the tape designed to seal the boxes from another division of 3M. It was like dealing with two separate companies," Rogers says. "Then 3M got smart and figured out that by calculating the number of sticky diaper tapes you buy, it could figure out how many boxes there were and how much tape you would need for those boxes and offer it to you in the same deal." According to Rogers, that makes customers a lot more likely to buy everything from 3M, which would result in increased customer loyalty and possibly increased profits. 

Matching Multiple Channels

Andrew Chen, vice president of product development at GSI Commerce Inc., which develops and operates online retailing and direct response marketing businesses for other organizations, finds that customers want an extension of their brick-and-mortar experience. "Customers want to see the same assortment and type of goods; to use the same credit cards; to have the same sales," Chen says.

He says that CRM software is helping GSI to both see ROI and better serve customers. The company is using E.piphany as its real-time engine and is using E.piphany's CRM software to extend its online marketing. Using CRM, for example, allows GSI to match online prices with prices quoted in a weekly circular. CRM is also aiding the company in managing purchase history, which lets GSI segment customers and make special offers only to the appropriate customers. GSI also noticed that one of its sites had a burdensome process for organizations to purchase team uniforms online; it created a wizard to streamline that process. 

Using software from Keynote Systems Inc., GSI can measure what features people are using on the sites it maintains. That has led to some interesting developments in search capabilities. It has also led to a discrepancy between what customers say they want and what actions they take online. "Everyone in every survey tells us they want free shipping," Chen says. "However, we have no evidence that the cost of shipping has deterred anyone from making a purchase." This is one instance where Chen says he is not listening to what customers really want, and where actions speak louder than words.

In the end, a key reason for listening to customers and being customer-centric is to generate a return on CRM investments. Like DirecTV and GSI, Canada Post found a way to deliver that ROI.

Canada Post, one of the world's largest and most technologically advanced postal companies, recognized a need to consolidate its many technology systems to better serve customers. By putting CRM at the center of its business, Canada Post introduced an eOrder system for its more than one million commercial customers, and automated four call centers. In addition it launched Canadapost.ca, now the most-visited Web site in Canada, which offers customer self-service, including package tracking, rate calculators, and outlet locations. 

Based on the integration of mySAP CRM into all facets of the enterprise, Canada Post saved $16.25 million (C$25 million) in revenue through an integrated order-to-cash process and resulting improvements in customer data accuracy at time of receipt.

Contact Senior Editor Lisa Picarille at lpicarille@destinationCRM.com

10 Ways to Give Customers What They Want

1. Make sure there is a thorough understanding throughout the organization of what customers really want. Then use that information to follow up with actions, solutions, and resolutions.

2. People want an ease of doing business, so offer a choice of how they can do business with your company (e.g., by phone with an automated system, over the Web, or with a customer service agent). Make sure the experience is speedy, efficient, and pleasant.

3. Customers want someone who understands and can respond to their needs. Acknowledge customers and treat them with respect to earn their trust and their business.

4. People like to feel special. Sending specific, personalized messages will help eliminate some customers' feeling of insignificance, help connect with those people and other customers, and help form a bond with them.

5. Offer processes that are streamlined and automated, but also provide guidance or have confirmation available at the end of the automated process to ensure and to show that the customers' issues, complaints, orders, etc., have been resolved or fulfilled. Always have an option to escalate issues to a customer service or support agent.

6. Create a knowledge base so customers do not have to repeatedly give their contact, product, or problem details.

7. Use data to be proactive, but also use it for targeted upselling and cross-selling. Don't try to sell the same widget to your entire customer base; approach only those customers who are most likely to be interested.

8. Empower customer service agents to resolve problems on the spot, including offering discounts or special services to retain customers who might otherwise head to a competitor.

9. Find ways to make it so easy for customers to do business with you that switching to a competitor would be "work" for the customer.

10. Note the difference between what customers say and do (e.g., customers say they want free 
shipping, but willingly pay for it with no complaints), and find ways to use that information for your and their benefit. --L.P.

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