One thing that irks me no end is a marketer bandying buzzwords about for no other reason than trying to sound like the smartest person in the room. You have to appreciate the claptrap – making up new words will probably instill the ‘fear of not knowing’ in your audience and, if delivered with enough chutzpah, you may very well seem like the shining beacon that can help an organisation navigate the rocky shoals of customer acquisition.
However, this is not a post that begrudges these kind of marketing tactics, but one that aims to constructively criticise the bastardisation of some of these concepts in the hopes of getting things back on track.
A buzzword that has been doing the rounds in the past few years, especially with the advent of ‘new’ media, is ‘customer-centricity’. Initially an ideal, more executives have cottoned on to the term, and in the aim of boosting the bottom-line, have managed to completely illegitimise its initial intentions.
Customer-centricity is not a buzzword, it’s a culture that every part of your organisation has to embrace. Ask yourself: is a CEO’s focus area on the customer or on the KPIs of the business? I understand that as the most senior employee with a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and the board, keeping an eye on KPIs is essential, but how do you call your business customer-centric if it’s not the CEO’s main responsibility? Nay, priority! The CEO has to ensure that his or her subordinates across the entire business have one specific goal – to satisfy the customer.
Going the extra mile
Here’s a story to explain my meaning: Last year, I attended the TM Forum’s Africa Summit and listened to speakers from across the globe. A talk by chief commercial officer of Kenya Data Networks, Atul Chatervedi, stuck; he recounted a story about an Aiwa outlet in Japan. It was in the late 90s, and his wife sent him on his business trip with clear instructions, “I want a discman.”
Mr Chaturvedi entered the store in downtown Kyoto, bought his wife’s Discman and returned to his hotel. Later that evening, the phone in his room rang – it was the manager of the Aiwa outlet on the line. According to Chaturvedi, the unit he purchased was a demo unit, and Aiwa wanted to swop it out for a new one – the manager called to find out what would be a good time for him to bring the replacement unit.
Now here is what I mean when I say that customer-centricity is a culture, and not just the hollow promise that every second brand would have you believe: The procurement department noticed that the demo unit was not where it should be and asked the sales staff where it could have gone.
The sales staff explained that it had been sold. Considered substandard, the sales department contacted the finance department to find out if they have details for Chaturvedi. Finance contacted HSBC and after the appropriate security protocols were met, Aiwa got the number for Chaturvedi’s wife in India.
They contacted the wife and got the details for the hotel he was staying at, and the manager showed up with the replacement unit, a box of chocolates and a note profusely apologising for the inconvenience caused. As you can imagine, other than spoiling a potential surprise, Aiwa had caused absolutely no inconvenience. Instead, they made a fan for life.
Customers for life
Consumers do not identify with a brand as much as they identify with the product or the service that the brand provides. Having a superior product can’t be considered the only strategic differentiator anymore.
But it seems that so few businesses are really focused on customer acquisitions as opposed to customer retentions, that it’s a rare joy to hear a story about vehicle brand X that collected a customer that broke down on the side of the highway in the rain and gave them a replacement vehicle for the week while their new car is being repaired free of charge.
Sure, I’d be pretty bleak if my new car gave up the ghost within the first few weeks, but I’d always support the brand that treated me with so much reverence. In fact, I’d support the brand that treated my family and friends like that (and my family and friends would do the same).
And there it is: 94% of consumers trust word of mouth, 14% trust advertising. What makes this statistic ridiculous is the amount of marketing budget organisations feel the need to spend when the same budgets could be spent on retentions rather than acquisitions.
A happy customer is an ambassador for your brand – it’s built into us, this sense of community. Take it back to caveman (sorry, caveperson) days. You’d probably get a grunt and a smack from a fellow cavedweller if you tried chomping on some poisonous berries.
Today, if a friend says (s)he’s going to buy a Parker pen, or a Maxwell Williams tea set, or Pirelli tyres, if I have a story to share on why that’s a good/bad idea, you bet I’m going to chime in to save my friend from a potential terrible decision, or reinforce a good one. Think about your own life, what’s more effective, one story from a friend or 12 TV ads, 4 billboards, 3 radio spots and a double page spread in the Sunday Times?
Get everyone involved
So, how customer-centric is your business? If you answered, “We have a Customer Service Department,” then congratulations, you’ve ticked the box for the minimum requirement. Sardonic commentary aside, customer satisfaction is not the responsibility of the Customer Service Department – it’s the responsibility of the top to set the goals and ideals (or mission, vision and values) and inspiring the bottom to follow suit.
Before I ask you all to hold hands and join me for a chorus of Michael Jackson’s Heal the World I think it’s fair to say that Chaturvedi’s story has me despondent – it makes me wish for a perfect world where every provider had that kind of tact when dealing with customers and that more organisations were focused on people instead of the bottom-line. But I suppose you can’t appreciate a sunny day without a few rainy days.