Customer Relations Management Versus Customer Service
MAINTAINING AND GROWING YOUR CUSTOMER BASE REQUIRES MORE THAN JUST PATS AND STROKES...
Periodically, I take one of my automobiles in for service, usually to the relevant brand dealership. Inevitably, in this age of paying lip service to customer satisfaction, a day or two after I pick up my car, I receive a telephone call from a "customer relations specialist" who would like to know if my "service experience" at the dealership was satisfactory and met all my expectations.
Most of the time the answer is no to the first question, and yes to the second.
No to the first, because it generally takes longer than originally estimated to get the work completed, and it often costs more, as the "service advisor" tries to pump up the bill by implying — although not actually saying — that if I don't change such and such item now (long before its normally expected life expectancy runs out), a critical appendage of mine will shrivel up and fall off.
Yes to the second, because being the cantankerous curmudgeon that I am, I don't leave the dealership before I feel that it has done all it promised to do, when I signed the work order — a copy of which I always keep for future reference.
The customer relations specialist always listens politely, appears to take notes and appropriately commiserates on my feeling of having had my service experience fall short of perfection. Then says he or she will look into my "complaint" and will have a dealership executive call me to discuss further and resolve my concern(s). Because, as he or she tells me in a soothing voice, dripping with sympathy, the dealership's first and driving commitment is to customer satisfaction.
Then, the call-back never comes... never, ever...
The reason for this is that nobody at the dealership, other than perhaps the owner, really cares about customer satisfaction.
The auto manufacturer does, and incentivizes the dealership for keeping service customers satisfied. But nobody else working in middle management or on the line really cares. All they want are quiet, uncomplaining customers.
Enter customer relations management.
Customer relations management (CRM) gurus will tell you that the key to good customer relations and a good customer experience is derived from enhanced communications between your company and your customer.
Generally, that means prompt order acknowledgement. Shipment tracking notices — or in the case of my auto dealer's mechanical shop, work progress reports and regular updates as to expected time of completion. Delivery completed notices — often issued after your order has arrived and is in your hands. Then a follow up thank you note. And an inquiry as to whether you found your customer experience satisfactory. Finally, perhaps, an offer to take advantage of discounted pricing for another order of similar type.
What's missing in all of this, however, is any reference to, or understanding of genuine fulfillment, that is, the delivery of the goods or services promised, on time, and in good order. At its irreducible core, customer satisfaction requires delivering fair value for what was paid, no ands, ifs, or buts. No excuses. And no mountain of CRM-generated thank-you notes, customer satisfaction surveys, solicitations for suggestions to improve service, or other bull chip stroking will do the job.
CRM may keep your customers quiet... but, if it does, it is by wearing them out...
However, keep in mind that a worn-out customer doesn't come back.
He or she might not complain after the first couple of rounds dealing with a customer relations manager who says however politely, "I understand your concern, and I will look into it and get back to you." Then never gets back to the customer. But I'll wager a hundred to one, that customer goes somewhere else the next time he or she buys.Granted, you can't satisfy everyone all of the time. However, you can satisfy most customers most of the time if you:
1) Deliver what you promise and accept payment for.
2) Deliver a level of quality in goods or service at least commensurate with, but preferably slightly in excess of the price you charge.
3) Promptly correct or redress any problems or fulfillment shortfalls that crop up as the result of your company's errors, missteps, or over-representations — and sometimes even redress problems that do not originate with your company.
I remember years ago, when Sears was a company focused heavily on customer satisfaction, indeed guaranteed it unconditionally. One day, I was talking to a friend of mine who worked there as a customer service manager. He told me about a woman who had returned a window air conditioner bought two days before, which she said wasn't working. It turned out it wasn't working because because when her husband had tried to install it in their apartment window, he let it slip and fall to the concrete sidewalk outside — from the third floor.
Rather than point out to her that the situation was not the company's responsibility, he not only exchanged the unit for a new one at no charge, but arranged to have it installed professionally by one of the company's crews, free. Total cost to the company of a few hundred dollars, but as he pointed out, dirt-cheap word-of-mouth advertising when that customer and her husband walked around telling everyone they knew and met what a truly great company Sears was to do business with.
Personally, I don't know what happened to that approach, which is now long gone at Sears. But I suspect it has to do with the replacement of customer service by customer relations management...
So, unless your target market is limitless, and you can maintain and grow your business while continually burning through quietly dissatisfied customers, you need to see beyond "managing" those customers to satisfying them.
In other words, you need to see CRM for what it is, namely, as an adjunct to Customer Service, not as a replacement for it. — Phil Friedman
Author's Notes: If you found this article of interest, you may want to take a look at some of my other writing on business:
And if you would like to discuss marketing or other issues you face in your efforts to join the ranks of small-business, email or message me to arrange for a free, no-obligation, 1/2-hour initial consult.
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About me, Phil Friedman: With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. Including a several years stint as the CEO and president of a world-class luxury yacht builder and refit shipyard, employing 600 people at two locations in the U.S. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. And in a previous life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.
The (optional to read) pitch: As a professional writer and editor with more than 1,000 publications in print and digital media, I've recently launched an online writing improvement course, www.learn2engage.org.
At learn2engage we help you improve your reasoning skills and thinking abilities, and as a matter of course, thereby help you improve the quality of your writing. Instruction is handled directly by yours truly, over the internet and as required in person, both one-on-one and in small supportive groups.
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