Choosing a CRM is easier than choosing a TV…..

or maybe it should follow just the same set of thought processes. It certainly should not be overly onerous. This blog suggests why….

I blame it on “Game Of Thrones”. If it wasn’t for the fervour created in our household by the imminent arrival of the latest instalment of the annoyingly addictive GoT, I may not have found myself in the HiFi store in the first place. I mean, we do have a “spare” TV and it’s not as if we watch a lot of TV. But she who must be obeyed (my wife, not the Mother of Dragons) insisted on us having to replace the TV in time for Jon Snows latest escapades.

So there I was in JB Hifi surrounded by wall upon wall of TV’s showing the same identical Disney movie, hearing the same soundtrack in a barrage of echoes, thinking this “should” be easy. I mean, we just need a TV. I have helped procure and, turning gamekeeper into poacher, sell complex enterprise CRM systems. These systems can cost thousands, if not millions of dollars in terms of software, services and support. It can take months to go through an evaluation and procurement exercise so surely buying a TV cannot be that hard, can it?

However, very soon I was being pummelled by an enthusiastic young “Audio Specialist” asking seemingly stupid questions such as “What do you use your TV for?”. I felt like saying “doing the washing up” but before I had chance, he bombarded me with a plethora of use cases “downloading films, watching YouTube, gaming etc”. Whilst I was scratching my head thinking, he was telling me about features such as HD, UHD, SUHD in fact any other acronym with HD would have seen me thinking he being sarcastic. There is 3D, Curved, Super size (more like a cinema screen), 4Hz and the mesmerising list goes on. The result was that I got to thinking about how people choose a CRM and that perhaps it can get over complicated in a similar way.

First and foremost, there is a budget for everything. I did not want to spend $7000 on a TV so the one that made an IMAX theatre look conservative was never going to be an option.

Secondly, there was my needs. What did I need it for? All CRM’s do the basics but the nuances come in whether you are looking for a Sales, Service or Marketing oriented system. Of course, you will need a decent set of functional and technical (non functional) requirements but to me it is pointless saying that a CRM must be able to add an email address to a Contact. That’s like asking whether a TV has an on/off button.

Then there was the “look” to consider. Believe it or not, the TV’s were not all identical! Similarly, the look and feel of a CRM must be intuitive and user friendly. This “User Experience” has become an increasingly important factor in choosing CRM software due to the lowering of training costs and the need for users to adopt the system, which is far more likely if they find it easy to use.

Once I had gone through this thought process, I had quickly narrowed down my choice to two TV’s. Now to seal the deal, I needed to differentiate based on things like Warranty, Installation and Availability. These will also come into play when selecting a CRM Implementation partner, although availability in IT terms means something different than “is it in stock”. Focus on a partner with proven expertise in the selected technology. You would not take a Mercedes to a Ford garage would you?

So when I got to thinking about it, I wondered whether sometimes people over complicate the buying process. Organisations can “try before they buy” with “Proof Of Concept” and Pilot implementations commonplace. In today’s Agile world, projects often commence on the basis that the end destination is not clearly defined, reserving the right to change direction and innovate as the project evolves.

Choosing a CRM should be pretty simple. Be clear about what your desired outcomes and user expectations are, what your budget is (don’t forget, its all about the TCO- Total Cost of Ownership) whilst considering the broader picture (refer to my previous article suggesting that the choice of CRM is not the single biggest success factor).

Although I have always been technology agnostic, I have recently become very excited by the development of Microsofts Dynamics CRM. It has evolved immeasurably over the last few years and the latest release, Dynamics365 is very good indeed. It will not be for every organisation just as my choice of a TV will not be the brand that you may have chosen. However, I do believe that Dynamics should be on most organisations shortlist not just because of the breadth of capability but simply because it just works with all of the other Microsoft software seamlessly. It is that ease of use that makes it a formidable solution and why, these days, I now work for an organisation that specialises in Dynamics365.

Which CRM? Wrong Question. Top 10 Critical Success Factors for CRM

If you are asking “which CRM is best”, you may be asking the wrong question. Choosing the right tool is important but in isolation, it is probably not the decision that is going to make or break your initiative. This blog gives you pointers as to the questions you should be seeking to answer before looking at choice of software.

If I was paid $1 every time I was asked “Which CRM should we choose” then I would not need to be checking the Lotto numbers each week!

The trouble is that a widely held perception is that you need the “best” CRM. Questions such as these are posed based on an assumption that the choice of CRM software will determine the success or failure of the business issue or opportunity it is being considered for.

But it’s not as simple as that. 

I’ve therefore compiled a list of things that I consider to be critical success factors that need consideration by any organisation thinking about CRM, let alone purchasing CRM software.

1. What is your “why”? You clearly think that CRM is an answer but to what? Have you carefully listed all the requirements you have? Have you broken these into Functional and Non Functional? Have you prioritised? Are these based on what you want to do or what you do today, or both?

2. Do you know what benefits you are seeking to achieve and, if so, how these will be measured and realised? What must the future state processes, people and technology deliver to realise each benefit?

3. Do you have Business and I.T support for any potential initiative? I have often found that one without the other goes nowhere. You need both parties fully engaged, collaborative and supportive with Executive buy-in and active participation (deeds as well as words)

4. Do you have a Budget? It is not just the software cost that should be considered but also the “services” required to implement and support the solution. These services should include internal and external (3rd party) costs.

5. What is the customer impact and perception? How will this positively lead to a greater customer experience which will drive retention and lead to customer advocacy? Have you engaged with people who know what a Customer Journey map is and can help create Persona’s?

6. What is the appetite for change? CRM is as much about a change in culture as a change in software. I recently worked with an organisation that could tick most of the previous 5 boxes but change fatigue was such an issue that it almost killed the CRM initiative.

7. What other changes will need to be made to accomodate CRM? New devices, Cloud provisioning, Reporting and Analytics, Integration platforms, Channels, Service Providers, Business Process Reengineering and IT Support are just a few off the cuff considerations that need to be thought through. There are many more.

8. Do you have internal resources who could commit time to both evaluate and then help implement CRM? Examples include Subject Matter Experts (SME’s), Architects, Business Analysts, Project Manager, Legal and Finance. They may or may not be required on a full time basis and certain roles can be outsourced but you will need to allow for commitment from several internal stakeholders over a project lifecycle.

9. How does this initiative align to the overall company strategy and are there competing “projects” that might mean the timing is less than ideal? I see many companies attempting too much at the same time and therefore achieving little. Corporate portfolio management is a necessary discipline.

10. Finally, yes, the choice of technology is a factor but software is just code. It is a tool. It needs to be made to work in the right way. For that reason, your choice of Technology Integrator will be just as critical as the software they help integrate and implement. Look for partners that can demonstrate that unique blend of understanding your business and demonstrating previous examples of well designed solutions and delivered outcomes that are referenceable.

Therefore, when someone next asks me “Which CRM do you recommend”, they will understand why I reply with ” Well, it depends….”. If you are in a position to proceed having worked through these things, then I believe you are well on the way to success and I look forward to hearing about it.

Is this a good or bad Customer Experience? My Australia Day BBQ

How could a great Customer Experience possibly spoil an Australia Day BBQ?

I’m all for technology enhancing my overall experience. But not when it gets between me and an Aussie BBQ.

It was Australia Day and we had friends and family over to our home enjoying the Public holiday celebration with the traditional dips in the pool, cold wine and, of course, the delights of my culinary skills on the BBQ.Just as I was about to serve, a phone call. Thinking it must be important, I left my Snags, Corn, Burgers and Steaks in the hands of the BBQ gods to answer the phone. Imagine my surprise to hear an automated message from a certain Financial Services provider wishing me a Happy Australia Day!!!

This has led me to think whether this seemingly innocent “customer experience” has added or detracted from my view of their brand. To me, it was intrusive and unnecessary, or maybe I was grumpy because I was hungry. Nevertheless, although well intended, I do not enjoy unsolicited calls even to wish me well. Being automated, it was low cost yet also insincere.

Please people, use technology as a tool to enhance a Customer Experience by all means but please think through whether that experience will add or detract from a customers perception of your brand.

Fortunately, the beers stayed cold, the steak was perfect and I was soon a happy camper again.

The Digital Customer is always right, even when they are wrong, unless you don’t mind it going viral.

angry-customer

Every business has them. You can usually tell them from a distance. It’s those customers you wish would go elsewhere but you need them, right, and those in customer facing roles are brainwashed into believing the customer is always right. Even when they are irritating, irrational, immoral and/or ignorant. The Basil Fawlty approach to Customer Service simply cannot survive in the 21st century.


I believe that it is not a question of what we believe about our customers but rather a strategy of how we handle them. In the 21st century, the power has shifted towards any potential conflict going viral.

Example: A poppy seller, a war veteran, was asked to move outside into the cold weather from the relative warmth of a UK Supermarket in a small provincial town in the UK, . The story went viral with a backlash nationally against the supermarket chain. The action of one store manager upset one passing customer who did not stay quiet.

Of course, in the past, businesses could get away with losing the odd customers. With a seemingly small sphere of influence, the consumer had little opportunity for recourse. Put up or shut up. Therefore if the product or service was desirable enough, consumers would simply put up with a poor customer experience. The balance of power was not with the customer. How times have changed. In this Digital world, organisations are now increasingly aware of the need to ensure that the customer is always seen to be right, aware that even one negative customer experience could have a major impact

Example: a disgruntled bank customer tweeted that his banks incompetence in processing his mortgage application had lost him his new house. Fortunately, that bank noticed the tweet and within 30 minutes responded to the customer asking him to send a Direct Message. By the end of the day, his loan had been approved. That story also went viral earning the bank much quodos having turned a potentially damaging incident into a “look how we care” story. Thank goodness for Social Listening.

negative-tweet-example

However, this introduces another 21st century conundrum for organisations. If we are to be proactive in providing excellent customer experiences across all channels, how do we ensure that we provide a consistent response across all channels? Why should a customer get a resolution in 24 hours because they tweeted about it whereas other customers may have to wait several days? It highlights process inefficiencies whereby organisations are reacting to the need to be kept honest by their customers. The omnichannel experience that is so desired can also highlight inconsistencies in service delivery.

It is this that is one of the great challenges being faced by Digital organisations who have realised that the customer must always be seen to be right but that all channels on inbound and outbound communication must deliver a consistent customer experience.

Until then, organisations may strive to deliver amazing customer experiences but the opportunity for something negative to go viral remains. As an example of the viral threat, how would I otherwise have got to hear about this

Using CRM to transform Timeshare and the Customers Travel Experience: The SugarCRM experience 

Using innovation and Agile to transform the Sales process and Customer Experience for a leading Timeshare company

Being recognised by an Industry body for game changing innovation is something I am very proud of. From concept through to delivery, a great team helped put together a solution which forms a new paradigm in Travel Sales.

Travel is something that I am passionate about. Therefore when the opportunity to “transform” a major player in the Travel Industry came knocking, I was genuinely excited. However, when I then learnt that it was in the Timeshare industry, for some reason, that excitement suddenly became muted. A bit of research revealed explained my reaction:

Timeshare is a concept that many are aware of but often the perception of what timeshare is can be very far from the reality. In its purest and original form, buyers purchase a share of a hotel room/apartment in a managed holiday resort. This share equates to a percentage of a year, usually a week. Historically, the purchase of this week bound the owners to holiday at the same resort at the same week year after year. It was a hard sell and became a haven for unscrupulous salespersons, developers and dubious incentive programs. This helped explain my initial cynicism.

Over the years, the concept has grown and evolved into a multi billion dollar industry which even includes household brands such as Disney, Ramada (as part of Wyndham ) and Accor. Some schemes offer points, some varied resorts and others have evolved into travel clubs. There are now timeshare companies offering yachts, RV’s or even private homes as alternate travel options.

Therefore, in early 2014, I became involved with Australia’s largest Timeshare Operator, Classic Holidays, who operate over 60 resorts in Australia and New Zealand. Its members have varied membership types representing the changes in the industry over the last 20 years and more.

Despite the modernity of the new Timeshare programs, I was surprised to see that much of the technology used within the industry was very verticalised with few specialist providers. Those that did exist appeared to focus upon the property reservation and management aspect of the process rather than enabling a member centric perspective. Classic Holidays were using a myriad of Microsoft Access/Google Docs and paper driven processes to attract, recruit and create new Members. Once I understood the core business processes involved, I suggested that a Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) CRM software tool could easily replace the tools being used and become the hub for Member Centric processes in the future.

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Early Requirement Gathering

This met with some resistance as the commonly held perception was that the industry was so specialised that there was nothing that would meet the “unique” idiosyncrasies of the Timeshare industry. Therefore, after some product evaluations, I managed to persuade the Classic Holidays Leadership that SugarCRM seemed a good fit based upon functionality, price, usability, “openness” and being a SaaS based product.

In August 2014, I was asked to create and then deliver a project for a new “end to end” Sales and Marketing solution as the first phase in transforming the (prospective) Member experience. We called it Project CHARM (Classic Holidays Advanced Relationship Management). I will explain how CRM was used to address and provide solutions in some of the unique Timeshare industry processes.

The process of selling in Timeshare usually starts with Lead Generation with Off Premise Canvassers (OPC) representatives.

The OPC role at Classic Holidays was primarily to generate leads by enticing prospects to attend a presentation through the use of scratch cards which offered guests the chance to win prizes. Those with winning tickets were invited to a presentation (tour) to collect the prize upon condition of attending a 90 minute sales presentation. OPC’s used their own phones to look up a shared Google Sheet to check availability at a given wave. The prospect would then be given a slip of paper confirming the date, time and location. To try to guarantee attendance, prospects were asked for a deposit (cash) and were given a paper receipt. Often, the prospect would change their mind and “no show”. Whilst the prospect might lose their deposit, the impact on the company was costly as the cost of holding Waves (a number of tours all starting simultaneously) was a fixed cost. I found it a very amateurish process for such a quality product and thought that if I was approached by an OPC, there was no way I would trust them enough to pay a deposit and give up 90 minutes of my time for something seemingly shrouded in mystery. Again, I was told that this was just “how it worked” but I felt that better tools, processes and empowered people could bring about significant transformational change.

  • The OPC Portal

An application was created that acted as a “portal” for the OPC’s in the field.

OPC Portal New Home Page

Each OPC was given an iPad with a direct link to the Portal. An OPC would log in to a personalised Dashboard. From here, they could review the status of previous bookings and add new bookings, thereby replacing the paper forms and Google sheets.

 

We were also able to include a digitised version of the “pitch book”, a leaflet based piece of collateral that was often used by OPC’s to show imagery of the Classic Holidays resorts. Since OPC’s only had a very short space of time to make the booking and collect the deposit, the User Experience was a vital part of the design, ensuring it was quick to use, well laid out and met the User Stories that were developed in our Agile Project. A key function was a real time look up of availability of each wave at any location. This ensured that Prospects were booked to waves which had availability.

OPC3

  • Bookings

When an OPC made a booking, it was previously hoped that the Prospect would turn up. CHARM introduced additional communications with the Prospect which consisted of a SMS and/or eMail confirmation, a link to a new landing page on a new CMS (Kentico) where they could confirm their attendance whilst also learning more about Classic Holidays (rather than keep it a secret).

SMS

This allowed better planning because a trigger was built in that sent an optional reminder SMS should they not have confirmed within a predetermined timeframe. By using sophisticated web tracking tools (Woopra), we were also able to see whether the prospect had visited the site and analyse what information they had accessed. This gave insight into the reasons why people might “no show” and allow Classic to change their future messaging accordingly. We did not have the capacity to undertake AB testing but this would have been a benefit to learn and adapt the landing pages more quickly. However, the insight gained was a real game changer and has seen Classic become better placed to increase Sales.

 

  • Guest confirmation

OPC6OPC7

When a guest clicked on either the SMS or email call to action, they were taken to a personalised landing page which congratulated them on winning a prize and gave them further information on the presentation and more reasons to confirm their attendance. Once they confirmed, the status of their booking was updated in Sugar to reflect their intentions. This enabled the Sales team to have greater confidence in the likely attendance and ensured that Sales Managers could have the right number of Sales Representatives available for each Wave.Booking Dashboard Chickenburger

  • Wave Management

A Wave is a scheduled set of concurrent one to one Sales Presentations (known as Tours) by a Timeshare Sales Rep to the prospective Members. It typically consisted of a PowerPoint style presentation which resulted in various membership options being offered to the Guest. The Waves therefore have a number of tours to be filled in order to keep the Sales Reps productive. These waves occur at the local Sales Office and can occur three or four times a day. Calendar management met this requirement perfectly and through the use of web services, a web front end was built which could allow these Waves to be exposed to OPC’s via the OPC Portal who could create Leads and assign them to Waves where there was availability. We were even able to create wait lists to ensure that each wave was well attended. The new solution allowed Sales Reps to know who was attending and, by capturing the lead within CRM, allowed downstream processing without the need to re-enter data or, even worse, asking the guest to complete more forms!

  • Registration and Check-in

    Edit Details_PP
    The new online Guest Survey

On the day of the Wave, often wary prospects would arrive not knowing quite what to expect. Despite friendly receptionists and a warm welcome, the prospect was given a pen, paper and clipboard and then asked to complete a paper registration form. Ironically, the details asked for were already known by the OPC but until CHARM, there was no sharing of data. Now, the experience was rather different: On arrival, they were asked their name which was already on the Manifest having been added by the OPC. The Status of the booking was determined by whether the Prospect had confirmed.Rec1

The Receptionist now was able to check them in “online” which generated a QR code on the screen. The Receptionist then scanned an iPad against the code which opened up an online survey on the iPad (replacing the paper form and clipboard). A digital signature was also captured to acknowledge refund of the deposit which was then emailed automatically to the Prospect as a PDF.

Rec2

Rec3

  • The Tour

Once the survey was complete, the status in CRM was updated to reflect the transition in Sales Stage. The Sales Representative then took the Prospects through a “standalone” presentation. We identified that we could rebuild the presentation into Kentico and incorporate data from SugarCRM and, in turn, export the data captured. This became a secondary project (known as S2S) in itself which I will blog about separately. For the purpose of this initiative, the only direct intervention was for the Sales Representative to update SugarCRM with the outcome of the Tour. This translated the Sales Opportunity into either a Won or Lost state. For those declining to become Members, they were still awarded their prize which, in turn, generated a new Lead to reconnect with the Prospect whilst they enjoyed their gift. For those who decided to buy, the next stage was to create the paperwork necessary for them to become Members. This process was known as “The Button Up”.

  • Button Up

The Button Up process is where once a Prospect agrees to purchase, the deal is finalised or “buttoned-up” with all the paperwork and, if required, finance organised. Prospects are entitled to a 7 day cooling off period. Many of the documents require signatures and the long standing process required much printing, manual entry, signing, scanning and photocopying of documents.

As SugarCRM already had a lot of the data required from earlier stages of the process (Guest Survey, Booking etc), we created digital images of all the documents which were populated with data already captured upon an opportunity moving to a relevant status. This was a big time saver. We also integrated Docusign, an electronic signature solution, which allowed quicker completion of the forms although the real benefit would come later when guests wished to buy additional products (i.e To upgrade their Membership) from home. The Button Up process could take up to 90 minutes. The CHARM solution dramatically reduced this and also allowed the downstream processing to be quicker (I.e Loan Approval) as the forms were now digitised.

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  • Loan Application

Memberships were bought for periods from 7 years up to lifetime (>60 years). The longer the Membership purchased, the more expensive it became despite offering better value. Classic Holidays were able to offer financing through an associated Financial company. Loan Applications can be typically arduous and although we digitised the application form, little benefit was seen until we were able to integrate to ARMNet, the Loan Management software solution used by the Finance company. This allowed real time decisioning and drastically reduced processing time as the staff no longer needed to re-key the application into the ARMNet solution. The data required for a Loan and Membership Application was captured in SugarCRM (see below) and interfaced to ARMNet as well as prepopulating the forms ready for signing.

mortgage and liability dropdown

  • Cooling off

In the 7 days post Tour, many new prospective Members suffered from “buyers regret” and therefore the churn rate is often high. However, the CHARM solution now offered the potential to communicate digitally during the cooling off period with personalised offers and comms.

  • Memberships

A legacy system, Viewpoint, written by a small software company, At Work International (recently acquired by Classic Holidays) was used to manage inventory (rooms) at resorts and bookings for members. It was not envisaged to replace this system but I proposed that in the future, Classic should use Sugar as the main interface for Members. SugarCRM could call web services to check inventory, make bookings etc. At the time of leaving, this had not been started but will further transform Classic Holidays once complete. Once linked to a Member, personalisation of the digital channel throughout the Membership lifecycle can occur with relevant offers and options being presented across multiple channels. Therefore the conversion of a Lead to an Opportunity to a Sale needed to go to the final step: A Member.

In conclusion, CHARM has opened a world of opportunity for both Classic Holidays whilst also improving the overall Customer Experience. What was a once amateurish, shady Sales process is now professional and transparent. Of course, Timeshare is not for everyone but given the high degree of customer loyalty experienced by Classic Holidays, this new process can only bring benefit through efficiency and reducing churn in the Lead to Sale process.

Massive kudos to the Classic Management and delivery team and the Project team (including the SugarCRM System Integrator, CRM Online ) that I put together. There are too many to mention but the recognition goes to them.

10 tips for a Common sense approach to CRM for small companies.

Over the years, I have often been bemused by the attitudes of many running “small” companies. Whilst some behave like major corporates, others behave as if they simply do not care about winning or retaining your business.

It is well known that most new businesses fail within 3 years. Therefore, how can CRM help your company to not only stay afloat but actually grow and turn into the company you wish it to be?

Now I hear some of you saying “Ah, but how can a small company afford a CRM?”

You are assuming that by CRM, I mean software that can automate aspects of your Sales, Marketing or Customer Service processes. I am a big advocate of these systems but only when deployed properly and with appropriate, balanced consideration of the people and process transformations that need to go hand in hand with such an initiative.

In this article, I suggest 10 tips that will not cost a cent. Technology can help but the examples I will give you point to applying common sense rather than a stash of cash in delivering great customer experiences to acquire and retain customers.

  1. Look after your customers whether they are purchasing or not.

About 7 years ago, I sought some investment advice from a Financial Broker. Had he just accepted my proposal, he would have made a tidy income that day. Instead, he got to know me and talked about who I was, what I wanted out of life and my financial priorities. It was so conversational that I didn’t realise he was profiling me to see whether my proposal made sense. It didn’t and he advised against it. In fact, in the space of the next two weeks, he invested at least 8 hours of his time to persuade me against buying anything from him at that time. I was puzzled. How could he waste his time without remuneration? Nevertheless, I followed his counsel and did nothing for 6 months. My circumstances then changed so I went back to him for further advice. Same outcome. Sound advice but no cost and no purchase.

To cut a long story short, I remain a loyal customer of his and I have made decisions over the years which benefit him financially. He invested in me as a long term customer, recognising that the lifetime value of our relationship was far greater than a quick buck. He looks after me just like Tom Cruises character in the movie “Jerry Macguire” although I do not shout “Show me the money”.

Be loyal, honest and respectful to your customers so that you might expect the same in return

2. Be reliable, punctual and communicative 

One of my pet hates is unreliability. Unfortunately, it often goes hand in hand with small businesses. I cannot tell you how many times I have emailed, phoned or written to small companies yet without reply. Being late falls into this category. I don’t mind appointments being late, so long as I’m told in advance.

I recently had a great experience with a small company who I had found via Google. I rang a mobile number and got an answering service that made it clear that they were not available that day (they were updating the message on a daily basis) but promised to return all calls the next day. Sure enough, my phone rang at 9am next day where a lady clearly explained who she was and apologised for not being able to take my call the previous day. I wanted a quote which would require a site visit. Instead of overpromising, she set my expectation by saying that because demand for their service was so great, they set aside dedicated times for new quotes so that it did not interfere with completing ongoing projects. That made sense to me as I’ve often felt small business are so keen to find their next job that the existing job gets distracted. I made an appointment at their convenience and was told that they would ring me the day before to check that I was still available.

The odd thing is that once I was off the phone, I realised that I had done everything on their terms but had not minded as their professionalism was so good that I felt their service would be good too. That’s not a bad way to win new customers.  Of course, there is more to it than just that but I am impressed at their attitude which leads to my next point:

3. Act like a big business with the agility of a small business

The dichotomy of business growth is that the larger you get, the more the need for standardised processes which can often introduce more paperwork, bureaucracy and stifle innovation and agility. A good indicator of the ability to retain a small business feel is your connectivity to your customers and the subsequent brand advocacy.

Brand Advocacy occurs when your customers feel like an extension of your company and will defend/promote your company as passionately as you would. Do not confuse Brand Advocacy with big brands that people buy for a status kick. This is often only as deep as the fashion itself but true brand advocacy is where there is genuine connectivity between a company and its clients creating loyalty and referred business. The growing trend in recruiting Chief Customer Officers is an attempt to establish that customer intimacy and advocacy. For more on this, I recommend following the excellent blogs by Jeanne Bliss.

As a small business, you should be your own Chief Customer Officer and at every decision point, ask yourself what would your customers want. If you don’t know, you are not close enough to them.

4. Make a note of the detail 

A local Mexican restaurant we first visited a few years ago has achieved our loyalty through being clever enough to not only listen to its customers but to turn that listening into a revenue stream. When we first went there, the waitress asked my wife whether we were married. We confirmed this and she then asked us whether we were out for our anniversary. I said No. Before we knew it she came back with a simple form asking us for our names and anniversary date. She told me that on our next anniversary, they would treat us to a free bottle of wine as their anniversary gift to us. Over the next few visits, we realised that they were gradually finding out our birthdays, children’s names and what our favourite meals/drinks were. Interestingly, every birthday, we get a voucher posted to us for a Birthday Meal on them! When we dine there, our waitress always recommends wines to meet our preferences. We also get invites when they do “specials” on our favourite meals. This intelligence has come from just getting to know us but also tailoring their “offers” to our known likes and special dates.

I must be honest and say that the food, price and service is great but not amazing. However, we find ourselves visiting there more often and spending far more at this restaurant than we might otherwise have done so. I’ve told many locals about this experience which then brings me to my next point:

5. Referrals are critical advocacy 

Since it is up to 10 times more expensive to acquire a customer than to retain one, why don’t more businesses leverage their happy customers to gain more customers. Word of mouth is not just profitable, it is extremely powerful. Of course, whilst news of a good experience can travel fast, the speed of a bad experience will outpace the good experience significantly. One of my recent clients has a great product but they sell in an industry where there is a lot of misinformation, over representation and, historically, mis-selling. However, those who do buy are generally very satisfied and churn rates are very low. The company realised that the best way to overcome the negativity in the Sales cycle is to ask their existing Members to become a Sales team. Members are encouraged and rewarded for leads and for accompanying their own leads through the sales process. This reassures the new prospects and leverages the enthusiasm and advocacy of their friend, the existing member. It is a genuine win/win/win.

The prospect gets to buy a great product reassured and accompanied by their friends.

The member is rewarded with club benefits for the referral which increases the more they refer.

The company benefits by increased sales with a lower cost of sale. It is another benefit of creating a great customer experience. Advocacy and therefore referrals become much easier.

6. Paying attention to the smaller details can create loyalty 

Melbourne, Australia is a hub for coffee lovers. There are so many outlets, from the very small to the corporate giants yet everyone seems to have their own favourite.

One day, I was introduced to a small outlet where the queue went back around the corner yet there were only two people working in what looked like a hole in the wall. I asked my colleague whether this was the best coffee in town. He didn’t agree but he did say he wouldn’t go anywhere else. When we got to the front of the queue, the Barista greeted my colleague personally instantly knowing his preferred beverage. Not only that, he asked him how his eldest son had got on at a Football Trial and whether he had been able to finish building his new garage. As we waited for our coffee, which wasn’t quick given the queue, I noticed that the Barista seemed to know everyone in the queue and showed an interest in each and every one of them. He clearly had an amazing memory but I then realised that the loyalty was being driven by our basic human need to feel important and to be connected. I quickly became a loyal customer and thought nothing of waiting 10 to 15 minutes for my coffee. It became an outlet away from work and a part of my social calendar. It really had nothing to do with whether the blend of the coffee was any better than the competitors, although it was good!

However, one day I got served the wrong coffee and I complained. The Barista not only immediately resolved the situation by fixing me the correct brew without question but he also said “next ones on us Nick” and, of course, he didn’t forget. What a great way to treat your customers. No wonder it is such an iconic coffee spot to many of the Melbourne city workers.

7. Interact to gain honest feedback as opposed to NPS

Small businesses cannot necessarily afford full blown Net Promoter (NPS) or Customer Experience Management tools but there is a better way.

Being a smaller company, why not ask your customers for feedback directly? Explain that you are continually seeking ways of improving your service and/or product and would appreciate any suggestions. This does not mean that every suggestion needs to be applied but trends will emerge. You can also extend that to customers who do not buy or customers who do not return. Your own personalised exit interview! This intelligence will help you know how to continually sharpen your competitive edge and to keep in touch with your customers needs. The trouble with a lot of NPS initiatives is that they are simply a corporate scorecard where customers are asked the wrong questions. Small businesses can gain more insight from direct interaction and open questions.

8. Cashflow is king so reward prompt payment

Small businesses often sink or swim due to cashflow and prompt payment is of huge benefit to most small businesses. Therefore why not offer incentives for your customers to pay on time or earlier than would be normal. If you cannot afford to discount, why not add more value to your early payment offering? Being customer centric does not just mean providing service with a smile. It infers that you develop the ability to view 

9. Employ based on customer centric skills and values

If you want to develop a customer centric company, then make sure your new hires are recruited based on their alignment to these values. Build reward into their salary or compensation plans based upon customer centricity. It is easier than it sounds. You can set up an online survey for your employees to gather direct customer commendations or feedback. During interviews, ask for specific examples of them providing outstanding customer service or ask how they might resolve a customer complaint. At appraisal time, ask your customers for their feedback. As an Employee, I did this in the late 90’s and got a double promotion as a result of client feedback. It works!

10. Know your “wow” factor from a customers eyes?

Standing in the shoes of your customer might appear to be a simple task but in my experience, it is often not done or is done badly.

Your business needs a competitive “Wow” factor. It could be the Product, The Service, The Price or speed. This competitive edge is what you are proud of and when selling, it is probably the thing you are most proud of. However, is it what your customer truly needs?

Without 5pwishing to revert to the Marketing Mix basics taught at every business school, I would add that no matter what your competitive edge, you need to know what it is from a customers perspective.

I like to call this “Outside-In” thinking. You think as an outsider to apply the learnings from the perceptions internally.

Years ago, I took my family for a holiday up in the Italian Alps, north of Milan. We rented a house from an Artist who came from the village but had homes in Germany and Spain too. We loved it. We raved about it and returned frequently. One time, the owner was staying with his family in the village and came over to see us. My daughters ended up painting with him in the garden and we enjoyed a relaxing evening in his company. He apologised for the lack of garden, the clutter in his home and the lack of a parking space, promising that he would sort it all out. I asked him why he was worried about it. He replied that most guests wanted a tidy house with somewhere to park their car and relax in the garden. He saw this as very important attribute that he had neglected through not being “at home” very often. Had he stepped in our shoes, he would have seen that we loved the artistic clutter, the tiny garden afforded amazing views and that the lack of parking was more than made up for by fresh bread delivered every morning, log fires, friendly villagers and a peace and quiet that was quite unique. I’m glad he didn’t see it like that else he would have marketed it differently, charged more and we would never had been able to get a booking!!

How do your customers see your business? Nurture that wow factor as it may be something you take for granted.

Being customer centric is not necessarily about acquiring software. It is an attitude. A behaviour that is the catalyst for enlightened processes.

Customer engagement and reducing complaints

Common sense. A lot of organisations still fail to recognise the impact of Social Media as a channel for viral complaints

The Eptica Customer Experience Blog

We Britons have a reputation for politeness, which extends to not complaining when we suffer poor service. According to this stereotype, we just mutter under our breath and then ensure we don’t visit that particular restaurant or shop again.

Complaining

However it has been clear for many years that things have changed. As in other countries, Britons are complaining more and demanding a better experience from all the organisations that they deal with. Loyalty should not be assumed – businesses need to engage with consumers and provide fast, consistent service if they want them to remain customers.

The scale of the change is illustrated by new research from Ombudsman Services. According to this, there were 38 million complaints made in the UK in 2013 – the equivalent of one every 1.2 seconds. Put it another way, with an adult population of approximately 47 million that means 80% of people…

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