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.

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I am your Customer

I am your Customer

I may also be your Supplier, your Employee, your Partner, your Student, your Stakeholder, your Consumer, your Influencer or your Citizen.

I reserve the right to voice my opinion about you, your products, your people, your services and my experience with you at any time and across any channel I want.

I reserve the right to be wrong but be treated as if I was right and reserve the right to  accuse you of being wrong, even if you were right.

I expect to be treated as if I was your only customer but I also expect to be treated as the best customer, regardless of whether I may or may not be.

I am your Customer.

However, I reserve the right to go to someone else. It is your job to stop me.

I reserve the right to shop around. It is up to you to make me loyal to your brand.

I reserve the right to expect you to get it right first time, every time even though I realise that nobody is perfect.

I reserve the right not to tell you that though.

I reserve the right to avoid telling you anything about myself although I expect you to know.

I reserve the right to expect the same “deals” as an existing customer as you would to attract new ones.

I am your customer.

I creserve the right to be difficult, annoying, irritable, demanding, irrational and a downright pain in the backside. Sometimes all at once.

However, I am YOUR customer and without me and my fellow customers, you won’t have a business. We know that and expect you to get that.

I am your customer but if you accept me on my terms, I will be your customer for life and will help you achieve your dreams.

 

 

A Banking dichotomy

A recent experience with UBank has got me wondering whether the intention to create a good customer experience has led to a bad experience?

I first want to say that I am not expressing a view in this post, merely an observation. This is in the light of a very good recent experience with UBank who are an Australian Internet bank (part of NAB- National Australia Bank) and an incident with them that may cause me to churn. Hence the dichotomy.

The Internet site is supported by an excellent 24/7 Contact Centre which appears to be very customer centric and well organised. I recently set up my Internet Banking from home using my home broadband connection which uses the only phone line coming into the house. We live in a rural location so have no mobile phone signal at home. When I went to update my personal details online, UBank sent a SMS code for me to enter onto the website to verify the change. Of course, I could not receive the SMS as I had no mobile signal. The SMS was only valid for 10 minutes.

I soon realised that UBank had set up this “security measure” for every single transaction that I would make online. Payments, Transfers, Changes in details all receive SMS verification. With most of the Australian population living in areas with decent mobile coverage, I’m sure this isn’t a common issue to the banking giants but it is to me.

I rang UBank to ask whether there was another option. I was told it is the banks policy to provide this “more secure” method to protect their customers. This is very noble but why couldn’t I receive an email notification instead? Apparently UBank and NAB do not believe this option is as secure so they have adopted the SMS as the standard verification method.

This renders the site useless to me for “home” banking and I am now about to churn. It raises an interesting point though. This initiative has been taken to attempt to protect the customer. It is done with the customer in mind. However, because I have no other options of validation, the approach means that anyone in remote areas of the country will struggle with this issue.

I therefore wonder whether this is an example of good or bad customer centricity? It is good in wanting to make my banking experience safer but bad in that it does not give me the choice in how I want to receive that experience.

I would be interested to know what others think?

Becoming Customer Centric…5 Top Tips

The difference between experience and wisdom is a subtle one. To learn from an experience, one will make a mistake and learn not to do that again. That is learning by experience.

To learn from wisdom is to learn from the experience of others so not to have to make that mistake in the first place. That is learning by wisdom.

Therefore I find it puzzling that many organisations still prefer to learn by experience when attempting to fulfil their promise to become a truly customer centric organisation. Therefore, here are five quick tips that uses the wisdom gained from other organisations (who shall remain nameless but all of whom I have worked with) that can help on that journey towards customer centricity.

Tip #1: To change behaviour, change the comp and hire appropriately.

If you want your Managers accountable for delighting the customer and improving retention, then change the comp plan to focus them on that objective. If it is important, make it something that becomes an economic necessity! In a similar vein, ensure that your hiring policy is aligned to ensure that only applicants who can demonstrate a passion for customer centricity are hired. Gradually, the culture of the company will change.

Tip #2: Give the Customer a voice in the Boardroom

Invite the voice of the customer into the boardroom by appointing a Chief Customer Officer. If you cannot afford one, get a cardboard lifesize cut-out and sit it on a chair in the boardroom. At all relevant moments during a board meeting, turn to the cardboard cutout and ask “What does the customer think about this?”. Believe me…it works!!!!

Welcoming the CCO to the Boardroom

I had been preparing a blog post on this subject but I would rather defer to someone who has the experience of being a Chief Customer Officer. You can learn more from her excellent blog here.

Tip#3: Interview your churning, loyal and indifferent customers

Do you provide Employee Satisfaction surveys, exit interviews and other such HR charm offensives? Well, why not extend similar concepts to former customers, current customers (noth advocates and the silent majority). Hold focus groups, use Social Media, surveys, bribes whatever it takes to gain the insight you need to gain a true customer perspective on what you do well, what you do not do well and what they would like to see you do. It is very powerful. I heard a stat recently that said in a survey of clients, 95% said their customers “loved them”, a perception that was only supported by 6% of their customers.

Tip#4: Educate, Empower and Enable everyone

Everybody within your organisation must feel empowered and able to provide an outstanding customer experience. To do this, everyone needs educating. Who are THEIR customers? What benefits will this approach bring? What behaviours and values need to be developed? This education should not be a Webex or DVD to watch. It must be participative, ongoing and cross functional, involving every staff member from Chairman to Janitor. One organisation invited all of its directors to spend a day answering phones to “real” customers. Only half took their turn. Those who did found the experience “career changing”. Those who didn’t turn up, in my opinion, should have been given an ultimatum to do their stint or leave. Customer Centricity needs to be fully inclusive.

Tip#5: Consistency across customer touchpoints

Finally, the great experience being delivered by Sam in Sales could be completely undermined by a poor after sales experience by Paul in Service. Not only is it important for everyone interacting with the customer to behave in a customer centric fashion, but it is also vital to offer a consistent LEVEL of Customer Service. I believe it is better for everyone to be very good than have one excellent and another mediocre. That alignment can be measured by surveying each different department at each customer touchpoint. The internal initiative should then focus upon improving the “lagging” departments to provide greater overall consistency.

Oh, there is a sixth tip: “Do not let I.T drive the initiative”, but that deserves a blog post of its own!

Of course, this list is not inclusive or exhaustive. Success could be achieved without these tips but I believe that they will increase your chances of success.

The Hall Of Fame No1: Youi Insurance

First organisation in the Customer Experience Hall of Fame: Youi Insurance. This post describes the great experience I have received and explains why it is driving my loyalty

In the interests of trying to improve the customer experience, I regard it as my civil duty to name and shame organisations who “say” one thing but “do another” to their customers, resulting in a poor customer experience. Similarly, I will credit where credit is due to organisations who are delivering a great customer experience. Step up and take a bow Youi Insurance.

I was about to nominate Youi simply from the experience I received when taking out insurance with them. They promise to answer the call in 5 rings and did. They were friendly, personable (not robotic) and empowered to help you in any way they could rather then push you on to another agent. They explained the quotation process very clearly and offered to call me back at a time to suit me. This was great but it is all to easy to deliver a great sales experience only to be let down by delivery. Fortunately for this blog post but unfortunately for me and an unsuspecting Wallaby, I experienced the delivery aspect of Youi after my wife ploughed into a Wallaby late one evening. The poor Wallaby was killed instantly but my car suffered non terminal damage which would need extensive surgery.

Enter Youi.

I rang to report the incident and the first thing the agent said was “OMG- Is your wife alright?” I instantly connected with this agent. We chatted about how shocking it is to hit an animal and she gently uncovered the set of facts. She spoke to my wife and very quickly she explained what would happen next. Sure enough, we then got a text from Youi (having said that was our preferred channel) confirming that a pick up truck would tow the car to the repair shop. After collecting the car, we got another text confirming that it would be assessed within 24 hours. Next day, another text confirming that they had approved the repairs and the time it would take. Youi have clearly built this process around the customer, removing the pain of the organising of each aspect away from the customer. I found it clear, non invasive and very pleasant. A very good customer experience.

Now here is the acid test. Next year, my premium may well rise due to the altercation with Australian wildlife. Will I shop around for a cheaper quote? Probably NOT because Youi have proved their value to me and for that, I may well be willing to accept that little bit of extra cost. Youi have therefore quickly turned me into a loyal customer through providing a great experience based on process, people and technology. One final thing, after posting this, I received an email survey from Youi. However, it was not your normal bland survey. It was a transparent and simple survey which shared your views with other customers. Take. Look at this!

http://www.youi.com.au/youiwall

A great lesson for many organisations.

How the Chief Customer Officer Drives Customer Experience Results by Paul Hagen

How the Chief Customer Officer Drives Customer Experience Results by Paul Hagen.

Great article but I’m still to come across a CCO in Australia. Examples anyone?

The Hall Of Shame No1: TPG Internet

A personal case study of how TPG did everything they could to lose my custom and defect to one of their competitors by providing poor customer service.

In the interests of trying to improve the customer experience, I regard it as my civil duty to name and shame organisations who “say” one thing but “do another” to their customers, resulting in a poor customer experience.

Now I know Internet Service Providers are not exactly renowned for providing great customer service. Perhaps you might think they are a soft target…however:
I have been with TPG for 4 years. They provide a good Broadband product and I’ve had no issues….until last week. Then I had to contact them……..

Last year, we moved house so I called TPG to tell them that I wanted an Internet service at my new home and that I wanted the service to my old house to terminate once we had moved. TPG created a second account for me and all was good.
However, last month I noticed that TPG had been debiting my bank account twice each month for the last year. When I investigated, it appeared that they hadn’t ever terminated my old account.

I called the TPG Contact Centre and struggled to explain my situation to an agent whose first language was certainly not english. She closely followed a script and a process and appeared unable to deviate from either. In fairness, she was only doing her job but it fell far short of a great customer experience for me. I felt my blood pressure rise dramatically during the call.

The crux was that TPG insisted that before they could close the old account, let alone refund me, they needed “proof” that I had cancelled the account a year ago. They asked me which phone number I had called them on ( 12 months earlier) so that they could search the voice recording archives!

I argued that it shouldn’t matter. TPG had clearly received monies for a service that hadn’t been used or asked for. I pointed out that my loyalty was at stake. I think this point went right over the Agents head as she just repeated that TPG needed proof.

I then spent over 3 hours last week getting increasingly frustrated at TPG’s reluctance to just refund my money. Having threatened to take my business elsewhere, I think my explanation that I was probably a High Value Customer and that the cost of TPG “replacing” my custom was far greater than refunding my overpaid account was wasted.

I think my justification was lost on the agents who were not empowered to do anything other than impose the rules. My empassioned speech regarding customer lifetime value felt like one of those moments in history where the speech would be quoted in universities for years to come. I felt good! However, perhaps not surprisingly, the speech made no difference.

I then resorted to using “angry” words in the hope that TPG use Contact Centre voice analytical software which identifies when customers are getting frustrated and can cause an escalation to a Supervisor. That didn’t work either!
Therefore, I made a stand and refused to pay my bill on my existing account saying that my refund would cover it.

Yesterday, I got an email from the billing department threatening to cut off my service!
When I called the Accounts department, I had to explain the situation all over again only for me to be eventually routed back to the long suffering Customer service agent who must be getting sick of my attempts to exhaust the english vocabulary searching for escalation trigger words!

That was the point I realised that TPG clearly have not developed a single integrated view of the customer! The left hand had no idea what the right hand had done or said to me!

Finally, today, TPG finished their investigations (to establish blame) and declined to refund me. I therefore was at that “moment of truth” that long suffering customers eventually face when the value of the customer relationship and/or product/service is superceded by the pain of the poor service . I had to make a choice to put up with TPG’s poor service and good product or churn.

As of today, I am now a Dodo customer and got an even better deal than I had with TPG. The initial thoughts on their customer service was favourable too but it is early days.

6 Steps to Retention

My point is this: If TPG had understood customer loyalty, lifetime value or even about the need for a great customer experience, they would have immediately sought to take steps to retain my business (see above). They should have taken ownership and recognised that it really doesn’t matter whose fault it was. The cost of keeping me satisfied would be paid back many times over by my ongoing loyalty and by the recommendations I would make. Had they been keener to resolve the issue without question, I would not have considered churning. In other words, they had not taken any of the six steps that organisations should invest in to create greater customer retention.

I hope that someone from TPG gets to read this post. My personal churn will not cause them to be overly concerned but unless lessons are learnt, their business will be outstripped by others who do understand the value of customer retention strategies.

On the other hand, I also had a fantastic customer experience with YOUI Car insurance so will post about that soon.