The lock down period really rattled a number of companies, both large, medium sized and small. I suspect not many saw this coming. But what most people would have found surprising was how it unsettled large service providers. Customers certainly did not think it would rock the boat of more structured and large companies as what we’ve witnessed the past few weeks.
Customer service was extremely poor in some cases while some just shutdown completely. We’re still lost for words on how many people have consistently berated poor customer service when they were in dire need of solutions.
Crisis comes with opportunities and threats. I know we have heard this quite a lot. But with crisis comes needs and those who are nimble, flexible and swift enough to meet those needs adequately with solutions will be the winner at the end of the end.
I recently took to Amazon’s customer service twitter handle. Apparently, I had ordered for books early march. I suddenly had a jolt of memory upon seeing an Amazon ad. I was like, hang on a minute? My books haven’t been delivered!
Immediately I visited the website which did not offer much help other than the typical Covid-19 apologies. I then realized that on my order page, the books I ordered, each item read “order may be lost”. I was livid with rage. And you know twitter is home to people that love to rant at big brands.
Long story short, I was sent a link to chat which eventually lead to me chatting with a human. A human, yes! Someone I can talk to and resolve my problem immediately. Please do not assume I’m against AI or bots, but if it’s nothing better than reading FAQs, you can shove it up your … “softwarehouse”.
I got him to reorder all items and they gave me an estimated delivery time. Guess who will be ordering more books on Amazon? They did not only deliver, but they delivered before the estimated time with no additional charges. Now I’m aware of the strategy of under promising and over delivering, but I really needed those books. Amazon during this period have put their money where their mouth is. And they are not letting up. Their current partnerships and acquisitions speaks volumes.
As a consultant, I have always resisted the urge of what I call “similarish” content. Where scholars, business thought leaders are quick to quote the big-name brands as a point of reference but this was one experience I could not overlook at such a time as this. After all, so many companies have been squandering opportunities of penetrating the market with exceptional customer service.
I could not help but notice the catch phrase “earth’s most customer-centric company”. Now that’s one bold, audacious and challenging vision statement. Little wonder they never seem to rest on their oars.
So, I got an email recently that read “We miss you” from a service provider and it got me thinking. They actually inspired this writeup. Not only has my organization switched services to another provider, but my colleagues and direct reports have indicated they would follow suit. Turns out that the poor customer service cuts across.
If you are not solving customer’s problems during a crisis, when do you want to solve their problem? When the dust settles? Any service provider can do that. Use the crisis as leverage to retain and extend your customer base. I think it was Winston Churchill that said “never waste a crisis”. It is still very applicable today.
I have a couple of questions… Why should a customer continue to trade with you or bring their business your way if you can’t solve their current problems? Are your people equipped and empowered to be flexible and agile enough to respond to changes that accompany crisis?
A few suggestions…
A PURPOSE DRIVEN ORGANISATION
Operating with a purpose drives actions that not only delivers but challenges an organisation to continually improve and innovate its service delivery. Amazon’s “earth’s most customer centric company” is a purpose that keeps the organisation on its toes and focused on the major driver of growth; excellent customer experience. I went from a livid shopper, then calm to elated shopper. Going about your organisation’s business with clarity of purpose, defining goals, and a process for achieving the goal is a prerequisite for a meaningful reorganisation that can better manage service during and after a crisis.
A DESIGN CENTRIC CULTURE
A collective approach where there’s focus on user experiences. So, for example, my Amazon experience. I suspect a journey mapping exercise would have occurred and touch points created as a result. A culture focused on customer experience, will design touch points around users’ needs rather than internal operational efficiencies.
The customer journey map is one tool useful for understanding and presenting alternative ways of looking at a problem. Prototypes on the other hand explore the solution space. I deliberately used collective which speaks to inclusion. Customer facing employees should be encouraged to share feedback from trends and patterns. I wonder if there’s someone or a department that is dedicated to listening to all the recorded conversations between employees and customers or it has like most TQM practices just become a ritual.
It’s ok to be a perfectionist. Just ensure it does not come in the way of innovation. Spar is a retail brand that has impressed me so much. They may not have gotten it absolutely right, but their swift response to the shift in demand online largely due to two factors; the restriction on movement in the city and fear of contacting the virus is very commendable. And a lot of customers will have taken note. With such a nimble organization ready to innovate to meet where the demand is, they can only continue to increase their market share in the retail space.
COVER THE TOUCH POINTS
With crisis come changes be it temporary or permanent. We mentioned touchpoints earlier. You either extend, double down on servicing the existing, to better manage customer relationships or personalize offerings. And it must be communicated extensively via precise channels. The last thing you need is a bunch of irate customers flocking to your location in droves with majority of the queries being problems that could have been solved remotely.
POSITION FOR GROWTH
Exceptional customer experience is the new growth currency and the experience must be consistent whether your company is omnichannel or a pure player. I can write a whole book on this. And if exceptional customer experience is the new growth currency, that is where we should concentrate and that is what should drive our strategic choices. Where companies are implementing furlough schemes and shedding staff strength, Amazon is hiring thousands of additional staff and adding more warehouses to meet the surge in demand because of the Coronavirus.
If you lack empathy and you are a major decision maker, it is most likely your company struggled or is still struggling during this period. And it’s simple, not being on the side of empathy allows for shutting down ideas, sticking to old ways of doing things and ignoring data and opting for gut feeling or past experience most of the time. Brands that have gone down and under, it did not happen overnight. It was gradual. They could have adapted to the change, they could have led the change, but they were stuck in their old way of doing things because it was still profitable back then.
So before you hit the send button to customers on how much you miss them, ensure you have indeed taken these into consideration otherwise customers will see through the folly, wince and wait for the right time to elope with their money, if that has not happened already.