“Serving consumers requires passion and a service-oriented mind-set but how do we infuse our organisation with such skills and values and what are the payoffs of doing so?”
Calling (or being called by) an organisation for customer support or a telephone-based service, walking into a store and browsing, weekly supermarket shopping, receiving letters, bills and emails from organisations whose products or services you use – these are all examples of instances in business to consumer (B2C) relationships. We are all involved, daily, in such relationships, either as the consumer or as the business – or both so we all have experience of these dynamics but we rarely stop to consider what makes a truly great B2C relationship.
B2C relationships differ from business-to-business (B2B) relationships and are traditionally viewed as being more short term and hence more transactional and modular. However, the paradigm is evolving and we must under- stand that although the basic offering, including the price and product/service features, are very important, the collective beneﬁts, as perceived by the consumer, are key. Moreover, as our research has shown, a truly successful, durable and ultimately proﬁtable relationship can be forged by taking this paradigm one critical stage further – and providing the user with a unique and positive experience which touches deep, emotional cords and builds strong bonds between the client and the organisation.
Doing it Wrong
So how do we create this connection in a B2C context?
Let’s ﬁrst take a brief look at some examples of negative B2C experiences to highlight the factors which we must be aware of in order to get them right. Have you ever walked into a shop and felt ignored by or conversely, pestered by staff? Was the stock presented in an appealing, creative way?
Was it labelled well or were you given the wrong information? Did you walk straight out again and visit their com-petition? Have you ever phoned a call-centre and spent the ﬁrst few minutes navigating an impersonal, automated menu-system only to be placed in a queue, eventually served by a disinterested agent who passes you to an- other colleague who cannot help and who then asks you to spend a few minutes completing a telephone survey about their level of service only to ﬁnd that the entire call was being charged at an expensive rate? Did you feel powerless and compelled to avoid calling them again?
We can highlight many problems within these examples including staff behaviours, interpersonal skills, staff management, marketing weaknesses, merchandising problems, technical systems and more pervasive, cultural issues. Perhaps some of your bad experiences are caused by well-intentioned but badly executed strategies which backﬁre. For example, pressuring sales staff to meet targets which results in the customer feeling bullied or not incentivizing staff enough which results in customers potentially feeling ignored. Perhaps call-centre staff are under performance-related pressures, to close calls within a short time or to save costs by implementing automated services.
What is evident is that there are many points of failure which can all contribute to a disappointing customer experience. Even non-human contact such as an incorrect or badly timed, wrongly addressed bills (and the confusion and wasted time which it causes) affects the overall customer experience.
To really ‘get it right’ requires a coherent vision, translated into effective strategies and cascaded down throughout the organisation from the top tier CEOs to the front-line delegates. The alignment this provides helps us to achieve the right balance and to streamline our activities to make outstanding customer satisfaction a de-facto standard rather than an afterthought or rarely achieved goal.
So where do we start?
Achieving Total Value Connection
The Five Categories
Think of an iceberg. The connection with customers can be viewed as being located at the tip, where the
customer interfaces are experienced. But the tip, indeed the visible part of the iceberg, is only a small part of the whole – most of which is submerged under water – i.e. hidden from the consumer.
The hidden part of an organisation’s structure and activities provide the support required for the all-important ‘visible’ interfaces to work well. Both the customer interfaces and the rest of the organisation need to have the appropriate skills and to be able to use / exhibit them in the right way. This requires development in 4 main categories as described below. However, these categories themselves, rely on a common basis – understanding and living ‘customer intimacy’, which we’ll discuss next.
Customer Intimacy in B2C
Customer intimacy is one of the three value disciplines, together with product leadership and operational excellence that leads to market leadership. It is deﬁned as ‘segmenting and tailoring offerings to precisely match the needs of the customers”. It is characterised by the ability to respond quickly to almost any customer need, from customising a product to fulﬁlling a special request and it requires and appropriate degree of operational ﬂexibility although it is considered to be a complex construct. It no matter how direct or indirect our contact with customers. Customer Intimacy is a necessary skill to be developed whether we work as an agent in a call centre or as a CEO; it drives everything we do, setting a passionate, service-oriented mind-set that aims to delight and impress our customers. Customer intimacy is interpreted differently according to the individuals’ position – be that a call centre agent, a retail outlet assistant, a manager or CEO and therefor includes many aspects such as under- standing the different types of consumer behaviours, understanding customer value and matching customer needs with products and services, utilising the correct mannerisms and tone of voice for each customer, under- standing buying behaviours, the selling process and, also, developing leadership skills, manage performance, quality and maintain solid communication.
Handling Inquiries and Complaints in B2C
One of the most effective strengths of serving customers’ demands is to be a persuasive and efﬁcient communicator towards the other party. This is particularly prominent when handling customers who may behave inappropriately or conﬂicted with the company in terms of expectations of a service or of a product they received. Persuasive and assertive communication is the way you inﬂuence others by setting your own boundaries and developing the ability to respect your own rights while building and maintaining a positive relationship with others. It is a form of communication that helps customer service executives gain credibility and emotional connection with others developing a logical approach with customers. Thus, it helps achieving high levels of business performance together with customer satisfaction. This includes developing communication skills, understanding the different types of consumers and types of complaints, ways of thinking, conﬂict avoidance and resolution, understanding how and when to be assertive, how to identify the right questions to ask and how to negotiate well and manage perceptions of value and limits.
Developing the Technical Understanding of the Retail Business Environment
Merchandising enables consumers to make the right choice and maximize the mutual beneﬁts among the retailers and consumers.
Merchandising and retailing are processes that are mostly used to conduct retail sales. Part of the process consists of the merchandiser paying close attention to the different kinds of products available for sale, their prices and the best possible way of presenting them to the end customer. It is worth noting at this point that establishing and maintaining strong working relationships with manufacturers is a crucial step of the process, in terms of providing goods or services that will ultimately be sold by the retailer. Category management is also involved. This is the process by which people are able to manage their businesses at the category level in order to deliver better product, pricing and service to their customers. It is worth noting at this point that category management is now essential to the successfully operation of any retail operation. Nevertheless, it offers retailers a powerful competitive advantage if executed appropriately and allows us to combine and use our available data and insights with our innate merchandising savvy. The Skills involved in this category include understanding the fundamental concepts of retailing (space, stock and cash management) and merchandising (inventory and range management and sales development), plus an exploration of consumer behaviour, an understanding of true proﬁtability, the fundamentals of category management, the adaptation and implementation of strategies, managing distribution channels, the importance of good supplier relationships and the impact of marketing.
Growing the Leadership Potential of B2C Executives
When customer interfacing employees are able to act in an autonomous manner, they build and develop skills of self-conﬁdence, resourcefulness and self-efﬁciency and generally become more resilient.
Statistically, where autonomy exists, workers feel more motivated and inspired to work upon their targets and, as a result, gain greater job satisfaction. Additionally, staff with well-developed emotional intelligence are able to recognize their emotions, understand what they are telling you and eventually realise how these emotions may affect the people that surround them including the all-important customers themselves. Needs, such as developing self-awareness, managing and developing emotions and the desire to understand how others feel and perceive, have made emotional intelligence key to success within the organization, especially when dealing with customers and suppliers.
Relevant skills include prioritisation of goals, alignment with organisational targets, proactive thinking, a robust decision-making process including the ability to assess the likely consequences, plus the ability to communicate skilfully, read buying signals and build a continuous rapport with customers.
Developing the Top Tier
Retail directors and customer experience heads are responsible for value creation in the minds of their organisations, teams and individuals. They must learn how to become positive value creators, since people that really understand value, prosper and people who do not fail.
This requires top management and directors to understand the concept of value and the approach to create total customer value; to be able to benchmark organisational systems against best practice standards; to be able to introduce new ideas at the workplace and infuse their organisation with a culture of innovation and ﬂexibility and nurture the willingness to take risks and explore new initiatives.
The B2C environment is more competitive than ever before so a few, mediocre and unsynchronised attempts at enhancing overall customer experience, rolled-out in an ad-hoc manner, are simply not enough to make a difference. To really impress and retain customers, organisations need to adopt a culture which is infused throughout the organisation. Achieving genuine customer intimacy requires cultural change, cascaded from the top as a coherent strategy which can be seen, heard and felt by customers and which empowers managers help delegates to be more customer intimate and which aligns delegates with the organisational strategy and endows them with the autonomy and authority to really make a tangible, uniﬁed improvement to every customer’s experience.
To impress and delight the one, single purpose of your daily work (the customer) is the primary goal and it can be achieved by developing a genuine and long-lasting connection with the customer – through customer intimacy.