Dear Customer: You're Allowed to Be Wowed



Brian Cantor
06/26/2012

So simple are the lessons offered by publications like Call Center IQ that brands’ perpetual inability to figure out customer-centricity never ceases to shock.

Committing to the notion of "wowing" the customer and prioritizing his satisfaction above all else is not a foreign concept. It is not rocket science. And yet for so many organizations led by so many intelligent, seasoned business professionals, what other conclusions could one reach? If creating a culture of customer-centricity were as straightforward as it seems, why would any business struggle to take the necessary steps?

We blame concepts like executive buy-in and organizational inertia, and even though that blame is actually valid in many cases, it is a thoroughly ludicrous concept. If the customer experience is our pathway to winning over customers and attracting their continued business, then how could a "business" executive even consider not investing in that experience? Who should care more about customer satisfaction than the professional who wants to drive revenue from that customer base?

These business leaders can only downplay the importance of the customer experience if they believe there are no stakes. And there can only be no stakes if customers are not holding the businesses accountable for the experiences they create.

Factoid after factoid reveals the supposed value customers place on service. They supposedly find themselves more loyal to brands that provide quality customer experiences. They halt progress on a purchase when they do not like the assistance they are receiving from the brand’s representatives. They switch providers if they feel their provider is not customer-centric.

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All of this is music to the ears of customer management professionals, who now not only have the intuitive connection between customer experience and revenue but also facts and figures in their back pockets. The customer experience really does impact the business and no stubborn CEO can tell me otherwise!

Where the issue breaks down, however, is on the matter of defining those quality experiences. Customers might vow to do more business with those brands who treat them right and sever ties with those who do not, but if their conception of being "treated right" is less extravagant than customer management professionals believe is necessary, garnering C-level support for those additional investments will be just as difficult.

A C-level would be irresponsible if it declined opportunities to use customer experience design to attract and retain more customers. But, and customer management professionals will not want to hear this, could not one also argue that they would be equally irresponsible if they approved funding for superfluous customer experience projects that have no additional impact on the business?

Remember Forrester principal Paul Hagen’s comment about customer experience not being about "Kumbaya" initiatives?

The issue, again, hinges on the extent to which customers hold businesses accountable for quality experiences. Do they want to be wowed—or do they simply not want to be treated poorly?

We know from the way brands like Disney and the Ritz-Carlton have cultivated loyal followings that going above and beyond for the customer matters. There is a reward associated with trying to win customers instead of merely appeasing them. But if customers stick with brands who blatantly do not go out of their way to do so, how can we expect budget-conscious brands to chase that reward?

Customer management is not Halloween. It is not a game of dress-up. I am not going to "be like Zappos" for the Hell of it—I need to know that being there will plug existing gaps in my customer experience and take my business to the next level.

When customers continue frequenting complacent businesses because of convenience, unwillingness to change or even actual satisfaction with the service levels they are receiving, they completely eliminate that call to action. They indeed make customer experience investments out to be wasteful "Kumbaya" endeavors.

And the audiences that facilitate this mediocrity are not necessarily of the uninformed or un-savvy variety.

Consider the "foodie blog" crowd that actively discusses lunch options in New York City’s Midtown neighborhood. This group will scrutinize every intricate detail of a food establishment till blue in the face, but when it comes to asking restaurants to better mitigate wait times, they generally hand out free passes. Similarly, the Department of Health’s system of grading restaurants based on meeting criteria for cleanliness and safety is routinely mocked by this crowd, which adheres to an "If the food is good, and I don’t get sick, why should I care what the letter grade is?"

Customers know what they want better than I do, and it is absolutely not my place to tell them they should urge restaurants to more diligently strive for that A cleanliness rating. But if a customer is content with a restaurant not taking every possible step to assure the food is safe and free of contamination, especially since the violations are clearly stipulated and easily remedied, he is certainly not sending the message that he wants that business to continue investing into "wow" factors for the customer. And without sending that message, he has no business expecting the restaurant to deliver that enhanced experience.

Or what about the recent issue with UFC’s upcoming event in Las Vegas, NV? When tickets first went on sale, the lineup was arguably the most impressive one the company had ever produced with two big title fights and a lot of marquee names on the undercard; prices, therefore, were inflated to as much as twice their usual value.

Due to a host of injuries to fighters, the lineup, while still strong, has been considerably watered down. And yet, when message board commenters, bloggers and analysts discussed whether UFC should offer some sort of make-good to those who paid the inflated fees for the event, an equally-vocal contingent of fans shot the idea down.

Arguments like "You’re still getting some great fights," and "You know all cards are subject to change" were waged in opposition to those "complaining" about their ticket purchases, and it is not as if they represented a Devil’s Advocate minority. Few were truly complaining about the situation, which speaks positively about the UFC audience’s loyalty but also negatively about its interest in demanding the brand "wow" them at every turn. Expectations were not that UFC create the most valuable experience possible; fans were only asking UFC to provide a justifiable one.

I, myself, frequently fall into this trap when buying breakfast at a local Dunkin’ Donuts. The only justification for the comically-obnoxious staff is that this Midtown Dunkin’ is actually the training ground for those who want to work at "Dick’s Last Resort." They irritatingly shout "How may I help you" without making eye contact or smiling at their customers. They never listen and ask if a customer wants coffee even when he specifically says "just the sandwich." They actually laugh at customers and make cracks under their breath. And yet, I like one of their breakfast sandwiches, so I put up with the treatment. I’m not demanding they wow me, so why should they?

I recognize the paternalism of this commentary. I also recognize its idealism.

But neither undermines its validity. The simple reality is that businesses care about driving revenue, and if they do not see a connection between customer experience investments and that revenue, they have no incentive to make the investments.

It is up to the customers to demand, with the threat of lost loyalty and lost business, they receive that dazzling experience from each and every brand they support. Due to years of complacency and ignorance to the role of customer-centricity, the standards for customer service are low, and many are content as long as the experience is not terrible. It does not need to be that way.

Elite organizations are showing that the customer experience is about the "wow," and customers vehemently support them because of it. And once these customers recognize that the delightful customer service need not be a treat offered by select organizations but a way of life for business—since the customer base retains all the power—they will drive all businesses to shape-up or close-up.

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