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How to lose a customer in 30 seconds

Wow. I just got off the phone with Jason at HP printer tech support who has to have been the rudest tech support person I’ve EVER worked with, and I’ve dealt with a lot of Chief Customer Officers who run many of the Fortune 500 call centers.

I called to follow up on a ticket I had opened way back in April of 2010 that had never been followed up on. I’ve spent countless hours in workarounds since then. In short, the Mac bottom margin is 0.46″, and the PC bottom margin is 0.13″, so all my footers are clipped when printing from my Mac.

Jason’s words were: “We don’t have to make printers work on the Mac. All we have to do under warranty is make sure that it prints on the PC.” to which I replied that I’m only trying to get the printer to print to the advertised specs.

“You’re comparing apples to oranges. What works on a PC may not work on a Mac. We’re not responsible for all the different settings and configurations.”

I’m simply trying to get it to print to specifications–this isn’t an issue of arcane configurations.

“Well, you’re limiting yourself by using a Mac.”

Wow. Are you telling me that you don’t support Mac? Full bleed printing works just fine on my Canon printer.

“You can’t expect us to copy Canon drivers. We don’t do that.”

I’m not expecting you to copy Canon drivers, I’m only expecting you to support the advertised specifications on your printer.

I asked for a supervisor, and was denied. I asked for his employee ID number and was denied. I asked for his last name and was denied. I threatened to escalate to Ann Livermore, with whom I’ve had previous discussions and he said, “You just go ahead and do that.”

HP, I used to love you. A lot. But now I’m not so sure.

Oracle’s Jeb Dasteel Awarded 2009 Chief Customer Officer of the Year

Contact:

Curtis N. Bingham
(978) 952-0047
Predictive Consulting Group, Inc
Founder, Chief Customer Officer Council
curtis@predictiveconsulting.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Oracle’s Jeb Dasteel Awarded
2009 Chief Customer Officer of the Year Award

Announcing the formation of the Chief Customer Officer Council

LITTLETON, MASS., July 8, 2009 – Customer loyalty is the Holy Grail for many businesses, yet in most organizations, nobody is accountable for loyalty improvement in the executive suite.

“The key to business success, particularly in a down economy, is anticipating customer needs and continuously deepening customer relationships,” according to Jeb Dasteel, Chief Customer Officer (CCO) of Oracle, who was named the 2009 Chief Customer Officer of the Year last month at the first ever Chief Customer Officer Summit. Read more »

Stop chasing “sexy” customers

I just stumbled on a YouTube video of Susan Boyle, the overweight, dowdy singer that shocked the judges of Britain’s You’ve Got Talent TV show with her spectacular voice.  The judges were openly derisive before she performed, and gave her a standing ovation afterward.  The video is touching–watch it, even if you aren’t into music or TV.

In explaining the surprise,  Colette Douglas Home, a writer for The Herald in the UK says

Only the pretty are expected to achieve. Not only do you have to be physically appealing to deserve fame; it seems you now have to be good-looking to merit everyday common respect.

How often do we chase after the “sexy” customers–those who work for the upper echelon companies, those that have the greatest story to tell, or those who are constantly in the news–hoping that our star might rise with them?

Nearly every company I work with has their marquis accounts, and most all of these are unprofitable and should be jettisoned.  They are kept because of their “sexiness” and people put up with all kinds of abuses because of their status as a marquis account.  Some of my clients have actually improved profitability as a result of letting a particularly bad customer go.

Look beyond the “sexy” customers.  Find those customers that truly value what you have to offer.  Find those hidden and extremely profitable customers that really deserve what you have to offer–and are willing to pay you appropriately.  You’ll be more profitable and your employees will be happier for not having to deal with bad behavior that so many marquis accounts exhibit.

Don’t make this same mistake in asking for referrals

I received this in my email today:

Hi Curtis,

We hope you are doing well. We have not received any project from you for long time. Please send us your project. Also we would highly appreciate if you can recommend our service to your friends and colleagues.

Kind regards,
<name removed>

Aaargh!  I know that the author’s command of English is getting in the way here, but looking beyond that, there are a couple of things wrong here:

  1. The author hasn’t spoken with me in a long time, and just now is reconnecting, perhaps when business is down.
  2. Without regards to what my business is doing, he asks for a project.  Do I have a project for him?  He doesn’t have a clue.  He’s just trolling, hoping that I might
  3. Oh, by the way, recommend me to all your friends.

Does this remind you of the multi-level marketing folks?  They don’t care about the relationship, all they want are your friends.

At the core of my problem with this request is the fact that I stopped using this vendor because I wasn’t satisfied with their work. Consequently, his well-wishes fall on deaf ears, the request for new work is flatly denied, and the admonition to recommend him to all my friends is insulting.

Contrast this with another call that I received last week.  I interviewed this fellow for about an hour on behalf of one of my clients and I have spoken with him at a couple of events, but we’ve never done business.

“Curtis, what are you seeing happening with your clients during these tough times?”

“Every deal is taking longer to close.  People are afraid of buying.”

“Yeah, I’m seeing the same thing.  Lately I’ve been successful in closing a couple with something I just learned.  Are you interested in hearing what I did?”

“Of course!”

He proceeded to tell me what he had found that seemed to be working, and helped me see how it might work for me.  Only after helping me did he then ask to see if I would be interested in looking into each of our client lists to see if there might be names he could share with me and vice versa to help us complement each other.    By that time, I was more than happy to do so.

To make a referral program work, you must have three core elements in place:

  1. You must have delivered stellar results.  Unless you’re dealing with completely apathetic or immoral people, nobody will make a recommendation unless they’re completely and totally ecstatic about the product/service you delivered (or unless there isn’t another choice in the marketplace and you are forced to settle for the least of two evils).  Make sure that you avoid those who’ve had a miserable experience, lest they be reminded of the bad experience and tell others about it.
  2. You must have a relationship.  Without a relationship of some sort, the only way someone might consider recommending you is if you paid them to do so, which sometimes happens (think, “Win a free vacation if you pimp your friends!”).  Right now, many businesses are hurting and the best thing to do is to revisit past clients to re-establish the relationships so that then and only then can you ask for referrals.
  3. You must articulate what makes a good referral for you

In a down economy like this, it makes perfect sense to go back to your customers, vendors, prospects, friends, and relatives and solicit referrals.  When you do so, ensure that you focus on rebuilding the relationship first.  Even if it takes another week, month, or more.  Offer to do or share something that the recipient values.  Once you’ve reestablished the relationship, then and only then can you ask for the referral.  Make it easy for them by being exceedingly clear about what you’re looking for.  Ask if they can think of 2-3 names that they think might get the same value out of your services.  And make sure you say thank you.  Rewarding those who provide referrals in an appropriate way is the best way to make sure they give you more names the next time.

Seeking Input on Customer Advisory Boards

I’m writing a section in my Customer Strategy book on advisory boards and have a couple of examples that are compelling, but dated.  I’m looking for something equally insightful and more recent.  What noteworthy (or profitable!) insights have you gleaned from executive or customer advisory boards that have influenced your strategic direction?

Send me an email and I’ll be happy to call at your convenience to discuss further.

5 Steps of the Customer Loyalty Hierarchy

In a recent discussion on LinkedIn, Shaun Mooney said he thought the first step in Customer Loyalty is the product.

I think that the more appropriate statement is that the first step in the “transaction” is the product, and the first step to loyalty is the emotional connection created through the customer experience.  Read more »

How Vulnerable are Your Customers? (part 6)

In my previous blog post I described the current situation:  Now more than ever, your customers are being bombarded by competitive offers and even some of your most loyal customers are actually listening to your competitors.

Your customers are vulnerable.  What can you do about it?

The last thing you need to do is consider what would happen if you let go of your most unprofitable customers?

While the vast majority of your customers are most likely value neutral, the real treasure lies in the extremes surrounding the neutral zone as shown in this chart.  I’ve written in the past that not all customers are created equal.  One research study found that 20% of customers created 220% of profits, and Booz Allen Hamilton suggests that as many as 25% of your customers may actually be destroying value.

The top 15-20% of your customers are most likely generating the majority of value and need to be kept at all costs.  Once you’ve figured out how to ensure your best customers remain loyal, the next challenge lies with the Value Destroyers.

One of my clients analyzed their customers and found that a handful of customers were blatantly abusing technical support, calling as often as 35 times in a single day.  While the technology issues that may warrant such a need to call are a significant but different issue, the fact that the maintenance fees could in no way compensate for such high call volume.

You need to figure out how to readjust the value balance, which may include charging more appropriately for the services they use, shunting customers to self-service channels, fixing glaring problems that invariably lead to a customer service call, migrate high-cost sales people to higher-potential prospects, etc. If you cannot realign value, then these customers might just need to be let go.  This is a difficult decision to make, but the simple act of removing a customer from the system might boost profits as they are no longer draining resources. Not to mention the fact that your precious (and fewer) resources will be freed up to better service the Value Creators.

By focusing on these five things, you’ll be able to develop a customer strategy that maximizes profitability as it protects your best and most profitable customers.  By focusing on preserving profitability, you can not only weather the storm, but even thrive as you focus your marketing and sales efforts on your most profitable prospects.  With clear insight into what customers value augmented by enabling technology, you can maintain strong customer relationships and prepare yourself well for the inevitable rebound.

In the meantime, if you would like help in identifying and keeping your best customers, as well as revitalizing sales in a challenging economy, you might benefit from our new Customer Snapshot program.

How Vulnerable are Your Customers? (part 5)

In my previous blog post I described the current situation:  Now more than ever, your customers are being bombarded by competitive offers and even some of your most loyal customers are actually listening to your competitors.

Your customers are vulnerable.  What can you do about it?

The third thing you need to do is find prospects trading downwards–into your market.

If you’re like most companies, you have prospects that have told you that “you weren’t big enough to support their needs.” They may have sneered at your lack of credentials, capabilities, etc. and ended up going up-market to your larger competitor.  Those prospects you thought were lost are now your best chance for profitable new customers.

These prospects are disillusioned with the lack of service they’re receiving from your larger competitors who’ve slashed staff.  They’ve decided that perhaps they don’t need the most glamorous PR agency–and the decidedly unglamorous fees.  Or perhaps they’ve decided that the biggest, bestest, and fastest computer hardware isn’t actually as necessary as they thought.  They are considering trading downwards, and your goal needs to be to present them with the perfect value for their newly defined equation.

Where do you find these?  You start with all of the lost opportunities in your CRM system where they had budget? but you lost out to a competitor.  You start scanning your competitor’s websites and their PR announcements to find their customer lists. And you call to find out if they are interested in receiving greater value and much greater personal attention than they are receiving now.

In the next post we’ll continue with the last of five things you need to consider as you adjust your Customer Strategy.

In the meantime, if you would like help in identifying and keeping your best customers, as well as revitalizing sales in a challenging economy, you might benefit from our new Customer Snapshot program.

How Vulnerable are Your Customers? (part 4)

In my previous blog post I described the current situation:  Now more than ever, your customers are being bombarded by competitive offers and even some of your most loyal customers are actually listening to your competitors.

Your customers are vulnerable.  What can you do about it?

The third thing you need to do is Leverage technology to do more with less.

I was speaking last week with the CEO of iLantern, a Boston-based company that helps salespeople discover potential sales “triggers” or events that typically lead to business within their target accounts.  Their technology scours public information sources for these triggers and automatically alerts sales reps.  The technology is brilliant, perhaps in a way that iLantern doesn’t even realize.  When you have fewer sales reps covering a larger number of accounts, there isn’t time to pour over the Wall Street Journal or the huge number of trade rags every morning to find out what customers, prospects, and competitors are doing.  Nor is there time to send a personal message to your customer, congratulating them on a recent win. Or to send a personal introduction to a prospect that just announced a new initiative that you are uniquely capable of helping them with.  Without technology like iLantern’s in this time-starved sales environment sales people become order takers rather than relationship builders.  Which means that deals are won on price, not value. Which means lower profits.

The customers of a Point of Sale (POS) software client told me they have shaved hours off of their daily order processing times in their restaurants, enabling their servers to spend more time with their customers.  Having enjoyed a much better overall experience , customers continued to return and spend even more.

Now is the time to focus your efforts on using enabling technology to do more with technology to make up for the people that you’ve lost.  You can’t afford to allow the precious customer relationships to languish and sour.  By automating processes to allow the remaining employees to focus on customer-facing activities that customers truly value, you can keep relationships alive and the deal flow healthy.

In the next post we’ll continue with the last of five things you need to consider as you adjust your Customer Strategy.

In the meantime, if you would like help in identifying and keeping your best customers, as well as revitalizing sales in a challenging economy, you might benefit from our new Customer Snapshot program.


How Vulnerable are Your Customers? (part 3)

In my previous blog post I described the current situation:  Now more than ever, your customers are being bombarded by competitive offers and even some of your most loyal customers are actually listening to your competitors.

Your customers are vulnerable.  What can you do about it?

The second question you need to ensure you can answer is, “Why do your customers buy?  What are their core value drivers?”

If you know the exact answer to this, you are ahead of many executives in businesses small and large. So many times we suppose we know the answer and are surprised when we find the real answer. In a previous blog post entitled, “Why Don’t You Understand Your Customers?”, I described a Fortune 20 company in the midst of a worsening downward spiral of customer defections and plummeting margins, all because they were marketing services their customers didn’t understand and didn’t value.

Customers buy for one or more of the following basic reasons:

  1. Increase revenue
  2. Decrease costs
  3. Mitigate risks
  4. Assuage emotions

The more of these Customer Value Drivers you can address at the same time, the more compelling your value to your customers.

To confirm that you know why your customers buy, you need to ask them. Pick a large handful of your best customers and go talk to them. Ask them the following simple questions:

  1. Why they buy from you vs. from a competitor
  2. What they value the most (or, if everything else were stripped away, what are the key things that would keep them from leaving)
  3. How your products and services help them satisfy the aforementioned value drivers?

By asking these questions, you will learn the real reasons why your customers buy.  Most importantly, you’ll learn the critical aspects of your products and services that you cannot afford to cut lest you jeopardize the relationship beyond repair.

In the next post we’ll continue with the third of five things you need to consider as you adjust your Customer Strategy.

In the meantime, if you would like help in identifying and keeping your best customers, as well as revitalizing sales in a challenging economy, you might benefit from our new Customer Snapshot program.