25 January 2010

It's called Customer Service for a Reason!

You've probably heard about the "three moments of truth" for a brand: When you are first made aware of the product (or service); when you puchase the product; and when you first use it.

It's logical deduction, when you think about it. Yet too many brand marketers ignore the obvious imperative to focus their energies on delivering the goods at these three critical customer touchpoints. The consequences can be significant.

Numerous research studies have been conducted in this arena over the past two decades. While the findings may not be exactly similar from study to study, the correlation is tight enough to draw these conclusions:

20% of your customers deliver 80% of your revenue. (The Pareto principle.) 10% of your customers deliver 90% of your profit.

It costs 6 times more to acquire than to retain a customer.
It costs 12 times more to win back a dissatisfied customer.
98% of dissatisfied customers don't complain. They just leave.

A very satisfied customer, on average, will tell 6 other people.
A dissatisfied customer, on average, will tell 12 other people.
A very dissatisfied customer, on average, will tell 20 other people.

I'm going to prove this last statistic right now. This morning, I made a familiar trek to the Customer Service Centre of a top-tier technology company. My printer had conked out over the weekend, and I needed a functioning machine at home.

The customer service rep informed me that spare part support for this particular model had been discontinued. I could not get my printer repaired; but I was offered a trade-in promotion: $60 off the retail price of a newer model, which would be delivered to my home. Great! Except for one thing: Delivery would take up to 14 working days.

I made the point that as a freelance consultant, I needed a printer at home rather urgently; and asked if there was any way delivery could be expedited. I was told this was the jurisdiction of their Sales department, that I would have to contact them directly, and here was the toll-free number.

I stepped back from the counter, sat down, and made the call. Turns out the number connected me to a call centre rep in Australia, who had no jurisdiction over or interest in helping me further. I was directed to call another number; this connected me to a guy in Manila who, while more empathetic, could give me no real help. I was given a third number, unmistakably a Singapore line. Would you believe it: this connected me to the company's Singapore office receptionist, who directed me to contact their customer service centre. When I pointed out that I was sitting in the middle of said location, after having toured half the Asia-Pacific, I was finally given the number of their Sales department. I dialled the number, negotiated several automated menu options, was finally connected to a sales rep who was away from his/her desk and whose VM box was full. 45 minutes after I initiated the first call, I found I could not leave a message, and was cut off after a cheery "goodbye".

That company lost a customer today. The sad thing was that it was one of my former employers. What's even sadder, is that I'm sure numerous other organizations similarly fall by the wayside. They forget that their brand is porous; that without attention to detail, they can be left holding nothing of value.

How, then, can brand marketers avoid this 'leaky bucket' syndrome?

1. Integrate your brand strategy with the business strategy. Work to build networks of influence across functions and disciplines. You cannot hope to succeed by merely considering your own patch.

2. Don't just focus on the first 'moment of truth'; give due diligence to the second and third. This is especially critical if you're operating in the service industry.

3. Do all you can to build customer loyalty. Not just because of the costs of customer acquisition; but because loyal customers offer you a bigger share of their wallets, and often become your extended sales force.

Gotta go; I need to print something.

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