Why is it that some companies have to be attacked by stiff competition before they start paying attention to their customers? Nowhere is this more evident than in Bell’s current frenzy to introduce a myriad of offers, services and options. It leads me to wonder how we were ever able to live without all these wonderful things, once upon a time, when the choices for voice communication were between Ma Bell or two tin cans and a piece of string. Why didn’t Bell care so much about our business then? Need I ask? They say, a little competition is healthy for everyone. At that rate, Bell must be getting healthier every day! I’ve never had so much attention from them. Just the other day I got a wonderfully warm and friendly letter that went like this:
“Dear Customer”: (even though the address was personalized), “My name is Sandy Davis. I’m a manager with Bell Customer Service Centre and I’m writing to you for several reasons. The first is to thank you for using Bell Call Answer Services…I want you to know that you’re important to us and we really appreciate your business”. So, Sandy, it’s nice to be appreciated. What took so long?
There was more.
“Secondly, we’d like you to think of us as a resource, as well as a supplier. At the Bell Customer Service Center, we want to respond to the needs of our customers. In order to help you better, we’d like to make our relationship more interactive. I think you’ll agree that we’ve found an interesting way to make this happen”. Now, it is nice to be appreciated but, Sandy and I, we’d only just met and this seemed like rushing things a bit , although, I must say, by this time I was beginning to wonder. Is this Sandy a man, maybe? Tall? Good looking?
The letter went on, “My problem right now is that I don’t know how to help you specifically. We haven’t had the chance to talk”. Why not? Sandy, dear, you have my number! ”
My hopes were soon dashed. (Besides, I’m happily married. )
Sandy continued, “I don’t know as much about your business as I’d like to. I certainly don’t want to just send you a shopping list of all our services…but I do want to see if there’s some meaningful way I can augment your business…That is why we’ve created a brief response form designed to help us learn more about your needs and preferences”. After more friendly phrases about sharing experiences and viewpoints and thanking me repeatedly, Sandy signed off with “I’m looking forward to receiving your response and to the opportunity of getting to know you better.” Did this mean Sandy was suggesting, dare I say it, forming a customer relationship?
Enclosed was a one-page survey form
The first question asked me to rank the relative importance to my business of areas such as generating new business, building customer relationships, providing quality service, controlling costs and managing time. I guess Bell must have the luxury of choosing among these issues and, besides, how will the fact that all of the above are extremely important to me help them get to know me and my business better? The survey went on to ask such as things as whether I viewed the role of telecommunications in my business as operational, strategic or both, what my business growth outlook is over the next 18 months, how many calls I receive in a day and how often someone is available to take calls and, oh yes, how satisfied I am with my relationship with Bell. Interestingly, the only choices given for answering the latter were Somewhat, Moderately or Extremely–behind that one the operative philosophy must be that no bad news is good news.
Not one question asked me directly anything about my business telephone needs. And, here that rascal Sandy led me to believe that, at last, somebody really wanted to know what I, as a customer, wanted. Oh well, maybe next time.
Or maybe there won’t be a next time. No matter what the sector, the message from today’s competitive environment is simple. If you’re not making friends with your customers before somebody else comes along and does it, you’re probably too late. And, if you really want to know what your customers really think, don’t be afraid to ask them questions the answers to which you may not like, but, you’ll know the truth! Why wait till your customers vote with their chequebooks?
Charles de Gruchy remembers how it was