The Art of Customer Massage — Customer Service — Strategy Magazine April 27, 2000

On a couple of occasions, I’ve recently encountered the phrase “people want things that make their lives the way they wish they were”. To some extent , this phrase sounds as though a spin doctor has gone to work on the Golden Rule. On deeper reflection, the phrase implies that development of products and services based on extensions of present circumstances won’t work. In other words, the products and services that will satisfy the customers of the 90’s must be developed from a giant leap into the land of wishful thinking and then reverse engineered into reality. Reverse engineering is when you take a product apart in order to build it again, only better. Hardly revolutionary. Competitors have been doing it for years.

Imagine knowing what your customers are wishing for, perhaps even before they know it themselves.Think it’s impossible? Think again. In fact, it’s almost as simple as remembering god gave us one mouth and two ears, so we can, theoretically, listen twice as much as we talk.

Direct marketing techniques offer a multitude of opportunities to “listen” to customers and, consequently, learn what’s going on in their minds. The activity and performance can be measured through the tracking and recording of every aspect . Add the opportunity to build a database of the resulting information and you have a powerful system for constantly re-engineering your products and services. An old boss of mine said it best, “If you touch it (in any way), count it. If you count it, record it. If you record it, report it”.

So, what  and how should you measure (listen to) so that you’re ahead of the game in figuring out your customers wishes? First, you need commitment and a formalized system. It isn’t good enough to decide to count orders whenever somebody takes the notion. It’s only valuable information when you consistently count every single day without fail and record the information with any additional pertinent information (such as there was a huge snowstorm in Ontario and all the roads were closed). That way, next year, on the same day, you won’t be congratulating yourself that your business-to-business sales are up 200% year-over-year when the only difference is the weather!  And, guess what your customers told you that day? They told you that when it snows hard enough to keep them at home they want to take advanatage of it because they really wish they could stay home all the time.

Starting to figure out this wants and wishes thing? Good, because there’s more.

Not only do you have to count every last thing you possibly can, you want to hang onto the information in a formal, documented, plague, fire and weather-proof way! Does that mean a sophisticated computer system? No. Lack of computer systems is no excuse for not having a tracked, measured business. What ever happened to the good old paper and pen (not pencil) method? Tick sheets, fill-in forms, time sheets and call records that are tallied and summarized on a regular, predictable schedule will give you just as much information (probably faster) than your computer system.

Just for starters, a basic service/quality report should include:

  • the outcome of test orders placed with your company and your competitors. What better way to assess how well you’re doing than to be one of your own customers?
  • time it takes to process and ship each order, broken down into each step in the process
  • number of incomplete orders
  • delivery time to get the order to your customer
  • availability of stock
  • how often items are not available (back-ordered) and why
  • the average time a customer waits for a back-ordered item and how often they return it because they got tired waiting
  • how quickly phone calls are answered
  • length of phone calls
  • how many calls go on hold and inflict pre-recorded, mindless music or bafflegab on your customers
  • the professionalism, courtesy and helpfulness conveyed by your staff. Observed behaviour or monitored calls should be rated on a scale such as 1(low) to 10(high) with 7.5 being average and satisfactory.
  • the number of customer complaints and inquiries and what they’re about. These can usually be categorized under several common subjects.

That’s just a start. And, if it all seems like too much trouble, remember this: According to Technical Assistance Research Programs, the average business never hears from 96% of its unhappy customers; the average customer who has a complaint will tell 9 or 10 people about it; 13% of them will tell more than 20 people; of customers who complain, 50-70% will do business again if their complaint is resolved and 95% will return if they feel the complaint is resolved quickly. And, wouldn’t you know, after all that effort, customers who have complained and had complaints resolved satisfactorily will only tell an average of 5 people! That means there are four times as many people out there bad-mouthing your bad service as there are good-mouthing your good service! So, you better find ways to quadruple your positive service/quality quotient…fast!

Charles de Gruchy remembers how it was

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