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

The Art of Customer Massage or has anything really changed? Strategy Magazine June 21, 1993

The art and science of customer massage

There’s an old business adage that I used to see pinned up on office walls that goes “Quality, Price, Service–Pick Two”. Any business that still displays this (or, worse yet, believes in it) these days is surely an empty one with nothing left but the walls and the old maxims curled up and yellowing.

In the 90’s, product quality is quite simply the price of entry and price is, very often, negotiable, meaning you can hunt around till you find the price you’re willing to pay (or be a bully). As for service, if you haven’t learned any lessons from everything that’s been said and written on the subject in the last several years, then you’d better get busy because you could be facing an empty office, too some day soon. Why? Because quality of service is no longer a strong point of differentiation versus your competition either. Now, you might find this hard to believe, as I sometimes do when I go into some retail stores and can’t find anybody to take my money. Funny, how the windows of places like that seem to be getting papered over lately. Or, when I call up a business for information and get dizzy on the voice mail merry-go-’round.

In fact, according to research from the American Quality Foundation, a New York City think tank, less than 50 percent of quality practices add any tangible benefit, such as higher margins or faster turnaround times. What’s more, 30 percent of practices add no value at all. So, what’s next?

In a word–innovation. Now, there’s a challenge. Joshua Hammond, president of the American Quality Foundation believes innovation springs from a number of broad practices associated with outstanding companies. Among the most important of these practices is working to retain and recruit customers by building and maintaining relationships of trust. Enter direct marketing.

Now , you might be thinking, here comes that relationship marketing stuff. You’re right.

For example, why, when you’ve just spent an absolute fortune on a much-deserved ten days in the Caribbean do you not get a note, a call, a questionnaire or a carrier pigeon inquiring whether you were happy, had a good time, will ever come back again or have any ideas on how the holiday experience might be improved ? Difficult? No. Expensive? Not very, compared to a high-priced holiday. But, boy wouldn’t you feel differently about that travel company and, probably, use them again, next time?

Or, how about this one. You own a luxury car. It’s been making funny noises, so you take it to the dealership for service because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Right? . You leave it there at great inconvenience for a couple of days. You get it back. It’s still making noises. Two days later, on the weekend or in the evening, you get a polite, feminine phone call. (Of course, the luxury car company doesn’t do service on weekends or evenings. That would be too convenient!) “Luxury car company calling. How was your service?” Grateful for the attention you welcome the opportunity to provide feedback. “Lousy”, you reply at length. So, what happens next? You go through exactly the same cycle–several times. Why do you get the feeling that there’s a small army of sweet-voiced females calling people up just for fun asking them about their car service? Is this some new form of dating service?

Here’s another one. You had a different car you used to take to the dealership for service. They were very faithful about following up by phone after the servicing (just like the luxury car company) and, bonus, they always sent regular reminders about when service was due. Only problem is, three years have gone by, you sold the car two years ago and they’re still sending the reminder notices.

Unfortunately, all three of these stories are true.

In the case of the holiday, I guess innovation has yet to enter the holiday market. In the second instance, the notion of following up to check on service quality is innovative by many standards, but, hardly meaningful when the message evaporates into the ether. And, in the last case, the approach is reasonably innovative. There’s a resident database there somewhere (like you’re supposed to have) full of valuable information churning out letters at a regular and timely rate. Points for having the database. No points for the currency or value thereof.

Thoughts for today: innovation, customer relationship bulding, use of direct marketing techniques. Moral for today: use it, but, don’t abuse it. You’ll lose it. Your customer, that is.

Charles de Gruchy remembers how it was