The decision that you have to make is whether customer centricity is an investment that promotes doing more rather than less for your customers.
Many organizations are undertaking efforts to better understand consumer activity as a way to onboard new customers and generate second sell opportunities.
Irrespective of the market that you play in, understanding what the customer expects and how you perform in meeting or exceeding those expectations can serve as a market differentiator in situations where you can close the gap.
While all of us would like to think that we have the best products and services to offer within our respective industry the reality is that it doesn’t really matter what we think if existing and prospective customers think otherwise.
In an effort to address some systemic service issues for a former employer in the insurance industry, I was asked to spend 3 months onsite at a major financial institution to address breakdowns in claims and service calls inbound to the insurer.
I met hundreds of employees in group and one-on-one sessions and often found that there were many disconnects between what we thought the customer needed and what they truly wanted. In essence, all too often companies assume they know what’s in the best interest of their customers, an assumption that can sometimes have adverse consequences. I decided to conduct a random survey and held a set of interviews with individuals in preparation for a future assignment. One interview was so compelling; I thought it would be worthwhile to share that discussion as a way to demonstrate the importance of understanding the customer experience.
The individual that I interviewed was “Margaret”, an active 81 year old woman who had a rewarding executive career with a major retailer in New York. She is someone who knows a thing or two about service and was a believer in retirement savings and insurance protection. She also stood out because of her prowess with social media and her embrace of all things web based. Read excerpts from the interview below, I think you might find the discussion relevant to customer initiatives that may be underway in your organization.
Gary: “Margaret, thanks for agreeing to this interview and allowing me to capture your thoughts around customer service. There are no limits around industry or products so I’d like you to simply jump in and share your thoughts and perspectives on the state of affairs as you see it when comes to customer service.”
Margaret: “Well, you may regret asking me for my thoughts. When I think of customer service, I think of words like aid, support, resolve, assist, focus, etc. Words that don’t seem to apply in today’s arena.”
Gary: “Why do you feel that these things don’t apply today?”
Margaret: ” It seems like companies today simply want to offer you half of a product and then ask you to spend the other half of your time doing what they should be doing. I assume that it has a lot to do with expenses and less resources but if I am buying a product then I should not have to go to a website and read a manual or call and get lost on pre recorded messaging if I need help.”
Gary: “Can you give me a specific example?”
Margaret: “Sure, last week I switched internet service providers and had trouble establishing a connection, so all of the “help” manuals on what to do online were useless. When I called for assistance I spent 10 minutes bouncing around the maze of messaging looking for a way to connect to a “live” individual. I made that call three times over the course of at least a half hour because I guessed at the problem, selected the option, received an answer and the call terminated. That’s not customer service.”
Gary: “How did you resolve the situation?”
Margaret: “I called a family member with internet access who did some research and found documentation online on how to fix the problem. The service tech had the modem on the wrong setting. That’s just one example Gary, there are many more, it just seems like once the purchase is made, no one cares after that. Not necessarily a bad thing if your product never breaks and no one has any questions.”
Gary: “I know I said that you could talk about any industry but let’s make this question more specific to Financial Services. I think it’s absolutely impressive the way you were able to raise your family after the loss of your husband—and be in a position to thrive financially after being retired for twenty plus years. Did you hit the lottery?”
Margaret: “No, I didn’t hit the lottery but I met an Insurance agent many years ago who sat in our home and talked about risks and savings and income and asset protection and he answered a lot of questions, never asked for a dime, which might have been the actual premium for one of the policies back then [laugh]. He made me, no he made us feel like we mattered and that was ultimately the reason why we purchased life insurance policies and eventually other financial products from that agent.”
Gary: “Interesting, you said that you purchased the products from the agent, not the company. Why?”
Margaret: “People make the company not the other way around. We trusted him and he was responsive to our questions and concerns right up until the day he retired. No phone call went unreturned and he acted in our best interest. Last month I had a question about an IRA and when I called for an answer, I actually got one even without all of my identifying information and the person made sure I had no other questions before hanging up. They were less robotic and more personable on the phone. I like this company and most of my investments remain with them.”
Gary: “As someone who has worked in the service industry why do you think service has deteriorated over the years?”
Margaret: “Well, part of me wants to say outsourcing but I think the reality is that companies are over relying on the customer to help impact their expense goals. Push as much as possible out to the customer, make them conform to your processes, charge them more for automation and limit contact once purchases are made. That seems to be the blueprint these days. Hey, if you need me to dust off the work clothes, I might be willing to come back and help you guys fix this stuff?”
Gary: “Margaret, I just may take you up on that offer. Thank you for your insights and feedback.”
As companies seek to better understand the relationships they have with existing customers, the real challenge is not in how quick you pick up inbound calls, or how fast you hang up the phone that will determine your success because those measurements are about a company’s internal satisfaction with execution. The real focus, the challenge that you must solve for, the decision that you will have to make is ultimately whether customer centricity is an investment that promotes doing more rather than less for your customers.
About the Author
Gary Garris has spent twenty plus years working in the insurance and financial services arena and leading voice of the customer and sales initiatives. He has a well rounded operational background in underwriting, sales, auditing, claims and application development.