How to Deal with Difficult Customers

Customers can be really difficult sometimes. Sure, it would be great if we could just make those customers just disappear…but that’s just unrealistic. Unsatisfied customers are extremely likely to spread their frustrations faster than you could ever hope to keep them quiet especially in this age of easy web access.

Instead of treating these difficult customers as a burden, try seeing it as a business opportunity for change. Negative customer feedback should always be taken as areas of growth. In a 1to1media article, it is pointed out that some companies actually “seek to understand what issues consumers keep encountering so they can adjust their approach and improve the customer experience for all.” Imagine that! Companies that are actually interested in what you the customer, is frustrated with!

Ok so how should you deal with “difficult” customers?

  1. Address their concerns: First and foremost, when customers are facing difficulties with your company, they want to feel acknowledged. Customers want to know that they are important and that their concerns will be addressed. By addressing customer concerns, you show that you are taking responsibility over it. Rather than patching up a common issue, “brands must look to the primary causes if they hope to rectify the situation.”

  2. Always put the customer first: This might be a difficult one for some because this means that no matter what cost and no matter what choice the customer may make in the end, their interests come first. There will be times when a customer will chose your competitor over you. Instead of leaving them with a bad taste in their mouth, make the customer’s experience with you a positive one, until the very end. Being extremely honest with your customers about where they can find better priced or better suiting plans/products will result in raving fans who will tell your story for years even though they aren’t exactly “with” you. That is far more valuable than an unhappy customer kept with a dishonest company that cannot provide what they desire.
  3. Don’t forget your internal customers: By internal customers, we mean your employees. Your employees are just as valuable as your external (end) customers for they are what makes your company work. They are the frontline staff and the “face” of the company. The morale of these internal customers are especially important since they communicate this throughout the organisation through their work. Therefore, support your staff while they deal with difficult customers especially when they are confronted with abusive behaviour. This will encourage “them to advocate for the brand and offer superior customer service, as they can rest assured that the company at hand is certainly one for which they want to work.”

Read the 1to1media article here. 

Transparency = Competitive Advantage

How can transparency become your competitive advantage?
We’ve broken it down to three areas that you can bring in transparency into your company so that you can transform it into your competitive advantage and why.

Transparency in:

  • How much your colleagues are earning: Transparency on the cost structure of your company can prove to create an incredible bond of trust within the organisation. This not only shows how much each position earns but clearly explains why. No one is left out and there are no hidden deals behind closed doors, which gives employees a sense of clear direction and certainty.
  • What your colleagues are doing: This helps employees keep track of where they are personally on a project but also what areas their colleagues are tackling, how much time they’re spending on it which holds people accountable to certain tasks. “In addition to sharing daily learnings and progress, everyone on the team also shares where they struggled and how they’re trying to improve.” This can be used to help people become more efficient and part of the team.
  • What your business goal is: Having a clear business goal that is apparent to both your internal customers and your external customers makes a statement about your company. Not only does the world know that, Google’s company mantra is “Don’t be evil”, but it is something that they will be held accountable for. Similarly, you will have to stand by your business goal and this gives your company a great amount of transparency and therefore trust in your brand.

“When you’re treating employees well, transparency is a very simple proposition–it’s just telling people what you do…it’s as easy as telling the truth.”

Read more on transparency in your business here. 

Being a Meaningful Brand

“Make consumers’ lives better.”

This is what businesses and brands must do. Makes sense, doesn’t it? More often than not, brands fail to meet this need. A Co.Exist article discusses the need for brands today to create meaningful lives. Umair Haque, blogger from Harvard Business Review claims, “The next global economy isn’t just about stuff, it’s about human lives.” Over time, what consumers look for in a brand has drastically changed over time from what the product does to how it makes you feel to who you are. Today it is about making a better you.

The marketplace is cluttered with businesses that sell “throwaway” products in the name of consumerism and brands that are stained with negative experiences, making it difficult for anyone with a conscience to associate with. There are however, amidst it all, brands that do it right. These are the customer centric businesses that genuinely want to improve the livelihood of its customers.

“Your customers, are beginning to take a quantum leap into an era where a life meaningfully well lived is what really counts.”

In order to keep up in this era, some brands may have to undergo internal rebuilding so that fulfilling the customer’s desire for a more meaningful life is achievable. This might mean realigning your core values with your customers and creating a cultural change within your work place that focuses on your customers’ ultimate need. Keep up with the new era of change and be the brand that is far more meaningful than ever before, be the brand that makes your customers’ lives better. At Proto Partners we can help you to do this. Our goal is to “help organisations enrich the lives of customers, one customer experience at a time.” hence making a more meaningful brand.

The Omnichannel Retail Experience

Retails stores worldwide struggle with the threat of online shopping. In our previous post, we looked at how retail stores can include mobiles in their customer experience. However, what are the other channels that retail can explore? What are other ways that retail can stay relevant? Is it possible to have an omnichannel retail experience?

John Lewis, a department store in Great Britain has proved that it is possible. The retailer has offered numerous innovative shopping experiences through digital channels explains Natalie Brandweiner in a MyCustomer article.

We already know the popularity of mobiles worldwide and throughout generations today. John Lewis has utilized this well by providing an app to complement the customer journey in stores. The app allows customers to scan barcodes and to place new orders for stock. Their “Click-and-Collect” service has also proven to be a success in creating their omnichannel presence. Andy Street from John Lewis justifies, “We know that about 60% of our customers buy both online and in shops so the approach is to make it absolutely seamless … So they can research in one place and shop in the other, they can buy in one place and pick up in the other – the art of sales is consistent across channels…They’re not even supposed to know or see or realize which channel they’re using because it’s one overall customer offer.” 

So how can retail compete for their existence? Install an omnichannel experience that’s relevant to your company where “all purchase channels are seamlessly connected, therefore allowing consumers more flexibility and convenience.”

Read more here.

The Debate on how to be Customer Centric

A blog post by Wim Rampen discusses an article titled: “Customer Centricity, still in its infancy”. Wim Rampen believes that a CEM (Customer Experience Management)/CRM (Customer Relationship Management) strategies aren’t a necessity or a simple solution for companies to become customer centric. His argument claims that small businesses can be customer centric and therefore it can work on a large scale as well meaning that a CEM/CRM strategy does not need to be in place.

Customer Centricity, we believe, is a result of a cultural change made in a business. This  change is one that has been mutually agreed upon and delivered through every aspect of the business. People are the heart of any organisation and when those people put people first (their customers), the organisation becomes truly customer centric. This is a result of clear, comphrehensive and sustainable customer orientated goals and training.

Businesses without a clear direction or understanding of their customers often have difficulty in becoming customer centric. Proto Partners help companies to uncover their customers’ wants and needs, areas where improvement is most needed (and will yield profits) and ways it can be implemented.

Read Wim’s post here. 

Why Companies get Strategy Wrong

In an interview with Business Insider, P&G’s Ex-CEO A.G. Lafley explains the main reasons people get strategy wrong.

Businesses and people don’t like to make choices
If people don’t make choices to change at all, how do they expect to make a difference? Lafley mentions that “choices are the core of strategy.” However, most people fear decision making because it is difficult and requires a lot of risk taking. This stops them from bringing their company forward with an efficient strategy. 

Companies go halfway and don’t fully develop a strategy
Rather than of not making choices at all, some companies have decided with a strategy but don’t fully fulfill it. Lafley suggests that companies go all or nothing when it comes to carrying out a strategy and explains that “strategy is five choices…What is winning; where am I going to play to win; how am I going to win where I play; where are my core competencies that are going to enable me to win where I play; and what management systems and measures are going to help me execute my strategies?”

Companies have to define an ideal future in strategic terms, limit the field rather than try to please everybody, decide on the best strategy for that market, discover and use what they’re best at, and determine how to support and measure its people as they carry out the strategy.

Companies must identify their ideal strategy that is best for their market, what their strongest points are and work specifically on those.

Strategy requires the on boarding of everyone in an organization. It is in a sense, a cultural change where staff is onboard and working together to make those difficult choices together and completely act on them to move forward.

Read the full article here. 

Is customer focus overrated?

I thought it is always useful to look at alternative points of view regarding customer focus. Below is the first part of a good article by Professor Martin Koschat from IMD in Switzerland. He makes a good case that not every company needs to rely on being customer focused to be successful. Although correct, you need to either be so operationally excellent that you can achieve a price advantage on a sustainable basis or you have an innovation pipeline Steve Jobs would be envious of. For everyone else, being customer centred and using a Service Design approach to understanding, designing and executing a great service experience is a great choice if you wish to keep more customers who spend more with you every year.

There is no shortage of extremely successful companies with business models that critically depend upon a high degree of customer proximity and the ability to generate detailed insights into customers’ needs, wants and behaviors – those buying habits and attitudes pivotal in shaping and directing the whole organization. In other words, companies that are customer centric. Yet, there are also many successful companies that don’t go out of their way for customer proximity. By looking at companies that operate on both ends of the spectrum, it becomes clear that customer centricity is not a virtue.

It is well known that BMW delivers superb engineering. Perhaps less well known is the fact that BMW tightly controls the supply chain downstream by owning most wholesale operations and many of its retail outlets. By doing this, BMW enforces, and ensures, the uniformly high level of service befitting a top luxury brand. At the same time, this proximity to the consumer provides direct and timely insights into consumers’ shifting perceptions and tastes.

Nordstrom, a US department store chain, consistently ranks at the top in terms of customer satisfaction surveys. Shopping is made to be a rewarding experience. Nordstrom’s personnel is carefully selected and trained to help customers along the path of finding what they want or need and, in the process, identify and present new products they never knew they needed. Invariably, customers often leave a Nordstrom store with more than what they had planned on buying. The level of Nordstrom’s customer engagement is in line with the retailer’s sales strategy.

For the balance of the article, please click here.

Build a Better Business Model – and apply to new Services

A good podcast on building better business models, an increased focus for us at proto partners this coming year. Click here to hear the podcast on the HBR blog. A lot of the Discovery work we undertake is often uncovering new business (service) opportunities by changing the business model for the new proposition. It is clear that the Business Value that accrues to the organisation that is open to investigating new value chains is an opportunity for Service Design to quantitatively demonstrate not only customer, but business value.

Featured Guest: Rita McGrath, Columbia Business School professor and coauthor of Discovery-Driven Growth. Her interview, When Your Business Model Is in Trouble, appears in the January-February issue of HBR.