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Brands Beware! We can turn the tables on You!

September 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Complaining about a brand, that fails to deliver on its promise on social media is now a given. A consumer has now taken this practice to a totally new level.

When businessman Hasan Syed got fed up with the inept handling of his complain about his father’s lost luggage, he decided to take action against the airline. Rather than just tweeting his complain, he decided to promote the tweet. He chose the market that hurts the airline the most – New York & UK.

@rubigodi@BritishAirways@British_Airways Yes. I’m promoting my tweets to all BA followers since their Customer Service is horrendous.

—  (@HVSVN) September 2, 2013

Though this has cost him a thousand dollars, he has hurt the brand much more than that.

Whats even more hilarious is the response that he got. BBC reports that the airline indicated that their tweets are only monitored during working hours only.

This idea of using the same technology that brands use to target customers to turn against them was truly ingenious. Now imagine if there are more customers who start following Hasan and turn to technology against the very same corporates and brands, every one of such actions will damage the brand much more than what it would cost to avoid the mistakes.

In this world, world class execution doesn’t become a competitive advantage but table stakes. Speed of response to any complain becomes even more critical, which means that brands need to develop rapid response teams. This also means that the front line employees and their importance for brands  becomes even more critical as any slip ups from them could snowball into a major catastrophe for a brand if they don’t respond and contain it swiftly.

This definitely pushes brands to start planning their move towards becoming a real-time enterprise.

The critical question here is will there be enough people who use this option to create a critical mass that can push brands to get their act together. I guess we will get to know about it sooner than later!

Till then, brands beware! Tables could turn against you anytime!

Two Kinds of Loyalty Programs

September 10, 2013 1 comment

There are two types loyalty programs that a brand can run:

  1. Bought Loyalty: All loyalty programs that rely on points and freebies against the points are trying buy loyalty through these freebies and lock-ins. For example, flight operators want to lock people in with their Frequent Flier Plans. This is the reason, that you find customers of these organizations complain about the service provided but at the same time continue to use their services. These kinds of programs are in reality not creating loyalty. All they are doing is dangling the carrot in front of the customer and thereby encouraging repeat behavior.
  2. Earned Loyalty: These are programs that are designed with the ultimate goal of making their customers relate to them emotionally. Most often, these encompass everything from product/service development, marketing and sales execution. Building this kind of loyalty is much more difficult, takes a lot of thought and time.

I would not argue that one is better than the other. However, it is important that as a brand we know what kind of loyalty programs we are running and act accordingly. In my opinion, the cost of running both kinds of programs work out to be similar in the long term.

If you are running a loyalty program of the 1st kind, it is important that you focus on the efficiency of the program and put in place processes that ensure flawless execution. The most important reason why a customer will move out of the program is if the execution starts to fall apart. That is when the lock-in seems to start hurting and customers start considering other options.

If you are running a loyalty program where you want to earn customer loyalty, you need to continuously work on improving employee engagement & empowerment, minute attention to details and flawless execution would be the areas to focus on.

If you want to develop customer loyalty as your competitive advantage, you need to be able to do both of these programs well. You will ensure that your customers are able to take the benefits of the freebies more often than any other similar programs offer; have products or services that they aspire for but do not generally buy by themselves in the freebies, etc. You have processes and systems in place that allow your employees (highly engaged employees) to delight your customers with their service levels. That is when, your customers will find that you are not only easy to do business with but are also a delight to do business with. This is when, you would have turned customer loyalty into a competitive advantage that your competitors will find very difficult to replicate/surpass.

Do understand your loyalty program and focus accordingly to make the maximum impact for your customers as well as your organization.

Do let me know your thoughts on this matter by commenting below.

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PS: A tale of a Cab driver told by Shep Hyken

 

Lessons in Great Customer Service from Richard Branson:

Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the call.

August 20, 2013 2 comments

How many times have we heard this and felt the exact opposite. I hate listening to some automated machine telling me that the company thinks my call is important to them and yet they put me on hold for more than 5 mins.

Has the company’s senior management ever waited for 5 mins on a call to register a complaint or to seek more information or ask a question?

So, what can we do to totally avoid this situation.

  1. Hire more agents. Train them well.
  2. Provide an option to request for a call back before going on hold. Make sure this works. All the time.
  3. As I have indicated in an earlier post, the most important people in a company are not its executives working out of their corner offices in the ivory towers. It’s the front-line employees, who interact, serve and sell to your customers. If they are taken care of, your customers will never be taken care of and soon enough you might not have a business to worry about. So, hire, train and retail quality people as your front-line staff.
  4. Most of your inbound calls are about the same few things. Use this to identify these few things and find ways to eliminate the need for your customers to call you for them. If it’s a recurring complaint, find a way to fix it. Fast. If it is a request for information, make sure that it is available for all your customers easily. Make sure that it is shared with your customers pro-actively.
  5. Change your on-hold music to the recording of Jerry Seinfeld entertaining people or something similar. Make sure that you have something that can bring a smile to the callers who are waiting for your team to respond to the call.
  6. If you’re closed, clearly inform the hours that you are open and the relevant websites. Also, provide an option to request for a call back. Make sure the information is accurate.
  7. Create an opportunity for the customer to provide instant feedback, while still being on the call. If you get a negative feedback, reach out to the customer immediately to identify and resolve the issue. Every single time.

Most of these are very simple policy and process changes that can be initiated quickly.

Once you implement these changes, you will find that your customers & employees are happier; your employee and customer retention rates are either increasing or is stable and the cost to service your customers is going down.

Do you think you can add to this list, ideas that could be implemented quickly and will have the desired effect – happier customers? Do share them by commenting below.

You can also connect with me on twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook.

PS: Something extra for you: An over the top funny short film titled “Your call is important to us”. Enjoy!

 

Do Your Customers Feel Being Bullied?

April 15, 2013 4 comments

Winning in the marketplace comes with a lot of hard work and sustained effort.

It is easy to fall into the habit of winning. Though it is a great feeling, one should be very cautious about a few things.

This winning habit could make your sales teams feel unbeatable, which could lead them to slowly become arrogant in their dealings with your customers.

This change is so slow and subtle, that it becomes very difficult to notice unless you actively look for it.

This could slowly lead to your customers starting to feel that doing business with your team is not easy or smooth. This is early indication that you are getting in the danger zone.

If unchecked, this could slowly lead your customers to feel being bullied, resulting in them dropping thier business with you at the first possible instance.

Some early signs that should warn you of this could be

  • Customers complain that doing business with you is getting more and more difficult. 
  • Winning in the market becomes the single most important thing for your sales team that they want to do it at any cost.
  • Customer satisfaction starts going down for no obvious reason.
  • Your sales continue to grow despite a slowing economy. This could either be due to the great value proposition that you have for your customers or due to your sales teams squeezing business from your customers. You need to be able to see the reality and adjust instead of believing one to be true than the other.
  • You start losing customers for no obvious reasons to hitherto unknown competitors.

No customer will come forward and tell you how they feel about doing business, unless you start noticing these little things.

Nothing can be as damaging as finding this out late, as by then, there is nothing you could do to correct it.

The more successful you are in your market category, the more prone you are to this challenge.

Do take time to notice and react.. Do you agree with my observation? Share your thoughts on this post by commenting below or by tweeting to me at @rmukeshgupta.

Are large Indian retailers battle ready?

December 11, 2012 Leave a comment

In their current state of operations, Indian organized retailers are in no way equipped to compete with the likes of Walmart, Tesco or Target.

Let me re-count to you my experience based on which I have come to this conclusion.

Last week, I went grocery shopping with my wife to a large format retail store in Bangalore. I was appalled at the thoughtless design of the store and the lack of the willingness to serve the customers in the entire staff.

In my opinion, there are 2 key performance areas which are critical for a retailer to succeed in a market like India:

  1. Supply chain efficiencies
  2. Customer’s shopping experience

This retailer failed on both counts (to provide the goods at the cheapest price or to provide a high class immersive retail experience).

Before we move ahead with this line of thought, let me share my impressions  from my visit:

Customer Experience perspective: 

  1. Store design: This store was spread across 2 floors. The layout of the store was such, that you need to go to the 1st floor (non-grocery items, a.k.a, high margin items), walk all the way across to the other end of the floor, then come down to the ground floor for groceries. What this meant was that, even if I only wanted to buy groceries, I am still forced to walk through the non-grocery floor, hoping that I shall be tempted to pick something based on the promotions offered. Though this helps the retailer try and maximize the revenue per shopper, this leaves the shopper in a bad taste.
  • Cart design: The only shopping cart that they have for usage is a large size cart. There was no option of a handbag or a smaller cart. Though not bad by itself, this was a problem with the way the store was laid out. I had at least a dozen customers bump into me and me bumping into another half a dozen customers, as the space between ailes was so narrow.
  • Motivated and trained employees: The store had minimal support staff. There was no one to help. I had a few questions on the placement of a product of a particular brand. There was no one present to help. The staff whom I did find, were not able to help as they were as clueless as me.
  • Check-out experience: Now that I had collected everything that I wanted to buy in my cart, I went to the billing counters. There were about 16 billing counters. However, there were about 6 – 7 customers already waiting for billing in each of these counters. What this meant was that I had to wait for another 45 minutes to get my items billed and get out of the store. The billing clerk tried on his part to be as quick as possible, but to the dismay of the customers, he was not able to scan the bar-codes of 1 out of every 9 or 10 articles. This meant that he had to manually type these codes (I think about 16 numeric characters each) in order to complete the billing. Also, there was no separate counter for fast track billing (maybe for 5 items or less or cash billing). So, even if you only had to pick one item, you still had to go through the entire grill.

After such an experience, I doubt if I shall think of going shopping in the store  again, as I have a myriad of options for where I can go (including online stores) shopping for grocery and these options will only increase with FDI in Retail cleared.

Supply chain efficiency perspective:

  • Stock-outs: From my list of groceries, there were 3 items (cooking oil, a specific brand of Jam & a specific kind of spice) which were in a stock-out position. This was on a Saturday evening at around 6PM. Now, it is very well known that the biggest lost opportunities for retailers is lost sale due to stock-outs.
  • Price: I happen to go a mom & pop store near my home to buy these 3 items that were not available at this store. I also saw the retailer selling a couple of items (a specific brand of whole wheat atta) to a customer at a price that was lower than the price i bought at the store earlier in the evening. So, not sure if they will be able to compete on price either.

This is not just the state of this one retailer in India. Most so called organized retail stores (multi-brand, multi category stores) have more or less similar problems. Some more serious than others.

Now, the question is,  if and when players like Walmart, Target or 24×7 arrive in India, will these retailers be able to compete with them? I am not suggesting that these retailers will get all of this right. However, if i were an Indian retailer, I would not bet my survival on the assumption that they will also face similar problems. I would be ready with a strategy to compete/co-opt with these retailers before they can hurt me.

What next? 

So, the next question that beckons is the following – what can retailers do to counter this threat?

Strategically, they need to pick a field where they want to be the best. Whether it is  competing on

  • Cost (low cost or luxury or premium)
  • Customer experience
  • Speed (how fast or slow do i get new products lines on the shelf)
  • Niche (define and win the niche)

It doesn’t matter, what strategy they adopt; they will need to improve on both the supply chain efficiency and the customer experience part, as these will be the necessary battle conditions, without which, you will no longer be in the competition.

These are my thoughts on the state of organized retail in India. Do you agree with my assessments?

Please do post your thoughts as comments below or tweet your thoughts to me on twitter (@rmukeshgupta).

PS: Something extra for all you people. Watch this prank by the Improv  team at a Best buy store

Future of customer service in a social world

October 9, 2012 1 comment

In the good old days, if we had to contact our bank or for that matter any business, we used to reach out to our phones and give them a call.

The call would then be routed to a call center (usually, after about 10-15 minutes of listening to some music that would be played while we waited for an agent to get free and take our call).

This, of course would be after having had to find our way through the maze of options (which used to be so complicated that it required us to be entirely focused on the options, blacking out everything else in life).

Then the times changed. Emails got ubiquitous and we could write an email to contact with the business. However, we still used the phone as the primary means for contacting someone at the business who could help us solve whatever it was that we were trying to solve.

The businesses still continued to invest in the contact center (some continued to have this in-house, while most of them out-sourced this to some organization in India or Phillipines or wherever they could get the lowest cost labor).

Then the times changed again! The social media revolution started and we got Facebook, twitter and all the other social media tools. The marketing teams in all these businesses wanted to ride on this wave and created twitter handles for their organizations.

This was an important moment!  

People now could tweet their complaints to these businesses directly and openly! Most important aspect was that this was out in the open which could potentially damage the reputation of the business. So,  businesses would be forced to respond to ensure that the complaint doesn’t get out of hand.

This indicates a definite shift of customer behavior. Now, whenever, I have a complaint or want to contact a business, the first thing to do is to check if they have a twitter handle. If they do, then tweet my question or complaint to them directly instead of going through their call center.

This indicates that businesses are now required to monitor both the social media channels (twitter, Facebook, etc) and also maintain their call centers (for their customers who still would like to talk to someone who don’t have a social profile yet and would hence like to talk to someone at the business.

Now, there is a choice for the business:

–       Continue with the status quo and manage both the social and the call center channel

–       Re-look at the contact strategy

While most of the businesses so far have been taking the 1st option, more and more businesses are now looking at the 2nd option.

Some options that businesses have if they decide to re-look at their customer contact strategy  are:

–       Make the social channels the main channel for all customer contact and use the call center as the secondary channel (primarily used to escalate). There are some distinct advantages that this strategy offers:

  • Improved customer service :
    • You are now forced to have an exceptional service (as the reputation of your business is at stake, and in the open), which in the long term will help the business.
    • When other customers see that you are providing a great service, this improves the brand value of your business and creates a positive spiral.
  • Reduced cost:
    • You could use technology solutions for monitoring and responding the queries on social media.
    • You could re-deploy some of the call center agents in more productive roles and reduce the overall cost of managing the service team.
  • Improved brand equity:
    • By making the social channels as the primary channel for contact with customers, you are now enabling or ensuring that your customers connect with you on these social channels. This will enable you to identify your customers, their influencers. You can now participate and engage them in productive dialogues.
    • This will also make your social foray sticky in your customers minds.
  • Opportunity to re-design the way you do business:
    • There has been a  lot of talk about social businesses and how social channels have now provided an opportunity for businesses to re-design their work culture. Businesses can now become more agile and nimble on their foot to enable them to adjust to the changes in their environment.
    • This probably could have the biggest impact on both the topline and bottom-line of your business.

– Completely do away with the customer call centers.

  • The only medium for customer support then becomes the social channels and email (if you still want some cushion).
  • Businesses can have immense cost savings (due to moving away from call center operations and at the same time increase the engagement across the social channels.
  • Having a separate channel for service and brand on the social channels can increase both stickiness and brand transparency.
  • There is an element of risk involved here. If you don’t get this right the first time, every time, there lies an opportunity for a PR disaster. However, if done well, there is also the upside of tremendous positive word-of-mouth, which in my opinion is a big enough upside to take the plunge.

Though this approach has a lot of advantages if done well, it also has the potential for a PR disaster if not handled well. We have already seen many such social media provoked disasters (McDonald’s #McDStories, FedX story, etc).

So, it really is a difficult thing to manage. However, it is always such difficult things that when done well, set you apart from your competitors.

Do you think that businesses should adopt this strategy of completely moving away from the call centers?

Do let us your thoughts by sharing them as comments here..

PS: Some interesting point-of-views that I have come across on this topics are as below:

  1. The Psychology of people using Twitter as a customer service channel
  2. The power of social customer service by David Howell.
  3. Delta airlines show that a separate customer service handle on Twitter can improve response time
  4. How FedEx turned a disaster into a PR win
  5. Are Twitter and Facebook changing the way we complain?
  6. SAP’s primary support channel on Twitter
  7. Bank of America showcase their Twitter customer service by following up on complaints.

New endangered species – salesmen

August 15, 2012 1 comment

“What can be digitised, will be digitised” – unknown

The continuous growth of e-commerce and cloud solutions is creating a new problem of sorts – dwindling breed of salesman!

Imagine the following scenarios:

  • I can buy any books that I want to on Amazon.com without any talking to anyone at amazon.
  • I can buy clothes or shoes or accessories from Zappos without talking to anyone.
  • I can buy an insurance from ICICI Lombard General Insurance without talking to anyone.
  • I can re-charge my mobile phone online without talking to anyone from the phone company.
  • I can buy any consumer durable (TV, Fridge, mobile, AC, etc) from any online store like flipkart.com without talking to anyone.
  • I can buy stocks online without talking to anyone.
  • I can buy order food online without talking to anyone.
  • I can sign-up for a project management module from 37Signals.com without talking to anyone.
  • I can buy office productivity software from Zoho without talking to anyone.
  • I can buy furniture, groceries and almost everything online.

You get the point right! And as the internet spreads, this is only bound to increase. Everyday, more and more goods are being offered online which people could try and buy themselves.

So, what happens to the people with whom you would have interacted (sales people) to buy these stuff earlier?

  • One obvious answer is that they will need to re-skill themselves to take up other roles, most obvious could be in customer service or call centers which will still have to do some selling when there is a customer calling them.
  • The other option is for them to up-skill themselves to sell more and more complex stuff which is completely personalized and cant be offered online. This requires a completely different mental make-up and skill sets than selling pre-packaged, generic stuff requires. The demand for generic sales people will start declining and that for specialized sales people will start to rise (if not already happening).
  • Another option for them is to become designers and design the sales processes for the online shops to help them sell more. In my opinion, this is far less likely than the other two options. However, this is the option that will provide the most lucrative, interesting work for the salesmen.

Do you agree that this phenomenon will play out in this decade?