Do the company’s customers love you?
It’s not a question of whether they like you or think you’re doing an OK
job. It’s not a question of checking the ‘generally satisfied’ box on the
customer questionnaire. It’s a question of whether they love you — can’t
do without you, would-rather-not-buy-it-than-buy-it-from-someone-else
really love you.
And for many, if not most, IT organizations, keeping the trains running
on time is probably of far greater concern than whether or not anyone
loves you. But Jeanne Bliss, the author of the new book Chief Customer
Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action, says IT
professionals need to think about how to make customers thrilled to do
business with the company.
And in a one-on-one interview with Datamation, Bliss says IT
administrators are in a unique position to help various departments work
better together to serve the customer — and create that loving, and
Bliss, herself, is no stranger to working on customer satisfaction.
For 25 years she worked with company presidents and CEOs building
customer loyalty. Back in the 1980s, she worked on ‘the customer
experience’ for Lands’ End, establishing a customer-focused culture,
training phone operators and creating the gift boxing service. From
there, she moved on to Mazda, where she was senior manager of customer
satisfaction and retention. She also worked for Coldwell Banker Corp.,
Allstate Corp. and Microsoft Corp. — all in customer satisfaction
Bliss’ new work hit book shelves on March 31, and she’s focused on
helping other companies find their own customer success stories.
In a discussion with Datamation she talks about what’s going wrong
with customer satisfaction, what IT can do about it, and the roll IT
needs to in the corporate hierarchy.
Q: In general, how are companies doing when it comes to creating
The problem is that each silo [or department] does its own thing and what
happens to customers is an unplanned amalgamation of what comes together.
The CEO says to focus on the customer and then everyone goes and does
their own thing… There’s some pretty sad statistics out there that says
the delivery of a good experience to customers is actually worse than
ever before. There’s a Gallop poll that says only 20 percent of customers
are completely loyal. Zenith did research that says 92 percent of all
retailers have a customer service rating of 70 percent or worse.
Q: So what’s going wrong?
What’s happening is as boards and CEOs look at financial requirements and
external metrics, the customer is falling between the cracks. There’s no
prevalent hoopla out there right now about customer work. People are
always looking for a silver bullet. If I just do this one thing, I’ll fix
all our customer problems. There’s no big silver bullet out there. What
we’ve done is automate mediocrity.
Q: How realistic is it to think that you can make customers actually
love your company?
When I was at Lands End, Fortune magazine did an article on us
called, ”Getting Customers to Love You”. The big revelation about why
we were loved was that we could be counted on. We established peace-of-
mind with our guarantee. We trained our telephone reps to not only know
the products backwards and forwards, but to care why customers were
buying them. Our graveyard shift operators were some of the busiest in
the business because of the calls they’d receive in the middle of the
night from insomniacs who, sure, would buy a turtleneck, but were also on
the line to hear the friendly voice on the other end… Customers loved
us because we respected them and their time. And we made sure that we
translated that respect to actions they could see and feel.
Q: But we’re talking about IT here. How can an IT manager have an
effect on how the customer feels about the business?
IT is an enabler. They are writing processes and code and automating
customer contacts based on what business tells them to do. But IT has
been given, inadvertently, a huge power core because so much of the
corporate budget is related to IT and IT spending. And marketing,
operations, sales — each goes, on its own, to IT to establish its own
project. Let’s say in an automotive company the parts and service people
go to IT and say, ‘Let’s track our parts and customer satisfaction.’ IT
will start that project. But then the call center people will start their
own project. Both are good but they’re not connected. Your external
customer will expect that all of that data is interconnected but it’s
not. If you own a Honda and you call in, you expect they know not only
when you last had service, but about your warrantee and when you bought
the car. You don’t know that these silos may not communicate with each
other. IT has been put in this position of power because they’re sorting
projects that are being delivered to them by the silos.
Q: Is it IT’s responsibility to say ‘Whoa. Hold on. We should make
sure that these projects are connected to better serve the customer.’?
It will take someone with a lot of hootspa and power to back up and make
sure they all mean something. That would be ideal [for it to be IT]. It
would at least get the attention of the CEO. Someone from IT needs to
say, ‘We just got five different projects on the same thing.’ IT needs to
become an advocate for the customer. They’re aware that all these
different projects are coming in. That gives them a lot of potential for
becoming and advocate for the customer. If they’re wired to think, ‘Hey,
how will these seven projects impact the customer?’, they can have a more
powerful impact on the customer than they realize. That’s a great angle
Q: In the corporate hierarchy, is IT really in a position to put the
brakes on and tell executives that they need to figure out how to make
their departments work better together?
Many times IT is brought in at the end as an implementer instead of at
the beginning as an implementer. They need to be brought in as a partner
and given the power and opportunity to say, ‘Whoa’.
At Lands’ End, IT was sitting at the table with us and they became these
super creative people who said, ‘If we do this first and this second and
this third, we can do all of this for the customer.’ That is rare but it
certainly should be something that is changing. When IT sits at the
table, they are not just the implementers but also the architects of the
customer experience. I have had the most wonderful relationships with IT
when they’re allowed to sit at the table from the beginning. They have
better ideas about how to automate customer experience. They are inspired
and become active participants. They’re ombudsman role naturally evolves
as they see what they can do for the customer and to the customer. You
want to help them build that customer muscle.