It’s hard to find a firm that says: 1) We don’t care about customers, and 2) we don’t care about being good corporate citizens. That said, it’s astounding to see companies on a daily basis act in ways that show complete disregard for customers and their general well-being. For anyone within companies who cares about brand, this ought to sound alarm bells, particularly as customers become more empowered with global platforms to let others know about their dissatisfaction and as they have increasing ability to take their business elsewhere.
Two relatively new executives within companies are spending their days trying to get company actions aligned with marketing messages: the chief customer officer (or more often a VP of customer experience) and the chief sustainability officer (or more often a VP of sustainability). There is a great opportunity for these two executives to form an alliance that could strengthen both. Why?
Two Finnish service designers recently unveiled a prototype for a social media toy that’s constructed out of a classic Brio shape-sorting box outfitted with magnets and LEDs. Called the IOBR (the first few letters of its Iobridge tech backbone and an anagram of Brio), a small child can use the toy to let her friends know what she’s up to. Yup, it’s a toddler-sized status update.
From the designers’ Web site: “The actual status update is done by placing the appropriate block in its designated place on the box. For example, an ‘eating’ update is sent by placing the square block with the ‘plate, spoon, fork’ icon in the square-shaped hole on top of the box. This results in the illumination of the corresponding status light on the friend’s device.”
The system has received press from major media outlets dubbing it “Twitter for toddlers.” CNN reported: “No word yet on . . . whether or not you're going to want your kid to learn about these status updates, so to speak, at such a young age.” But focusing just on the IOBR’s status update feature is really missing the point of this project.
I stopped by my local Whole Foods the day before Thanksgiving to pick up some appetizers. And as I deliberated at the cheese counter, I couldn’t help but overhear what one cheese monger said loudly to the other: “This lady came up to me complaining about the store. This store’s too small, you don’t carry the things I need. I told her she’d have to talk to customer service. I mean really, I just work here.”
I just work here??! Did I honestly hear someone say that? In Whole Foods? Not only did this guy undermine the Whole Foods brand with his interaction with the original customer, but he made a bad personal decision to relay his story in front of other customers!
As Steve Portigal mentioned in a comment on one of my previous posts, employee authenticity is key to great customer experiences. (To see just how bad an inauthentic customer experience can be, check out my last post, "Worst Online Chat Ever!") But employee authenticity is really only effective if it aligns with a company’s brand attributes. Being an authentic jerk isn’t going to cut it in customer experience land!
A lot of employee behavior comes down to corporate culture — and in his "How To Build A Customer-Centric Culture" report, Paul Hagen mentions two things in particular that I think directly influence employee authenticity. Companies need to:
Welcome to Q&Agency! Each week, I talk to agencies small and large and get to hear (in their words) what differentiates them and the experiences they create. To help bring some of that information to you, I'm showcasing an ongoing series of interviews with small and medium-size interactive and design agencies. If you'd like to see your agency or an agency you work with here, let me know!
On November 16th, I talked with Rick Nash, the VP of strategic marketing at Acquity Group. Edited excerps from that conversation follow.
Forrester: Tell me a little bit about Acquity Group?
Rick: Ah, that’s a long story. Our founders owned a company that rolled up into USWeb in Chicago. As many people know, USWeb saw explosive growth in the late 90s. It then merged with WhittmanHart and became marchFIRST. Before marchFIRST imploded during the dot-com boom, our founders left to found Acquity group. That was in 2001. It was the same four guys, along with a number of their colleagues from the dot-com era whom they had met along the way. I came from Sapient. Now we’ve grown to 450 people spread across nine offices including [those in] Irvine, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Scottsdale, Dallas, Kansas City, and Boise. We’re looking to expand into Asia, and we’ve begun that process with a Beijing office. We work with brands like AT&T, Motorola, McDonald’s, Best Buy, and General Motors. Our clients are big-name global brands, and we’re really proud of that.
Forrester: What is your elevator pitch?
Rick: Acquity group is an interdisciplinary digital consultancy. We create award-winning, multichannel, multidevice, multinational digital solutions for complex organizations. Our approach brings together strategy, creative, and technology to create differentiation and value in the digital space.
Most customer experience efforts focus on doing bad things less and doing good things more. That’s a reasonable approach. But, realistically, customers will run into problems no matter how hard companies try to eliminate them. Albert Einstein described this well when he said, “Every day, man is making bigger and better fool-proof things, and every day, nature is making bigger and better fools.” Even without foolish customers or incompetent companies, customer problems will persist because customers are constantly changing — their preferences, their technology uses, their life stages.
Companies should embrace this reality because: 1) Problem resolution experiences that exceed customer expectations build loyalty, and 2) problem resolution experiences that fall below customer expectations erode loyalty.
In a recent Forrester survey, we asked North American consumers about their experiences in getting problems resolved. You can find my full analysis in a new report, but here are a few highlights:
Repeat business. Eighty-one percent of respondents who said a company’s problem resolution experience far exceeded their expectations also said that they’re very likely to do business with that company again. Only 5% of those who said problem resolution experiences fell far below expectations said that they’re very likely to do business with the same company again.
Word of mouth. Sixty-five percent of respondents who said that problem resolution experiences far exceeded their expectations also said that they’re very likely to tell someone about the experience. Even more — 71% — of those who said that their experiences fell far below expectations said that they’re very likely to tell someone.
In October, Ron Rogowski provided a couple of excerpts from one of our colleague's online chat with her cable and Internet provider. But this chat session was so bad that I couldn't resist the urge to share it in its entirity. (Read to the end for a fantastic Yoda moment.) By the way, I made no edits to the transcript other than to change the names and obscure identifying information.
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User Elizabeth has entered room.
Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:36:45 EDT 2010) > I don't know my [company] ID or my password, so I can't log in to my account. I tried to set up a new account, but the site says my account already has an online account. Can you please reset my information (so I can create a new account) or help me log in?
Analyst Carol has entered room.
Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:36:50 EDT 2010)> Hello Elizabeth, Thank you for contacting [company] Chat Support. My name is Carol. Please give me one moment to review your information.
Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:37:05 EDT 2010)> My pleasure to have you on this chat, Elizabeth! Remaining committed and focused on my goal which is to provide quality customer service at my fullest effort will always be at the pinnacle. It is with utmost sincerity that I want to extend apologies for any trouble, inconvenience and frustration the log in issue has brought along your way. I simply hope you are doing fine.
Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:37:26 EDT 2010)> No worries. As your [company] service representative, I want you to know that issue resolution and your satisfaction are my top priorities for today. Together, we can work this out, Elizabeth.