If it was crap, you would know
Remember James Carville’s assertion “the economy, stupid”? Carville was a member of Bill Clinton’s 1991 campaign team, and that was his retort when asked by a journalist why, with George H.W. Bush riding high in the public opinion polls after Operation Desert Storm, did he then fail to win the subsequent election. So I am stealing it, so that I can apply it to my own theory about how many businesses are getting their customer communication all wrong. “It’s the people, stupid”. In essence, there is a massive gulf between theory and practice, and it seems we are only teaching the theory.
We have recently seen major issues with the IT systems of RBS-NatWest and Lloyds-TSB. The fact that their businesses had to be hyphenated should have sent alarm bells ringing! Interestingly both banks’ restructuring has seen a re-separation of the brands in some way shape or form. However, their customers are only really interested in having seamless access to bank services. Simple?
Well in April this year, 1.9 million customers could not use TSB services. Individuals and businesses were unable for a short time to access their services, pay bills, and withdraw their own cash. That pales into insignificance compared to the RBS-NatWest software failure in 2012 which affected 6.5 million UK customers in a similar way. If this kind of major breakdown can happen with the banks’ ultra-secure IT systems, then what chance Customer Relationship Management systems? In theory, everything should have worked. In practise, theory can only truly be tested in real time, real life situations. In both cases there was catastrophic system failure. Customer Service was interrupted and the reputation of both brands was severely damaged…a bit like my car after a large Volvo tried to get into my rear passenger seat on Saturday.
There are some fabulous theories and trends floating around to do with Marketing and Branding, but we have to take ourselves outside of the strokey-beard, intellectual discussion for a while and look back in at what is happening in practice. The Marketing Concept is actually nothing new. For centuries companies have focused on supplying their customers with what they want so that they will return to buy more another day. What has changed significantly is the way in which we communicate with our customers. We are losing (if it has not already been lost) the ability to engage with our customers on a personal level.
Systems are preventing us from communicating in a human way, and we are demanding too much of our satisfied customers by way of reviews, surveys and other kinds of feedback. When we buy a product or service for the very first (and possibly the only) time, we should not then be bombarded with requests to pat the supplying company on the back. It displays a lack of confidence that their own services are fit for purpose. If your service is first class you simply don’t need to ask for reviews and comments, because they happen regardless. On one occasion, just a month or two ago, I bought some music equipment. The following day I had an email from the supplier asking me to complete a questionnaire on Survey Monkey. Two days later Survey Monkey sent me an email to ask what I thought of their survey. Oh come on!!
You see it has never been about systems (it’s the people, stupid). The theories are all valid and extremely credible, but it requires people to deliver them and other people to manage and maintain them. If people are trained (presumably by more experienced people) to engage professionally and warmly with the people who buy from them, then everybody wins. Business is not about ticking boxes.
For many years I have hired from the US car rental company Enterprise Rent-A-Car. From about in 1999 I supplied their offices in the UK and Europe (mainly Germany at the time) with floor coverings. I was privileged to be asked by their then Vice President of Operations to speak on a couple of occasions at their UK manager training conferences, to help their team understand the types of products that were available to them, and their comparative costs. Enterprise are still taking that level of care to train their people properly and it really shows. In all of that time, yes nearly twenty years, I have never had a bad experience whether hiring for myself, my business, someone else’s business, or my band.
I do not have a clue what systems Enterprise Rent-A-Car operate to. I do not need to know. I do not want to know. They know that I have no need to know. As a customer, I go back because Enterprise people deliver first class services in a warm and friendly way, and engage with their customers first as human beings. The systems they have in place allow them to do that. Therefore, there are never delays when decisions need to be made, because they train and empower their people to give their customers the best possible experience
I suppose I should make it clear that I have not supplied Enterprise Rent-A-Car since I set up Exportaid in 2002. I am not on their payroll and I do not take any commission or any other bung in kind for saying nice things about them! They don’t spend a great deal of time asking me how I find their services. They don’t need to. My mention of them here is volunteered simply because they are a very good company to hire from and who have not given me the slightest reason to look elsewhere. They have occasionally made mistakes, which every company does, but their response has always been to put their customer first.
Back to the Marketing Concept, it is about putting the focus of your organisation on to your customers, winning and retaining customers, brand promise and brand awareness, brand reputation, brand loyalty. It is not an event it is a process, and you achieve it by operating good systems and employing and training good people. That’s what Enterprise seem to do…..but hark, what is this?…..
…..AAAGGGHHH!!! An hour after I finished this post someone from Enterprise phoned to ask about my customer experience!!