Fixing your customer’s pain with soft innovation

Soft InnovationFor as long as I can remember ATMs in the Czech Republic have been a constant source of annoyance for anyone who uses them (setting aside the fees they charge) because the ATM’s programming was designed to optimise its use of banknotes.

Withdraw 2000 Czech Koruna (Kc), which is approximately $100/£66, and you’ll be furnished with a crisp 2000kc note. Now go and buy something for 150Kc and you’ll get a fairly understandable ‘Don’t you have anything smaller?’ and sometimes a flat refusal to take your money because it will wipe out their change float. You might ask ‘why not just withdraw 2 x 1000Kc?’ but with a fee per withdrawal why should you?

In a perfect example of soft innovation, finally this spring a couple of banks have taken notice and their ATMs have been updated (with software). Now you can choose the denominations of banknotes when you make a withdrawal. With one simple change they’ve removed a common cause of anxiety and annoyance for their customers.

What pain points can you solve for your customers?

Think about how your customers use the products and services you provide. The pain point doesn’t have to be with what you do but maybe it’s what they do with it next. The immediate things banks might look to fix with ATMs would be making sure they’re always stocked with cash, not out of service, in safe locations, not what people do with the cash once they’ve taken it out. At a travel company I work for we’ve been looking at what we can do to make our guests travels even smoother by providing useful items like US to European plug adapters and various other things in their welcome pack. The great thing about soft innovation is that it’s inexpensive to implement but can have a very significant impact on your customers’ experience.

To each according to his influence

Palms’ chief marketing officer, Jason Gastwirth, is currently building out “The Klout Klub,” which “will allow high-ranking influencers to experience Palms’ impressive set of amenities in hopes that these influencers will want to communicate their positive experience to their followers.” The Palms is already pulling in data from Klout and referring to it as part of their reservations process.

That quote is from this piece in AdAge which has a lot of great comments and the main thread running through them is this “treating influencers differently creates an unrepresentative impression of your brand experience”.

I can see the ones-and-zeroes sense in taking note of influencers, using software to identify them makes a lot of sense but there are plenty of problems with this. Treating someone as a VIP because of the influence they wield means they will never be able to give an unbiased opinion of a service because they haven’t experienced it the same way a regular person is likely to.

The last thing a restaurant critic ever wants is to be recognised before the meal is served. If a critic’s readers found out that a review was compromised in that way they would lose respect.

A big part of this week’s Six Pixels of Separation podcast with Mitch Joel and Joseph Jaffe is on this topic and Mitch followed that up with a blog post explaining why he doesn’t want to use the influence or platform he has to get special treatment and by using tools like Klout, as Mitch implies, brands are asking for it. Read the comments to Mitch’s post too, some great stuff there.

It’s a thorny topic – preferential treatment based on celebrity and status, driven by a desire to please and to be praised can make a brand seem sycophantic but the alternative risks provoking the wrath of the influencer. Surely even thinking that way is the brand admitting ‘our regular level of service isn’t good enough to be remarkable and can randomly fall apart so badly as to make people angry’. Should brands aim to solve for the many or salve for the few?

Image credit: TimOve

Logitech and a fundamental failing at Customer Service 2.0

I’m reading Joseph Jaffe’s Flip The Funnel at the moment and it got me thinking about how corporations do customer service. The book cites the usual examples of those who are getting it right (Dell, Starbucks, Comcast). How do the rest shape up though?

I have a Logitech ClearChat Wireless Headset. It’s a great product, all-in-all, it uses RF (infinitely better than Bluetooth) and a USB receiver that plugs in to your computer. This arrangement means it’s free from the pairing headaches that you can get with Bluetooth devices (and the need to have Bluetooth turned on the whole time on your computer, a battery-suck when you’re unplugged).

The one gripe I have with it (as do everyone I know who has one) is that to charge it you have to use a mains power adapter. That means one more adapter to take with you when you travel (and a plug adapter for it if travelling internationally), one more thing to forget or leave behind when you pack.

I wondered if this had come up on Logitech’s support forums before. It had:

Customer: Is it possible to charge the Clearchat PC Wireless headset via USB, or does it have to be with the standard 110 cable it came with?
Logitech: Hi,
If you look the connector on the headset is not USB.
Thank you for your post.

That’s it. Not ‘it doesn’t but we take your point’. Not ‘other people have mentioned that’. Just a plain slap in the face to someone who bought a $150 product and by extension everyone else with this opinion.

So I took a look at Logitech’s Get Satisfaction page to see if it was mentioned there. It wasn’t and even though this Get Satisfaction page, unlike many others, is monitored by Logitech employees, I can only choose one of 6 products to categorise my new topic – none of them being the one I want. For a company with well over a hundred active products at any one time, this is poor. Couple that with the note at the bottom of that GF submission form “We’ve estimated the likelihood of your question getting noticed: LOW” and I figured I just won’t bother. If someone else comes out with a similar product that doesn’t require a power brick, I’ll get that.

All in all a long way from the concept of Customer Service 2.0 as outlined in Jaffe’s book and this case serves to highlight that if you’re going to use the new tools of customer service, you’d better be serious about it.

Image credit: amandabhslater via Creative Commons on Flickr

Service with a Snarl

Having just experienced a truly awful customer service experience (not traumatic or damaging and I won’t bore you with it) I was prompted to write this post. What was awful about it is that it exposed just how customer hostile this particular supermarket chain’s processes are.

The customer is always right

Even when they’re not. This has been done to death. You never win an argument with a customer. If you win the argument you’re likely to lose the customer. Of course there are times when you might actively seek to end a relationship with a customer, but there are subtle ways to do it and wantonly destructive customer service is not one of them.

Never ask a customer to do something you wouldn’t do yourself

Ask yourself if your company’s customer service polices are designed for the organisation’s convenience, not the customer’s. Are they designed to stave off enquiries rather than make customers happy?

The only timeframe that counts is the customer’s

Your internal metrics might be based on things like average time to respond (not necessarily solve) to customer queries. That’s important, but it’s everything. If you’re doing things in the background like tracing a late delivery for a customer, keeping them in the loop makes sense – at least they don’t feel ignored, but until they have the product in their hand there is still a problem in ther mind.

The only outcome that matters is that the customer is satisfied

Customers make decisions about whether to recommend a company and whether to do repeat business with them based on the level of service they receive. If anything goes wrong that counts even more. Handling complaints quickly and to the customer’s satisfaction should be your primary aim. You can do as many lifetime value and acquisition cost calculations as you like, there’s no way to know just how much damage an unhappy customer can cause you.

Customer Service is Marketing

In many companies, the customer services department is still seen purely as a cost centre, where the aim is to get the customer out of your hair, as quickly as possible. If that sounds like your company, and you’re in the marketing department you need to take control of the situation and demand more involvement. Every touchpoint with a customer is an opportunity to strengthen or weaken the relationship. Do you even know what your CS frontline staff are saying to your hard-won customers? Marketers need to make sure that the whole customer experience is the best it can be.

Image credit: bthomso via Creative Commons on Flickr