all watching the downward spiral of the global economy with trepidation
and making contingency plans. Our budgeted projects may be slashed. Our
headcount may be downsized. Our travel will be severely curtailed. Our
customers’ spending on our products and services will no doubt
decrease. But what’s the silver lining in a severe downturn? We have to
get innovative and resourceful. Here are some tips to consider:
Shift Policies to Trust Your Customers and Partners and Eliminate 30% of Business Friction
As we work with organizations and their customers to streamline customers' scenarios and to improve the customer experience, we find that some of the most customer-unfriendly practices are the result of deep-seated customer distrust on the part of the organization. Well-meaning corporate stewards have put policies and processes in place to prevent fraudulent behaviors in response to the actions of a minority of bad acting customers. Instead of using intelligent technology to identify the few real offenders, companies put elaborate blanket safeguards in place. These safeguards create friction and a lot of unnecessary work for your employees, your partners, and your customers. Our recent Customer Scenarios in a wide-variety of industries show dramatic opportunities to save money and increase revenues by shifting to a customer-trust model.
Create Trust-Based Policies; Isolate Offenders. Why not operate on the assumption that your customers and business partners are honest and will not knowingly steal from you or defraud you? Remove the costly and onerous hoops you currently make everyone jump through in order to use, share, restore, and enjoy the products and services you provide. Here are just a few examples of customer-unfriendly policies that annoy customers while increasing operational costs:
• Placing a multi-day hold on funds deposited at an ATM machine, forcing customers to come into the branches to make deposits so they can access their money (a common banking practice in several countries).
• Requiring that a serial number match a service contract number before you'll provide technical support or renew a support contract.
• Requiring that the customer type in a long license key in order to load the software he has purchased.
• Limiting the number of times a customer can load a game, music, or other purchased intellectual property on his own machines or systems.
• Making it difficult for customers to return or exchange goods they have purchased.
• Making it difficult for customers to redeem coupons or rebates in the hopes that they will neglect to do so.
• Making it difficult for distribution partners to gain approval for promotional programs and deals before they can quote a price to end-customers.
• Making it difficult for customers to renew, exchange, and/or co-terminate a support contract that covers a number of products, many of which have been added, moved, or amended since the contract was originated.
• Making it difficult for customers to change the terms of a loan, mortgage, or other financial agreement when their circumstances have changed.
• Providing networked products that can't self-register and identify themselves when they connect to a network.
• Requiring customers who travel to pre-notify their credit card providers and their mobile/wireless providers that they are about to travel in order to ensure that they receive uninterrupted service.
What hoops does your firm make customers jump through in order to reduce fraud, lower risks, and prevent theft? How many of them are really necessary to inflict on ALL customers? And how much are these hoops costing you?
Our information technologies should be able to detect fraudulent
behavior as it is occurring, so we can pinpoint the offenders and deal
with them appropriately. Let's start eliminating blanket policies to
penalize all prospects, customers, and partners. Instead, let's use our
technologies to limit our exposure while we streamline these
customer-critical issues. We need to assume that changes in
circumstances will happen and plan to accommodate those changes.
Web 2.0 to the Rescue!
If you are forced to throttle back and/or delay customer-critical IT projects right now, consider some much lower-cost actions you could take. Each of these can be done by a relatively non-technical person and set up in a matter of minutes!
1. Adopt Web 2.0 “pay as you go” cloud-hosted applets rather than large monolithic internal ERP applications.
2. Develop interactive gadgets and widgets to deliver up-to-date interactive functionality and information via your Web site(s) and portals.
3. Use SMS, twitter, and instant messaging to communicate with customers.
4. Use Wikis and shared collaborative spaces to coordinate across organizational boundaries.
5. Encourage customers to take polls, contribute content, photos, videos, tags, and reviews to make your company's Web site more compelling and to help customers make buying decisions easily. (Hint: you can use third-party widgets to do many of these things.)
Add Customer Peer Support to Your Online Self-Service Support
Help your customers and your beleaguered customer support
representatives by giving customers easy self-service access to ALL the
places they can get help from others. Add relevant external links to
your customer self-service sites. Link to any online discussion forum
or newsgroup that might have relevant content and filter the results by
pre-loading the customer's search query. Link to relevant articles in
Wikipedia and to other partners' sites. Make it easy for customers to
IM or Tweet looking for help from your own experts and/or from other
customers. Use search well to aggregate and refine useful and recent
results by product, issue, model number, or category. Let customers
rate responses as useful or not, and float high-rated responses to the
Turn Your CRM Project Outside In!
Stop waiting for major internal IT integration initiatives. Create a
simple “my account and my info” Web page to give customers online
access to all the information you have about their accounts,
entitlements, products you've sold them, questions they have asked and
gotten answered, and cases they have opened, up-to-date information,
and updates. Don't wait until you have “perfect” information — you
never will. Don't keep customers' current or historical dealings with
you locked up in your internal applications or in your channel
partners' systems. You don't have to have an elaborate IT project to
unlock this information. You can syndicate it out of your internal
systems using search queries, “screen scraping,” RSS feeds, XML tags,
spreadsheet import and export, and a variety of other relatively
non-invasive techniques to “publish” customers' information to secure
account pages that customers can log into, access, and update. Whether
you roll your own customer portals, use SaaS offerings, or online
social networking tools, you should be able to start providing
customers with “one stop shopping” to the information you have about
their accounts and their relationships with you by simply aggregating
that information onto a single “my account” page. This can include the
questions that a customer has asked and gotten answered by your support
team and by other customers in an online community, as well as their
most recent transactions, downloads, searches, and search results.
Make Customer-Critical Investments Executives’ Top Priority
It's a natural human tendency to circle the wagons and look inward to protect your own during any crisis. Make sure that your customers are considered part of your inner circle! A good way to keep customers' critical issues top of mind for panicked executives is to use customers' own success metrics as your mantra. Pick one customer-critical issue to rally around. For example, one of our clients has been using “total downtime until we're back in production” as a metric. This comes straight from his business customers who are users of his firm's analysis equipment. It's much better than a percentage of utilization or total cost of ownership. This metric catalyzes behavior among all of the stakeholders involved, from the software development group whose software needs to detect and report a problem, to the tech support rep who takes the customer's call after he has just spent three hours doing his own troubleshooting to no avail, to the spare parts depot, to the field service dispatch organization, to the professional services team that needs to keep customers' test algorithms up-to-date to ensure that the repaired machine can run the customers' own proprietary production algorithms.
Isolate a single customer-critical issue that you can socialize, and get all your stakeholders to focus on it. It could be: total time to problem resolution (as defined by the customer), total time in a check-out line, total time on hold, how long it takes to receive credit approval and get funds disbursed, total time to get an accurate quote. In addition to time-related metrics, think about the things that are causing your customers the most anxiety right now and address them proactively. What if I miss my plane? What if you're out of stock for the item I need? What if you can't guarantee me that I won't lose my principal? What if this software migration screws up our existing applications? How can I change the terms of my contract without incurring penalties?
Plan NOW for customer-critical contingencies and develop cross-functional SWAT teams to proactively and creatively address customer-critical scenarios. It's much better to anticipate the problems that will cause your already stressed customers aggravation than it is to pretend that you can conduct business as usual. You can't.