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What Consumer Goods Companies Can Learn From Healthcare. 7 Lessons of Customer Service Excellence

If you work in consumer goods you probably think you have nothing to learn from healthcare, right? After all, you have consumers in your industry name and well healthcare’s reputation is not that great.

But think again. I was recently in a clinic for surgery and was surprised by how customer (patient) centric they are.

I remind my clients that exceptional customer service examples can come from anywhere! So they keep their eyes and ears open and find inspiration everywhere. Do you? If not, then these lessons will come as your wake-up call so you start opening your eyes to new possibilities. Do this every day and your business will only get better.

 

Background

Before I give you the lessons I learned, I think I owe you a little background to what led up to this list.

I had been suffering from a bad back for a while. Unfortunately, not so unusual for those of us who spend too many hours at our desks. However, one morning I tried to get out of bed and fainted as an explosive pain shot down my back to my right foot! I was totally immobilised in three seconds flat!

Now living alone I realised that this was serious as I couldn’t move. Luckily my mobile was by my bed so I called the emergency services who immediately sent an ambulance. I ended up spending a night in a local University Hospital for the first time in my adult life.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Two days later I fell down the stairs because my leg had become partially paralysed. Another visit to the emergency room, an ankle brace fitted, a consultant’s assessment, an MRI scan and finally emergency surgery the following day.

All these experiences of hospitals and doctors gave me the superb opportunity to see the health service from the patient’s perspective. I work a lot with the Pharma industry but luckily have never been a patient, at least until now.

As you probably know, actually becoming your customer and seeing the market from their perspective, is one of the exercises I suggest to better understand them. How often do you do it? Ever?!! You really should, because you’re missing out on a valuable – and free – experience.

Perhaps surprisingly, this incident showed me that many of the practices of the nurses and doctors that I witnessed in my heavily sedated state, are easily transferable to any business. This is why I decided to share them with you.

So here are my seven learnings about customer service excellence:

 

1. Introduce yourself

Customer service excellenceEvery time someone came to my room, they introduced themselves and explained why they were there. Over the course of the days I spent at the hospital and then the clinic, I saw many different doctors, nurses. cleaners, waiters etc. I appreciated that they themselves always started by introducing themselves and stating what their responsibility was in caring for me.

How you can apply this idea: In business, we often forget to introduce people in meetings and when we do, we forget to explain their responsibilities, why they are there.

Perhaps if we did this, there would be far fewer people in meetings, as only those with a real reason to be involved would attend! That already is a time and money-saving idea. But there are even more applications of this idea when it comes to our customers.

Direct contacts with customers, whether by phone, email, chat, social media or in person, deserve the same detailed introduction. This moves the connection from a somewhat cold, professional exchange, to something far more friendly and personal, if not actually personalised.

I often wonder how we so easily forget that customer service is after all just two people connecting and engaging for mutual benefit. Is that how your own customer care centre exchanges feel? If not, how about making them friendlier?

How do we so easily forget that customer service is just two people connecting and engaging for mutual benefit? #CEX #CRM #CustomerService Click To Tweet

 

2. Confirm that you know me

Although I myself saw many different specialists in the university hospital, it made no difference to how I was treated. I felt comfortable that my details had been transferred between the staff members, so they didn’t have to ask me to repeatedly explain what had happened. They also always started by checking my name, to make sure they were speaking with the right person.

How you can apply this idea: While I accept that checking names and wearing wristbands are essential in a medical environment, most businesses could benefit from confirming who their customers are too.

Whether by careful targeting for marketing purposes or by reviewing notes of previous interactions with customer services, a company needs to immediately recognise a (returning) customer.

Whether by careful targeting for marketing purposes or by reviewing notes of previous interactions with customer services, a company must immediately recognise a (returning) customer. #Customer #CEX #CRM Click To Tweet

Have you ever been frustrated when calling back a company only to be asked to explain who you are and why you’re calling? I know I have. It always makes me feel that the organisation doesn’t really care about me. And with automation systems easily available today, there is no excuse for this sort of lack of knowledge.

Personalisation has become essential in all engagements between companies and their customers. In fact, this is one of the most important uses of Big Data, both now and for the foreseeable future.

Personalisation has become essential in all engagements between companies and their customers. This is one of the most important uses of Big Data, both now and for the foreseeable future. #BigData #CEX #CRM Click To Tweet

 

3. Ask if I am happy/comfortable

Whatever the reason was for the medical practitioner to see me, they always asked if I was comfortable. They openly encouraged me to share any negative thoughts, feelings or sensations I was experiencing.

How you can apply this idea: Do you encourage critique of your ideas from your colleagues? It takes a strong and confident person to constantly put themselves up for criticism. Too many people look (only) for positive support when asking for opinions, rather than a truly constructive assessment.

Customer service excellence should involve every employeeMany years ago, one of my first bosses mentioned that when he asked for opinions in a meeting, it was me he listened to the most. Why? Well, not because I knew more than my colleagues. No; it was because I said what I really thought, not what I believed he wanted to hear. Although he didn’t always agree with what I said, he knew that what I said was what I was truly feeling.

Over the years, I came to realise that he was one of a dying breed of true leaders. Many organisations today are political hothouses, where supporting the boss is the only way to keep one’s job!

I hope you are not in this situation because according to a Gallup study, around 50% of employees leave their company to get away from their bosses. If you are in such a situation at the moment, my advice to you is to GET OUT NOW! You will more than likely end up leaving one way or the other, so why waste your time with a boss who lacks this essential leadership skill? You’ll get the support you deserve and more importantly need, to grow, elsewhere.

According to a Gallup study, around 50% of employees leave their company to get away from their bosses. If you're in such a situation today, my advice is to GET OUT NOW! #Leadership #EmployeeSatisfaction Click To Tweet

And what about your customers? Do you encourage them to share complaints and ideas? If not, why not? It’s much better to know what’s wrong and put it right quickly, than to continue in blissful ignorance until your customers leave because of it.

Customer experience is negative

According to“Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner, you are unlikely to hear from more than just a fraction of dissatisfied customers. And most of those dissatisfied customers will never come back to you. Therefore it makes sense to not only pay attention to complaints but actively search them out – before they damage your business.

 

4. Ask if you can do more

You can always do more to improve customer experience

As anyone who has been to the emergency room of a hospital knows, patience is important. You don’t get seen by order of arrival, but by the importance of your ailment. In other words, if your problem is not life-threatening, you will pass after the road accident, whose victim is more seriously injured. I know this and was happy to actually be left to “float” in a drug-induced relaxation between staff visits.

Whenever they woke me up to “check my vitals” or to inform me of the next tests or treatment planned, they always finished by asking if I had any questions or needed anything else. I was made to feel that nothing was too small or unimportant to them, if it made me feel more relaxed and comfortable.

 

How you can apply this idea: According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs  “It is 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one.”

It is 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one. Click To Tweet

Business, therefore, can no longer afford to merely satisfy their customers, they need to delight them. Do you ask both yourself and your customers what more you can do for them? If you do, you might just find a new product or service concept that answers their desires and gets you ahead of the competition.

 

5. Don’t stop before the end

When I was admitted for surgery, I was told that the average stay was between 6 and 12 days in hospital. Having thought I was there for just a day or two, this came as quite a shock.

As my progress after the operation was good, I expected to leave the clinic within five days. (I always want to be better than average!) However, with the added complication of the torn ligaments in my ankle, the professor had other ideas. I ended up spending ten days there and was then on a month of complete bed rest before starting physio!

How you can apply this idea: As the well-known Napolean Hill quote goes

“Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”

Some people are great at ideation; perhaps you’re one of them. However, ideation without action is just day-dreaming.

Some people are great at ideation; perhaps you're one of them. However, ideation without action is just day-dreaming. So get active today! #Innovation #Ideation #Action Click To Tweet

Therefore don’t think your job is done when you’ve come up with an idea or two. You need to follow up to turn the ideas into actions.

Customer service excellence means involving customers everywhere you canEntrepreneurship is very popular today for both individuals and even within large corporations. However so many entrepreneurs try an idea and when it doesn’t immediately work, they give it up for a different one.

Yes, there have been many huge successes recently, but most “overnight” triumphs have come from years of just plain hard work and dedication.

Therefore, as they say “plan the work and work the plan.”  Did you know that the origin of this quote is unsure, although it has been used by many people? These include Vince Lombardi, Margaret Thatcher, and even Victor Hugo. With such illustrious support, perhaps you could work your own plan a little better, no?

Plan the work and work the plan. #Plan #Action #Learning Click To Tweet

But remember, today’s world is one of constant change, so even if you do plan, remember to also stay flexible and adapt to the changing circumstances of the market or your brand. And never totally give up your plan at the first sign of failure either. Just because one part of the plan didn’t work doesn’t warrant throwing out the whole thing.

 

6. Don’t wait until it’s urgent

As I tried to wean myself off the painkillers, I found myself alternating between extreme pain and none whatsoever. The carers told me that while it’s a good objective to reduce drug usage as quickly as possible, it is counter productive to not take painkillers when they’re needed.

By my deciding to “wait and see” if the pain got worse before asking for medication, I found that the drugs became less effective.

Small, slow steps work better than giant leaps in so many areas because they are sustainable. Think New Year’s resolutions, like crash diets, new fitness regimes, or changes in lifestyle habits. It’s the small, almost imperceptible changes that tend to last and lead to success.

How you can apply this idea: So many adjustments in business involve making significant changes, whether cultural or process-wise. As the well-known saying goes:

“The best way to eat an elephant is one slice at a time.” 

Therefore when introducing large changes within your organisation, break them down into more “humanly” manageable steps. Want to make a radical change in one of your processes? It is often more effective to start by modifying the beginning and the end of the process. The middle steps then adapt automatically as new needs are identified.

For example, in updating your innovation process, start with better identifying the target customers and their needs. Then look how the launch will be rolled out and monitored amongst them. You will quickly realise that brainstorming in a vacuum or testing multiple concepts just before launch is no longer effective – if it ever was! These parts of the process will then be adapted to the new demands.

Time to revamp your own processes? Find out more about our I3: Improved Ideation and Innovation and other 1-Day Catalyst Training sessions HERE.

 

7. It all starts and ends with the customer

During my hospital and clinic stays I realised that the staff were there for me, not vice versa. I am extremely independent and had to learn to accept the help of others, even for some of the most intimate actions. It was “normal” for them, but not for me.

They recognised that and did everything they could to make me feel at ease. From being there just when I needed them, to eclipsing to leave me alone when I needed space. The staff knew and demonstrated that it was I who was important.

How you can apply this idea: Take a look at your website, your communications, your plans; do they all start and end with the customer?

Do you publish content your customers want to read, or just what you want to tell them? Does your contact information include every possible way a customer can connect with you or just a static form and drop-down menu?

Are your communications relevant and emotionally validating for your customers?

Do your plans mention the customer as often as the brand? Remember:

“There may be customers without brands, but there are no brands without customers.”

Do they also show images of customers and include extensive knowledge and understanding about them?

If not, then perhaps you found inspiration for change in the above examples. Take one small step and make one of the changes mentioned; the benefits will be quick to appear.

For more ideas about improving your customer understanding, why not watch the FREE Customer Centricity Champions Webinar? It shares many tips, tools and templates to catalyse your business and improve your customer understanding immediately.

7 Reasons Companies Fail to Adopt a Customer First Strategy (And How to Succeed)

By now, every CEO knows that a stronger customer focus is the answer to many of their business challenges. Why therefore do so many companies still struggle to adopt a customer-first strategy and culture?

Read on for my own thoughts and perspectives on what should be a top company objective for proven business success.

1. The CEO has stated it as a company objective but has not detailed what and how the organisation will change

While it is essential that a customer-first strategy has a board-level sponsor, it is important that every employee understands their role in making it happen. It should not be treated as just another project but as a long-term company top 3 objective.

When this happens, every division is obliged to see how they will be impacted and what part they will play in meeting it. This is one area where the CEO can’t set it and forget it. He/she needs to be regularly informed of progress and ask “awkward” questions to ensure that everyone is embracing it. Without company-wide support, it will never succeed.

The CEO needs to ask the awkward questions to ensure everyone is embracing a customer-first strategy Click To Tweet

2. The organisation has not fully embraced the strategy

As mentioned above, everyone has a role to play in satisfying and delighting the customer. It is not the job of marketing, sales or market research alone. It is vital that each employee thinks customer first and ensures that every action and decision they make is customer centric.

One easy way to do this is to ask this question at the end of every meeting: “what would our customers think of the decision we just made?” If there is something they wouldn’t like or you know that you yourself wouldn’t approve of, then it needs to be reconsidered.

What would our customers think of the decision we just made? #CEX #Customer Click To Tweet

3. The project is treated just like any other

As with every well-defined objective, it is important that there is a leader supported by a team, to make progress while also adapting and adjusting as challenges arise in its execution. The same is true for a customer-first strategy.

However, unlike most other projects, this one will not have an end date! It should have a timeline to identify milestones, of course. But as the customer will continue to change, the actions needed will need constant adaptation. I like to say that “customer-centricity is a journey, not a destination.”

Customer-centricity is a journey, not a destination. #CEX #Customer Click To Tweet

4. The initiative does not have a visible leader

The initiative must have an executive sponsor and a passionate and charismatic leader, to excite and drive the whole organisation towards a more customer-centric approach to business.

Once the board has endorsed the initiative, the every-day leadership should be handled by someone who exemplifies customer-centricity and has a passion for customer delight. In the most customer-centric organisations, this person is a Chief Customer Officer who sits on the executive board alongside the CEO, CFO and CMO.

According to this recent article in Forbes, the responsibilities of a CCO are to:

  • 1. Bring The Customer To Life
  • 2. Reach Outside The Organization
  • 3. Involve The Front Lines
  • 4. Embrace The Data

As you can see, these are actions that demand specific capabilities that complement rather than replace those of the heads of sales, marketing and PR. That is why a customer-first strategy needs a separate functional head. Trying to integrate these into the responsibilities of these leaders is unlikely to meet with much success.

 

5. No-one understands how to move the initiative forward.

When you don’t know where you’re going, most people are afraid to take the first step. But that’s the only one you need to know. It’s easier to course-correct when you are moving than when you’re standing still. As already mentioned, customer centricity is a journey, not a destination.

That’s why many organisations now work with a business catalyst to help them take those all important first few steps. Once the project is up and running, occasional sessions are then sufficient to keep the internal excitement for the customer growing.

Successful businesses work with a business catalyst to help them take the important first few steps of a customer-first strategy Click To Tweet

6. Everyone in the organisation is not clear about their role in satisfying and delighting the customer.

It is well-known that companies such as Amazon and Zappos have new employees enjoy direct contact with the customer from their very first days working in the company. However, this is something that should be encouraged on an ongoing basis as well.

Ideally, every employee should get the chance to watch, listen and interact with customers regularly. The best organisations have such connections on every employee’s annual objectives, specifying such exchanges on a monthly basis as a minimum.

7. They think it costs too much

While this may be the perception, in reality, it costs a lot more NOT to adopt a customer-first strategy. It makes both business sense AND customer sense.

There has been so much research done on the impact of a customer- first strategy that there is no doubt that it provides a positive ROI (return on investment):

  • Walker found that 86% of buyers would pay more for a better experience.
  • Genesys showed that improving the experience for customers is the key to increasing retention, satisfaction and sales.
  • Deloitte and Touch claim that customer centric companies are 60% more profitable.
  • Bain & Company research shows that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by between 25% and 95%.

These numbers should be sufficient to convince every CEO that a customer-first strategy is worth investing in. In fact, it is an essential strategy every CEO would be wise to adopt, no matter what industry they are in.

So what are you or your CEO waiting for? Did I miss a different problem you are currently facing? What other challenges have you faced or are now facing in adopting a customer-first strategy? Please let me know by adding your comments below.

What a Customer First Strategy Means Today (Why Your Company Needs to Recenter Behind It)

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Every few days there seems to be another customer service disaster that fills the newspapers and online social media shares.

Almost every single organisation, big or small, recognises the importance of their customers. They talk about customer centricity but very few actually go beyond voicing their opinions. Why?

A customer first strategy is not so hard. Just think customer first in everything you do. So how come most businesses get it spectacularly wrong? I think the reason is because they don’t see the immediate return and it costs money to implement. What do you think?

Reasons for having a customer-first strategy

There has been enough research done to prove that the return on a customer first strategy is significant. Here are just a few of the numbers I found.

  • 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. But only 1% of customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations. CEI Survey
  • 89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report
  • By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Customers 2020 Report
  • A 10% increase in customer retention levels result in a 30% increase in the value of the company. Bain & Co

Those are numbers that would make any CEO sit up and take notice! But will it make them act? What’s holding them back from investing in their customers rather than (just) in the products and services they offer?

I believe that those numbers can no longer be ignored. It’s time every CEO started initiating a move to a more customer centric organisation. NO more excuses; this has to be (OK, one of) your top priorities!


If you’re ready to put your customers first, then why not sign up and join the FREE Customer First Strategy Webinar. In it, I share many Tips, Tools and Templates to improve your Customer Targeting, Understanding & Engagement to Grow your Business Faster.

get on the webinar

 

Marketing are too busy building brands

With so much information available today, marketing is being challenged to demonstrate its ROI. This might explain why they are still putting their efforts into brand building, sometimes to the detriment of their customers, consumers and clients.

However, an analysis run by IBM on research carried out in the UK last year by the Callcredit Information Group gives a different reason. They found that the majority of marketers is feeling overwhelmed by all this data. Their explanation for this is that "only 29% of marketers believe they have the necessary skills to analyse data, with 44% planning on investing in further training over the next two years to boost confidence within their organisations around the handling of information." 

According to a Forrester report, 44% of B2C marketers are using big data and analytics to improve responsiveness to customer interactions. But of equal importance in terms of top two mentions, is the desire to generate insights. ( Source)

Top 3 critical factors to marketing program success

It surprises me that despite the constant flow of data into companies they still lack insights into their customers. As I'm often quoted as saying:

"We're drowning in data but thirsting for insights."

Marketing is clearly so busy using data to manage pricing, distribution and communication channels, that they are not using the information to get to know their customers better. This conclusion is confirmed by a and-sales/#3fdc714521cf">Forbes article which mentions that marketing is using big data to provide answers to "which content is the most effective, how to increase conversion rates and customer lifetime value." It would be good if they used it to increase satisfaction and loyalty, no?

Big data has actually done customer understanding a disfavour since organisations are hardly increasing their spend on market research according to ESOMAR's latest industry figures. The industry grew a measly 2.2% in 2015, the first "significant" growth recorded in five years! Compare this to the more than 4% increases recorded for ad spend over the past five years.

 

ESOMAR MR industry growthTrends in ad spend

 

 

But there is some hope. A recent report on the KPIs used by marketing showed that Marketers are using a variety of metrics to measure the impact of their brand marketing activities. and.me/state-of-branding-report-2017/">(OnBrand Magazine study) In surveying more than 560 global brand managers and CMOs, the analysis concludes that new customer acquisition (75%) and social media engagement (72%) are the two primary ways they use to determine the success of their brand marketing efforts.

However, there is still a lot of room for improvement. A 2016 and-insight/2016-cmo-summit-survey-highlights">Spencer Stuart survey shows data analysis and insights are one of the three main areas where CMOs need the most development as a leader. Unfortunately, they are also the skills which more than a half of them say are most difficult to find when building a team!

 

CMOs need more analytical skills

Marketing team skills needed

So if CMOs can't develop insight about their customers, shouldn't market research be more not less important to them? After all, it's the one profession which spends its whole time trying to understand the market and customers. So what's going wrong?

 

Market research is seen as a cost, not an investment

Companies still need market research to understand their customers. Yes, there is a wealth of information flooding into organisations with the IoT, but those numbers don't tell you their "why." That's where market research comes into its own. It needs to provide more "why" answers and not just the mere statistics they seem comfortable dropping on the laps of executives and marketers alike.

I believe that (a large?) part of the issue is also the researchers themselves. They're not sociable, speak a language others don't understand and seem afraid to voice their own opinion let alone make recommendations.

This was recently confirmed in The Vermeer Millward Brown Insights 2020 research. It clearly showed the advantages of a senior market research position at board level. But to get there, most researchers need new skills. The critical capabilities which were said to highlight the biggest differences between leaders and laggards were in business acumen, creative solution thinking, storytelling and direction setting.

It seems a real pity to me that the very people who should benefit from the explosion in data availability are not profiting from it. As if their needed skills are not enough, there is also a real opportunity for them to lead the customer first strategy in many organisations.

Customer services are seen as complaint handlers

When I was first hired to head up the global consumer excellence division for Nestle, I found a group of siloed departments which rarely shared information. Even worse, the customer care centre was seen as mere complaint handlers. Their image was of a group of women who spent their days on the phone talking to other women!

I don't think Nestle were the only ones who had this image at that time. I still find similar perceptions in many organisations which thankfully become my clients through a desire to make changes.

You only have to take a look at companies which excel at customer care to realise the business benefits of putting the customer first. Amazon, Southwest, Zappos to name but a few.

An excellent article by Shep Hyken called " and-customer-experience-cx-trends-for-2017/#415839175e58">Ten Customer Service And Customer Experience Trends For 2017" details the essentials of a forward-thinking customer-first strategy and what it means today. In it, he mentions that "According to Forrester, 72% of businesses say that improving the customer experience is their top priority. A study from NewVoiceMedia indicates that companies lose more than $62 billion due to poor customer service. No company can afford to be a customer service laggard."

The Forrester report from which Shep quotes was from an ongoing analysis that has been run each year since 2010. The key findings from the 2016 report showed:

  • In all five sectors they covered, companies with higher customer experience (CX) scores outperformed their rivals in revenue growth
  • CX leaders showed an annual growth rate of 17% compared to just 3% for the others.
  • The cable and retail industries beat the field in CX by 24% and 26%, which is a huge boost to the bottom line.
  • Even in the sector with the smallest range (airlines), there was a 5% difference between companies.
  • This also translated into subscriber growth – in the cable industry leaders grew internet subscribers by 23.9% more than others and video subscribers by 13.9%

Along with the previously mentioned statistics, I can see no reason for a company not to invest in a customer-first strategy. If you can think of any yourself, then I'd love to hear them in the comments below.

 

In conclusion

So to answer the title of this article, a customer first strategy needs an organisation to recenter itself behind this company-wide objective. It can make a real difference in terms of both sales and profits to those who follow this direction. But it is essential to have executive support and true commitment from every employee to think customer first.

 

It will take skill upgrades for both marketing and market research departments to translate the data and information gathered into actionable insights.
And it will mean every employee having the chance to get close up and personal with customers. This is the only way for them to understand the role they play in satisfying and delighting them.

 

Are you ready to adopt a customer-first strategy? If so, then let's discuss how you can identify the priority changes needed through our proprietary C3C Evaluator tool. Book a free half-hour strategy session and we will send you the link.

 

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