The big question today in marketing is this.
“Is the face to face contact as critical in forming client relationships as it used to be?”
With today’s unprecedented connectivity over the Internet, by email, and the 24 hour presence of the smart phone, companies must now question just how much they can afford to spend on paying for face to face contact with customers.
Consumers complain continually about the lack of the personal touch
“I can’t get a living person on the phone!” repeats itself across America thousands of times every day. Yet companies persist in pushing the consumer to their website or requiring them to punch an endless series of numbers on the phone pad to get to the right department.
And even finally reaching the department that can help, the customer must wait for 15 minutes or more for someone to answer the phone only to get cut off!
So interacting with the Internet actually becomes a necessity for the abused customer, if not relief from the oppression!
This same stinginess of human contact finds itself in the BtoB world as well.
Travel costs so much that companies have forced their employees to travel on their own time on the weekends to save on airfare and stay in lower grade hotels that may not have such basic essentials as Internet connections. Companies have become more restrictive on the daily allowances for food and other incidentals.
But now the pressure is on to find added ways to reduce travel costs. Companies are cutting down on travel that is not absolutely required. The fact that this approach has survived and prospered gives credence to the concept that face to face time may no longer be essential to the client relationship.
Since most companies have adopted these policies with consumers and business clients, the trend has taken on such strength that companies have actually gotten away with it to a large extent.
My take on this topic taken from a recent LinkedIn Interchange
Note one reader’s comment and my response on LinkedIn related to the agent’s reduced role in selling some forms of insurance.
One agent respondent said: “Often, websites that are insurance related are places for people to get quotes and you get transaction customers and not clients.“
My response: “The difference is that today a face to face relationship may not be as necessary as it was in the past.
In my opinion, "clients" can develop relationships purely by phone and email.
That is the reality in a highly connected world where it is hard to compete when the customer decides to make decisions based on consumer referrals provided on social marketing websites and Internet driven research.
Clients have become acclimated to Internet research, Internet referrals and phone support from knowledgeable phone agents.
As hard as it is to want to see it otherwise, I think it wise to rethink how "clients" make initial AND ongoing buying decisions.
Face to face relationships do not carry the automatic assumption that your client will always rely mainly on a personal relationship to make small or even large financial commitments”
Do you think that business and consumer clients have weened themselves away from the traditional face to face sales model? Or are we missing something here?
I think the way a company writes its surveys says a lot about the company.
Have you noticed how many surveys seem to skirt around the really meaningful questions? When they ask for your experience with a recent purchase, they ask at what level the company met your expectations on a scale from 1 to 10. Then they break down the question into subparts like this:
-Was your product delivered on time? Answer on a scale of 1-10.
-Did you receive the product as ordered? Answer on a scale of 1-10.
-Was the product in good condition when you received it? Answer on a scale of 1-10.
-Was the sales representative who took your order courteous? Answer on a scale of 1-10.
And the questions go on for 20-30 minutes without ever addressing the real problem. I will never order from them again even though I gave them a 9 to 10 rating on ALL of their questions.
So what is the problem?
The problem is that in spite of the courtesy of the sales person, I was frustrated by their heavy accent and their inability to understand fully what I was saying to them. I had to repeat and spell out my name, address, city, state, zip and other information four to five times.
The survey never gave me an opportunity to tell the company my real problem. No open ended comments section was provided.
Those surveys that do give me a chance to describe the problem require that I answer all of their questions first before dealing with MY problem.
In such cases, I will abandon the survey before going further because they took too long to ask me what the problem was.
What really riles me is this. It's as if the authors of the survey already knew about the problem. That was why they never asked it or gave me a chance to write it up. They are in denial.
As a customer, all I wanted to do is write one single paragraph with my concern without bothering to answer the other irrelevant questions. But no. The online survey forces me to tell them how great they are before I can get to a comments section.
The questions may be relevant to the company. But as a dissatisfied customer, great performance in all other areas were neutralized by MY problem.
The bottom line: the survey actually betrayed the company making my bad phone experience worse. The company would have done better never to send out the survey in the first place.
It seems to me that customer driven companies really want to know about how they can improve their service. Bureaucratic and product driven companies, on the other hand, merely want to look like they care about the customer. They are compiling statistics for statistics' sake.
This is not a search for truth about their customer service. This is a thinly veiled quest to look good to themselves and their management.
The best questions are open ended.
But computers can't compile this kind of information. So they use yes and no answers even if they really don't address real service issues.
Forbid that the company might actually have to get a human being involved in reading the answers and writing up a subjective summary of the comments! That costs too much and takes too much effort just to find out how the customer really feels.
How about taking the ultimate step by contacting dissatisfied customers asking them to elaborate on their comments? Or at least write a personal note to them stating how you intend to resolve this problem in the future. Companies should consider rewarding such customers with a discount coupon on their next purchase to show their appreciation for taking the time to complete the survey.
But be sure to give that person a US based sales person so you don't repeat the offense!
If you are going to do a survey, please make sure your motives favor the customer rather than some internal agenda. Only then will the customer walk away from your survey feeling that perhaps the company really does care about them.
Traveling to Europe or other foreign lands serves as a benchmark for just how well American businesses do in the area of customer service.
Flying on some foreign airlines show a distinct contrast in what most Americans expect in the way of service.
The airline either disregards the fliers’ needs or makes the journey a pleasurable experience far surpassing any American airline. American based airlines can barely keep themselves out of bankruptcy. This is not the best environment for creating a customer centric environment.
The Airline industry is loosing ground daily in the area of customer service.
On the other side of the coin, European service standards lag behind American companies as a whole. In my opinion, hotels and other such service intensive businesses as a whole in Europe serve you with skill, but with little concern about your needs as one of their customers.
So American businesses provide one of the best jobs in the world in meeting the demanding service requirements of Americans.
But getting back to the subject at hand in America. Let’s shift our attention from airlines to banks.
They are popping up at every corner in a last stand against the encroachment of virtual banking. When they should look to their customers and their service needs, they revert to what was once perceived as the gold standard in customer service.
What was that? Convenience offered by geographic proximity to their customers. Hence the emphasis on bricks and mortar.
In one blog, a respected financial services marketer was bemoaning the lack of services in the Financial “Services” Industry. And one commenter to this blog provided clues as to why banks are showing so little progress in serving the needs of their customers. My response exposes what I believe represents the single largest barrier to creating a corporate environment where customer service can thrive.
“Having worked at two major US banks, let me share some thoughts.
First, all banks like to keep their people very busy. Most bank employees have more work than time in the day. Other challenges include shifting budget priorities, changes in business climate, urgent compliance and regulatory issues, merger and acquisition activity, management rotations, new products, new customers, and on and on. All these issues create the tendency for bank employees to become very internally focused. And you are just another vendor. They have bigger problems to solve than whatever you are asking.
My advice is to make things personal. Form a strong relationship with your business partners in Wachovia. Set up regular communication sessions. Buy a lunch. Help your business partner solve their problems. When you make meaningful personal connections, you'll enjoy repeat business and be able to work through problems together.”
“This suggestion may work. But ...
Shouldn't it go the other way around? Banks exist because of and for their customers. Who is serving whom?
The bank should take this customer to lunch and court him so HIS problems are solved!!! Who cares what the bank's problems are when they don't concern his problems?
When a bank's problems are more important than the customer's problem, then that bank should close its doors.
Customers will flee these types of organizations when an alternative comes up. And that alternative will happen sooner rather than later.
Nobody will mourn at the funeral when these types of firms disappear or go under.
My advice to this customer …
Search out a local bank that has not succumbed to the merger mania. I bank with a local bank here in Texas and have both a business and personal account with them. After 6 years, I still go out of my way to travel to their branch for services passing by at least 10 others that are closer to my location.”
What keeps companies from solving customer problems? In a nutshell, it has to do with priorities. The company that wants to serve it’s customers above all has learned that the bank’s most important problems are the customers’ problems. Otherwise, the bank begins to serve itself rather than its customers.
What other barriers do you see inhibit companies from becoming or retaining their customer centricity?