Sunday, July 5, 2009

Customer Service vs Customer Orientation

If you review the titles of customer service representatives in companies today, you’ll find some real gems: Customer Advocate, Customer Care Representative, and Customer Champion are some of my favorites. These position titles rank high on my list because I think they’re great identifiers of how companies are set up to systematically abuse and mistreat their customers.

Yes, you read it right. All too often our businesses are designed not from a customer-service perspective, but from a company-service perspective. This in mind, it is no surprise then that businesses today need advocates and champions for their customers—employees who are, by nature of their title, charged to do battle with the company on behalf of the customer.

A study a few years ago of customers that stopped doing business with a company cited the top reasons why those customers left. The number one reason, beating out all the others combined was an attitude of indifference by employees or staff. 68% of the customers who defected said they were tired of being treated like a number, or a non-person. More than two-thirds of customers said they were tired of being ignored.

This statistic has some hardcore bottom line lessons for us. If the standard statistic is true—that it takes at least five times more to obtain a new customer than to keep an existing one—businesses today are wasting billions of dollars by the simple act of not caring for their current customer base. Believe it or not, but the situation is actually worse than that. Companies today are doubling their losses by losing existing customers due to an attitude of indifference AND by spending more money to acquire new customers into a system that doesn’t work—a system that will ultimately abuse those new customers too!

Ironically enough, the solution is rather simple. Organize and design the business to meet the needs of the customer. Peter Drucker once said that “marketing is so basic that it cannot be considered a separate function. It is the whole business seen from the point of view of its final result, that is, from the customer’s point of view….Business success is not determined by the producer, but by the customer.”

Bottom line business success is achieved through sustainable customer success. To help your customers become successful, the solution begins with taking one step to change a policy or procedure that, from the customers’ perspective, is cumbersome and alienating. It's the difference between offering customer service to being customer-oriented. Service suggests you need to offer a guide to understand your rules, policies, and bureaucracy. Orientation suggests your entire organization is designed around providing customer value and removing anything and everything that stands in the way of that goal.

As you consider your own company, what feedback have you heard from your customers about how your business is set up? What would they change if they had a voice? If you don’t know, take some time this week and call five of your top customers and ask them these two simple questions: “What are the ways that we make it easy for you to be our customer?” and “In what ways do we make it difficult to be our customer?

-- David Kinard, PCM

[photo credit: Pete Blackshaw]


Ric Sweeney said...

Bravo David! Far too often, businesses simply provide service (good and bad) rather than considering the customer's needs and desires. Anyone who deals with the consumer, directly or indirectly, and in any capacity, needs to develop and nurture a customer orientation to truly build business success.

David Kinard, PCM said...


Yep -- you nailed it. Thanks for the additional insight.

Wasn't it Drucker who said "The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer"? If that's true, then customer service is a follow up to customer orientation.

-- David