Perception is key in any exchange. Given the same situation or set of choices, one can make very different decisions based off of the perception they’re given. Often when we are working with our customers, we need to modify perception through our messaging and branding of both our product and our customer service.
Sheena Iyengar studies how people choose (and what makes us think we’re good at it). In her address during July 2010 TED Conference: Sheena Iyengar on the art of choosing she had a small question and answer. During this Q & A, she discussed how people perceived nail polish colors and how that affected their decision:
Well, it’s funny that you should ask that, because one of the things that’s interesting about being blind is you actually get a different vantage point when you observe the way sighted people make choices. And as you just mentioned, there’s lots of choices out there that are very visual these days. Yeah, I — as you would expect — get pretty frustrated by choices like what nail polish to put on, because I have to rely on what other people suggest. And I can’t decide. And so one time I was in a beauty salon, and I was trying to decide between two very light shades of pink. And one was called “Ballet Slippers.” And the other one was “Adorable.” (Laughter) And so I asked these two ladies. And the one lady told me, “Well, you should definitely wear ‘Ballet Slippers.'” “Well, what does it look like?” “Well, it’s a very elegant shade of pink.” “Okay, great.” The other lady tells me to wear “Adorable.” “What does it look like?” “It’s a glamorous shade of pink.” And so I asked them, “Well, how do I tell them apart? What’s different about them?” And they said, “Well, one is elegant, the other one’s glamorous.” Okay, we got that. And the only thing they had consensus on: well, if I could see them, I would clearly be able to tell them apart.
“And what I wondered was whether they were being affected by the name or the contents of the color. So I decided to do a little experiment. So I brought these two bottles of nail polish into the laboratory, and I stripped the labels off. And I brought women into the laboratory, and I asked them, “Which one would you pick?” 50 percent of the women accused me of playing a trick, of putting the same color nail polish in both those bottles. (Laughter) (Applause) At which point you start to wonder who the trick’s really played on. Now of the women that could tell them apart, when the labels were off, they picked “Adorable,” and when the labels were on they picked “Ballet Slippers.” So as far as I can tell, a rose by any other name probably does look different and maybe even smells different.
“The choice that Sheena presented the ladies were two very similar shades of pink. half couldn’t tell the difference, and the other half who could, made a different decision based off of the perception or the name of the color. As she states, “a rose by any other name probably does look different and maybe even smells different.”
The same thing can be applied to our clients. The products or services that we provide, simply by branding it differently or presenting it differently, can increase the perceived value and therefore can increase the customer satisfaction.
Similarly, any escalated situation, presented & branded properly through messaging and perception, we can turn into a positive and relationship building interaction.
Rory Sutherland (the Ad man) Spoke in 2009 at Ted on how people have used perception to accomplish their goals.
Rory mentions that all value is subjective. With that in mind, what value are our customers really getting? Is it just the product? If so, I would recommend adding value to it. Not necessarily by adding a feature or improving the process. Why not improve the perception? Make your clients feel like they are getting way more than they are paying for. The same thing should be said of your service tactics. As you resolve issues for customers, use proper messaging and branding to give them the perception of increased value. This will improve their satisfaction and therefore their loyalty as a client.
Today I read a post on Service Untitled, How to diffuse an angry customer. Cheryl talks about the poor service shown by a local shoe store and some great ideas to improve it.
- It is important to hear the person out and thank the customer for bringing the problem to your attention.
- Call back the customer because it is important to preserve the relationship and keep her as a customer. Thank her for giving you the opportunity to help her and apologize for her dissatisfaction, even if she is wrong.
- Look at each complaint as special since each customer can amount to more business and be prepared to modify standardized procedures when exceptions present themselves as practical and realistic.
- Explain to the customer what can be done to rectify the situation…Consumers do not want to be scolded; they want their problems solved.
A comment from one of her readers reminded me of some experiences & thoughts I’ve had while helping customers (emphasis added):
“…It would send the message you’re doing what the company is telling you to do without giving it your own personal touch and empathy.
The above-and-beyond way complaints are sometimes handled may satisfy customers in the short term, but makes them adjust their expectations for the future upwards. In the end that leads to unrealistic expectations.
In the example above, if the customer were allowed to return the shoes without the box, next time she would maybe return only one shoe, because the heel broke off and she threw one away already. If that were allowed, she might return next time with only the receipt and no shoes and still expect her money back. That may sound silly, but I’m afraid that is what this world is coming too.
I struggle with both views, because as a Customer Care Manager, I want to do everything I can to keep my customers and get them to speak positively of me and my company. On the other hand, I don’t want to give away the farm. Am I supposed to keep giving into customer demands until I drive my business into the ground?
So which side are you supposed to stand on? I would debate that neither side is the right side. Giving into the customer and showing them excessive courtesy can fix the issue and relationship in the short term but long term, it’s generally not scalable and will come back to bite you. Not giving up any ground, being short and condescending hurts your relationship in the short term and, again, can bite you in the end because you’ve lost any loyalty you may have had.
I apply this to any other relationship in our lives. In certain cases you can be one extreme or the other, and you’ll end up just fine. Take for instance growing up with a sibling. You can be a complete jerk to them, get in fights, and out right hate each other one day. The next day, you’re playing like nothing happened. Similarly, you can do something totally over-the-top nice for them, and the next day you’re fighting as if it never happened.
As we grow up, we start treating our relationships a little differently. Take another instance: dating & courtship. As we run into issues, we can be over-the-top apologetic and get through it in the short term, but is the issue actually resolved? Or are we now expected to spend $500 every valentines day? On the other hand, we can resolve the issue by being short, even verbally abusive, but the resolution may get resolved or it may just end up in a nasty breakup with suit cases flying out of windows and compromising pictures showing up on facebook(…awkward).
Successful courtship & a healthy relationship requires attraction, loyalty, sacrifice, and proper communication from both sides. Proper communication includes resolution tactics that identify, resolve, & learn from each issue/situation. Just as many of our dating lives aren’t perfect (some farther from perfect than others), the business-to-customer dating life often isn’t perfect either. To be successful, both sides need to sacrifice to resolve issues. So here is how we resolve issues:
In order to rectify a situation, you need to know what the situation is. Often times a conversation will start out with one issue or concern in the forefront, but will fail to address the underlying issues that caused it in the first place. Both need to be resolved, but if you want to avoid the situation again, you really need to find out what the underlying issue is.
Now that you’ve figured out what the problem is, let’s resolve it. This needs to happen through sacrifice. Both sides need to sacrifice in order to get to a win-win situation. Unfortunately, the customer has usually already sacrificed (at least they feel that way). They’ve usually paid out some $$$ and feel wronged because of the situation. That means it’s the companies turn to sacrifice. Not so much that it will kill the business, but enough so the customer feels like their sacrifice is met and we can move forward. Also, once promises are made, execution is critical. The biggest part of the resolution is the follow through.
Ok, now that we’ve put a plan in place, let’s not go through that again! It’s time to take a personal inventory of our processes to make sure we don’t have another customer in that situation. (especially not the same customer!) When our processes are taken care of, it’s time to get back to business as usual. ie. dealing with the next set of issues that are thrown on our plate.
Here is an updated post on how to diffuse and angry customer.
Every Friday night my buddies come over for video game night. — That’s probably a little more information than I should share. But now you know…I’m a nerd. — During that night we usually hook our Xboxes up to a LAN and plan games over Xbox Live…and get PWND by a bunch of twelve-year-olds. My wife (as you probably are now) have questioned why we do this at our age. Quite frankly, it’s because we have fun hanging out with each other. We laugh, make jokes, curse at the TV & in general, have a great time. We do the same thing with College Football, Basketball, BBQs and any other reason to get together and hang out. The point is, we look for reasons to hang out with each other because we enjoy the company.
Let’s contrast that with the relationship we have with our clients. It seems like every Friday night, 10-15 minutes before closing time, one of our clients calls in to our customer service line. Generally, they aren’t laughing or making jokes; however, they do tend to curse (or at least they want to). They’re usually not calling in to spend some quality time building a personal relationship, rather they are calling in because the feel like something isn’t right.
Unfortunately, they are very correct. Something isn’t right. They are forcing communication, communication that should have been there prior to this call.
On occasion, one of my friends will have issues with me, or visa-versa. We are usually able to get over it extremely quickly and move on with our lives. The reason for this is because we’ve spent so much time hanging out. We know we don’t need to take something personally because we trust the other person. A mentor of mine called this the “bank of trust”.
Every time my buddies and I have an interaction, we either make a deposit or a withdrawal from the bank of trust. Every night my buddies get together to have video game night, we all make a deposit to this bank of trust with each other. As our balance increases, our trust of that individual increases and we feel less anxiety when they require our trust. ie, should I let my buddy borrow my car? should I let him watch my house while I’m on vacation? etc. On the other hand, if we have a negative interaction, we end up taking a withdrawal from the bank. ie. if my friend broke my couch during game night, or if he dinged my car when he was borrowing it.
Customer Service isn’t so different. Every time we have an interaction, we’re either making a deposit or taking a withdrawal from the bank of trust. So back to the late Friday call, this is generally the customer showing us that we’re withdrawing again and our balance is getting close to zero or maybe even in the overdraft (customer cancellation).
So what can we do to avoid overdraft fees? Well, just like your bank, you need to add more money to the account. In order to do this, you need to have positive interactions with your clients. Not just answering their call, not just contacting them now and again, but you need real positive interactions. I get to know my buddies birthdays, their family, what’s going on in their life, all through the time we spend hanging out. Why not do the same with your client? Next time you’re on a strategy call, find out who they are, when is their birthday, what are their hobbies? Share with them what yours are. On the next call, follow up on what you found out. This personal interaction will make large deposits into your account and can be the saving grace when you break their couch, dent their car, mess up on their campaign, etc.
I often find myself in a situation where I’m deciding how much effort should be put into keeping or saving a client. My accounting department would say, “hold them to the contract because they agreed to it!” Though my accounting team has a good point (they’re trying to keep our business viable), is the next few months of payment, their cancellation fee, or their initial purchase really all the customer is worth?
The community will give you a resounding “NO!” The Harvard Business School Published an article nearly 10 years ago discussing what a customer is worth. They mention two things that every customer reliant business (ie. every business) should remember.
Customer Loyalty is constantly diminished with the ease at which they find other viable options out there. Clients and consumers will find better prices than yours, they’ll find better products than yours, and they’ll show you no concern as your competition whisks them away.
A point that the Harvard article failed to touch on (probably because it has only become much more prominent over the last few years) is the speed & reach of word of mouth. So that’s going up as my third bullet point here.
Here’s a fun video that illustrates the speed and power of social media:
This means that a bad customer experience can and will probably be in the hands of hundreds, even thousands in a matter a few minutes. Many of those people can and should be potential customers. Many will be current customers.
So what are the options at this point? Do you need to bend over backwards for every client? Do you need to cater to every need at the client’s whim?
The phrase, “the client is always right” has never been more correct than it is today. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to go out of business trying to satisfy clients. But we’ll talk about diffusing angry customers in another post.
Right now let’s recap how valuable a customer is. My accounting department sees the initial value: the clients purchase/monthly subscription. The rest of my company, especially my marketing and service teams, need to look at the value of the client relationship (again another post). That relationship will keep that customer coming to you rather than your competitors, AND all of their friends/followers, their friends/followers, their friends/followers, etc.