I had a very interesting discussion of the value of the customer relationship, during a recent conference that I gave on the topic.
I have already mentioned here that in French business culture, the customer is seen as a necessary evil, in particular in the B2C space.
Therefore, what we refer to as “the customer relationship” usually revolves around a strategy designed to avoid human contact. The Interactive Voice Response or IVR is the most glaring example of this.
The truth is that we never really try to satisfy our customers. We just try to make them cost us as little as possible.
And because the customer is invariably seen as a cost, service providers who work with customer relationship management have a tough job making their initiatives seem valuable and worthwhile.
This becomes even more relevant with counter-examples such as Free, who have demonstrated that it’s possible to have appalling customer service and still hold onto your customers.
So how does one justify the value of investing in the customer relationship ?
Today, this justification is found primarily in the purchases managed within customer relationship channels (upsell, crossell, retention).
But to go back to basics, this moment you begin to take your partner for granted is the moment you begin to lose them.
I believe the same holds true for customers, and this is the fundamental mistake : taking your customers for granted.
Nothing could be further from the truth… Customers should never be taken for granted. Even traditionally stable businesses like banks are starting to engage (to their despair) in a relationship of service provider to customer, which is a radical change after years of having the upper hand over blindingly loyal customers.
The days of dressing up to meet with your banker, in the hope of securing his good will, are long gone.
Today, if a service provider succeeds in helping you keep your customers, this is an achievement in itself and should be compensated as such.
I don’t believe in the long term viability of downgrading the customer relationship in the hopes of saving money (and “exclusively digital” does not mean “downgraded” in my book).
Bouygues Telecom initially positioned itself similarly to Free, but has since invested considerably in the customer relationship. In the same spirit, Vente Privée doesn’t spend on quick delivery services, but refuses to let a customer be dissatisfied with its services.
Many brands claim to be “customer-focused” (this go-to expression has become meaningless), and yet the vast majority admit to not having implemented a systematic process for improving the customer experience.
Don’t make that fundamental mistake.