How to Win, Keep or Lose Customers

In the past couple of weeks, there’s been some world famous PR disasters. Pepsi’s embarrassing appropriation of counterculture, multi-ethnicity and grassroots demonstrations was one. United Airline’s violent enforcement of ridiculous procedures was another. And finally, last week an American Airlines’ flight attendant yelled at a crying mother and hit her with her stroller, narrowly missing the baby in her arms. These are of course major fails, that senior management are working around the clock to try to limit the fallout over. But more importantly, every single day, most companies mistreat their customers. Bad service at restaurants. Inflexible staff. Annoying sales calls. Stupid ads on TV. Illogical and unfair policies in financial institutions. Retail staff who just answer “sorry, we’re out”, when a customer is looking for an item. Customer service representatives who forget that their job is first and foremost to listen to customers. And there are millions of other examples. Common sense has gone out the window, and “policies” and “procedures” have walked in the door. And it’s ruining businesses. Or at least customers’ perception of those businesses.

If you’re in business, you’re in the business of having customers. There is nothing more important than your customers. I’m pretty sure that everyone would agree with this statement, yet very few companies treat their customers accordingly. Every single customer interaction – from marketing, websites, store visits, customer service calls and visits, to social media and word of mouth – is a chance to either win a customer, keep a customer or lose a customer. Creating the best possible customer experience in all these interactions (even the “negative ones” is crucial, not only to win or keep that one customer, but to build and grow the brand, across all your customers and potential customers.

Branding in 2017 is far more than advertising. Actually, advertising is probably the least important thing for your brand, at least if you’re well known already. Advertising, in this cacophony of information overflow we live in, is often doing more harm than good. Especially if it’s promotional. Consumers are being bombarded by messages, and the brain has trained itself to avoid these impressions as much as possible. That’s why I’m pretty sure that you can’t remember the last time you clicked on a banner ad. And the messages they do intercept, often contribute to a negative perception of the brand. Even brand advertising is starting to alienate people. There is quite often a huge disconnect between the promise in advertising and the real life delivery. One could say that most companies overpromise to underdeliver, while the opposite would obviously create better long-term results. And in this age and age of consumer power, people don’t want to be lied to or tricked into buying stuff. They want real connections with products and services they need and want – from companies they like and trust.

So here’s what needs to happen. Companies need to stop taking their customers for granted. Consumers have options. And although there is some degree of inertia, people are sometimes too lazy to change providers, in the end they will leave brands that keep making their lives harder. Businesses have to create new service and product solutions that improves people’s lives. They need to improve service quality and deliver – throughout the organisation. They need to empower their employees to find solutions to the consumers problems, not create new ones. Obviously the customer isn’t “always right”. I’m certainly not advocating giving in to every whim of a customer. But every question, every request, every interaction has to result in a great experience for the customer – even if he doesn’t get exactly what he wants.

Most of all, we need to bring back common sense in business. The number of times we see companies just complicating things for the sake of making things complicated, is horrendous. Most of the time, the customer service representative (or something similar) even knows that the way they are treating their customer is wrong, but their hands are tied. They have to “do their job’ and follow the right procedures and policies. But what if the job of a customer service representative was to help the customer solve their problem? What if they were empowered to find solutions, or point them in the right direction? Take the millions of dollars brands are wasting on advertising, and put it into making their experience better, and suddenly, the company will prosper. Even if the solution in the short term doesn’t seem profitable, it will pay off in the long term.

Creating better customer experiences is therefore a combination of common sense and courtesy (the stuff your mom taught you), better products and services – and more flexible policy implementations. This can only come through more empowered employees and distributed decision making. Businesses have to start trusting their employees. They have to start believing in their customers. And they have to start implementing strategies that work for their customers, not against them.


Erik Ingvoldstad is the Founder and CEO of Acoustic Group.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticGroupSG
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