I serve as a member of the Advisory Council for CustomerThink.com. CustomerThink is a global online community of business leaders who strive to create profitable customer-centric (CRM) business strategies. The July CustomerThink editorial calendar focuses on the use of technology to power up customer management. In fact, the main focus is on how technology can help accelerate the success of customer-centric strategies. Customer feedback is critical to customer-centric strategies; if the truth be known, often times the feedback is not exactly good news. For example, software companies sometimes receive bug reports and feature requests from their customers. Yes, despite their best effort to ensure quality, a glitch in the software application may occur. And despite best efforts to really listen to their target market, there is always room for improvement, meaning feature requests.
Many times customers have to fill out a report form and either fax, mail, or email it to a technical support department where it is then hand-entered into the master bug database. This low-tech procedure provides no support for file attachments (for example – screen shots) and leaves room for communication error. In addition, the customer is not automatically notified that their issue has been added to future projects.
For ISV’s technology opportunities exist that allow for more effective and efficient beta programs and software releases. This technology allows customers to submit bug reports and feature requests directly into the issue management and defect tracking tool thus eliminating data entry errors and also saving data entry time. Are you likely to find these types of solutions under the normal CRM banner? No; but they are intended to keep your customer-focused strategy on track nevertheless.
Last year was a good year for Navy football fans. Wins over Army, Air Force and Notre Dame resulted in a bowl game, and 8 win 5 loss season.
Over thirty years ago as a Midshipman 4th class (Plebe) I pledged my loyalty to the Navy blue & gold no matter the record. Coaches will change, players will change, but my loyalty to Navy football will remain the same.
Loyalty created through an emotional bond (like the loyalty you feel toward your alma mater) is powerful. How can you build customer loyalty and form emotional bonds?
- Brand Quality: You need to start with a strong brand identity that your customers can identify with. Your brand must not only communicate a message, but also inform, motivate, and deliver as promised. The better your brand is at keeping its promises, the better your brand is at being trusted.
- Learning Relationships: Organizations that implement learning relationships are better able to understand and anticipate a customer’s unique needs. Learning organizations understand that CRM means listening to the customer to learn instead of talking to the customer to sell. Customers in a learning relationship experience a heightened sense of vendor awareness and are more likely to be loyal because their vendor “knows” them.
- Understand and Use technology to connect in positive collaborative ways: Customer connections that engender loyalty deliver a seamless experience across channels and touchpoints while demonstrating integrity and interest.
- Ensure and Empower: Ensure high quality customer interactions that demonstrate a caring attitude by empowering your employees to resolve problems. You can’t build loyalty if you don’t truly care about your customers.
- Great Service: Almost every customer has a technical / service support need at some point. Use support incidents as an opportunity to solidify relationships. By providing excellent service and quick resolution you can gain customer loyalty.
- One view of the company: Despite the desires of corporate managers, the customer ultimately controls the relationship. If the customer is in control, doesn’t he need a 360 degree view of the company? True customer relationship management is a process of making it easier for the customer to do business with you. That’s what builds loyalty and profit. Make it easy for your customer to do business with you.
- Layers: As SHREK might say… “customers have layers.” Relationships are built on trust and dialog. Give it time. Building genuine relationships with your customers takes time. Customer loyalty requires the care and commitment to take the time, invest the money, and have the patience to listen.
- Dynamic / Real-time processes: Building relationships takes time; however, instant gratification has been a feature of our everyday lives for a long time. Give your customers their rewards now, and keep your promises on time.
Last week I listened to a story about a small shoe repair shop as told by one of their long-time customers. It’s a heart-warming business story that I think you’ll enjoy. Blairsville Shoe Repair is located on Booger Hollow in the North Georgia mountain area. The sole proprietor is a cobbler at night – he holds down a delivery job during the day. His shoe repair business is built on a self-service model and depends on the honor system. Customers leave their shoes for repair in a converted newspaper vending machine located on his front porch. Shoes that are ready for pick-up as well as the money folder are also in the machine. Yes, the money folder – customers pick up their shoes and leave their payment, and in 25 years he has never come up short.
In today’s competitive environment we can read plenty about earning the customer’s trust. However; you don’t see much written about trusting the customer. Can you earn the customer’s trust without first trusting the customer? Free software evaluation downloads are a form of two-way “Booger Hollow” trust. The evaluator gets value in the form of free use of the software for a trial period (expensed R&D / intellectual property) in exchange for some degree of personal information. Now, the “exchange rate” is sometimes a point of discussion; that is to say, how much personal information is too much to ask for in exchange? It’s a difficult question and software vendors vary on the topic. How would you manage the exchange on Booger Hollow?
This expression means that it is better to try to avoid problems in the first place, rather than trying to fix them once they arise. If that is so, and I do believe this homily is accurate, then “an ounce of prevention against poor software quality is worth a pound of customer loyalty, and a ton of corporate profits!”
How so? Well, Seapine Software has now surveyed nearly one thousand software development and QA individuals through our Seapine Software Quality-Ready Assessment and found that 20% of organizations have limited ability to trace software development artifacts and that 19% of organizations do not track project data electronically. The survey also uncovered that if software organizations release once per year that 34% of those organizations are only on-time and within budget once every four years. Ouch! What actions should they be taking to guard against poor software quality? To find out take a look at our most recent QRA Fast Facts white paper: http://downloads.seapine.com/pub/papers/QRAFastFactsTrack.pdf
Top flight customer support can create a sustainable competitive advantage for company’s that are able to deliver the right customer care. Delivering superior customer support may sound easy; however, it’s not. In fact, according to a survey by Harris Interactive and RightNow Technologies 85% of consumers say they’ve sworn, shouted, cried, smashed things, or experienced chest pains while waiting for help on tech-support call lines. In other words, many support organizations are not doing it right.
In my marketing role at Seapine I’m very thankful to have a world-class support organization standing behind our brand. The Seapine Customer Support organization is staffed by individuals who are truly customer-focused, and their efforts positively impact our customers. That impact was recently reflected in our March customer satisfaction surveys. The attached is an amusing and fun message that originally went out only to Seapine employees. I’m going to take a chance and share it with you:
You’re invited to view a short presentation titled Seapine Software Customer Support:
OK, OK …my impersonation of Harry Caray isn’t world-class, but now you know why I’m excited about our customer support. Great support is part of a quality customer experience.
Not long ago one of my marketing students asked “Will it play in Peoria?” I don’t often hear that question anymore, but every now and then it surfaces. If you have experience in marketing you may remember the real story behind that famous query. You see, during the heyday of American vaudeville, the answer to that question determined whether a show would be a hit or a flop. The thinking was that if the show wasn’t acceptable to those in the heart of America’s heartland, there was no chance it would make it anywhere else in the country. If it didn’t receive a strong approval, one of two things usually happened: The show was rewritten, or it was canceled. Later, the question was adopted by marketers as an informal phrase to stress the importance of making sure that your product or service addresses the needs and desires of your targeted market.
Interesting story Alan – but what’s your point? Well, we recently asked the question; “Will Seapine play in Munich?” And the answer is YES! In fact, Seapine has acquired the business from QA Systems GmbH, a German company that has, over the past five years, distributed Seapine products. The German subsidiary will be called Seapine Software Europe GmbH, and the Munich office will be headed by Robert Riccetti, business development manager for Europe. Building customer loyalty through quality is a long-term commitment and the establishment of Seapine Software Europe GmbH reaffirms our commitment to provide a quality customer experience for our customer base in Germany.