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A Nov.11 Los Angeles Times column by David Lazarus makes more kicks at the commonly stated (if not truly believed, and for good reason) assumption of organizations, their contact centers, and their suppliers that customers really give a rat's hindquarters about customer service especially in this tough economy.
In the piece, titled 'The sad illusion of happy customers' Mr. Lazarus takes a sharp look at electronics retailer Best Buy's new nationwide marketing campaign 'They'll be happy, you'll be happy, we'll be happy.'
"What they're saying is that the company will bend over backward to help you shop for gifts this holiday season and will do whatever it takes to ensure that gift recipients are pleased with what they get. This, in turn, will warm the hearts of Best Buy shareholders.
"Happy customers is a long-term strategy for us," Best Buy's chief marketing officer, Barry Judge, told me. "If they're happy, they'll want to buy more."
"That's the idea anyway. But after visiting a couple of Best Buy stores and chatting with customers, I'd say the company still has some work to do on the happiness front.
"The trade-off is that you get the selection and square footage, but you have to hunt to find someone to help you," said Glendale resident Howard Erickson after buying a mini-fridge at the Best Buy in Los Feliz.
So how'd he do?
"I had to hunt to find someone to help me."
"I had a similar experience in the computer section until I finally spotted a salesguy and asked if he could show me a computer for under $500. He steered me toward a Hewlett-Packard model. I asked if there was anything else. The salesguy pointed me toward a Dell model for about the same price. I asked which was better.
"I don't know," the salesguy replied. "I guess they're about the same."
"Not that I'm picking on Best Buy, even though this week's TV and print ads all but dare consumers to judge the company by the quality of their shopping experience.
Customer support, says Mr. Lazarus" makes you feel like an uninvited dinner guest. A general indifference among employees as to whether you'll ever shop there again. Sometimes it feels like companies are determined to chase us away, rather than do everything in their power -- especially at times like these -- to build customer loyalty."
"Customer satisfaction has always been a major concern for most companies," Lars Perner, an assistant professor of marketing at USC's Marshall School of Business told the L-A Times journo. "But it's fairly difficult to implement. It's pretty labor intensive."
"He said that as long as low-low-low prices remain consumers' main priority, and as long as turnover remains relatively high among workers at service-oriented businesses, most companies just can't afford to keep sufficient numbers of well-trained staff on hand to meet customers' needs," reported Lazarus.
Columnist Lazarus and Prof. Perner got that right. Great customer-retaining service is nice to have but not if it means having high prices.
The message for contact centers and their parent or contractor organizations are really very simple. Your customers care first about price, second about products/service, and third about service. Therefore orient your business strategies and investments accordingly.
For contact centers that means more automation, and home agents (let the creepy-crawlies take over millstone bricks-and-mortar centers), on finding ways with analytics to reduce headcount, and less on customer loyalty, retention, and satisfaction programs. When it comes to hiring and training worry less about smarts and filling them with knowledge--you won't keep let alone attract them into all but the high-paying tech support centers anyway--but who can smile, sell, and do more than speak a.k.a. multitask.
Also focus your CRM initiatives on tracking customer interactions by channel to avoid pouring away money on asking customers to repeat themselves, and on cutting sales and service costs. Customers don't want except for the most sensitive products relatiobnships with your company. You are only as good as your last pricepoint.
Forget total customer lifetime value. With the way many businesses are going--the slow upturn is going to unlock mergers and consolidations to grow by acquisition rather than the more expensive and financially shakier approach of growing organically--the customers are going to outlive them.