Friday, June 16, 2006

Customers have choices

We live in the Information era. Information is power, Internet abounds, almost everybody knows what Google is (ever tried finding out in 1998 how many people had an inkling?).

From information emanate choices. You have choices, I have choices, businesses have choices and so do their customers. Yet whilst businesses are busy prioritizing their choices of technologies, suppliers, markets & strategies to create opportunities (which is good for them), they are being stingy when it comes to giving choices... choices to their customers.

Customers cannot choose whether they will call, email, webchat with, or SMS the business, its usually the jurisdiction of the business to define how they allow customers to contact them. There are many companies who do include many of the above channels in their access strategy, but all these interactions from "siloed channels" are treated "as if" they are from different entities, even when the same customer contacts through different channels. So businesses are taking away the choice of the customer to remain as "their customer" - an individual entity - instead they reduce her to a bunch of unrelated interactions.

Customers cannot dictate the amount or effectiveness of self-service they wish to have, it is the business that determines how much and how helpful those systems will be. Self-service should reduce wait time for the customer, and not test their patience level with shabby touch-tone menus full of "absurd choices". Worse still are those companies who want to reduce the cost of serving customers and hence "force" them in the IVR - leaving them to perish there - without any option to zero out to a live agent. (Refer - that is a great attempt at dealing with this "Mr. Hyde" facet of the IVR, though I know as a consultant that the IVR can be an excellent Dr. Jekyll, as long as you are willing to let it be so)

Businesses do not ask the customers "tell us what you want". Their customer surveys are self-centered, rarely checking whether their access strategy is right. And when they do get excellent scores from their customers on other "we think these are critical" items, rarely do they raise the bar and go after fixing their customer access strategy.

Henry Ford was credited with saying that customers could have his Model T in any color they wanted as long as it was black. That was in a different era, and businesses just cannot afford to try and replicate this attitude any more.

In today's "connected world", if you are not giving your customers the power to choose how and when will they contact you, then you are not in the business of giving choices. Consequently there are great chances that your customers will still go ahead and exercise their choice - the choice of abandoning the business relationship.

With increasing awareness and competition, exercising this last choice is not going to be very difficult any more.



Tom Vander Well said...

Great post. You're so right. Businesses need to expand their sights and find out how their customers want to communicate. Excellent point! Thanks for posting.

Rajas said...

Thanks Tom: An unforeseen, inadvertent error prevented me from getting your comment in time. Nevertheless, it was great to get your comment. It's an honor for me, and eggs me on towards greater things.