Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Missed Opportunities

Lately, I've felt a bit like Colbert's "Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger" with all the customer service stuff I've been dealing with lately - problem appliances and great comebacks and such. Really though, it just makes a point that there is a lot of customer information available to companies that they simply don't even know how to access, let alone use. I've been very clear on this point for a very long time. Past employees and co-workers know this, even if they haven't always understood it and so maybe it's time I share some of these ideas with a larger audience.

Every day, consumers are saying important things about (y)our products and services. Often they are saying it directly to us though it isn't always in the form of a product complaint or request for help. Sometimes it's a side comment made during a complaint or request for help. Unfortunately, we only know how to address the direct problems and sometimes we don't even do that particularly well. The trouble is, we don't know how to hear this secondary information or even the real information behind the complaint or request for help any better than we know how to capture all of the most valuable knowledge and pass any of it on to the right people.

One guy who gets it and even helped me refine some of my thinking on the matter is Bill Price, formerly of Amazon. What he shared with me the day we first met over coffee (okay, mine was hot chocolate) was, "The best service is no service," meaning - it's better the company use all available information to foresee potential issues and address them so that customer never even have to contact the company for help in the first place. Not everyone gets that though, and when they do, they don't always know what to do with it.

I once sat in a room full of service and support managers talking about this very subject, most of them understanding they had vital information to share. "But how do we get the other departments to listen?!" one asked.

The answer seems simple to me. That information is a product. The other departments are your market. As with any bleeding edge product, you must first educate your market that they need what you have. You have to show the value and package it attractively, and when they really 'get it', they'll ask for it, even demand it.

What's so sad about companies not getting this is that while many consumers are out there saying things like, "Don't buy this product," - and many are listening to them - I'm out there saying, "Improve your inner processes to avoid these problems in the first place."

It doesn't have to be difficult, it just takes wanting to get there. For the price of a cup of hot chocolate, I'd gladly discuss some of the more esoteric aspects of customer service for an hour or two. Or, you can just hope customers don't get too mad.

Have you successfully re-architected company culture to be more customer-centric? If so, please share your story with me at techsurvivor@soaringmountain.com - I'm very interested to hear all about it.

What's valuable about what I know and what do I want to do about that?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.