thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Tells

By on August 26, 2009

Tells are indicators of what others see in you—how you will behave in any situation. Customers use all of your interactions with them to form an impression of how you will treat them as customers in the future. It is really important to understand these tells and to manage them deliberately because customers judge your company by them.

A tell in poker is a subtle but detectable change in a player's behavior or demeanor that gives clues to that player's assessment of his hand (Wikipedia). A tell in business is any organizational interaction (human or technological) that indicates how you really operate—and customers will pick up on it very quickly. If it is negative, it will send a direct message that you don’t want them as customers.

Every company will try to convince you that it is customer-centric. However, every company has thousands of tells that communicate to customers what their culture is like. The important thing to realize is that these tells must be managed across the entire organization—not transactionally with good “service” from front-line employees—but strategically company-wide. The structure must be recursive, built on customer-centered procedures or approaches that can be applied repeatedly. Success will be related to strong feedback loops that keep the business in touch with its customers.

When I travel, I use one hotel chain over 90% of the time. In terms of frequency, I am one of the top 5% of their customers and have an elite status in their rewards program. They know a lot about my preferences and my habits. Yet when I reserve a room online they always ask me for my AAA (American Automobile Association) number. Don’t you think they could program my information to remember that number? Instead, I have to pull the card from my wallet every time and enter the number.

I can’t believe that no employee of that hotel chain that has experienced this online booking process has not questioned the same issue. In fact, I was told by an employee on the elite customer help desk that he had worked there for seven years and that they had been receiving the same change request from customers for that entire time. When I submitted my improvement idea (not rocket science) to their online suggestion channel, they responded that they don’t have enough fields to store these numbers in their computer files. Yikes! The problem is bigger than I realized.

On a positive side, we have many clients that proactively ask their customers to rate their organization on its willingness to fix a problem—not a specific problem, but rather to what extent do these customers believe this organization will take ownership of their problem that they might have next week or next year, If you are customer-focused, that is a category that you want to score very highly on--because it announces whether your customers trust you to provide value. Do you know and measure this critical assessment with your customers?

Don’t marginalize your customers. The desired strategy should be to, first, get rid of all the negative tells. But this philosophy is grounded in a belief in reciprocity, a condition or relationship in which both sides are working on the other’s behalf in their exchange. Tells will give you away if they are negative but will also reinforce your stature if designed positively.

Companies don't forget their customers; they take them for granted. But you cannot hide this off-handed attitude for long. The evidence is in the tells that your customers pick up. On your journey to becoming customer-centered, look at every tell and make certain that it plainly shows that your organization is thinking like a customer.

The graphic with this post illustrates a SHOJI system, which indicates the “mood” of a room by monitoring a variety of factors

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