“Thank you for your e-mail regarding your account. It is always our aim to provide the highest level of customer satisfaction. We are always concerned to learn that any customer is unhappy with the service we provide.
All applications are processed by our Customer Recruitment Department, so you will need to contact them directly [at phone number] with your request.
I must also advise you that if we do not hear from you within eight weeks of the date of this e-mail, we will assume that your complaint is resolved. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.”
The note ended with the writer wishing me his kindest regards.
Branding is the sum of the buyers’ experiences
This communiqué came from a business that regularly spends exorbitant amounts of money on branding their company, extolling the virtues of their products, and encouraging prospective customers to buy. Yet, they had clearly not spent as much effort developing their post-sales strategy.
What did this company do wrong? Rather than addressing my concern, the representative first gave lip service to the importance his company places on providing “the highest levels of customer satisfaction” Then, he suggested that I turn to someone else in his company for help. The buck clearly didn’t stop with him.
This “service” representative also made it clear that the onus was on me to resolve the issue. Finally, adding insult to injury, he apologized for the inconvenience he and his company must surely have been aware they were continuing to cause me.
What do you think my impression was of this company? What was the ultimate cost of this communication to the company? What could this representative have done differently to preserve good will--if not the sale?
When you think about these important questions, the answers are probably obvious to you. Why weren’t they obvious to the company in question?
Return on marketing investments are not always positive
It just didn’t add up. This company had invested in a direct sales force to sell me the product. They had invested significant sums in free gifts to sweeten the offer. Yet, in just one email communication, they had succeeded in reversing all the efforts they had made to get my business. Worse, they may have jeopardized any possibility of doing business with me in the future.
Chances are that many of you have received similar missives from equally well-known companies. How do strategic errors like this happen and what can companies do to prevent them?
Product Development – Giving buyers what they want the way they want it
Two posts back, we discussed the fact that if you want to speed up purchases, you need to know what’s important to customers and give them exactly what they want, the way they want it. This company clearly missed the boat. They got the core product right, but neglected to consider the ancillary services required to deliver it satisfactorily.
Although many companies think of product development as ending at launch, that’s not how buyers see it. Rather, buyers view the product in terms of their entire experience—from pre-sales offers, to purchase, to conformity with their expectations about functionality and ease of use. When their overall experience is positive, they buy again. When it’s not, they may even go so far as returning the product or canceling a service.
Nevertheless everyone makes mistakes. When businesses take steps to rectify the error, many buyers will give them a second chance and consider other products. When, on the other hand, companies are cavalier in their treatment of complaints, dissatisfaction can escalate. In the worst scenarios, buyers refuse to buy any products from the company and significant sums of promotion dollars spent on branding the company also go to waste.
Integrated marketing campaigns begin with integrated product development
What can businesses do to avoid these consequences? Here are some suggestions:
- Re-define “product” success to include the buyers’ ultimate satisfaction 6 to 12 months following the purchase, rather than mere execution of a sale.
- Encourage a culture where everyone in the company is motivated to personally contribute to the advancement of buyers’ satisfaction.
- Involve every internal department in the product development process to increase the chances of anticipating all buyers’ concerns, avoiding missteps, and ensuring seamless delivery.
- Ask them to research what actions their organizations can take to stimulate delight in their own areas of expertise—and what practices they’ll need to avoid.
- Review the ultimate proposed delivery process from the buyers’ perspective. What issues might arise? What can the company due to avoid them altogether? For unavoidable issues, what steps can be taken to resolve them sooner rather than later?
- Test the process with real users before launching and correct as necessary.
- Follow up on all system failures and take corrective action.
One manufacturing concern I worked for convened cross-functional teams weekly to review and determine the root cause of all customer-reported problems. First, however, they classified any shipment that resulted in dissatisfaction—for any reason--as “dead on arrival”.
Marketing Research shortens the sales cycle
At BB Marketing Plus, we work with clients to look at the whole picture, upfront, from the perspective of prospective buyers. To step into our clients’ buyers’ shoes, we do a lot of primary marketing research but we also gather information from internal experts--such as sales people and customer service personnel--who know from experience where potential pitfalls lie. Cross-functional development teams then use this knowledge to guide the entire product development and launch process.
We find that mapping the buying process —and finding out exactly what prospective buyers expect at every stage—greatly increases our clients’ ability to hit the mark with both their product offerings and their marketing messages.
How does your business find out what’s important to prospective buyers so that you can give them what they want—and do it their way?