I was thinking about the idea of being customer-focused in the context of some recent customer service gaffes that have had a lot of visibility – particularly in a time of social media “instant gratification” feedback.  Why is customer-focused action seemingly so difficult, and what is the cost of poor customer service decision-making – besides the embarrassment of being called out on Twitter and Facebook?

First, there was the Canadian loyalty program issue. This organization suddenly put an expiry date on points, didn’t make it really easy to redeem points, and, under pressure, ultimately reversed the decision. This loyalty program is one of the most successful loyalty programs ever created, with something like 70% of Canadians having the card in their wallet. (Full disclosure: I worked at a division of that organization for a couple of years about 10 years ago.) I have always had a lot of respect for their leadership team, and felt they had a good sense of customer needs and customer service – so this little saga surprised me.

It’s not clear if someone was providing poor advice or someone wasn’t listening, but I imagine that this episode has made their loyal customer base a little less so.  So maybe more points have to be offered or maybe more redemption deals might appear – either way, there is a cost. Me – I’m kind of thinking that I want to send back the products that I purchased with my “not enough points for what I really wanted so got some stuff so as not to have the points completely go to waste” points and have the points put back into my account.

The second notable example was a major US air carrier and their handling of the removal of the passenger from a flight back in April.  Setting aside the issue of using police to physically remove someone from an airplane seat (another blog entry entirely!), the responses from the usually on-point CEO were completely tone deaf.  And at one point, there was even an industry analyst on TV sounding like the passenger was to blame for causing this incident.

So people are boycotting this airline, and every airline has had to review and comment on their own policies and how they handle over-booking seats.  As well as reducing the image of that airline – and having them absorb the real cost of boosted compensation to bumped passengers – other airlines get free publicity showing off their comparatively better policies.  Oh yeah – and while nobody seemed to lose their job over this, the planned promotion of the CEO to Chairman is apparently not going to go ahead.  So maybe a big personal cost too.

One final positive example: my cat, Sam, has been ill and stayed at the vet for a couple of days last week.  While she was there, I was encouraged to call and check in on her status – and the information I got was prompt and up to date. I had chats with the vet during her stay to provide more details.  They even ran an extra test (which I was not charged for) to see if they could figure out what was wrong. When I brought her home on Saturday with a few different medications to take, I was thoroughly walked through the different meds and when/how they should be given to her.

This afternoon my vet called me to check in and see how she was.  Not a rushed call at all, we went through her symptoms and how she was doing.  I said I’d call if things went downhill.  The vet said he’d make a note to check in early next week if they didn’t hear from me before then.  So: active focus on my problem (well, technically the cat’s problem), proactive check in, taking independent action to help fix the problem.  Good customer service – I’ll be back and will recommend them to anyone who asks.

Which raises the question “ which customer-focused approach creates more value?

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 by Christy DeMont
Information Technology

Visit osborne-group.com for other ideas and opinions from our Principals on a range of topics. Their views are their own and do not necessarily represent The Osborne Group’s perspective. The Osborne Group provides interim executive management, consulting and project support across all sectors and over a broad scope of service areas.

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