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Before we look at customer centricity, let me start with a quote from a great English philosopher of 16/17th century – Francis Bacon[i]. You might be getting curious that the topic of the post is ‘customer centricity’, and what that has in common with the highlighted quote.
“For a crowd is not company; and faces are but a gallery of pictures; and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.”
To answer your question, let me draw this typical scenario involving dumb experience of customer centricity. I am sure many of you might have routinely encountered it while dealing with online service /e-com portals. Most likely, artificial intelligence and (less) intelligent analytics tools on the part of the firm’s technology backbone remain at its full bloom of performance in most of situations.
- Each time, a product/service query is made or a transaction is initiated, you are interrupted by a ‘Chatbot’ supposedly lurking on your transaction and jumping in to help you.
- Or, a transaction is initiated without completion, which trigger emails/messages with unlimited suggestions about potential product features, price change, service bundling and discount options.
- Or, whenever a transaction is completed, it triggers emails/messages with numerous offers of add-ons, upgrades and partner services.
- Or, after few transactions you are inundated with messages informing about eligibility for Platinum/Diamond/Gold Membership based on recent transactions history and you can avail benefits of ‘so and so offers’ and ‘so and so discounts’.
- Or, you are bombarded perennially with umpteen promotional offers clogging your inbox and you are left with only option to put the sender in junk category.
Howsoever unsolicited, it all appears genuine and amiable efforts on firm’s part to keep the client engaged and to enhance the experience. Now, let us look at the scenario on the other side – which defies the very basic ideas of customer centricity.
- You are in need of urgent customer service help and you have attempted all provided contact phone numbers – which either are no longer in use or remains busy/non-responsive for eternity.
- Or, after multiple attempts to go through n-layers of voice menu options of a helpline number, you remain struggling to find some option which would connect you to someone to talk about your problem or request.
- Or, after nth unsuccessful attempts on said helpline, you attempted to engage with ‘Chatbot’ now. To your utter surprise, other than weather forecast and prediction about Sensex the next day, the intelligent ‘Chatbot’ takes you in all directions – making you navigate through numerous webpage links and FAQ pages. You still remain grappling to find a solution.
- Or, you have no option than to write to customer service at the provided email address. It essentially triggers an instantaneous automated reply providing you with a case number and a promise to come back within 48 to 72 hours.
- Or, the promised response never comes in time. Whenever it comes, it is apparent from the generic and vague response that no one has really gone through the specific request details or has bothered to find a related solution.
[Welcome to the mystic Digital world! You are being welcomed by a virtual yet supposedly intelligent agent. Thanks to key words/ semantics based learning of AI and intelligent process automation, the intelligent agent has responded to your service request.]
- Or, you follow-up by sending yet another email and providing additional information. This once again provides an instantaneous automated reply promising to come back to you within 48 hours to 72 hours. Depending on the software agent’s intelligence, a previous case number is maintained or you might get a fresh case number altogether.
- After your patient wait or aggressive follow-ups (depending on your now mental state), you finally get a response. You read and re-read the response provided to clearly understand if it is any different than the answer previously provided. After nth read, you come to realise that Windows ‘Ctrl+C’ and ‘Ctrl+V’ is the biggest invention of modern times (of course, only after the invention of personal computers). But this forced enlightenment is not the solution you had had sought.
- Having little choice or option to address your lingering issue, you repeat the above exercise for a few times. Or, after getting utterly frustrated, you attempt to escalate the matter (provided company is unwise enough to provide contact details) or reach out to a physical branch location or ignore the matter altogether. The outcome on your service request remains situational and very much subject to your propensity to fight against insane drudgery.
Depending on the industry and the type of business involved, there could be some variations in the above scenario of client service. But it’s certainly no exaggeration – this is the operative reality of customer centricity and customer experience in the present world. Of course, businesses remain agog with an unabashed hoopla of contextual marketing, market of one and 24*7 customer engagement, while foundational elements of customer centric thinking and empathy are still vitally missing.
Culture than a cliché
Towards the customer centricity journey of business firms, mere implementation of technological tools, automated processes or digital channels in itself cannot be considered as the final destination. While adoption of enabling technologies and digital transformation of service delivery capabilities is one of the cardinal steps, realization of underlying ethos of customer centricity is a multi-faceted affair involving organizational efforts across levels.
It is not too hard to gauge the nuances of customer centricity or implement its core ideas. More than being taken as a marketing cliché, it requires engraining as a core value and enabling change in organizational culture and practices. In most simplistic and basic terms, it would require at the minimum:
- Customer needs (stated or unstated) are clearly understood along with its context and undertones
- A basic amount of empathy in firm’s each action and communication
- An honest promise (reckoning firm’s service capabilities) clearly specifying cost, quality and timeline aspects
- Sincere efforts to fulfill customer needs by all feasible means at the firm’s disposal
- A transparent acknowledgement of delay, difficulty or inability and clear choices of alternatives offered to the customer
New imperatives in always connected world
In present business world crumbling under pressure of quarter-to-quarter performance, cost reduction, operational efficiency, achieving even a basic level of customer centric operations appears to be a long haul. At the same time, always connected and twitterized world has new imperatives of customer centricity and any business firm can least afford an ignored client issue or ensuing dissatisfaction.
Quoting Jeff Bezos – Founder of Amazon on customer satisfaction and feedback:
“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can each tell 6000”.
To survive and grow in an interconnected world, the old philosophy of client servicing for business firms would require a drastic change to earn basic customer loyalty. It necessitates that every part of the people, process, platform and policy dimensions of a business firm are closely aligned to achieve the elevated version of customer centricity.
Thus, each organisational action is actively geared towards delivery of real customer value and customer engagement – reflecting true measures of empathy, responsiveness, timeliness, honesty and transparency. No matter, howsoever cumbersome and costly it might appear in a short run, it sets a robust foundation of long sustainable business enjoying unlimited quantum of customer trust and respect.
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