The digital transformation of employees

If you type the words „digital transformation“ into the google search bar you will get 12.900.000 results, with „Industry 4.0“ you will receive 38.900.000 search results, and if you search in “Internet of things” you will be presented with a whopping 199.000.000 search hits. One can therefore reasonably assume that things are happening.The digital transformation of employees

News about the digital revolution, robotization of working processes and artificial intelligence that are increasingly permeating our everyday lives, keep bombarding us via various channels.

Constantly omnipresent too is the term „digital disruption“, posing a massive threat to proven business models, or much rather individual value-adding chains and in consequence also representing a merciless job killer. Disruption signifies creative destruction – a nightmare for many established businesses, for the „start-up scene“, however, it is commonly understood as an economic term, more like a promising awareness of life. Digitalization therefore isn’t something that is going to happen at some point – no, digitalization has already begun, is happening right now and will continue to happen tomorrow and in future.

The only question that remains to be answered is:  what does all that mean for the individual employee? Up to now we have largely digitalized information that has come about as a result of the interactions of people and that was meant to be useful. But what is going to happen, if even employees are supposed to be digitally transformed and what is going to change for the individual in consequence? Are employees simply going to be replaced by computers or robots and thus being transformed into a “digital synergy”?

The two terms “digital” and “transformation” are both clear indications for the fact that they define a process of transformation. Digital transformation represents a continuous journey through the digital age, yet simultaneously stands for the achievement of the highest level of digital knowledge which is based on the actual digital competence and utilisation within a company, too. The ultimate objective is the transformation and further development of business models, corporate processes and customer experiences – in other words the digital return of „ King Customer“in conjunction with new information and communication technologies. Therefore, a strong orientation and focus on the customer as the necessary starting point for the digitalization of processes. He who does not focus on the customer will lose his clientele to his competitors who are only a mouse-click away in their digital world. Well, so much for the theory!

offline_shoppingMany businesses perceive digital transformation as an obligation in order to be able to keep up with competitors, only a few view it as a valuable tool for differentiation. Yet, it puts the focus on the value-adding edge for the customer and digital products or services could well be seen as a meaningful addition, complementing the physical product and service range in the corporate world.

Unfortunately and all too often, online shopping is still considered as some sort of „publicly accessible merchandise management system“, lacking all the attributes of knowledge transfer and consultancy. In order to counter this perception more and more companies have over recent years developed a multi-channel strategy for the purpose of offering customers an optimally interlinked client experience, online as well as offline. Researching the varying „customer journeys“and the appropriate „customer experience management“ has therefore significantly gained importance.

In an Oracle survey business executives have expressed concern that they might lose up to 20% of potential turnover due to the absence of a solid and consistent customer process. For this reason it doesn’t come as a surprise that 97% of business leaders consider it critically important for their businesses to offer their clients a positive customer experience. 93 % of corporate executives placed on record that „customer experience „would be one of their three top priorities in the next two years. These figures speak for themselves and prove that enhancing the digital customer experience is of paramount importance in business. In this regard, all experts unanimously agree that the employees of a business are the key to a successful digital transformation. Why? Even in the digital age businesses depend on a content customer base for their economic survival and motivated, friendly as well as competent employees therefore play a key role.

According to a CSC Economist Survey 54 % of businesses interviewed do not regard the improvement of customer experiences as the decisive factor but consider the improvement in efficiency as primary corporate customer experienceobjective in the digital transformation process. In other words, one would be better placed focussing on enhancing operational excellence for the purpose of achieving shorter time-to-market, more productive employees, more streamlined processes and a more effective deployment of resources. Besides, one of the greatest misunderstandings with regard to digital transformation is often expressed in the fact that it is understood as simple transfer of existing processes, activities and mindsets onto digital channels. That way digital transformation merely becomes a huge software project and the employee appears to take on a very minor role in this digitalized world. However, this impression is vastly misleading. The final implementation for the customer’s benefit in the daily business interactions will become more important than ever, and, in addition, it is a known fact that the entire infrastructure for the digitalization process has to be generated, maintained and continuously adapted by the employees.

It is also important to acknowledge that customers have since taken to actively shaping the value-added chain. It is much more than the mere distribution of products and services from business to customers. It is more a case of understanding the needs, of co-creatively designing customer value, of generating consumer desire, ultimately of ensuring an individually unique customer experience.

The human factor is therefore going to play – perhaps a slightly different – yet more and more important role. “High-tech and high touch! “- is what this prognosis is called, in reference to the employee’s new role in a digitalized business environment. Despite all the benefits of digitalization, customers do not want to miss out on personal contact in their daily interaction with businesses at all the important touchpoints. Quite the contrary! And precisely for this reason it is important that these interactions between employees and customers must be properly planned and well thought-out, clearly defined, customer-orientedly designed and practically implemented so that, together and in synergy with all digital trends, a business can consistently guarantee a professional customer experience.

How important this fact actually is, is clearly demonstrated by the current DGB Index. 54% of employees interviewed confirmed that due to digitalization their workload has since increased; only 7% report of a decrease on the other hand. However, it isn’t “technology” that’s brought about the increase or decrease in workload and added stress, but the “how?” and “what for?” of the implementation that are at the core of the negative or positive effects on the daily routines, services and ultimately also the customer experience.

online_shoppingThe digital transformation – like almost all historic, evolutionary advances – is fuelling many fears, not only in the higher echelons of corporate businesses, but also among their employees. Of course, since it is human beings again that are directly affected, either because their conventional chores and activities are no longer in demand or because they are simply no longer required. One only needs to remember headlines on the very same topic that already existed back then in 2012: „ Kodak has gone bankrupt – a pioneer in photography failed to spot the digital revolution. The technology leader with decades of experience missed the opportunity to reinvent itself. “The average life expectancy of an enterprise was around 75 years in 1940 – nowadays it has shrunk to just about 15 years – according to a survey conducted by the US economist John Hagel.”

Prof. Weinberg from the Hasso-Plattner-Institute has already perfectly outlined this change: “In future we will no longer centre around hierarchies and fields of expertise, but we will focus more on building flexible teams with a broader cross-sector horizon of knowledge who will be prepared to tackle projects  jointly, in a highly complex and more sophisticatedly networked working culture. Figuratively expressed it translates to: Farewell to the Brockhaus Encyclopaedia thinking. For me, this lexicon is a metaphor for the past and linear thinking with its classic categorizing. In future companies will be faced with challenges that can no longer be solved by individual departments.  Classic conciseness and orderliness, the familiarity of the tried and trusted and the comfort zone will disappear.”

Digital transformation will open up a host of new opportunities despite all uncertainty. However, it will require new knowledge and skills. Yet any initiative towards digital transformation will necessitate training inAmazon-GO order to familiarise employees with the new digital tools and work processes, and businesses should therefore facilitate practical training programmes. In the wake of growing digitalization employees are taking on new areas of responsibility and are no longer just service providing members of staff but increasingly assist with customer orientation, decision-making and even lifestyle consultancy of customers. It has therefore become increasingly important to adequately prepare employees for their new role and their new tasks.

Digitalization does not create an entirely new environment, but one of endless combination possibilities and more access points and ways in. It’s not about whether online OR offline, but it’s all about a new understanding and innovative and new look at one’s own business concept instead. Digitalization makes it transparent. Enterprises and their employees will have to deal with their most important resource, the customer that is, in an entirely new and different way. Not in a subservient manner but confident and effortlessly sovereign. Just as Arthur Clarkes marvellously quoted: „Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.“ Or as put in a nutshell by Walt Disney: „Magic is something you make!“.

Digital transformation presents itself as the chance for you to seize it as an opportunity. What are you waiting for? Go, seize the opportunity!

The secret unveiled! What customers really want.

We may refer to them as the baby boomer generation, X, Y or Z, we may reverently call them the “digital natives”,we may try to classify them according to typolWhat customers really wantogies, such as traditional, modern, post-modern, however, there is one thing that applies to all: customers have become more demanding than ever before, because in today’s “web age” they have access to a seemingly endless range of online offers 24/7. Well, in logical consequence the question naturally arises, what exactly it is that we would have to offer our customers today to give them good reason to pick that „one“ business from the huge number available and to possibly remain loyal to the company of their choice. In order to find the answer, there is no getting around the fact that one has to honestly deal with the subject of „the customer“ first.

Who reWhat customers really wantally is „a customer“, where do you meet him, what’s important to him, who does he trust,who does he respect, what language does he speak and, most importantly, what does he want?

That too requires answers and even though they are complex, they are by no means difficult, on the contrary, they’re actually quite logical. To establish „what customers want“, you only need to honestly think about what you would want from a business, if you were the customer. It doesn’t just sound logical, it is logical indeed! Actually, it is pretty easy to get to the bottom and it is accordingly „pretty simple“ to sum up, what customers want, since there are quite a few things, all customers consider equally important:

Customers want:

  • businesses who deliver on their promises
  • straightforward and easily understandable interaction with the company and its employees at all contact points
  • to be noticed
  • to see the business and all its employees make an honest effort and show interest in the customer
  • friendliness not just from sales personnel but from all employees of the company
  • an honest effort to not just listen to the customer but also try to really understand what the customer wants
  • the company’s readiness to help and advise and assist with problem solving
  • undivided attention
  • an effort to positively surprise
  • not to take „business“ with the customer for granted
  • to ensure that staff do not in any way detract from the value of the company’s services or products (i.e. during consultation, a purchase or use of a service) – not even “unintentionally”
  • to feel good – prior to, during and particularly after interaction with a company and its employees
  • to ensure that company staff do not “bother” the customer with tedious, bizarre, depressing or even unbelievable company-internal trivia
  • to ensure that staff are in a position to give competent product or service information, or if an employee cannot handle an inquiry himself, he or she can immediately call on someone who is in a position to do so
  • to ensure that employees know the company’s services or products respectively, further understand how they can improve or make the customer’s life easier and, beyond that, are also in a position to explain the benefits in a simple and comprehensible manner
  • ensure that – in the end – no questions remain unanswered
  • upon inquiry receive a competent explanation as to how the usefulness or value of a service or product justify its price
  • never to be put under pressure or even be made to feel that way
  • to thank the customer even just for the interest shown in a service or product – actually the same way as one would expect that after a concluded sales transaction
  • not to be ‘left out in the cold’ or be made to feel that way after the purchase of a service or product
  • to show fair goodwill when solving problems
  • straightforward handling of complaints, exchange and return of products and services

Does it promise too much? Definitely not, because they aren’t really big secrets we are unravelling here. Don’t you think the aforementioned customer expectations are in your interest too, if you happen to be in theWhat customers really want position of customer of a business? To see your own business through the eyes of your customers and to realize, what it is that customers really want is more than ever the key factor for success in business. Even though customers are steadily growing their networks and are getting better informed and consequently becoming more influential, they do want to remain understood in their heterogeneous needs!

Despite all the progress and globalization there appears to be an obvious desire to revert to the good old „traditional virtues“!

What customers really wantThe customer must finally take centre stage again, in fact rapidly so, consistently and rigorously, nevertheless with the necessary attention to detail. The challenges are optimum consultancy & customer service, carefully thought out service processes, an effectively functioning integration of the company’s own on-and off-line world as real multichannel product and service offer, as well as the mobilization and qualification of an adequate manpower potential.

So far so good. Unfortunately, many companies still rarely consider how they could genuinely improve their business from their customers’ perspective. Companies are still looking for internal solutions and are implementing internal service process and cost structure adjustments – looking from the inside out, insteadWhat customers really want of the other way round! Yet, customers are on the outside of a business, therefore answers to the crucial questions cannot entirely be found within the enterprise alone.

Rather, it is far more necessary to align all contact point processes in a customer oriented manner, to define them practically, in a manner that is easy to understand and up-to-date, and it is further necessary and important to maintain gauging customer satisfaction and eventually facilitate and systematically establish sustainable processes of learning and change. Nothing more, but nothing less either.

Always remember that the successful development and progress of an enterprise are directly and inextricably linked to its employees – particularly those, of course, who are in direct contact with the customers. Genuinely good sales consultants, sales and service staff are and will always remain a critical success factor. Regrettably, many companies continue to fail to get their staff to show interest and passion for their own brand, services or products. Instead, companies still believe to this day that the one-dimensional bonus of „sale“ of certain services or products is incentive enough. Competent, individual, reliable and caring customer-centred advisory services are, however, by far more important and form the basis for a perfect customer experience, and are therefore the key driving forces behind customer loyalty too.

Fact is, content customers buy more, stay longer, turn loyal and are more likely to recommend the business!

Would you organize your business exactly the way it is today, if you could start anew tomorrow? No? There is good news though, it is never too late to restructure and optimize! Take heart and take care of “your customers”, “your employees” and get started! Unique customer experiences create unique business opportunities and results. They never happen by chance!

The power of employees

A company is only then successful if it understands its people. Probably a seemingly trite finding, yet – how does a company arrive at that sort of understanding and what group of people is being referred to? The customers, one would respond immediately, andthe_power_of_employees that’s correct, of course, however, the company’s employees are playing an enormously important role too. In fact, a reality whose dimensions most business managers aren‘t quite aware of yet. Therefore I’d like to cite a few impressive facts first: 17% of a company’s employees have already mentally resigned and 67% slog away without feeling any emotional affiliation with their company or their employer. Such survey results from Gallup market researchers are shocking us anew year after year and there doesn’t seem to be any foreseeable improvement. According to reports neither the finance nor the economic crises have in any way resulted in a greater commitment to the company by its employees simply for fear of losing their jobs. It is therefore little consolation to know that the number of truly loyal employees in the year 2013 with a percentage of 16% represents a 1% increase of the figure for the same period the previous year – well, at least! The question therefore arises where the focus should be in order to create the necessary conditions in a company to keep employees motivated, dedicated and long-term committed to their professional duties.

employee_engagement_index_2013The reasons why employees are not part of the committed and loyal group are as diverse as the employees themselves.

However, in that case the negative effects are very quickly felt and affect first and foremost those people that bear no responsibility whatsoever for the “individual misery” of an employee – the customers! Silent boycott and a mere work-to-rules are usually the more harmless versions of protest employees deploy in order to demonstrate their displeasure at the demands and “impositions from above”. In Germany alone it is estimated that the resultant loss of productivity amounts to an unbelievable three digit billion sum annually!!! One must not only begin to understand this impact but also realize the enormous need for action by businesses to expressly deal with this passive form of power and resistance of their employees. Also the fact that this phenomenon is measured or estimated in units of „loss in productivity“ shows that even in Institutes for Economic Research “Taylorism” continues to hold a very strong presence and that a Service Dominant Logic is still a far cry and too abstract for many people.

Successful businesses have since realized that the basis for loyal and dedicated employees clearly lies in one fact one would not necessarily think of in the first place as being directly linked to the circumstance.

Strong emotional ties between customers and the product or service range on offer are essentially necessary in order to create and shape an authentic and stimulating customer experience, one which ultimately sets the enterprise apart from its competitors andbad_customer_service results in economic success. And who plays the decisive role in this? Exactly, neither the product nor the service offered but the employees of the company who will add their personal touch and in consequence give it that all important personal attribute – the decisive human dimension – which will ultimately influence the purchase decision and the successful recommendation of a company’s products and services. If employees are not prepared, however, to make this essential contribution or if they are perhaps unaware of their importance in this regard one has actually lost already. Customer relations on a neutral transactional level – at best! – will never lead to a positive emotional bond with a business and arbitrary alternatives such as shifting towards competitors are pre-programmed as a result.

customer_centricityThe fact is that there are way too many businesses out there with very similar products, similar pricing structures and of similar quality who employ staff with similar qualifications who are responsible for similar scopes of duties and who carry out similar tasks and duties. Not only that, but this simple fact is also combined with the massive pressure from a steadily growing array of products and services available on an increasingly attractive competitor – “the internet”. Many of these online businesses are genuinely “pure players” and therefore enjoy the added advantage of not having to deal with the everyday challenges of having to face their off-line competitors who have often grown over several decades, nor are they liable for any additional costs associated therewith. However, traditional companies have the incomparable advantage of offering their customers a real experience by getting „in touch“ with real employees who will make every possible effort – humanely and personally – to listen to their customers and to pay attention to them and their specific requests and therefore create positive interpersonal experiences which form the basis of strong emotional ties and business loyalty, obviously on condition that the employees of a business are aware of their important role and prepared and ready to „go the required extra mile“!

Businesses are not only dependant on innovative ideas but also rely on the crucial factor of employee loyalty and commitment, indeed more than ever. This powerful position of employees impacts on entire sectors of the economy, quite strongly at least those that rely on strong personal customer relations. Employees who are in daily contact with customers are direct communicators and therefore contribute considerably to corporate branding and the shaping of the all-important and decisive customer experience and must therefore be recognized, in a non-reversible transformation, that they have evolved from a mere production factor to an invaluable company asset in terms of human resources. The personal service offered by professionally knowledgeable and competent employees who are empathic towards the customer is and remains one of the most important and crucial factors in any business that clearly sets it apart from its competitors. The question begs to be asked whether businesses are always aware of this fact.

perfect_serviceAt the same time there is a trend that does not at all seem to fit this fundamental finding – the steadily progressing rationalization of simple service offers.

On one hand this is done with the help of technology, for instance the use of self-service cash systems or cash point terminals. Duties that have previously and traditionally been carried out by employees are gradually being transferred and delegated to machines and the customers which enable these processes to be standardized. Or the scope of employee duties is being reduced and substantially trimmed or simplified. In large cash discount supermarkets or international brand chains like H&M or Zara customer advisory service no longer forms part of the job profile. It is sufficient if the shelves are well stocked and the shop floors are clean. The employees no longer need detailed product knowledge, in fact no specific qualifications anymore. All remaining simple duties become universal – this way any employee can therefore be employed anywhere within the business: unpacking goods, collecting merchandise from the warehouse, sorting and stocking shelves, cleaning work areas. Standardization, universalization and ultimately the consolidation of work chores seem to be the most effective instruments in the ongoing rationalization process of simple service delivery. The principal objective is the creation of a status quo the customer is accustomed to. The office is clean, the hotel bed is made, the sales area is always well stocked with goods, the mail is in the postbox. The direct interaction between the service provider and the client disappears. Usually, you will not get to see the person who cleans your hotel room, and if you do he or she won’t have the time to chat with you. And even if we collect the parcel from the post office clerk, we will only recognize a fraction of his workload. This contradicts the old adage that service provision first and foremost comprises of interaction with the customer, who, if he is satisfied, will express his appreciation. This is something that will fall by the wayside now, if cleaning crews are moving through the office storeys at 4:00 a.m. This is one of the principal reasons why simple service jobs lack the professional pride and ambition and many employees describe their job as one that’s pretty much “worthless” and unappreciated.

It goes without saying therefore that the affected employees do not necessarily bond and identify with their company, nor do they feel overly obliged to show commitment and dedication. The result of their efforts is often unsatisfactory for all and the design_thinkinginterchangeability without any consideration for the individual circumstances reflects in the continuous necessity for businesses to recruit, train and equip personnel in time- and cost-intensive procedures. A fatal development that makes this kind of „simple service deliveries “ increasingly interchangeable and impersonal for the customer on the one hand, and on the other poses a growingly daunting challenge for the enterprise. Who is customer_delightgoing to offer such “worthless” service deliveries in future? What incentives will be required in order to motivate and interest potential employees? It is therefore questionable whether businesses who decide to take this direction will be able to remain successful in the long run. One thing is clear that nobody wants to be an employee of such a business.

Whereas successful enterprises have realized that and how they can steer the „power of their employees“ thus exploiting this know-how to maximum benefit for all.

A business must keep its internal commitment, and follow through on promises made to potential future employees during the personnel recruitment process – in form of general work conditions, processes and corporate culture. Likewise, the business or brand must keep its promise to the market and provide to the customers that which it advertises – each and every day and at each and every single contact point. Keeping the brand promise lies squarely in the hands of the company’s employees. That way the circle closes and the foundation is laid to the enormous “power and influence of the employees”.

How can a business enable its employees to provide and to actually desire to carry out exceptional service delivery to the customer? How can a business communicate the importance of their crucial role in the business and how can the enterprise support their employees in their daily efforts to provide the perfect customer experience?

experience_designFirst of all this requires more effort, attention and respect – everything that humans would pay particular attention to in their mutual rapport, particularly if they expect a little more from one another , rather than the mere exchange of goods or services for money. In addition and aside from creating the corporate framework, it is absolutely necessary too, to communicate the objectives to the staff in clear, practical and realistic terms: what needs to be done, how it should be done and what the company desires to achieve with regards to their customers! It is therefore necessary to explain to the employees who they will be dealing with in their day to day customer contact. So-called personas are used to clearly demonstrate and show the different types of customers and their specific needs and expectations. Employees need to understand – at least on an aggregated level – how the entire customer journey comes about – that is at which contact point in the business the customer experiences a service delivery before, during and after the purchase of a product and what therefore needs to happen at this point, or rather what must not happen at all.

Only this way it is possible to intelligibly communicate the fundamental knowledge of the essential inter-relation between brand promise and customer expectation, and therefore create conditions which need to be implemented by the company’s employees in their daily effort to provide the best possible if not extraordinary service delivery on the shop floor. We know from experience of successful businesses that it is vital to take into account HOW this knowledge is communicated to staff. It is not enough to just tell them, hand them manuals or delegate this important task to electronic self-study platforms, as none of the aforementioned will ever achieve the desired and all-decisive effect. It most definitely calls for tangible, concrete and easily understandable means to communicate the know-how to the employees, and it is of utmost importance to stress the emotional aspect of the customer experience and make employees directly and equally experience what enormous importance each customer experience means to the company, and which incredible responsibility each employee carries and must therefore fulfil. In reality it is the customer who is the employer, because it is the customer alone who brings in the money and the business. The better each employee understands and grasps this reality and the better each employee comprehends the fundamental advantage to himself, the better and the more willingly he will focus his effort towards meeting and satisfying the customer expectation in the interest of the business.

Loyal customers cannot be won over through mere advertising, they have to be „earned“! This is undoubtedly tedious, painstaking and laborious, Customer Service Infographichowever, it is certainly the most convincing and sustainable direction a business can take in order to win and become successful in the long run.

„If we decide to love the job we do we will be able to experience happiness, a purpose of life and fulfilment.“ If you create the necessary conditions to enable your employees to live by this in their day to day job, it goes without saying that you will have content, loyal and dedicated employees in natural consequence. Employees who will happily use their „power“ for the good and the benefit of all – noticeable for colleagues, superiors and customers alike.

At the end it is realized that loyalty cannot simply be expected and that loyal customers cannot simply be ‚bought over‘.

Only those businesses will be successful who willingly and consciously grant their employees „power“, the power required in the implementation of successful business transactions. Well, as mentioned right at the beginning, businesses are only then successful if they understand their people.

Mario would say!

Customer delight – it’s that simple, isn’t it …!?

When was the last time you were truly impressed by a company– as a customer that is? Yeah? When, where and why? Just the fact alone that you had to think for a while – or perhaps even have to think about it still – is proof enough of customer_delightthe sad reality that all’s not well in the much hyped about and strongly proclaimed “era of the customer” – well the quintessential ‘golden era of the customer’.

Customer delight in the „era of the customer“!

According to a Forrester-analysis, the era of the customer is a 20-year cycle, during which the most successful companies re-invent themselves in order to gain a better understanding of increasingly demanding customers and in turn be better able to meet their raised expectations. “It’s a buyer’s market, stupid!” has been heard from the executive echelons of American company boardrooms for some time alrecustomer_centricityady – I see! The question that springs to mind here clearly is, when will companies actually begin – in practice – to reinvent themselves as enterprises in such a way that the customer will take notice or – better even – experience the service improvement – positively, of course? One of the greatest challenges for managers obviously lies in walking that fine line between the theoretical realization about ways of generating customer loyalty and actually implementing aforesaid in practice, as management and also through the company staff. „If it’s common sense, why can’t we make it common practice?” the American would ask. “However, common sense does not necessarily equate to common practice! “, you could reply as native German speaker. Many would agree that the “era of the customer“ literally spells out the problem – namely „the customer“! As Jean-Paul Sartre once said so aptly: “In football, everything is complicated by the presence of the other team.“ Simply replace the word ‚football‘ by inspiring_customer_delightcompany and ‚temployee_enthusiasmhe other team‘ by customer. Exactly – everything has been complicated, because customers are smart, well informed, networked, independent and have high expectations, because the more each individual owns in today’s consumer society, the more picky he becomes. That’s a fact! But customers work somewhere too – and for sure – they aren’t simply more stupid all of a sudden. Each employee of a company is the smart customer of another company somewhere. In principle, we’d all know what to do to delight a customer – however, we don’t actually do it! Conversely, we expect, however, that someone else does it for us and with us as the customer. “Knowing” and “doing” are and remain two entirely different issues! We believe that as soon as we know something, we will always remember it and we will put our ‘know-how’ into practice. It’s not that simple. Even a simple truism – such as the ‘golden rule’ of practical ethics : ”Do unto others as you would have others do unto you!” – suddenly presents a virtually unsurmountable challenge for many employees in their daily business routine. Especially in dealing with customers – that is dealing with ‘others’! The former president of the Federal German Republic, Roman Herzog, once said: “We are a strange people indeed, if we are capable of operating machines with a smile, however, our smile freezes when it comes to serving customers.“ How right he was!

The „most common“ reasons, why customers terminate their relationship with a company – a fact even confirmed by recent studies – are still as follows:

  • unfriendly attitude and lack of courtesy
  • incompetence, ignorance and lack of knowledge of staff
  • long waiting periods on the phone, in the shop or in the service area
  • general ignorance and lack of interest in the customer
  • grumpiness and lack of motivation of staff
  • arrogant attitude

What are less successful enterprises doing to counter this situation?

There are different ways of making inroads. One trend is the shift from direct interaction between customer and staff to a man-machine-interaction – “more customer friendly autonomy around the clock through the option of self-service, either through creating an online shop or providing a highly modern self-service machine. Quite apparently the wrong inference drawn from Mr. Herzog’s quote. At least, the online shop or the vending machine are consistently in a customer_enthusiasm„neutrally friendly mood” and usually pose fewer “challenges” than human employees. However, since such investments ‚cost a pretty penny‘, companies have no choice but to further cut costs for implementing qualitative measures in human resources. Should their recorded volume of sales decline any further, they will try even harder to cling to old patterns since they used to work well. However,staging_customer_experience in a futile attempt to bang their heads against a brick wall they overlook new opportunities opening up, doors that could open and provide access to success. Remaining staff are popularly sent off on training courses, where they learn to ‚professionalize‘ outdated concepts, an approach which only continues the vicious cycle of reinforcing that which hasn’t worked well, only that functioning no better works even better now – well, the very pointless effort of beating the head against a brick wall. Another very popular trend is the delegating or “outsourcing” of labour intensive tasks, apparently perceived as too burdensome to tackle in-house to a third party. The call centre has become an extremely popular ‚playground‘ for customers who happen to have questions with regards to products and services of a company and who will only be allowed to talk to real staff of the company on terms of “3rd level support”, after having navigated a ‘telecommunicative minefield’. Well, if at all! Check out a highly commendable, short video clip well worth viewing on the following link, a humorous take on an otherwise still lamentable reality (weblink).
callcenter_customer_serviceWe also repeatedly notice new employees whose „initial training“ by predecessors or colleagues is often based on maintaining their own practices rather than the company’s guidelines. At best they may be told about the ‚what‘ – as for the how, why and what for the new employee is usually left to his own devices. Oh, and by the way: the product training, according to “management info“, only takes place outside office hours – so, don’t forget to clock out! Theory defined is if you know everything but nothing works nonetheless. Practice defined is if everything works but nocustomer_service_distractions one knows why. In some organisations theory and practice are combined: nothing works and nobody knows why. Perhaps a touch too sarcastic, however, there’s a grain of truth. It is therefore hardly surprising when staff members continue to confuse the „on the stage“ with „behind the scenes“, or even fail to distinguish between the two altogether. Think about it – how often have you become witness to unwanted eavesdropping of internal staff issues at the cashpoint? Certainly not a new problem as you can see for yourself from the incredibly relevant video clip from “Papa Ante Portas” (weblink).

Or how often have staff members explained down to the last detail, without you actually asking them to do so, why a certain product is not available due to some operational shortcomings, or why a colleague couldn’t turn up to a prearranged appointment. And anyway, if they were in charge of operations, everything would be different, after all, they understand the customers‘ problems, but can’t do anything about them and due to lack of interest on the part of top management there is no hope for improvement – on the contrary, things are likely to get worse! Thank you very much, this candid display of information is not going to get me excited as a customer. Oh, by the way, if you run out of new ideas, there’s always the option of lowering the prices. The never ending pricing battle – combined with the interchangeability of service providers, as well as products and services – is largely based on the fact that the true expectations of customers in the service industry are completely ignored.

How do successful business enterprises keep their customers coming back for more?

customer_focusSuccessful corporates simply apply „common sense“ : „Customers (humans) go for/appreciate/trust/recommend businesses (humans) that keep their promises.“ However, successful enterprises take it a step further, because they not only know what “common sense“ calls for, they also stick to it and basically turn this simple truth into their daily ‘in-house use’! It’s a given that theory must be translated into practice by humans. Otherwise it will remain completely ineffective. Their motto is: „It’s common sense and common practice!”
However, the term customer delight can never be equated to customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction simply means that the customer actually receives the service he expected in the first place. At least, he feels that the service provided met his expectations. Dissatisfaction arises when the customer’s expectations were higher than the perceived service performance. Customer delight on the other hand is the positive result of successfully exceeding the customer’s expectations. At least, the customer has to believe that he got more than he bargained for and is therefore pleasantly surprised! The surprise effect is a significant component of generating customer enthusiasm, it is exciting and gives the customer the feeling that he just experienced something special which also makes him feel special in turn.

Every customer is strongly influenced by emotions, each time a purchase is made!

Purchase decisions are not just planned in the head but equally with the heart and soul. Of course, products that impart positive feelings and a happy mood rather than just cold hard facts score markedly higher. Positive emotions are customer_experiencegenerated amongst others through aesthetics, appealing to all 5 senses, humour, uniqueness, ambience, familiarity and prestige. It’s no longer just about buying a product or service but all about the values and the sentiment that a phantasy, a desire or dream come true. By choosing the right images you are creating film snippets in the mind, something that is extremely conducive to drawing attention, advising, offering and selling. In the end, your customers are expecting an extraordinary experience and you ,of course, an outstanding business result. One thing is definitely true: “Customers will not always remember in detail what they have been told or what has been done for them, but they will always clearly remember whether you made them feel good.” Successful corporates have recognized this important fact and have already begun to implement it in their daily business reality! What stops you from following suit? Hopefully nothing – I guess!