Tag Archives: Customer satisfaction

Working with Wood: Just like Customer Experience

This past weekend I made a wooden box during a woodworking class taught by my brother, Paul Sellers. I learned several important lessons:

  1. I didn’t know as much about wood as I thought
  2. Sharp tools are needed to avoid injury
  3. Competence and excellence in working wood come with practice and experience
  4. A wrong step can be corrected, but not if you go too far

Bear with me as I tell you what the connection is to customer experience…

Part-ready box

Picture 1 – sides jointed together, top and base shaped

Many companies fail their customers by breaking engagement up by process, and then failing to join up the processes. “Life is like wood”, my brother told the class, “because it has knots in it.” Knots are hard to avoid, hard to work with, but can add beauty to a finished piece. I took the pieces of wood that made up the box and carefully cut joints that fit together, then planed them to make them flat and smooth (see picture 1), and then assembled by gluing the sides and base and hinging the lid (see picture 2). This all took time and, whereas we can mass produce products cheaply and easily, this is like the customer experience which is unique and defies the production line approach.

Knowledge of wood’s characteristics and propensities is key to being successful because each piece acts differently as it’s worked. So too the customer experience. Knowing your customer, his expectations, environment and needs helps us define the right approach to take. Measure twice and cut once – being too quick and too coarse results in starting over again, which is costly.

Craftsmen the world over know the value of using sharp tools. Less effort is needed to cut with a sharp knife. The cut is finer and more easily placed. There is less waste. Cutting with a dull knife requires a lot of force. Using extra force achieves the cut but diminishes control. Extra effort, additional force and diminished control lead to accidents and a visit to the accident and emergency department at your local hospital. Result – out of action for a while and a badly finished job. The same applies to the customer experience – using appropriate, sharp tools results in a quicker, cleaner, more successful outcome = happier customer.

Skills don’t come overnight. Reading a piece of wood is as important as marking it clearly and cutting and shaping it with precision. The skills required to run customer service departments differ from the skills necessary to create an engaging customer experience but there remains a connection. The ease with with a craftsman can cut a dovetail joint (see the box corners) aren’t from reading a book or setting up a machine but from having done it many times before, carefully marking, paring, cutting, and shaping until things fit tightly and perfectly together. Every customer touch-point is an action in creating the right customer experience.

Completed box

Picture 2 – completed box

Finally, you can correct a bad cut or misalignment more easily if you act early enough. Re-position the saw before the deviation from the guideline gets too big. More finely chisel, shaving off one-thousandth of an inch as you get closer to completing the joint, rather than taking off an eighth with every cut. Plane with the grain rather than against it. In companies, retention departments are needed only because there was not enough early action.

It took me almost two days to make my box. Paul, can make one in less than 45 minutes. He’s had a lot of practice, uses sharp tools, and has an eye that enables him to quickly and cleanly create a unique item that will be valued for years to come.

Can You Successfully Sell to Customers That Ask for Help?

In short, the answer is “YES”. But so many companies do a bad job that it must seem, to them, like an impossible task. Here are some insights distilled from my own experience and observations as I prepared for my recent presentation at TSW in California.

  1. Be the consumer – for a moment, put yourself in the customer’s place. Ask yourself if YOU would find your pitch, timing, and approach to promoting a product or service during a customer service or technical support call attractive? If you’re honest you’ll probably answer “no”. We’ll explore the reasons for this a bit further down.
  2. Make the connection – the customer’s experience at the point of contact is entirely in the hands of the agent. This applies to every one-to-one communication channel and may also apply in social media channels. No connection means virtually no hope of a sale.
  3. Decide why you’re doing this – I mean corporately. The personal reasons can follow. For the company, making an offer to customers that have received help can be both a great opportunity or a huge risk. If your reason is something like “because we need to” or “because we can”, you can be pretty sure you will either not sell much or will irritate customers. Neither of these help your cause.

These points are not in any order of priority. But there is a point to this post. The low-cost support mantra adopted by many technology companies is an admirable financial aim and can be executed extremely effectively without dissatisfying customers. However, whether choosing self-help technology, community forums or any other method to minimise the cost of support, you may also close the door on furthering the customer relationship. All methods to reduce cost should be examined and engaged where they make financial sense. They can even improve customer satisfaction where the source aligns with customer preferences. But as alternatives to company employee interaction are implemented, remember that these cannot build a relationship with the customer.

Personal interactions are precious because the customer is speaking with the company. The production line approach to handling calls, emails and chat sessions is very efficient but diminishes the opportunity to do something else with that precious engagement. One of my former bosses said “people buy from people”. This applies in both consumer and enterprise environments. I recently read that the truth of this is that “people buy from people they think like them”. In the support environment, “like” equals “helps and engages” so success is not just a resolved transaction, it’s also the foundation to taking another step or two.

During a call or chat session the customer shares a lot of information with the agent. Not just the facts and figures, but also their level of knowledge, emotional state, preferences and even aspirations. This is important information.

Successful help isn’t just about achieving resolution but is also about determining what will benefit the consumer. And this may go beyond solving the immediate problem to include the offer of an extended warranty if the customer is nearing the end of their current one. Or the offer of a technical assistance subscription if their knowledge is basic and they are likely to need (costly) help in the future. Or it might be an additional product that fits with the customer’s aims or answers a need.

My point is that dumbly making an offer (any offer) at the end of a support call makes the customer feel abused, and abused customers do not come back readily. Making the right offer at the right time in the right circumstance will achieve both a sale and a happy customer. The income created offsets any additional costs and, further, improves the likelihood that the customer will buy from you again, creating a future revenue opportunity.

Do you have any related insights or experiences you can share?