Own the Problem

Customers often say some of their suppliers lack a sense of urgency when things go wrong. They also say that their very best service providers respond quickly, assign appropriate resources, and do not point fingers looking for who is at fault. They convey a sense of responsibility, thoroughness, and accountability. They communicate effectively. In short, they “own the problem”; they provide a sense of comfort to their customers by showing that action is being taken to resolve the issue.

When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, we want our service providers to show us that they care. We want them to help us, be there for us, and care about us. We want them to be as concerned about the problem as we are. We want them to them to take our concern seriously, we want them to feel our pain, and we want them to help us find a solution as soon as possible. Immediately would be good, very soon may be acceptable.

When things go wrong we want our suppliers to empathize with us. We want them to understand the nature and scope of our problem. We want them to say – and more importantly, do – the right things, right now.

When suppliers do not respond immediately, it sends the wrong message. Correctly or incorrectly, delayed responses send a message that the supplier does not think the problem or the customer is important, or that the supplier lacks the proper resources or knowledge, or that for whatever reason, the supplier does not care.

E.G. Insight recently experienced a serious problem over the past two weeks. One of our web-based programs suddenly stopped working. Our clients’ access to the program was severely limited, and our clients were concerned – and rightly so. We contacted our supplier, we contacted our programmers, we contacted our help desk, we contacted everyone we thought touched the problem in some way. We reached out, we waited impatiently, we hoped, and we worried. We communicated to our employees, we communicated to our clients, we continued hoping and worrying for what seemed like an eternity.

All but one of our suppliers and partners helped us. Some helped more than others, but they all helped. They all did what they could, except for that one. We suspect the one recalcitrant supplier may have caused the problem – perhaps that is why they were reluctant to respond to us and to help us, or maybe we are wrong. Maybe that has nothing to do with it. Maybe they were too busy, or too short of resources. Maybe they didn’t know how to help us. Maybe they didn’t care. Their perceived lack of urgency makes us wonder. We fixed the problem without their help, and now we’re wondering if they even want our business.

Here is the lesson in all of this:  When problems occur, respond quickly, assign appropriate resources, do not point fingers, and communicate thoroughly. Show your customer, by your words and actions, that you care – own the problem.

Customer Confidence, Customer Relationships, Customer Trust, Service Improvements ,

“Quality has always been about the fine points…”

“Quality has always been about the fine points…”  – Don Cornelius

Quality is about the details, the little things that make a difference. And like value, quality is always in the eye of the customer.

Have you ever closely examined a fine pair of shoes to see the detail of the work, the leather, the stitching, the soles, the way they fit, the way they make you feel when you wear them? Quality looks and feels different – it looks better, it feels better, it is better.

The same can be said about food, furniture, wine, practically anything we buy. High quality items are better. We know this because we have learned to tell the difference, to understand what sets one thing apart from another. We have learned to look at the fine points.

Just like you, your customers know quality when they see it, and they are often willing to pay more for it. Customers know when someone has gone the extra mile and put in the extra effort to deliver quality. Discerning customers are constantly raising the quality bar. Yesterday’s expectations for quality and dependability became today’s requirements.

Yet quality prized by one customer may mean very little to another. One customer may be very willing to pay extra for the fine points, they may place great value on higher quality. Another customer, however, may be very happy with an item of lesser quality purchased at a lesser price. The key is knowing how much value your customer places on quality and how much they are willing to pay for the level of quality they require. Consider a double-sided mattress:  Some customers will pay more for a double-sided mattress, arguing two sides provide high quality through prolonged use and comfort. Other customers have no intention of ever flipping their mattress and feel two sides are a needless extravagance.

Companies often waste precious resources or miss valuable opportunities providing greater or less quality than their customers desire. They may be providing the very best, only to discover their customers want and will only pay for less. They may price themselves out of existence by providing higher quality than their customers want. On the other hand, they may be missing an opportunity to provide higher quality products and services to customers who are willing to pay for the best and will go elsewhere to find it.

So what level of quality do your customers require? Are you putting yourself at risk providing higher or lower quality than your customers need and are willing to pay for? Most importantly, how do you know?

Quality has always been about the fine points. Understanding what level of quality your customers require is a very important fine point.

Customer Feedback, Voice of the Customer

Customers See the World Differently

Customers See the World Differently

Customers see the world differently from their product and service providers. They are interested in different things; they have different goals and objectives. These differences dramatically affect their overall customer experience.

Here is a case in point. I recently asked my financial planner what I thought was a simple question: Where is my portfolio at in relation to the market high that occurred in October 2007? In other words, where am I today relative to the high watermark? How much did I lose, and how long will it take me to make up the loss? I thought this was a simple question. His response surprised me. He said, “I don’t know, no one has ever asked me that question.” While it was standard to measure his customers’ current portfolios against the previous year, apparently comparing that information to the market top from several years ago was a much more difficult question.

I get that financial advisors are equipped to tell us where we are year-over-year, but as an investor I want to know where I am relative to the top, how much I have lost, and when I can reasonably expect to get back to even. That information is important to me because it looks at my overall financial picture, not just what I regard as a year-to-date snapshot. Knowing I am up X percent relative to last year is somewhat comforting but not particularly useful.

Now that my financial advisor has found a way to answer my question, I am sure he is using this knowledge to anticipate and answer similar questions from his other customers before being asked. He has taken another step in looking at the world the way at least some of his customers do.

Another example: The dreaded service engine light. I recently dealt with one of those maddening car problems that intermittently occurs and disappears without apparent cause, which caused the service engine light to go on. After several trips to the garage, during which the same part was replaced multiple times, the mechanic succeeded in causing additional problems, and eventually the car would not start at all. I gave up on the original mechanic, towed the car to another garage that diagnosed the problem, replaced another part, and returned the car to me.

Yet although the car now ran, the service engine light – in other words, the original problem – was still occurring. To make matters worse, the second garage charged me another diagnostic fee to address this original problem. In their eyes they did what they were asked to do: fix the engine that would not start. They were correct in claiming they fixed the problem I brought the car in with, but from my perspective they did not address the initial issue that caused the service engine light to go on in the first place. They were not seeing the world from my perspective. Several hundred dollars later, I still have a car with an intermittent service engine light problem.

Are you providing solutions that your customers would say only solved part of their problem and only answered part of their question? Are you meeting basic customer requirements (providing year-over-year data, getting the engine to start) or are you addressing true customer needs (Where am I relative to the downturn? Can you comprehensively fix my car and address all the problems?). Are you looking at the world through your customer’s eyes – or your own?

Customer Trust, Service Improvements

Your best deserve better…

We recently started a project with a new client, which is always a great time to evaluate how we got the business and what the deciding factors were. The company is a large provider of employee benefit plans to major employers, and someone we have courted for quite some time. In the course of the sales process we learned a few things about our prospect-turned-client that were notable to us, things that ended up being significant factors in our successful effort to win their confidence and their business.

Early on, for example, we learned that our new client – who will be using our Customer Review interview process – is already doing business with one of the “household names” in the third-party customer survey world. Through that survey research provider, our client is reaching out to hundreds of their customer contacts on a monthly basis. Upon further discovery we learned that the process is well established, that they are generally pleased with the current provider, and have no plans to discontinue surveying their customers using the existing approach.

While it’s not at all unusual for us to be working alongside a survey provider within a common client, the obvious question always is: “If you’re satisfied with what you’re already doing, why do you need another approach?” And by extension, why do you need E.G. Insight? The answers, of course, make all the difference between winning the new client or not. Here’s essentially what our contacts told us:

    • We’re not reaching the right people. The third-party survey is effective at getting feedback from day-to-day contacts about operational performance and service quality issues. The senior-level decision makers within their clients, however, are either not interested or not in a position to comment on the routine transactions and interactions that take place.
    • We have had some unfortunate surprises. On several occasions executives from our client conducted “top to top” meetings with their customer counterparts. Prior to the meetings all indications were that the relationship was solid and there were no significant problems, issues, or threats to be concerned about. What the meetings uncovered, to the surprise of our client, was a very different truth. The day-to-day contacts may have been fine with the current service levels, but the senior-level decision makers were operating from a different set of criteria. They raised problems that were previously unknown and that the survey data hadn’t detected.
    • Our contacts don’t like to be surveyed. Our client has received several comments from those same senior-level contacts that they didn’t care for the existing survey process, declined to participate, and wished to be removed from the list. The survey firm and its personnel were professional enough, but the method and the content were wrong. They weren’t appropriate for people above a certain level within the customer organizations. The customers also expressed that they didn’t want to speak with a researcher. Instead, they were interested in having a frank and open discussion about objectives, problems, and opportunities with someone they knew and trusted – someone involved in the relationship and who has a vested interest in meeting the customer’s needs and retaining their business.

Ultimately, the decision to engage E.G. Insight came down to a statement made by our senior contact. After outlining the issues and examples listed above he said, “Our best customers deserve better from us. And so do we.”

Best Practices, Customer Feedback, Customer Relationships, Point of View, Voice of the Customer , ,

E.G. Insight Enters Into a New Strategic Partnership

August 3, 2011 – St. Paul, Minnesota – E.G. Insight, Inc. is proud to announce a new strategic partnership with Barbara Geraghty and the Achieve the Summit organization. This new partnership between Barbara and E.G. Insight adds Achieve the Summit’s popular Visionary Selling sales training program to E.G. Insight’s portfolio of products and services. This new partnership training will amplify the effectiveness of E.G. Insight’s Customer Review Process, a structured method of gathering face-to-face customer feedback from an organization’s most important accounts, as well as E.G’s other sales and customer feedback related offerings.

Gary Gerds, co-founder and managing partner of E.G. Insight, said:

“We are excited to bring this updated version of the very successful Visionary Selling sales training session to audiences in North America and Europe. Visionary Selling aims to become your partner in elevating skills and accelerating results with your salespeople.  Visionary Selling develops the confidence and competence to establish a high-level interface, understand the customer’s business operations, collaborate on key initiatives and demonstrate impact on financial metrics to get the business. Visionary Selling integrates, complements and builds on established selling skills to quickly “kick performance up a notch!”

The integrated Visionary Selling learning system builds a sales force that can establish long-term, highly profitable sales relationships with executives and high-level decision makers. Visionary Selling training is available in a track for small and medium business sales and a track for Major Account sales where C-Level executive interface is essential.

Visionary Selling delivery options are customized to learner objectives and include web-based software for account research and financial acumen, experiential classroom training with business simulations and role-plays, webinars, eBooks with sales tools and application tips to reinforce and integrate new skills, and Management Toolkits that assist sales managers with reinforcing and coaching new skills in the field.

About E.G. Insight E.G. Insight helps companies worldwide develop and implement feedback processes that yield a better understanding of the current health of critical business relationships, and further assists clients to use that data to make better business decisions and guide organizational improvement.

For more information please contact Gary Gerds at 1.651.288.1480 or gary.gerds@eginsight.com.

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