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Catering to Customers

Getting a fresh look at your shop isn’t as hard as you think. Is it worth it? Actually, you can’t afford not to do it.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could see what our customers see when interacting with our companies? Then again, we might not like what we see. Getting a fresh look at your shop isn’t as hard as you think. Is it worth it? Actually, you can’t afford not to do it.

Recently, my brother-in-law told me about a great conference keynote presentation he’d just heard. The speaker worked for Ideo (a high-end consulting firm focused on re-orienting the way companies approach their customers). The talk centered on a hospital system faced with low customer satisfaction ratings. Ideo went in (wearing GoPro cameras) to “secret shop” the hospital system and found themselves knee-deep in complexity and opaque processes. Doctors and nurses referred to the secret shopper patients in the third-person, were robotic, and gave complex instructions regarding medications and next steps.

When Ideo showed the GoPro video to the hospital executives, they were full of excuses. “Patients just don’t understand our process,” they said. Ideo then gave the hospital executives (all men) GoPro cameras and sent them to the local Ulta cosmetics store with instructions to come back with a very specific brand and shade of lipstick. When they entered the cosmetics store, the video showed the hospital executives clearly overwhelmed and flustered with the unfamiliar environment and overwhelming choices. Needless to say, the male hospital staff quickly got the message and set about implementing Ideo’s recommended changes to better cater to its customers.

As integrators, there’s plenty that we see as simple and intuitive. I wish our customers shared our optimistic attitude about simplicity. For our clients, technology is a means to an end (and mostly an annoyance). That’s where custom integration companies come in. We simplify (or at least we say we can simplify). Done properly, a well-designed and installed home technology system delights the customer. Done improperly, it inadvertently wreaks havoc on domestic bliss.

Our company decided long ago to meet our customers where they want us. If they want us to text, we text. Online? No problem. Phone? Bring it on! We do it all intentionally. If you call our company, someone answers the phone 24/7/365. All of this came about not due to prescient planning but because of succeeding by accident, while growing too quickly.

After alienating several key customers five years ago, we sat down and decided to define what it meant to deliver excellent customer service. A few key points arose from that discussion. First, we knew that someone needed to pick up the phone no matter what (voicemail is decidedly unexcellent). We then hired an answering service to take the rollover calls. Next, we decided to streamline the process of booking appointments and implemented online appointment scheduling. If someone calls in, Livewire staff uses the same web-based booking form our customers use. That’s by design. If we have to use the same methods of communication as our customers, we’re less likely to take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach.

All business decisions tend to be driven using one of two approaches: customer centric and self centric. Customer-centric organizations focus on making life as easy as possible for their customers (even at the expense of employee comfort). Self-centric organizations allow workers to put their needs first and customers second (the phone goes to voicemail, jobs don’t get scheduled for weeks and clients don’t get the after-hours attention they should). I’ve seen both approaches first hand and customer centrism is the most challenging to integrate into company culture (especially a self-centric organization). Employees can have a hard time connecting the dots between their hourly wage and the welfare of the customer.

Starbucks offers one of the best customer-centric experiences of all. They’ll sell you the beans, the coffee maker, “K-cups,” hot coffee, cold coffee, coffee in Target, or coffee at a drive-thru. If you want Starbucks, they’ve figured out how to engage you where and when you want. Not only that, but they even have their own payment method and rewards system to encourage us to buy more (never mind that their product is addictive to begin with).

Take a good look in the mirror, get one of your buddies to secret shop your company, and weed out the self-centric behavior. Your customers are already telling you what to fix, you just have to tune in. Get customer centric now before your competition beats you to it.

Stay frosty and see you in the field!