Voting With Your Feet


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In a world where social media seems to be the only place to post a grievance, I didn’t start there this past week when faced with an action by a company I do business with that I didn’t agree with an action they took. I instead reached out to the humans with this company and voiced my concern.

In a nutshell, a company I have done personal business with for 30+ years decided that their corporate image would be tarnished if they continued to advertise on a network based on allegations being made about a particular personality. I will stop by saying if the allegations are found to be true; I would also abandon my support of this individual. However, without a trial, the media convicted this individual and the advertisers left in enough quantity that the network fired the individual.

I am purposely not naming names here, because I believe if you are following the news you already know what I am talking about, and if not it will make no difference to my point. I also don’t need to name the company that I have been a client of for the past 30 years because my issue with them is just about our relationship.

The company I disagreed with was happy to listen to my concern over them bailing out and agreeing to the allegations before all the truth came out, but their response became so high and mighty, too pure and perfect for my stomach to endure, that I simply said the following when they asked why I called. I said, “I am your customer, and while I can simply move my relationship to any of several other competitors, I felt it was my obligation to inform you as to why I am leaving after 30 years.”

His reply was, “Okay, thanks.”

In just two words he told he told me he cared less about my opinion. He then said he would pass on the information at his next PR meeting with corporate. However, “we are on the right side of this issue!”

Our New America – Guilty Until Proven Innocent!

I am now in the processes of shopping for a line of replacement products that I have not really given the time of day researching for 30 years, all because my opinions are incorrect. So while losing my relationship is not going to hurt this company, it makes me feel better knowing that I am walking my talk too.

The Quickest Way To Lose Customers


employee leaving

Are your employees also your customers? Most companies expect their employees to support them as consumers directly or even indirectly as referral sources. If you are a grocery store, I can bet your employees shop with you, and tell others about things that are on sale. If you are a bank, employees often have their checking account with the bank, and tell family members and friends why they should bank with you.

It is a given that once you are an employee, you will become a customer someday too. It would be very hard to support your company as an employee if you could not support them personally as a customer too.

So what happens if you turn away a qualified applicant as an employee and then aggressively market them as a customer? Do you think you are speaking to a receptive potential customer?

When you turn down an applicant that is not qualified for a position as far as skills are concerned, you are helping them realize that they should focus on opportunities that better match their abilities. However, when you summarily dismiss an applicant as unqualified because you didn’t take the time to read their application, resume or online profile, you are telling them a lot about the culture and what it takes to work for this company.

In recent blogs I have shared two experiences that I have had with companies that flat out only wanted female applicants. Blatant discrimination, but also that I am not valued because of my male gender. So when I recently opened my mail to a marketing package from one of these customers, I just tossed it. Yes, they may have been offering me a great deal, but why would I want to be their customer?

I doubt that the folks in recruiting have ever been trained to understand the ideal customer when sorting through applications. If I am applying for a job you want to dismiss me from pursuing, but you would still like me to be a customer, then there are ways to make both of your goals happen.

Yet anyone that is in sales and service will tell you that a great experience with a company is share with less than a handful of people, but a bad experience is more than double that number. The quickest way to lose customers is to treat your applicants as if they are disposable. Not only do you never get them as a customer, but they will make sure every family member and friend knows the truth about you too. Treating potential employees well from the beginning is a win for both of you.

Do Customers Really Matter?


If your company sells anything, than you have customers.  Yet just because you technically have customers does not mean that your policies are created with the customer in mind.  Of course if you really think the customer matters to your success, your policies do take into consideration what will happen to the customer, but what happens if customers really don’t matter?

I’ve supported the banking industry for years, and the focus for every bank has been on the customer experience.  Well up until recently when I discovered a bank that really doesn’t see the customer experience the same way as every other bank.  This could be a good thing if they are doing things to improve the service level over the competition, but they are doing just the opposite.

I didn’t choose this bank, but rather I became a customer because they purchased the bank I was doing business with and my alternative was and still is to move my relationships to another institution.  While I still have a couple of accounts, 90% of my relationship is now with the competition, because as a customer I don’t feel wanted anymore.

This bank has set out to prove that they can establish policies and procedures that make them happy regardless of how it impacts the customer.  Initially I gave credit for a lot of the screw ups to merger related errors, but the mistakes kept coming.

Day 1 I had no online access to any of my accounts, and a week later I did, but now my wife didn’t.  Then one of my accounts was literally transferred to my mother and sister with a title change and address change.  Oddly, the account was a business account that was turned into a personal joint account.  Thankfully Mom told me it happened when the statement arrived at her house.  A friend found out that their ex-spouse was given access to her account online, and another was losing money out of his account because the bank had linked it to a stranger’s debit card.  A lot of errors, but still, could be all corrected.  Yet through it all, not a single apology.

The culture of the bank is a sterile branch environment, so everything but the desks and chairs were removed.  I walked into the branch after the merger and thought they were using it as an operating room.  Cold and uninviting, and when the holidays came around, not a single decoration.  It didn’t matter what the customer wanted, they would just have to conform to the culture.  The final straw was the removal of long-term employees, that had been transferred to different branches.  Numerous branches now have new employees, and once again I was told it didn’t matter what I thought.

So since I no longer matter, neither do they matter to me.  I began shopping the competition, and found every single local alternative bank more welcoming.  Some better, but none worse, so it was easy to find a better home.

The learning point is that if you need customers, you need to conform to their needs and not expect them to put up with your needs.  Not when there are alternatives, and never when they are treated like garbage.

How Human Resources Reduces Company Sales


When asked how Human Resources impacts the sales results of most companies, there is a majority who see no connection at all.  And yet there is a significant impact resulting from the career center, or recruiting section, that can send positive and negative ripples beyond the repair efforts of marketing or sales people.

Let’s look at any service provider, or product provider that sells to the mass market.  You get to pick the company in your head for this example.  It could be a local retail store, restaurant or a home and auto insurance company.  Pick one name in particular and follow along with me.

Your company wants you as a customer, correct?  They provide the best service they can to recruit you as a customer and to retain you for years to come.  They count on your referrals, because even though a positive experience will rarely get more than a couple of conversations out of you, a negative experience will having you telling everyone you know.  Add in social media and even people you don’t know will hear about your bad experience.

Now suppose you apply for work at this company.  You submit an application online, and you get the customary computer generated response about how pleased they are you applied and they will get back to you.  Now imagine you get an interview, and you are told nothing that would lead you to believe you are being eliminated.  You keep in contact with the recruiter, but you never hear another word from them.  You took time out of your day, and they are too busy to spend one minute replying to you.  Heck, who are you?  No big deal.  Go away and we’ll call you if we want anything else from you.

Now while this happens all the time, and you are willing to let it go, today of all day’s you get an advertisement in the mail from this very same company.  They want you to shop with them and be a customer.  You ask yourself “why on earth would I want to be treated like I have been and turn around and be their customer?”

You see, Human Resources is an extension of your sales department.  They interact with hundreds of non-employees, but potential customers all day long.  If you are the leader of the sales efforts of your company and your HR function is treating applicants like worthless objects, then they are costing you business.

So while you are most likely not going to work for this company, I dare say you will probably never ever be a customer either.  And on top of that, anytime you hear someone say I’m getting a quote from [insert name] insurance company for my car, chances are you will warn them that you get what you pay for.

[And as a side note, if you happen to be shopping for insurance, I have a great company I could refer you to, and another one I would suggest you avoid.]

 

Mergers Should Focus On Customer Service


Successful mergers and acquisitions hinge on maintaining or improving the current customer service being provided.  So why are so many mergers rough on both the employees and their customers?  The short answer is that the customer service experience is not part of the planning process.

When Company A decided to purchase through a merger or acquisition Company B, the focus needs to be on minimal disruption to the current customer service experience.  Having personally gone through more banking mergers as both employee and customer over the years than I care to admit, I can tell you that the successful ones remembered that the customer was in constant focus.

Decisions and plans need to always ask the question, what will this do to our customers?  Not only our current ones, but the new ones.  Yes, mergers have impacts on not only the new customers but the current ones too.  How will our decisions improve the experience, or will a decision create a less favorable experience?

The Role of HR & Training:

Now having spent much time in my career in HR and Training, we are the ones that focus on the employees.  Yet to use my connection to customers, let’s explore how these functions impact the customer experience.

What happens if our new employees feel disconnected, or a subclass citizen in the new organization?  If they are unhappy, you can count on that rubbing off on the customers.  Unhappy employees, equal unhappy customers, means customers will leave to the competition.  In the same understanding, many times when employees leave, their customers will follow.  In a bank merger, a major way to retain customers is to have very happy employees.  So don’t assume the acquired employees are grateful to having a job.  Maybe they were happy before you entered the scene, and now they don’t see any good in their future.  That is the function of HR to prevent from happening!

Now with any merger, new skills need to be acquired.  To continue with my banking example, new products need to be learned from both sets of current and future employees.  New employees need to learn new policies and systems.  Training must be thorough and delivered earlier to be learned, or the customer experience will suffer.  The learning process is more than a classroom experience, and training managers must map out a complete learning process and support system.  This is often the most unprepared department, and yet it is the favorite department to blame when things go wrong.

The Role of Management & Marketing:

In today’s technology age, I am just amazed how quickly the customer starts to evaluate whether they will remain or not.  With the introduction of something as simple as a website, customers of the acquired company can begin to research if the other company was one they would have done business with outside of this merger.  If that answer is no, often they start to change their relationships weeks after a merger is announced.  In the case of banking, accounts start to close with no one tracking why it is happening.

The reason I lump management into marketing, is that often senior leaders are talking with the public, press and the new employees.  When they have something constructive to say they are moving things in the right direction.  When they babble on about irrelevant things, and don’t know answers to simple questions, both employees and especially customers pick this up and start to be concerned.

Conclusion:

My recommendation for any company that is planning to acquire or merge with another is simple.  Know what you plan to do for the entire merger process before you announce a merger.  HR should know how compensation and benefits will work.  Training should already have programs developed and ready to go.  IT should have a project plan for system conversions, and marketing should be in front of what the new experience will be.  Everyone that makes a decision should be asking, what will the new customers do with this information, and any negative reactions should prompt a second look.

Otherwise if you fail to focus on what the current and new customers will do, it really makes no sense to bother with the merger in the first place.

 

Genuine Customer Service


Tis the season for shopping, so customer service is in high gear.  But what is the difference between genuine customer service and the scripted kind?  Does it make a difference to the buyer?  Will it have any lasting effect on the seller?

My wife and I have been car shopping for months trying to find a replacement for an older truck we sold.  When I am in no hurry to buy something I have the patience to wait forever to find what I’m looking for, and yet since I wanted to get a smaller truck this time our options were limited.  Only a couple of manufacturers still make new small trucks, and although I was fine with a used vehicle the choices have been few and far between.

We found our truck this past weekend on a dealer’s lot.  It was the Ford Ranger I wanted sitting on a Honda lot.  The sales experience was warm and friendly and lacked any pressure at all.  Having researched this vehicle online I knew what the expected selling price was, and yet they did something called TruePrice, which was their lowest asking price, with no need to negotiate.  The entire process was as if I was part of the family and that the relationship was more important than selling a vehicle.  And it wasn’t just the sales people, it was every person we encountered in the building.

Yet over these past few months I can truthfully say that every single manufacturing dealer (Honda, Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan, Toyota, etc.) have been providing what I am calling Genuine Customer Service.  It is as if in the past years of our lousy economy, the major players have really stepped up their game and decided to concentrate on the customer experience.  Not only was it a pleasure to shop I would go back to any of them the next time I need to buy a vehicle.

Now, the corner dealers, and the private sellers were more of what I expected.  Some good, some could care less if you bought anything.  It was hit and miss because they all have different ideas of what they need to do to sell a car.  Most of them I went because I saw something that might work, but most I would never go back to again.

We had a great shopping experience with the ones that practice “Genuine Customer Service” and I believe that these sellers will find that even if they didn’t sell a shopper a car today, they have planted a seed for the future.  Being treated well, sadly, is a rare customer experience.  So when we are treated as valuable, we tend to remember it longer and we tend to tell others.  Pass it on!

Employees As Customers


I wish there was some statistic that I could draw from that shows how many employees are customers of their employer, but if we look at the food, service and retails worlds I would say it is a very high percentage.  So with companies that go out of their way to make sure that the customer experience is everything it should be to promote positive word of mouth, why do they treat employees like disposable items?

These industries I’ve mentioned hire a lot of part-time employees, many on the promise of 20 hours a week or more on average.  They have a ton of applicants, and they find good matches for their hiring needs.  Then once employees learn the job, some quit because it wasn’t what they expected and then the hiring begins again.  Yet somewhere in the middle of this cycle the company has reduced the hours from 20 to 10 to spread out the actual staffing needs.  They over hired and under employed from the beginning.

Okay, it would be one thing to see that you over hired, and thus instead of letting people go, you simply reduced everyone’s hours to spread out the fairness.  However, why would you hire to replace the exiting employees?  Now is the time to increase hours for those that are qualified, trained and like their jobs!

Instead, by hiring new people who need hours to learn the job, you continue to hold back hours on your “good employees” and then they quit and go to work else ware.   And when they quit, they also take all the good will the company ever created and leave it at the door too.

These former employees are no longer loyal subjects.  They don’t have a lot to say about you that is positive and they have a lot of friends and family to complain to.  Although they never experienced bad customer service, the employment experience has left a bad taste.  I can’t support a company that treats employees like disposable items.  I simply do not patronize any company that is like this.  And because of family and friends that have been mistreated by these customers, I no longer eat at 4 different restaurants, and shop at 3 different retail stores that at one time were all on my preferred list.  Why should I reward these companies with my business when they have treated my family and friends as disposable?

Companies need to focus on their employees and the relationship they have with them at least to the same degree if not better than they focus on their customer relationship.  Negative feedback hurts sales, no matter where it comes from.