Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Customer Experience: Quo Vadis ?

As the leaves begin to change colors the first Christmas Trees have started making their way into area stores. A sure indication that the big holiday shopping season is round the corner. What lies in store for the customer? The last year can be described as an "annus horribilis" as far as customer experience is concerned. Long lines at stores, airplanes stranded on the tarmac, numerous recalls ranging from spinach to toys to hamburger patties. Why is it so that when there have been tremendous advancements in technology, logistics, communication etc, there has been a steady decline in the quality of "customer experience"?

Firstly, the pendulum has swung too far in corporate America's drive towards enhanced productivity (revenue per employee). Now, it seems to have reached the stage where increase in productivity is being accompanied by a decline in the quality of customer experience. Unfortunately, while productivity can be easily measured and is reported in financial statements, no effective way has yet been determined to measure or report on the quality of the customer experience. And everyone knows the adage "What's measured, gets managed". Most companies use customer complaints as an indirect indicator of the quality of the customer experience, but that is reactive rather than proactive (akin to bolting the stable doors after the horse has escaped.). Also, periodic customer satisfaction surveys are carried out, however there is no standard methodology of factoring their results in the financial reporting of the company the way other indicators of performance are.

Secondly, many companies seem to have outsourced their responsibility for the health of their brands, in addition to outsourcing the manufacture of their products. It is easy to blame other countries for shoddy workmanship or hazardous components. However, the customer is paying good US money for what he or she perceives to be a good product to a good US company. The US Company has to own the responsibility of maintaining manufacturing and product standards irrespective of where they are manufactured. They also need to ensure that quality standards are met. Products also need to be designed for US requirements. Lately many companies are behaving like importing agents, simply importing whatever is made elsewhere, having it packaged with their own brand label and distributing it to the retailers’ shelf.

These factors have been accompanied by an increase in customer awareness. The customer is becoming more demanding and discerning; and rightfully so. Also, government regulators have become increasingly vigilant following the "rather safe than sorry" approach.

What can corporate America do to enhance the customer experience in the days to come?

  • Develop, monitor and report on standardized measures of customer experience. This would require industry associations and accounting authorities to arrive on a consensus on what those measures need to be for the various sectors. These measures in addition to the normal indicators of corporate health like profitability; productivity etc would be true indicators of the corporate health and viability. Declining customer experience measures for a company with high profitability would be sure indicator that the good times are not going to last long.
  • Most companies have Chief Financial Officers and Chief People Officers, maybe it's time to consolidate all "customer experience" related functions viz. Complaint Handling, Satisfaction Surveys, Post complaint audit, Customer Research etc. under a high powered Chief Customer Officer. This Officer can be tasked to be the voice of the customer at the board level. This new role would ensure that the voice of the customer does not get lost in the pressures of meeting Sales or Production targets as they can sometimes do if the customer experience related functions lie scattered within the Sales or Manufacturing groups.
  • Take firm control of the supply chain process. Be responsible for establishing and enforcing the design, manufacture and product quality standards irrespective of where the products are made. Xenophobic diatribes cannot substitute for the responsibility of being custodians of the brand health.

After all did they not use to say "Customer is King/Queen"? Though Royalty may be a relic now, the Customer still needs to be placed on a high pedestal. Maybe it's time to reiterate this customer focused pledge from a person , very few would recognize as a management guru, Mohandas Gandhi , " A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider to our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so."

No comments:

Search Google


Site Meter