Are You Customer Centric in Words Only?

Ask a company executive if their organization is customer-centric and you will receive a resounding and emphatic “YES” followed by several concrete examples. Is this reality or fantasy?

Customer-centricity can have different nuances of meaning. First, it can mean that an organization places the customer at the center of their universe and realizes that without a customer they have no business. Everyone serves the customer and does it promptly. Second, the organization realizes that the sales force, customer service department and product service team are the organization’s direct link to the customer. When these internal departments make a request it’s usually on behalf of a customer.

Recently we decided to test the concept of customer centricity with several organizations that we interact with directly as a consultant or as a consumer.  Each company states emphatically that they are customer centric.

You know you’re NOT customer centric:

  1. When it takes 45 seconds or more to get through to a live person when you call the company. For example, “Thank you for calling XXX. We are the world leader in X and we do…..If you would like to place an order dial 1, If you want Customer Service dial 2, if you need our service department dial 3, If you are checking on a product shipment dial 4 etc. etc. If you would like to dial by name, please spell the first three initials of the person you are trying to reach last name. I’m sorry there is no one listed by that name. To try again please………” A customer shouldn’t have to listen to a commercial on a company to connect with someone who can solve their problem or listen to an endless list of prompts.
  2. When one agent transfers you to a second agent and accidentally disconnects you.
  3. When a customer service representative tells you “we have never had that problem before.”
  4. When customers don’t receive a call back within a reasonable amount of time. We like 2 hours or less.
  5. When your legal department asks the sales representative “how important is this request because we are swamped?”
  6. When the sales force cannot get anyone in Marketing on the telephone because they are busy or in a meeting.
  7. When product service tells you that they will get to the customer when they can.
  8. When Accounting places your best distributor or customer on credit hold without prior notification.
  9. When the organization releases a new product and they know it’s not yet ready.
  10. When a customer service representative who is booking an order via telephone says, “I apologize for the noise in the background (which is people laughing).”
  11. When a customer service representative who is booking an order via telephone says “I am really sorry its taking so long to book your stay with us. Our system is really slow today.”
  12. When a customer service representative who is booking an order via telephone says, “Can I have your credit card one more time? For some reason our system didn’t accept it.”
  13. When a customer service representative who is booking an order via telephone says, “Please speak very slowly because I can’t type very fast.”
  14. When a sales representative says, “I will need to discuss that price with my manager and he is on vacation.”
  15. When you tell the customer, “The product is on back-order and we cannot provide a ship date.”
  16. When the CEO and his direct reports don’t know the names of their top 5 customers and the names of the key executives within those customers that are providing you the business.
  17. When a CEO is asked, “Does the organization have a comparison-contrast chart to show us the differences between our product and the competitors so that we can articulate the differences clearly?” And the CEO responds, “We don’t have a comparison contrast matrix because we don’t need one. Tell the customer we are the best. Next question!” Yes, this did happen.
  18. When the C-Suite says that they are customer centric but doesn’t have a key account management program in place.
  19. When the C-Suite says that they are customer centric, has a key account management program in place but never meets routinely with their customer counterpart because they don’t make sales calls.
  20. When accounting writes a reminder email to a customer that states, “Our payment terms are net 30 days. Please pay us now to avoid interest charges!”
  21. When a colleague or manager requests to be on a client conference call and then cancels at the last minute.
  22. When a sales representative leaves a voice mail or sends an email to their manager asking for a decision by a given day so they meet the customer’s requirement and they get no response.
  23. When product service tells your customer the repair bill wouldn’t have been this high if they had performed the routine maintenance.
  24. When all your boss focuses on relative to your top accounts is “how much more product are they going to purchase this year?”

Parting Thoughts

Organizations would be wise to spend more time talking to their customers about their satisfaction with their company experience, their pet peeves and suggestions for improvement. This goes beyond routine customer service and customer loyalty surveys. Organizations should also dedicate several people to be customers of their own organization. They might be surprised at what they find. Organizations should also share customer experiences both positive and negative throughout the company. These are learning experiences. Finally, we recommend that organizations consider developing a Customer Bill of Rights.

As always, we welcome your thoughts and input. Let’s start a discussion and elevate the sales profession with a thoughtful and informative discourse.