A former boss once told me, “The customer is always right, except when they’re wrong. But even when they’re wrong, you have to make them feel right.” That adequately describes the delicate balancing act that is customer service. Customer service reps worldwide will tell you that only a few clients reach out to thank a company for doing a wonderful job. Usually, when the phone rings or the email alert chimes, it is a customer with an issue. Sometimes it is your fault. Sometimes it is theirs. But finding fault should not be your priority. The key to handling a disappointed client is making them feel comfortable, taken care of and make him feel that you are the right company for him.
As today’s most successful marketing-driven companies have shown, the key to successful marketing is to take a more proactive and personalized approach to reaching out to your customers—at the right time, with the right message and for the right reason. That’s where customer lifecycle management (CLM) comes in.
The ultimate objective of CLM is to create, cultivate and constantly improve your company’s relationship with your customers. In today’s marketplace, it is crucial to implement a well-defined CLM programme because competition is becoming more and more refined to acquire the customers.
There are four stages of the customer life cycle that will help you understand and improve your customer service.
Stages of customer life cycle management:
1. Reach– Your content must be properly marketed in places where people/businesses in your market will find your information. This way they will become aware of your company’s existence.
2. Acquire and develop– You have to understand your potential customers’ wants/needs so you can provide a product/service they will want to purchase. Contact them directly with personalized communication in order to convert them from potential leads to paying customers. After the first purchase, keep in touch and build a relationship with your customer. Ensure they are fully satisfied with their purchase.
3. Retain– One-time customers will become repeat customers as long as you are satisfying their needs. Care for them and continue to cultivate a relationship with them. Do not be afraid to ask for feedback. They will be happy you care about their opinion and you can use their comments to improve your products/services. Make them feel part of the process.
4. Advocacy– If your customers are truly satisfied, they will become brand advocates. This will spread awareness within their social circles and the cycle will come full cycle when you reach potential new customers due to your existing customers. If your company implements the perfect CLM programme, you can improve your customer service and enhance your customer’s experience. Ultimately there will be an increase in your products/services usage and improved profit margins. It is a win-win and there will be no unsatisfied customers waiting at your proverbial terminal.
Understand and differentiate
We cannot have a relationship with customers unless we understand them what they really value, what type of service is important to them, how and when they like to interact and what they want to buy. True understanding is based on a combination of detailed analysis and interaction. Several activities are important:
Profiling to understand demographics, purchase patterns and channel preference.
Segmentation to identify logical unique groups of customers that tend to look alike and behave in a similar fashion.
Primary research to capture needs and attitudes.
Customer valuation to understand profitability, as well as lifetime value or long-term potential. Value may also be based on the customer’s ability or inclination to refer other profitable customers.
Analysis and research alone, however, are insufficient. To create and foster a relationship, we have to act on what we learn about customers. Customers need to see that we are differentiating our service and communications based both on what we’ve learned independently and on what they’ve told us. At the same time, differentiation should be based on the value customers are expected to deliver.
Develop and customize
In a customer-focused world, product and channel development have to follow the customer’s lead. Companies are increasingly developing products and services and even new channels, based on customer needs and service expectations. Most companies today are not able to cost-effectively customize products for individual customers. However, products, services, channels and media can be customized based on the needs of quantitative customer segments. The extent of customization should be based on the potential value delivered by the customer segment.
Interact and deliver
Interaction is also a critical component of a successful CRM initiative. It is important to remember that interaction doesn’t just occur through marketing and sales channels and media; customers interact in many different ways with many different areas of the company including distribution and shipping, customer service and online.
To foster relationships, companies need to ensure that all areas of the organisation have easy access to relevant, actionable customer information. And also, all areas are trained how to use customer information to tailor interactions based on both customer needs and potential customer value.
With access to information and appropriate training, will be prepared to steadily increase the value they deliver to customers. Delivering value is a cornerstone of the relationship. And remember, value is not just based on the price of the product or the discounts offered. Customer perceptions of value are based on a number of factors including the quality of products and services, convenience, speed, ease of use, responsiveness and service excellence.
Acquire and retain
The more we learn about customers, the easier it is to pinpoint those that are producing the greatest value for the companies. Those are the customers and customer segments that we want to clone in our prospecting and acquisition efforts. And, because we continue to learn about what is valuable to each segment, we’ll be much more likely to score a ‘win’ with the right channel, right media, right product, right offer, right timing and most relevant message.
Successful customer retention is based very simply on the company’s ability to constantly deliver on three principles:
Maintain interaction; never stop listening.
Continue to deliver on the customer’s definition of value.
Remember that customers change as they move through differing life stages; be alert for the changes and be prepared to modify the service and value proposition as they change.
And so the cycle continues. As you move from one stage to the next, you gain insight and understanding that enhances your subsequent efforts. Your development initiatives simultaneously become increasingly sophisticated as does your implementation of CRM processes.
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)