Most Efforts to Improve Customer Relationships are Misdirected!!!

Virtually every conversation about Customer Relationship Management is focused on improving the relationship between a company and it’s customers.  While this is might be a valuable thing to think about, I believe it’s largely inconsistent with the kind of thinking required to actually improve the customers’ experience.

While customers are extremely interested in relationships… I think it is quite dangerous to assume that your customers have any interest in having a “relationship” with your organization.  

So, what relationships do customers care so much about?  Your customers care about their relationships with other people.  This can include the other significant people in their lives.  In a business setting, it can include your customers’ customers, colleagues, etc…   At a much deeper level, customers care about their “relationship” with themselves; who they are and what they want to be.

We’ve learned that:

You can create a highly differentiated customer experience if you focus on improving the relationships that customers actually care about!

Here are a couple of examples from our client work:

  • We worked with a leading provider of group health insurance.  Group health insurance is sold to employers through brokers.  The most critical relationship to optimize in order to sell more group health insurance is the relationship between the broker and the decision-makers in the employer organization (these are the broker’s clients).  Our experience redesign for this leading group health insurance provider focused entirely on helping the broker be more successful in meeting the changing needs of their clients.  This lead to an improvement in the brokers ability to acquire, retain, and manage their client relationships.  As a by-product, our client sold much more group health insurance.

  • We worked with a leading tire manufacturer that sells replacement tires through independent tire shops.  While this tire manufacturer’s customers (the tire shops) were asking for improvements in service levels like availability and turnaround time on tire orders and improved pricing, etc…   All of these customer requests were “table stakes” sort of expectations.  What we found is that by focusing on the most critical customer relationship (the relationship between the tire shop and the consumer), we were able to identify significant opportunities to improve the relationship between the tire shop and consumer.  These were things that the tire shops would have never asked for, such as services that made it easier for the tire shop to provide tire storage, mobile mounting, enhanced product selection services to the consumer.

  • We worked with a leading provider of broker-dealer services to independent financial advisors.  These financial advisers rely on a broker-dealer for trade settlement, commission processing, reporting, compliance, education, etc…   The financial advisors were always looking for improvements in these basic services.  However, we found that it was most important to pay attention to the how the needs of the end investor (the financial advisor’s client) were changing and how these changes were impacting what it takes for financial advisors to be successful.  We were able to identify significant growth opportunities by looking past what the financial advisors were asking for… to uncover opportunities to make the financial advisors more successful in meeting the changing needs of the investors.  This include programs for client acquisition, on-line client account tools, etc…

  • For a leading provider of assisted living facilities (nursing homes), we realized that the most critical relationship to improve is the relationship that exists between the resident and the primary family caretaker.  This primary family caretaker was typically the youngest daughter of the resident. 

  • For the leading jewelry retailer (referenced in early posts), we found that the key to really innovating the customer experience was to focus on improving the relationship between the gift giver and the recipient.

  • The innovative grocery chain, H-E-B, has recently been branding their experience around “Come Home a Hero!”  H-E-B operates in the southwestern US; with a high mix of Hispanic customers.  With these customer segments, the relationship between the person who does the shopping (often the man) and the person that makes the meal and the family that consumes the meal is particularly important.   If you’ve ever been sent to the store for groceries, you know getting the wrong thing can lead to tension.  H-E-B is focusing their experience on the relationship between the shopper and the shopper’s family.   This includes bundled meal selections and many family-oriented services (check out their website for more info).

This list of examples could go on and on.   When we recognized that creating a great customer experience has to do with improving the relationships that customers care about… not the relationship the customer has with the organization… we actually started to tell our clients “stop listening to your customers so much!

Of course, we were doing this to be provocative.  You do need to listen to, acknowledge, and selectively address what customers ask for.  However, if you really want to improve their experience, you need to look past what they ask for and find ways to improve the relationships they really care about.  Listening too much to the “voice of the customer” can lead to over-delivery on table stakes expectations and simple satifiers.  The “voice of the customer” is usually not the place to go to find opportunities for creating a breakthrough experience.

In summary, if you want to improve customer relationship and different your experience in the process… get creative around improving the relationships customers’ care about.  If you can improve the customers’ experience you’ll get the business benefits indirectly.

4 Responses

  1. […] Frank Capek created an interesting post today on Most Efforts to Improve Customer Relationships are Misdirected!!!.Here’s a short outline:For the leading jewelry retailer (referenced in early posts), we found that the key to really innovating the customer experience was to focus on improving the relationship between the gift giver and the recipient. … […]

  2. First Reengineering, then eReengineering, what about designing processes to deliver a signature customer experience?

    Frank, we have seen reengineering mature and evolve through the years. It is now time to truly blow up the inside out focus and design with the intended customer experience first. Companies can fall into a dangerous trap around looking at their current processes, determine the current key customer touch points, and “improve” those identified areas. They may be in need of improved quality or improved efficiency but do they really matter to the customer?

    When you walk in the customer’s shoes, you may realize that the processes need to change to support the newly discovered, intended customer experience. The current touch points may not be as relevant as first thought – in fact some of them may need to be eliminated. Different customer themes may also arise – proactive vs. reactive, advisor vs. provider of information, etc.

    Perhaps we are finally moving toward CE-Reengineering

  3. […] or improve the relationship between their customer and their customers’ customer.  (See Most Efforts to Improve Customer Experiences are Misdirected!).  Like most of the situations we’ve seen since that time, these innovations are the kinds […]

  4. […] Most Efforts to Improve Customer Relationships are Misdirected […]

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