If you ain’t in it for the customers, get the heck out

Get hip to this: your customers are now your salespeople.
How’s your future look now?

Keeping your customers happy can be exhausting. That’s why there are about a million variations on the old joke, “This business would be great if it wasn’t for the customers.” I think we’ve ALL had moments where we cursed the very reasons for our existence, it’s just part of human nature.

But facts is facts: the customer is why we’re here. Without ’em, we might as well pack up and go home. And if the ones we have now aren’t happy with us, we can pretty much take the idea of getting more and kiss it the heck goodbye. As I mentioned when I laid out the 11 core principles of the New Digital Enterprise, the new reality is that the end-to-end customer experience will be the defining life-or-death characteristic of our businesses.

This *shouldn’t* be news to us. The writing is on the (Facebook) wall – and in the Twitter feed and on Yelp and on the forums and in the chat windows; it’s around cups of coffee and pints of beer and passed around dinner tables and in a million other places.

There are dozens of articles out there with the statistics and numbers that bear out the fact that today’s – and more importantly, tomorrow’s – buyers are turning to user-generated content and asking their friends’ and colleagues’ opinions and experiences as part of their due diligence before purchasing a product or service. This is just as much at play in the B2B world as it is in the B2C world.

I think we can all take for granted that trust in corporate messaging and branding efforts is nonexsistent. The last ten years or so have been one episode after another of large corporations screwing the public, each other, and the economy, usually in an outrageous or sensational manner (whither corporate social responsibility?!). For now, let me assure you, in no unclear terms, no one cares what YOU say about your brand, product, or service. At least, not until someone they TRUST has told them you’re okay.

Now more than ever it is essential that you are making sure your customer experience is positive and rewarding, from beginning to end.

Every single touch point with your customer – from the point of prospect to when they’re no longer your customer and have left your market – needs to leave your customer feeling positive about you. When people have a negative experience, what do they do? They tell everyone ALL about it, don’t they? It’s called Negativity Bias and it’s not your friend.

That said, though, both the internet and the conversation spaces are full of positive stories, too. There are some people who love to tell positive stories in their networks (I’m one!). Many others, if prompted or asked for their opinion on a company or services/products they’ve purchased or used, chances are good they’ll cheerfully and enthusiastically report on a positive experience (and this is where a little choice-supportive bias never hurt anyone, right?).

This is why it’s essential, at leadership level, to commit to a strategy that creates a customer-centric operational structure. There are eleventy-gazillion tactics and practices you can use to ensure positive experiences, all of which are dependent on your customers’ psychography. The hard part is finding a way to align your structures and processes so that the delivery of those tactics and processes are baked into your operations. Some firms appoint a Chief Customer Officer and give them real, actual power to ensure that the customer comes first. Other firms are built from the ground up around a culture of customer service. It requires commitment and a lot of work. Lip-service will not cut it – because remember Negativity Bias? If you don’t truly commit and make it happen, your customers will find out (the hard way) and they will pillory you. Raise your hand if you’ve ever said, “Great product, terrible customer service.” Do you want that to be said about you?

I don’t care if you’re selling retro-cool skateboard sneakers to hipsters in a Brooklyn storefront or satellite-based atomic death rays to comic book super-villains from a bunker in Kerplackistan – your company will live or die by the word-of-mouth treatment you get from your customers.

In the short term, you may be able to use a top-flight end-to-end CX as a competitive differentiator, but in a few years, not having one is going to be the exception, and it’s likely to be the reason you join the ranks of the no-longer-in-business. It’s going to be required to play. If you don’t have one? Sayonara.

Building a truly customer-focused enterprise is not easy.
My advice to you: start now, avoid the rush.

Seth Cargiuolo

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