Want to Persuade? First, Delight!

Customer service sucks!

That’s not just my humble opinion. Last month, Jupiter Research (a unit of this site’s parent corporation) released a study showing companies are failing to meet basic consumer service expectations, despite the fact CRM spending continues to rise. Jupiter reports CRM spending will continue to grow at a rapid rate through 2008. I’m not here to keep beating up companies that practice customer abuse. Rather, this column is about how to fix it.

A lot of companies still don’t understand CRM is about managing relationships to develop customers (MRC). Satisfying customers is not about the latest and greatest software. It’s about attitude, value, and empowerment.

When building relationships in this new era of consumerism, remember consumers respect honesty. I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired of shopping around for the best deal on the Internet. What I want is a reliable retailer that takes the time to understand my needs, works hard to fulfill them, and demonstrates how much it appreciates my business. Customer satisfaction should never be considered a value-add feature on your site. It is an absolute requirement.

Too many companies feel they can win by trying to convince the public they will be treated fairly. If the best a customer can say after doing business with you is, “I was treated fairly,” your business is pathetically stale. Don’t waste any more money promoting it.

Instead, take a tiny portion of that budget, head over to a printer, and print signs for every employee with the word “lagniappe” (LAN-yap) on it. Then make certain they understand the word and that you expect them to apply it to customers. Lagniappe is a Creole word meaning “a little bit extra.” Many recognize the concept as the 13th pastry in a baker’s dozen or an unexpected gift from any merchant.

Amazon is my bookstore of choice. Because of price? Don’t count on it. I’ve never searched a “price bot” for books, nor would I. It’s because it’s focused on giving me a little bit extra. Just after my birthday last April, I had some heavy duty gift certificates from Amazon (my friends know I spend thousands of dollars on books every year). On my wish list I found a selection of books to order. The total was about $12 more than I had in gift certificates. I fully expected to pay the difference by credit card, but somehow the order was accepted. Can you spell “delight”? That one small event turned me into a lifetime customer. Irrational? Perhaps. But how many of us are completely rational about every decision we make?

Recently, Amazon posted a letter from Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos on its home page about how it improved its already impressive American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) from a record high of 84 percent to 88 percent. The company plans to invest more to bring the score even higher. Its only competition is itself. How many more people will it d-e-l-i-g-h-t?

Bezos said Amazon is canceling its TV ad campaign. It increased sales but not enough to justify the spending. Instead, the company decided to concentrate on lowering prices, mainly in the form of free shipping for orders over $25.

“Over the last couple of years, we have come to understand how low prices drive volume,” said Bezos. “We think we get a better return giving the money to customers instead of television networks.” Amazon will spend over $100 million to pay for free shipping this year, according to Bezos. The company figures it will make it up on volume, but Bezos wouldn’t say how much of a sales increase he expects. That’s a lagniappe. Amazon doesn’t need to shout about it in ads. Word of mouth and customer loyalty speak volumes for it.

I was chatting with my colleague B.J. Bueno, co-author of “The Power of Cult Branding“. He explained, “As a society, we absolutely are addicted to brands. We surround ourselves with them. When the brand gives us love, we build them up. When they let us down, we tear them down.”

Many of today’s online efforts suffer from a revolving-door syndrome. They pay huge dollars to get initial customers inside the door, but service is so horrible those customers leave and never return.

Amazon clearly understands how to give more love to customers. What a wonderful delight it is for someone not to have to pay for shipping or pay less for a product she really wants.

More important, Amazon surprises customers by exceeding expectations. I’m sure Amazon shoppers didn’t expect a letter from the CEO thanking them and promising even better service in the future.

The hardest task for an online business today is to provide the user with a human experience. Dr. Margaret Singer, an expert on cults, writes in “Cults in Our Midst,” “Many adults today are overwhelmed by the confusion and apparent coldness of our society… many mature adults are finding less and less to hold onto in today’s techno culture.”

Cult brands are inclusive. With a relatively small gesture to make customers feel welcomed and loved, Amazon is taking the right steps to building loyal followers. It is slowly building barriers to competing brands in the hearts and minds of its customers. Win the battle of the heart, and the mind won’t ever wonder.

Let me know what your company does to allow customers to be part of the process.

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