Customer Intimacy

Sometimes all the intention in the world – still means that a customer does not have a good interaction. The question I pose is can we please all the people all the time? I was saddened by an email I received directly from a customer this week – accusing RedBalloon of not listening….. I reviewed all his correspondence, we had clearly acknowledged each of his concerns and offered suggestions, hence I could see that the RedBalloon team member had listened. The reality is that the customer just didn’t like our answers. And my suggestion that he could use his unwanted voucher to support a charity and it’s fundraising only brought more upset. Can we achieve customer intimacy and still completely uphold our terms and conditions? We know of the Zappos story that as a customer relationship exec he or she can do anything to keep a customer happy. I wonder if this remains the same after the acquisition by Amazon – maybe someone can let me know.

So I turned to a book that I read recently ‘Small Giants’ by Bo Burlingham – to the chapter that he writes about customer intimacy.  The author quotes a business that says “I have an intense, nearly neurotic interest in seeing people have a good time.” He then quotes Tom Peters from In Search of Excellence ‘that great companies are usually founded by people with a not totally stupid obsession around which they build their business’. Burlingham goes on to explore the construct of the customer transactions, but ultimately the customers ‘experience of connection’ will greatly impact on his or her concept of service.

“For lack of a better term, we might refer to the process as building a sense of community – that is, a sense of common cause between the company, its employees, its customers and suppliers. That sense of community rests on three pillars. The first is integrity- the knowledge that the company is what it appears and claims, to be. It does not project a false image to the world. The second pillar is professionalism- the company does what it says its going to do. It can be counted on to make good on its commitments. The third pillar is the direct, human connection, the effect of which is to create an emotional bond, based on mutual caring.

Companies that succeed in developing such a sense of community with their customers and suppliers find themselves in possession of one of the most powerful business tools in the world.”

So if I review this particular customers email against these three pillars – I can hand on heart say that we fulfilled on them all. The reality remains that I did not agree with his request. Does that mean that customer intimacy will forever be illusive? Or does it mean that this one just got away. But if I  have an almost obsessional focus on listening to customers and then responding (because that is what made RedBalloon what it is) – how can I possibly achieve this for everyone?

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  1. Posted May 16, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    One of the worst fallacies out there is that old adage “the customer is always right” don’t get me wrong, I always try and give the customer what they want, but sometimes they have unfair, or unreasonable requests that make the relationship unbalanced. I believe you need to set clear expectations, under commit and over deliver, respect clients and always act with integrity and ethics, if you do all this and the customer is still not happy, then you have an incompatible relationship, which renders the efforts of the provider inadequate. i.e. it doesn’t matter what you do, the client will never be happy. But I always sleep at night as integrity and a commitment to customer service wins out (almost most of the time)…

  2. Posted May 17, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I like how you’ve responded to this challenge Naomi. Obviously not everyone will be 100% happy with their experience of your business (just the nature of people), but by focusing back on your core values and procedures you can accept that maybe everyone won’t be happy, but you can give everyone the same high level of service.

  3. Posted May 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Kathy – yes I believe consistency is important too, which is part of integrity. Our values are always what drive us – in someways they make it so much easier to make such choices because we have a ‘guide’ namely our values to assist us.

  4. Posted May 20, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Fear not, Naomi… 1.4M happy and satisfied customers can’t be wrong! Happy Days

  5. Luke
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Think the proverbial nail has been hit in these comments — what does a Ferrari salesman do for instance when I take his car for an *ahem* extended test drive and want to ring it back without charge?

    That said, two things you can do if you haven’t already are:

    - Ensure your staff are coached to create connection on every interaction ( not just “build rapport”) and;
    - Monitor those interactions somehow so you can create learning opportunities and potential mastery for the individual.

    Doubt either would have helped in this example though!

  6. Posted May 21, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Hi Di,

    Is ‘satisfied’ enough though – if we are building a brand based on shared stories… delighting, surprising… and ultimate intimacy is the game

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