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Posts tagged with Customer engagement

How do companies lose customers?

Posted on July 23, 2015 by 2 Comments

There are many reasons companies lose customers but, in the end, they all come down to a lack of customer engagement or advocacy. When engagement drops to a point where customers begin saying this company makes their lives difficult rather than easy, it’s only a matter of time until they go elsewhere. The difficult part for managers hoping to stop the flow is that customer loss is usually a trickle and rarely a cascade. It can be difficult to detect and harder to understand the problem or how to fix it. This is particularly true for consumer facing B2C businesses.  B2B companies usually have client managers whose job is to stay on top of things, but the same rules apply and results can take place.

It’s true that general inertia can keep dissatisfied customers patronizing companies they dislike for a long time. It can often seem too difficult or time-consuming to change your service supplier. The hurdles presented in front of change require time to find a new supplier and leave your old one. But inertia only forestalls the loss. It never prevents it because neglect feeds upon itself to a point where customers can feel forced to look elsewhere.

Here are a couple of personal examples: one large one preceded our inertiasupplier change and one small that validated it. In this case, the industry is banking and companies, such as banks, that are pressured by both small margins and ample regulation are particularly vulnerable.

For many years, my wife and I banked at HSBC. When we made the decision to go to HSBC, we were somewhat concerned about whether we would get lost in such a large company. It’s the 25th largest bank in the world. But they had a branch only a few blocks away from our home and offices around the world, which could accommodate much of my work, which is outside the U.S.

The bank immediately provided financing for our home in New York and a vacation home in Maine. The branch personnel were always accommodating and all was good for a period of several years. Then, HSBC began to make changes and from an outside view, it seemed they were outsourcing many of their in-house services to cut costs. Service bureaus began to answer phone calls or deal with problems, many of which were not connected to each other. There was no single view of the customer. Decisions moved further away from the branch to be centralized by policy makers who were guided by lawyers. The bank would probably blame government regulation but part of succeeding in business is maintaining excellent customer relations regardless of what is thrown at you from the outside. The old saying, “Don’t make your problems into your customer’s problems” always holds true.

One day about five years ago, the local mortgage officer, always accommodating, called to say that we could refinance our mortgages at lower rates and reduce our monthly payments – a good example of trying to make things easier for the customer. There was some documentation, he said, but that it would be easy because he would shepherd it through. So we filled out the application, paid the documentation fees, authorized appraisals, credit reports and income checks. Then, came the bad news. We had been declined. It made no sense to our local mortgage officer. We had never missed a payment, had near perfect credit scores and growing businesses. Additionally, the bank had all our personal and business accounts, personal and business loans and investments. They owned us.

problemsBut then he said, “Let me see if I can get my managers to overrule the underwriter.” That sounded odd to me and it turned out that the bank had farmed out its underwriting to a third-party firm that specializes in credit analysis, or more correctly, they had computers that specialized in credit analysis. He called his boss and I called his bosses boss, all to no avail. I spoke to the underwriter who told me that we didn’t fit their formulas because we owned small businesses that couldn’t be counted on to continue to grow. I reminded her that the bank already had our loans so it wasn’t as if turning us down was going to do anything. She said, “I wouldn’t have approved you last time either.”

To make a long story short, we finally got the refinanced loans approved but only because we refused to let it die and kept pushing the decision up to the highest levels we could find in New York. It was painful and not only took much of our time to make our case but also that of our local loan officer, so in the end the bank’s cost to make the loan was higher and it also took time away from us to devote to other areas, maybe like making more money to satisfy the underwriter.

(Now, I should add that we’re not financial slouches and I’m not looking for sympathy. Remember, customer alienation is the point and there are millions of small business people just like us all across the country.)

For us, the experience was the coup de grace in our relationship with HSBC. We decided that we would leave them at the first opportune time. Several years later, we did after rearranging some of our finances. The irony was that as soon as we did, HSBC desperately wanted us to stay. But all of the equity that their local branch personnel had built by being so accommodating had melted away and we had crossed the line from engagement to alienation.

That’s the big example that caused them to lose us as customers and while I’m using my own examples, I’ve heard similar stories among many of our friends who also are small business people. (Years earlier when I had that conversation with the underwriter, I asked her if she would have been happier if I was a manager at Chrysler corporation making several hundred thousand dollars a year. “Of course,” she replied. And I then said, “But Chrysler went bankrupt and I might have lost my job.” The conversation simply went downhill from there.)

So, we’re now at a point where we’ve changed banks but still are unwinding things with HSBC. They still have the mortgage on our home in Maine and a checking account from which they are automatically receiving the monthly payment. However, we noticed that they’re continuing to send the monthly bill to our old address, so we called to have them change the address. Simple enough.

They wouldn’t do it unless I wrote them a letter to inform them. “But you’ve verified that I am who I say I am with six questions I answered correctly. Why won’t you take the information over the phone, or online? Why are you forcing me to sit down and write you a letter?”

The reply came from a supervisor as the first customer service person agreed with me and gave up in frustration. “I’m sorry,” he said. “We can only do what HSBC management tells us to do.”

I thought about his wording for a moment. (It pays to have had a mother who was an English teacher.) “Excuse me, you said “HSBC management”. Aren’t you HSBC management?”

consequences2“Technically, no. I’m with a third-party service bureau that has to follow the procedures given to us by HSBC. I agree with you but there is nothing I can do. You have to write a letter,” he said with an air of resignation and defeat.

So, I thanked him and ended the call and thought again about the axiom, “Don’t make your problems into your customer’s problems.” It was validation for our decision to leave and find a new bank.

How bad can things get when you alienate customers? I’m not advocating that any bank’s customers leave. That was the right decision for us. It may not be for others. However, I am advocating that companies use every opportunity to determine whether their customers are engaged or alienated and why, and if so, what can they do about it. In our CRM (customer relationship management) system world, customers have become a series of transactions that we evaluate with formulas and predict with algorithms. I would argue that the transactions are consequences of their relationships with the companies and brands they use. This makes it essential for companies to devote more resources to both monitoring and measuring those relationships, and doing what they can to improve them.

The same is true internally. Employees are the brand personified. Months into our banking change, I called to speak to an executive at our old bank who had been helpful. I got her assistant who was working on the problem and said what we wanted to do could be done, but wasn’t easy. “Why isn’t anything at that bank easy?” I asked.

“Tell me about it, “ she replied.  As the lobsterman, who lives down the road from me in Maine likes to comment, “Nuff said.”

I’d love to hear your comments or stories  about successful customer engagement or, conversely,  alienation.

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Best Practices in Customer Engagement

Posted on July 21, 2014 by Leave a comment

In my previous blog post, I invited readers to take a survey about customer engagement.  More than 200 people have taken the survey and you still can.  Simply click the link:  http://surveydirectlink.com/survey/?name=engagement.

We’ve received some very thoughtful comments from people defining what customer engagement is, how companies do it wrong and best practices for doing it right.  In a few weeks, we’ll close the survey and then publish a summary so that you can read what people wrote.  If you take the survey, you’ll automatically receive the executive report.  But even if you don’t take it and you watched Karen Trudell’s Abundance of Gratitude interview series, you can receive the report.

If you’d like to register for Karen’s interview series, go to http://www.sweetperfection.org/abundance-of-gratitude

Again, if you’d like to take the customer engagement survey while it’s still open, go to this link:  http://surveydirectlink.com/survey/?name=engagement.

(BTW, if you’re using an older version of MS Explorer, you may have some issues with the survey working properly but if you simply take it on Chrome, Firefox or Safari, you’ll breeze through it.  It’s very short.)

To receive an executive summary of the survey results, just enter your email address here:

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Share your comments on customer engagement

Posted on June 26, 2014 by Leave a comment

“Engagement” has become a buzzword in business these days.  Everyone is asking whether they are “engaged” with their customers.  But what does “engagement” mean both to people who are in business and to their customers? Do you think you are “engaged” with the companies you buy from?  (e.g. Anybody out there in love with their bank?)  How do they think they are engaging you to build brand loyalty?

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 3.00.36 PMWe’ve posted a short survey online and if you’d like to take it, you can simply click on the image to the left or click this link:  http://surveydirectlink.com/survey/?name=engagement.  There are only five substantive questions and you can write as much or as little as you’d like.  So far, we’ve received more than 100 responses and the subject seems to have touched a hot button with many.  If you like the survey, please send it on to others that you think have something to say about this topic.  When we close the survey, we’ll post a summary of what people have said and the best practices they recommend.  I hope it will become a good tool to use in developing customer engagement, however you define it, and  brand loyalty for your business

P.S.  If you’ve worked with different programs or programmers, you know that MS Explorer often presents some challenges from the other three major browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari).  Explorer uses a different programming protocol and we’ve found that some survey respondents are having no problem with it and others are.  If the survey doesn’t work for you on Explorer, please give it a try on one of the other browsers.

 

 

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Strategy? Why do we need that?

Posted on November 21, 2013 by 10 Comments

I went to a wine event today in New York for the Bordeaux wine region.  While there, I asked the representative of one of the wineries, “What’s your strategy for the U.S.?”  She responded, “Strategy?  Why do we need that?”  I gave her some reasons but the conversation didn’t go very far.

When I returned to my office, I got an email from the Pew Research Center titled “Experts rank the top 10 global trends.”  When I clicked on the link, I found a report from the World Economic Forum on the 10 most important global trends based on a poll of 1,592 leaders from academia, business, government and non-profits.  Here’s the list:

  1. Rising societal tensions in the Middle East and North Africa
  2. Widening income disparities
  3. Persistent structural unemployment
  4. Intensifying cyber threats
  5. Inaction on climate change
  6. Diminishing confidence in economic policies
  7. A lack of values in leadership
  8. The expanding middle class in Asia
  9. The growing importance of megacities
  10. The rapid spread of misinformation

So what do these trends have to do with something as everyday as buying a bottle of wine?  Plenty.

It’s great that a provider of any product or service believes theirs is the best but neither consumers nor b2b markets think in linear terms.  Every decision is made in relation to another.  If I’m nervous about the state of the world, that will effect how I make decisions, and what and when I buy.  If I’m an importer or distributor and concerned about unemployment and the impact of economic policies, I may want to hedge my bets with tighter inventory control.  As people focus on the macro trends that affect us all, how companies approach the environment, social responsibility and their own governance (ESG) effects our perceptions of their brands.  It goes on and on whether you’re a consumer or corporation (remember, somebody once said, “Corporations are people, my friend.”)

If you don’t have a strategy that helps you wind your way through this maze or a brand with values that reassure consumers and customers, you’re dead in the water and it won’t matter how many fancy events, e-newsletters or facebook followers you have.

5year copy copySomething else was interesting to me at today’s Bordeaux event.  As I went around and asked people about their wines and what makes their winery better than the rest (to which there were a lot of blank stares), nobody asked any questions about me, about my tastes, concerns, or needs.  They may as well have been Enomatic wine dispensers with an information rack underneath.  Most handed me a sheet of paper about their wines in answer to my questions anyway.

There was neither strategy present nor any attempt at customer engagement.  I imagine the woman who asked me why her company needs strategy poured a lot of wine today.  At the same time, it wouldn’t surprise me if at the end of the day, she moaned about some of the trends on the list and how they were making life more complicated.  That’s too bad.  Strategy is the direction that helps us wind our way through and around those trends and we all give our loyalty to those that help us do that.

FutureShift asks a lot of questions and listens carefully so that brands and strategy resonate with customers to increase their engagement and loyalty.  It works.

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