Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Customer Heptathlon

Everyone knows that not everyone is cut out to be an Olympic athlete. Decades of determination, conditioning and focus coupled with genetics will give a person a slim chance to be named Olympic Athlete. The very best of these athletes are those that participate in the events known as the Decathlon (10 events) and the Heptathlon (7 events). As everyone also knows, the Olympic Heptathlon consists of these events: 60 meter run, high jump, long jump, shot put, 60 meter hurdles, pole vault, and 1000 meter run. 

All of my lean friends understand that all of the Japanese mumbo-jumbo boils down to four words: FOCUS ON THE CUSTOMER. Our customers, after all, are our reason for being and who pay our bills, put our kids through college and help make life interesting for us.To return the favor, let's look at how we can make life interesting for them.

Event #1-Let's make it hard to understand the product-this is a common event for highly technical products and services. A good marketing strategy is to confuse em. Tons of options equals tons of opportunities to make a mistake. Can we apply poka-yoke to our offerings to make it as simple as humanly possible to buy exactly what we need, no less, no more?
Event #2-Placing an order-OK, we think we know what we need and it is time to buy it. How simple can it be to buy from you? Do I call you only to be sent into that purgatory called hold? Do I really have to leave a voicemail? Do I have to give you item numbers, catalog numbers, my customer ID and my Zodiac sign? Then, do I have to go through the same gymnastics every time I give you an order? Do you really put every order on credit hold after it is placed?!?
Event #3-Does my order show up when you said it would? Or, do I have to call you to find out where it is when that date has come and gone? Do I really have to buy more because I don't trust that you will have it to me when I need it? (Your on time delivery helps my cash flow!) If I show up to pick up my order, how long should I plan for? Do people treat me like a king or like a pawn?
Event #4-The occasional time when I need to return all or part of an order-I know LL Bean has spoiled all of us. "If at ANY time you are not completely satisfied with ANY item, please return it for a full refund. We don't want you to keep anything you are not 100% happy with." DOHHHH! Thank the Lord I don't have to compete with LL Bean! What? I do? Because people will compare me to them? Our policy is to send the customer a "return authorization form" in triplicate, which needs to be sent back and signed off on by Quality, The President, Shipping and Customer Service. You need to figure out how to get it back to us, then we'll test, inspect and sign off on it when it shows up. Then maybe, if all goes according to Hoyle, we'll give you some credit back. 

Event #5-This event is similar to #4, but is really seperate and on it's own-I have a complaint! The product or service was just not up to snuff. I don't really want a credit or a discount or a coffee mug, I just feel the need to let someone know what happened so it doesn't happen to anyone else. Maybe I'm looking to tell you something you didn't realize about what you are selling. Does the complaint go on a long list? When, how and by whom will it be addressed? Do I know when you will get to the bottom of it and implement a countermeasure so I feel certain it won't happen again? (Keep in mind I COULD have just written you off and gone to your competitor).
Event #6-Occasionally, as your loyal customer, I may need to get some advice regarding the use of your product. Usually, when this happens, I need the answer soon, like right NOW. Do I really have to go to the FAQ section of the troubleshooting guide buried in the back of your website? Do I need to take the time to write out my question, e-mail it to you, say a Novena and pray you don't take the 48 hours or less the website says? How easy can you make it for people to get technical help? How fast can I be talking to the person who KNOWS the answer? Or, do I need to call in and sample 5 or 6 different people, waiting in purgatory for each one?
Event #7-I'm sure, during the course of R&D, you considered "Ease of Use" to be part of the "stage gate process". Is the product reliable under the conditions that I will be using it? Do you, as the developer, understand when the product will fail? And did you communicate that to me? Hopefully, during the course of R&D, you spent just as much time doing poka yoke as calculating market share and potential sales volume. Is the manual easy to read, or is it not for people over 50? (6 font). Is there an instruction video I can refer to? How easy can you make your product or service to use?

I get it. The Customer Heptathlon is funny. BUT, I challenge you to look at YOUR customer facing processes and apply the Golden Rule. Can you focus on making these processes better and better? The absolute best companies in the world make the Customer Heptathlon a breeze. Their customers hardly break a sweat!

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