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How often do we pause and ponder about industry issues that have a bearing beyond just our rigmaroles? Share insights that can further the common understanding? Or, at the very least, point at things that need to be set right. View Point - an exchange4media platform, will fill this void and become a source of understanding, action and perhaps some inspiration.

“It’s the customer, stupid”


Justin Rabindra, Regional Knowledge Manager, Asia Pacific,OgilvyOne Worldwide
That’s to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s election slogan on which he rode home to victory in 1992. It is not intended to be harsh on our learned marketers but it does catch the spirit of CRM nicely.

I remember some years back I was at a meeting with a client, the regional manager of an MNC bank. We were deep in discussion when a customer, an elderly sardar, strode into his room and asked if he could have a glass of water (it was a hot summer day). The manager gave him a glass of water and when the customer had left the room, said, quite irritated, “These ----ing customers can be so bugging!”

I’m no saint myself, but frankly, I was shocked. It was one of the first banks to install a CRM system!

It is fascinating to consider how often marketing managers actually think about their products from a customer perspective. From the dozens of clients I have handled in the course of my years in advertising and direct marketing, I can safely conclude that few, if any, get out of their air-conditioned offices to find out for themselves what the customer experience really is. Is it because they believe their customers cannot get a better deal than they are already getting, or are they simply not bothered?

I’ve been looking at typical customer experiences in some industries. It turns out that some of the most respected companies look at business from their own point of view and not their customer’s. It’s been proven time and again that expensive CRM systems that do not impact the customer positively are a waste of good money. (In fact, technology only takes inefficiency to a level at a speed incapable of by humans alone. There have been several cases of expensive mail being sent to an old address for years because the database faithfully churns out the address that has been inputted and not been updated; or communications for a personal women’s product that was sent to thousands of men because of a keying error; or airlines that flew virtually empty aircraft because the system showed the flight as overbooked.)

A CRM system when implemented effectively is intended to give the company a 360 view of the customer. To remind us of CRM’s original promise – it is to truly and cost-effectively help an organisation manage complex, changing and challenging relationships across an extended enterprise.) The question is, what does it mean to the customer? You still have situations where the marketing department of a credit card company would send you friendly letters offering to increase your credit limit; while the accounts department of the same company sends you a stinker threatening to block your card if you didn’t clear your dues immediately!

Conversely, some companies -- often traditional, family-owned Indian businesses -- have the most loyal customers on account of treatment that demonstrates care and concern, time after time.

That’s because many companies are still missing the point. The CRM attitude comes first before the CRM system.

A company first needs to map out the entire sequence of events where the company, its brand or its employees come in touch with its customers, what we call ‘customer touch points’. After this has been done, what the company needs to do to provide excellent customer service almost falls into place by itself.

Let’s take the airline example. When does the passenger experience with the airline begin and when does it end? Is the airline’s responsibility limited to the time that the passenger is on the plane?

Let’s take a bird’s eye view of the customer’s experience:

Customer Touch points

Origin
Flight
Destination
Travel Agent Immigration,
Fr Flier Services
Gate
Transfers,
Ground transportation
Baggage check-in
Plane
Customs, baggage claim
Reservation
Parking
baggage loss handling,
ground transportation.
Within Airline Control
Reservations
Club room Travel Agent
Ground staff
Airline food
Agent
In-flight entertainment
Flight attendants
Baggage handlers
Advertising
Pilots
Outside Airline Control
Secretary
Parking attendant
Customs/ Immigration staff
Travel Agent
Restaurant personnel
Air traffic control
Traffic police
Duty Free
Other airlines
Taxi Driver


As a passenger, when you decide to travel, depending on whether it’s on business or leisure, you’ll get in touch with your secretary or your travel agent. As far as you are concerned your travel or holiday experience has begun, and months later you will remember your travels as memorable, so-so, or a nightmare depending on what your total experience was.

A couple of personal examples

The last time I travelled, I was carrying a Delta Airline ticket and when I arrived at Delhi airport I discovered Delta does not touch Delhi. They had an arrangement with their partners Air France. Who should have informed me? Personally, as a customer, I don’t care -- I should have been told. There are passengers who would have panicked, and just gone back home.

Secondly, I was served a special “Asian Vegetarian Meal”. And here I am, an incurable carnivore envying my co-passengers tucking into turkey and duck! Again, no one asked me.

On an earlier occasion my checked-in baggage did not arrive on the same flight as I did. I resisted the temptation to panic considering I was in unfamiliar territory where they spoke little English. I found the airline office and made my complaint. The woman handled it like it was no big deal and after she worked her email for a few minutes, assured me that the bag had been located and that it would be sent the same afternoon to the hotel I was staying in. To tide me over till then, they even gave me a ‘survival kit’ with some nice French toiletries and other thoughtful stuff a single traveller might require. Amazingly, the bag reached my room within four hours. What was impressive was that handling my complaint was done quite casually, as part of the process. It helped to assure me that I was in safe hands.

What would a passenger really like when he travels?

A week before the flight, an email reminding me of the flight details, including any surprises (like Air France disguised as Delta); and checking if I have any special meal preferences.

A reminder call or SMS a day before departure reconfirming flight times.

A cab (that I’ll pay for of course) to take me at the appointed time to the airport.

A porter to take my bag from the taxi to the check-in counter.

A spy thriller which I could start reading at the Executive Lounge and return at the destination. (okay, now I know I am going overboard, but it would have been nice and I’d have told all my friends and even some enemies).

What’s one’s present experience? Well, the less said the better. In fact, for many airlines, you’d think delivering satisfaction was limited to ensuring that the number of take-offs equals the number of landings.

Airlines focus their marketing on one narrow area – the flight. And that needs to change. They need to embrace a service culture and align the airline closely with its external partners.

As of now an airline’s only attempt at driving loyalty is through artificial means like a frequent flier programme. Artificial because loyalty cannot be built through a system of rewards for flying and disincentives for not redeeming your points.

To summarise, use a system of mapping all that the customer experiences in the course of using your product or service; think about your service offering from a customer perspective; and use technology to smartly support the service. You should be well on your way to receiving mails of delight from your customers.

Whatever the stage you’re at in implementing CRM in your company, it pays to be polite to that thirsty old sardar. It’s people like him that keep us in our jobs.

(The author is Knowledge Manager with O&M, and Customer at Large and can be contacted at justin.rabindra@ogilvy.com)
 
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How often do we pause and ponder about industry issues that have a bearing beyond just our rigmaroles? Share insights that can further the common understanding? Or, at the very least, point at things that need to be set right. View Point - an exchange4media platform, will fill this void and become a source of understanding, action and perhaps some inspiration.
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