Bridging the Gap Between Customer Service and Customer Centricity
My grandchildren love participating in water sports at our cottage, and recently I needed to order two different parts for them to replace items that were broken on equipment they use that I’d purchased at a retail store.
Since the store didn't sell parts, I called one company and was greeted by a pleasant and helpful individual to whom I identified my need, and who, cheerfully, said she would do all she could to help me.
When she checked and found that she had the part, she asked for the shipping address and I told her I was in Canada. At that point, she said that she was sorry but that they couldn't ship the product to Canada. When I asked if there was any way around that she said no. That was the company policy and it couldn’t be done, which left me with still no part and a new problem.
I then called a second company. Once again I was greeted by a warm, friendly and outgoing person. I explained what I needed in detail and she, too, indicated that she would do all she could to help me.
She found the part, came back, and asked for the shipping address. Again, I said it was in Canada. Just like on the previous call, this person said she was sorry but they didn’t ship to Canada. At this point, I was clearly disappointed and was starting to feel frustrated. However, before I had a chance to go down that road for more than a moment, she said, “But let me see what I can do. I’ll call you back.”
With no expectation that she would actually call me back, I hung up and went about my business. Shortly thereafter, she did phone and said that while they don’t ship to Canada, she had contacted their Canadian factory and had made provision for them to send the item to me, to my great delight.
These two instances taken together provide an outstanding example of the difference between customer service and customer centricity. In both cases I was greeted by a warm, friendly person who demonstrated great customer service; that is, their interactions with me were courteous, friendly and initially helpful. Customer service is the experience the customer has when interacting with frontline employees, like my conversations with those two individuals.
However, customer centricity was vastly different with the two companies. The first company wasn't at all customer-centric and didn't care that its policy inhibited it from meeting its customers’ needs, despite the fact that it was selling products in Canada. Consequently, the individual on the phone was unable to do anything about my problem. The organization, not the customer-facing person, wasn't customer-centric.
In the second case, the organization was customer-centric in that it empowered the employee to make sure that everything was done to meet the customer’s needs. If the policy got in the way, the employee had the freedom to look for alternatives. That organization also had equipped other areas, in this case manufacturing, to help meet a customer’s need, even though those production areas weren't directly customer-facing.
As a result, when the second individual called the production facility in Canada, it was able to accommodate her in her effort to accommodate me, the customer. The person who wrote the policies that gave her that degree of empowerment, and the individual running a manufacturing facility in Canada, were both concerned about the customer and did what they could to meet the customer’s needs.
Organizations that are interfacing with customers on a regular basis in the retail world need to have two things in place: a front-facing staff who excel at customer service, and an organization behind those customer-facing people that is deeply concerned about the customer, whether writing policies and procedures, or providing guidelines and training.
Retailers need to equip every employee within the organization to ask: “How does the decision that I’m about to make impact the customer?” And then those employees need to be able to act from that perspective, not simply from the perspective of the internal organization’s needs and priorities.
Phil Geldart is the founder and CEO of Eagle's Flight, a company focused on improving individual and team productivity.
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