Why am I seriously thinking of buying a small magnifying glass to put on my key ring? Because the makers of so many products these days seem to think their customers are ants who can read tiny font.
It happens all the time: a HP power adapter, a Palmolive shower shampoo container, a medical prescription, and so on, with tiny writing. (I don’t need glasses. I can read normal material quite comfortably with the naked eye.)
Manufacturers and service providers should be legally required to provide their printed material and product information in a minimum size. This is not just something for commercial and retail products, but also for medical products, etc. Have you ever tried to read the microscopic print on some medicine containers? Someone who misreads the tiny type on a container and uses the wrong amount of medication and suffers as a result, should be able to sue the manufacturer.
Many other commercial and retail products and services have the same problem – they are not brought to the marketplace with the end user sufficiently in mind. The customer perspective almost seems to be an afterthought. Think telecoms, healthcare, energy, banking, insurance, government, and so on.
Too many don’t think about the customer experience
These examples all reflect the brazen way many manufacturers and marketers ignore the end user. They suit themselves and not their customers.
Companies focus on their financial performance, environmental performance, social performance, employee engagement, and so on. But these days, who is actually taking overall responsibility for the customer journey?
Marketing professionals don’t seem to be able or interested to be involved in much outside their own specific discipline. Other departments, even sales, don’t seem to “put themselves in the shoes of the customer” despite decades of management literature advocating this.
A PR opportunity
Why is this relevant to PR professionals? We are vital to reputation strategy, which includes customers among the other stakeholders, but we don’t usually consider ourselves directly relevant to customers. Nevertheless, we are usually centrally placed within organizations. Our role means we cross over the silos that typically exist between internal departments. We are better placed than nearly everyone else except senior management to maintain a role across the organization and with key external stakeholders as well.
We keep an overall perspective of the organization’s relationship with stakeholders, including customers. Getting involved more operationally will make our jobs more effective. Justification can be made through advocating our role in strengthening the competitive advantage of the organization:
“PR’s real purpose, in my experience, is to create, keep, and expand competitive advantage for the commissioning organization.”
If you take the initiative to evaluate and improve the customer pathway for your organization, you can improve your standing with senior management and gain more staff and budget for your communication area, which generally tends to be misunderstood and under-rated by management.
Communication is relevant to the whole customer journey. Think of the many contact points between major organizations and their customers. Invariably no one is responsible for ensuring a seamless customer journey. But think of the exasperated feedback you have heard from people dealing with energy companies, telecoms etc. They tell stories of poor communication from different departments as mistakes are made and the buck is passed around from one operational area to another.
Start by putting yourself in the customer’s shoes
If you or any of your colleagues have reason to deal with your employer or client organization as a customer, document your experience in detail. Become a ‘mystery buyer’ for the occasion. Most times, your treatment falls short of competent. Even something as simple as wanting to find out some generic information from a bank or telecom company is often frustrating, such as an update on a general outage. After keeping you waiting before they answer your call, they will often force you to spend some time identifying yourself to them before they are prepared to give this innocuous information. Quite mindless – and a waste of time and indirect cost for you and the company itself.
Once you have collected information about your direct experiences as a customer of your organization, put a case to management based on your findings for you to conduct a review of operational communication on the basis that improving it can lead to increased profitability.
Then obtain clearance to review all the customer feedback from your call center, and from other areas where customer feedback is received, such as online reviews on your website. Collect customer comments on social media about their experiences dealing with your organization.
Here’s what to do
Review the information you have already obtained. Then conduct interviews and focus groups with frontline employees as well as customers to identify the operational areas with potential bottom-line impact that appear to have communication gaps. This helps you understand where your organization is and what you can aspire to.
Identify the potential cost of the current miscommunication. You can review operational communication in areas such as sales, quality, safety, productivity, turnover, customer contact processes, etc. For any process that seems to have poor communication, you can fairly quickly find out from operational management:
- Any negative operational outcomes occurring when this communication fails to work effectively.
- The cost in increased expense or lost revenue each time it happens.
- Frequency of occurrence.
- Therefore annual cost to the organization. (Multiply item 2 by item 3 above.)
Obtain approval from relevant management to conduct more detailed research by observing and reviewing the selected operational processes closely and talking to the workers at their normal work locations.
Speak with the middle managers and supervisors responsible for the operational activities. Discuss your potential solutions with them. Involve them in the problem solving because they can advise which of your ideas may be feasible, and they will offer less resistance to making changes if they feel they are part of the solution, not the problem.
Report your findings and recommendations to senior management. But be smart – ensure you are tactful about current operational managers and supervisors – who may become enemies for life if you criticize them bluntly! Be constructive in your recommendations.
When your practical solution is implemented, track the improved operational outcomes and ensure you refer to them in terms of financial impact and customer satisfaction.
You could compare the financial improvement over time or you could implement the communication solutions only at some specific locations and compare with other locations.
Success with this evidence-based approach will mean senior management will be more favorable towards increasing staff levels and budget for the communication function because the financial improvements are likely to far outweigh the PR resource costs involved.
Also you are likely to gain more credibility and respect from the operations area and senior management.
More strategic solution
Ideally your top management will appoint a person to be the customer experience leader – generally the person has the most touchpoints in the customer journey.
The important thing is to widely adopt a feedback process of customer satisfaction. Not just touch points along the journey, but also feedback about overall satisfaction. Feed this information in summary to senior management, and also in detail to those in the individual areas of the customer-facing process such as field technicians, call center staff, and salespeople. Also important are those indirectly involved with customers such as workers and contractors responsible for packaging and delivery.