When deliveries are late, products do not work and frustration is turning to anger, some customers may still offer helpful suggestions – and websites can let business easily tap into a valuable resource.
CUSTOMERS, it seems, come in two varieties – those who, when something goes wrong, start to holler, scream, complain and display every stereotypical textbook symptom of “sales rage” and those who want to help an organization improve the quality of its products or services.
And, those of us who are prepared to help may be more numerous than is at first apparent.
According to Professor Theodore Zeldin, author and historian at Oxford University in England, organizations have much to benefit from recognizing the contribution such people can make.
However, for many corporations, their systems engineers and organizational managers have created structures that have built-in blocks to stop this happen.
Additionally ironic, for most businesses, whatever their size, is that such valuable contributions are often made freely, with no direct costs.
Clearly, establishing systems which can respond quickly, efficiently and positively to such offerings do have cost implications – but they are disproportionately small in comparison to the benefits which can accrue.
For, if there is one group of people who are truly expert in knowing about an organization’s quality of product, of service and of delivery; it is the customers.
However skilled and knowledgeable they may be, employees can never have such perceptions, simply because, by definition, they are delivering such services rather than receiving them.
Professor Zeldin has advocated the concept of ‘reciprocal service’.
‘Customers who feel they are contributing and not just buying are the most loyal,’ he said.
‘Employees need to be trained to learn more from customers and customers encouraged to share more of their experience with employees.’
Corporate systems should allow this – and websites are an easy way for organizations to encourage feedback from their customers and potential customers.
Of course, there is likely to be some abuse. The staff handing the responses should be trained to cope with this, but the psychological impact is comparable with the abuse that can be encountered by customer service or sales staff in telephone call centres.
Ideally, the feedback offered should be dealt with at as senior an executive as possible. Middle and lower management may not appreciate the broader corporate implications that an otherwise apparently innocuous comment may raise.
The responses of stock markets, individual financial analysts and traders frequently show how much the reputation of a global enterprise – and its value – is governed by their perceptions of key individual figurehead executives.
Even huge global operations employing tens of thousands of people in dozens of countries around the world are affected directly by the personalities of the chief executive or president.
There can be direct commercial benefits if customers large and small feel that their suggestions are reaching the ‘top of the office’ directly.
Website feedback makes this manageable.
It may not be practical for a CEO to spend hours every day in front of a PC scrutinising e-mails individually. But, alternatively, it may well be possible for a digest and summary to be produced – on paper, if necessary – so that once a week, perhaps, they can be considered.
Acknowledgement is not only courteous but can encourage even a greater number of higher quality suggestions.
To add to the benefits, it has been known for companies to receive quite detailed offerings, the equivalents of reports and analyses that could have cost them significant sums if carried out by management consultants. Clearly, such perceptions may be of limited quantity, but their quality, and the reasoning offered by individuals who may be highly skilled and reputable professionals in their own right, may be extremely valuable indeed.
A page on a website, with a photograph of the CEO or president, an apparently ‘personal’ message of encouragement to contribute and a direct e-mail address or feedback facility is probably all that it needed.
Customers are the ultimate quality control service. Tapping into such a valuable facility, so easily and cost-effectively can turn immediate frustrations into constructive guidance on how even the largest and apparently most impersonal conglomeration can improve its performance – for other future customers and its potentially delighted stockholders.