Successfully tame your chaos with manageable options

Does this sound like your workplace?

We spend so much time trying to satisfy the unique customer requirements we hardly have time to focus on our regular business activity

The customer is number one and always right.

This thinking may be leading you into a never ending spiral of employee exhaustion and still never quite seeming to make the customer fully happy.

What’s wrong?

You have great people working on this, but the world has gotten too complex to satisfy every customer’s whim. It’s just not scalable, nor sustainable.

What you need is Customer Management.

The first rule of Customer Management; the customer is not always right.

But, you say, if I can’t satisfy the customer the way her requirements state, then she’ll go to our competitor. Even worse, posts will be put up on social media sites telling the world that we’re difficult to work with. That just won’t work for us, we have to satisfy everyone no matter what it takes.

Well, let’s take another look at the underlying assumption here. We are assuming that, if we don’t provide service the exact, but individual way each customer is demanding, then they will immediately take their business elsewhere. No alternatives exist.

I’m arguing there are alternatives.

If our businesses haven’t provided acceptable options for the customer in our product selection and options, in our delivery methods and times, in our interactions with them, and in our continuing (and strategic) upgrade of options and bonuses, then yes, they will probably leave if we don’t do whatever it takes to satisfy them. But, if we figure out what the majority of our desired customers find acceptable and offer those items as options, then we can build the capability of those options into our business, operational, and service processes. From here, we proudly serve those options to the customer on our website, personal sales efforts, mobile offerings, etc. and allow the customer to now feel in charge. They get to choose what they deem are acceptable options, tell us what they want, and set expectations accordingly.

The great thing about this, we have designed our processes to accommodate all the options advertised. We can now run smoothly, efficiently, and more flexibly and leave the expediting to the true anomalies presented to us. We don’t have to keep reinventing processes, or documenting where we deviated from existing ones, because we’ve captured acceptable options the customers value, not options we think we should offer.

If we don’t do this, then the customer will demand special treatment. Their marketplace has changed as well as ours and they have to meet their customer demands. Instead of letting this happen, what if we ask them what they truly need for their customers and embed that into our options? Wouldn’t that keep our customers happy and away from our competitors? Special customer demands are often placed just because nothing else was provided as an alternative that

was anywhere close to matching their requirements. Or we run ragged because we haven’t sat down and thought through exactly what it costs, not only in dollars, to constantly allow each customer to set unique demands.

Let’s take Amazon as an example: as consumers, we think that we are in control because we get to dictate if we buy from Amazon or a third party on their site. We also think we are in control because we choose the speed of delivery. But who is really in charge? Amazon has embedded the options into the way they perform their business. A same day delivery may be an emergency receipt for us, but Amazon already has figured out how to make it business as usual. And what if I want immediate delivery? Well, I’m going to be realistic, chose the same day, and make a mental note to purchase things earlier.

What if as a business we’re ok with doing some hoop jumping for our customers? Ok, put the option out there, but don’t forget to price accordingly and embed this option in your processes. Customers know when they are asking for special treatment. Do you really want customers that always want things for free anyway?

This is what I call smart Customer Management.

Key words and concepts: customers, customer management, flexibility, process, process improvement, agility, customer satisfaction, strategy, delivery

About the author: Cynthia Kalina-Kaminsky with Process & Strategy consults with and provides training for organizations eager to increase their competitive value by helping enable growth, align performance, make and move product (even when the product is a serving of electrons). She has been invited to teach SCOR (Supply Chain Operations Reference model) in Baton Rouge this October. SCOR is the framework Fortune 500 companies use to increase their agility.


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