Storytelling in business

Clues to a Remarkable Brand Story

Stories exist in all cultures. They have developed down through the ages as a means of transferring knowledge, long before books and now the web enabled their storage.

Today’s information-rich world has made storytelling a required talent for CEOs and CMOs alike to develop. And websites and Fan pages now make it a necessary skill for brands too.

Brand stories are perhaps one of the easiest ways to resonate with customers. Hopefully, this will then lead to those highly sought-after but ever-diminishing rewards of loyalty and advocacy. Of course, I say “easiest” with caution, since great storytelling is an art that is often learned but rarely truly mastered. (and I am conscious that I am (too) often in that group!)

One of the best places to find great stories is on TED. Amongst the most popular talks on the topic of storytelling, The Clue to a great story was given in February 2012 by Andrew Stanton. Stanton is the Pixar writer and director of both the hit movies Toy Story and WALL-E. I was reminded of his talk because it has since been turned into an infographic on the TED Blog. It inspired me to review the five “clues” Stanton talked about and then to apply them to brands. These five essential elements of remarkable brand stories are the result.


Make me Care

According to Stanton, a story needs to start by quickly drawing sympathy from the audience / reader. The hero is introduced as being rejected or badly treated by family, friends, circumstances, or the world in general.

Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

SOURCE: CopyPress

Well-known examples of heroes include Cinderella or the lovable WALL-E in the film of the same name. Their predicament immediately generates feelings of concern and empathy, especially when identified as unfair or outside the control of the hero.

This works well for people, but for brands I believe the emotions sought should be on the opposite side of these as demonstrated by Plutchiks’ Wheel of Emotions (see right).

Those of trust, admiration or anticipation are more relevant for brands than remorse, grief, and loathing. People spend money on brands because they believe that they will provide pleasure and / or solve one of their problems. Our job as marketers is not only to satisfy this need but to go even further by turning that expectation into surprise and delight (but more on that later).


Take me with you

In storytelling, there is often a journey, a mystery or a problem that needs solving. Something that entices the reader or audience to linger a while longer and to learn more about the situation. In a similar way, a brand wants its customers to remain and become loyal. It therefore makes promises, whether real or just perceived as such by the customer.

Storytelling in businessWhen I first started working at Philip Morris International, there was a rumour amongst consumers that Marlboro was financing the Ku Klux Klan in the US. This started because its packaging had three red rooftops or “K’s” on it (front, back and bottom of pack). Management obviously didn’t want this untruth to be believed by its smokers, so one of the K’s was removed by making the bottom of the pack solid red.

However, consumers’ desire for mystery and intrigue was so strong that another rumour quickly emerged. This time, smokers had found three printer’s colour dots inside the pack (black, yellow and red). The story went that these markings symbolized that Marlboro hated Blacks, Asians and Indians! Once again management looked for ways to dismiss this rumour, but as in the previous case, just denying it would have most likely led to further reinforcement of the rumour. Since the printer needed these colour matches, they remained for many years.

Customers love to tell stories about “their” brands. There are many myths about the greatest brands around, often starting from their packaging or communications. For example, Toblerone has the “Bear of Berne” and the Matterhorn, exemplifying its Swiss origin, on its pack. The brand name too has Berne spelled within it and the chocolate itself is shaped like a mountain.

Camel has the “Manneken Pis from Brussels” on the back leg of the camel. Whereas the Toblerone links were intentional, I don’t think JTI planned that association into their design! Consumers just looked at the pack and having discovered the resemblance, started to share their findings, and it became a “truth”.

Many other brands have developed stories through their communications, that are also shared and repeated until their customers believe they are true. Further examples include Columbia outdoor wear’s “Tough Mother” campaign, Harley Davidson’s enabling “middle aged” men to become bikers at the weekend, or Dove’s campaign for real women to name just a few. All these stories confirm and further support the connection their customers have with these brands, so they almost become a part of their extended families. Such a strong emotional connection will ensure brand loyalty and advocacy for as long as the stories are maintained.

Be Intentional

In a story, the hero has an inner motivation, which drives them toward their goal. They will encounter problems and challenges along the way, but their motivation remains strong to reach their desired destination.

For a brand, this motivation is what it stands for, its brand equity. What is the brand’s image, its personality; what benefits can the customer expect? Not only is it important to identify these, but perhaps even more importantly, is to consistently portray them in everything a brand does. From its product to its packaging, its communications to its sponsorships, the customers’ loyalty and appreciation are reinforced by every element that remains consistent and continuously reinforced.

Let me like you

A story depends on a hero with whom the audience can empathize; someone worthy of their respect, even love.

This is exactly the same for brands, which is why problems and crises need to be handled quickly, fairly and respectfully. In today’s world of global connection, everything a brand says or does, anywhere in the world, is shared and commented upon, around the globe in a matter of milliseconds. Whereas in the past, disappointed customers may have told ten others, today it is estimated to be closer to ten million, thanks to social media!

In a great article entitled “What an angry customer costs” by Fred Reichheld, it is said that the cost to companies of haters or detractors is enormous. “Successful companies take detractors seriously. They get to the root cause of customers’ anger by listening to complaints, taking them seriously and fixing problems that might be more pervasive” But it’s not merely a question of preventing the spread of negative word of mouth. As Reichheld, himself says “For many customers … (resolving complaints) …is where true loyalty begins”.

(Surprise and) Delight me

Stanton says that stories should charm and fascinate the audience. For brands, we should aim for surprise and delight as previously mentioned. The surprise of learning something new about the product or company that made it; delight at getting unexpected gifts or attention from the brand.

This is where limited editions and seasonal offers first started, but over the last few years, thanks to today’s connected world, brands are going much further:

  • In 2010, SpanAir delivered an Unexpected Luggage Surprise for its customers flying over Christmas Eve.
  • Also in 2010, another airline KLM, had staff members prepare gifts for a select few passengers who tweeted about their pending departure on a KLM flight at the airport.
  • Tropicana  brought “Artic Sun” to the remote Canadian town of Inuvik, where residents live in darkness for weeks each winter.
  • Amazon is known for their excellent customer service, but they often go the extra mile, upgrading customer shipping to expedited service for free.
  • Kleenex surprised sick people with their Feel Good campaign that targeted people Tweeting about going down with the ‘flu.
  • Google, who are known for their creative and timely illustrations on their homepage, started showing a birthday cake as the image above the search box on people’s birthday.

The last example actually happened to me for the first time a few years ago and I admit that I was so excited I actually Tweeted about it! Am I the only one who was touched by this gesture, because I haven’t heard anyone else mentioning it?

So those are Stanton’s five clues to a great story, adapted for brands. Do they work? What stories are told about your own brands? Or do you have other great examples to share? Please share them below.

For more on brands please check out our website: or contact us here for an informal chat about how we could support your own brand building efforts or provide fun training days.

This post has been adapted and updated from one which first appeared on C3Centricity in 2013.

Connect with customers

How a Company Reacts to a Crisis Says a Lot About its Customer Centricity

In the UK, there was a recent, highly publicised significant and sustained cyber-attack on the Telecom company Talk Talk’s website.

According to the news as I write this, it seems that a fifteen (!!!) year old Irish lad and a 16-year-old Brit may be responsible. They might have been able to steal information such as names, addresses, passwords and other personal information including bank details. The phone and broadband provider, which has over four million customers in the UK, said that this information “could have been accessed, but credit and debit card numbers had not been stolen”. This was later corrected and Talk Talk admitted that such sensitive financial information had also been obtained.

When the news first broke, Talk Talk tried to play it down. When people requested to cancel their contract, they were told they would be hit with a hefty £200 cancellation fee! That’s really adding insult to injury isn’t it?

As a result of the ensuing outcry, they later amended their position, saying that they would only waive termination fees for customers wanting to end their contracts if money is stolen from them. The local Consumer group Which? called the offer the “bare minimum”.

“In the unlikely event that money is stolen from a customer’s bank account as a direct result of the cyber-attack [rather than as a result of any other information given out by a customer], then as a gesture of goodwill, on a case-by-case basis, we will waive termination fees,” the company said on its website.

Am I dreaming? Goodwill gesture?!! My brother is one of their soon to be ex-clients and I, therefore, followed the handling of the whole case with interest.

What Talk Talk did was ignore their customers’ feelings. As a result, they are provoking their customers to cancel their contracts as soon as they come up for renewal. That is certainly what my brother will do. If on the other hand, they had said that people had up to a month, or three or six months, to cancel their contract if they so desired, then I’m sure that many would have waited before taking such a rash decision.

That would have given them time to calm down, and they might even have forgotten or forgiven the incident by the time their contract came up for renewal. By forcing people to stay, they are also forcing people to leave just as soon as is legally possible. This is just another example of a short-term gain for a long-term pain / loss.

As if that isn’t enough, reporters facing imminent deadlines, will often go with what (little) information they have about the situation. They can’t wait hours or days for the company to craft an appropriate response that will assure that its image remains intact. As a result, damage is done incredibly quickly to a business as well as to its image when such incidents are handled badly. A good reason for organisations to be prepared for any and all eventualities, by using scenario planning. See “10 Steps & 5 Success Factors to Ensure your Business is Ready for Anything” for more on this topic.


What Talk Talk should have done

As all good crisis managers know, what Talk Talk should have done is to follow best practice procedures. When a crisis happens especially when it directly involves the customer:

  1. Admit the problem.
  2. Detail exactly what has happened.
  3. Say what you are doing to put it right.
  4. Empathise with customers and offer a solution.
  5. Explain what you will do so it doesn’t happen again.

These five simple steps are known by all PR professionals and yet when a crisis happens the reaction from so many companies appears panicked and chaotic. It is as if knowing what to do doesn’t ensure a company does what needs to be done. (>>Tweet this<<) In this case, it doesn’t even look like Talk Talk has thought through and prepared for such an eventuality – even though this isn’t the first time it has happened to them! Being prepared is half the battle. (>>Tweet this<<)


Learning from Mistakes

According to an article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, this is Talk Talk’s third major security breach in the past year! When asked whether such sensitive financial information was encrypted, Talk Talk’s CEO, Dido Harding, said: “The awful truth is, I don’t know”. What is shocking is not only that it has happened before – several times – but that the head of the organisation has not taken steps to ensure such gaps in her organisation’s security were corrected.

Every business and every person makes mistakes occasionally. It’s what we do after making a mistake that makes the difference. As Bruce Lee is famously quoted as saying Mistakes are always forgivable if one has the courage to admit them.” (>>Tweet this<<) 

Excellent leaders and great businesses admit their mistakes quickly and with courage. They see them as a chance to learn and to grow, rather than as an excuse for ignorance and denial. As a recent article in Forbes mentions, “A company in crisis is an opportunity for change”. (>>Tweet this<<) A business should take both short-term and long-term actions as quickly as possible. Doing nothing is the worst reaction to a crisis, as it opens the way for even greater criticism and exaggeration. As already mentioned, journalists love a good story and if you don’t provide it, they will create it with what they’ve got.

“Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them” Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel

Being Customer Centric

I spoke about customer centricity in the title because I believe that companies who are thinking customer first, will react appropriately in a crisis. Taking the customers’ perspective will mean that they will do what’s best for their clients first and foremost. They will address the issue for their good, and only then address it internally. Therefore, all businesses which are in the habit of thinking customer first are more likely to do the right thing first.

There are many organisations that have reacted inappropriately in a crisis and their business has suffered, in some cases to the point of closure. Another recent crisis, that of Volkswagen, highlights just how far a company will go to win the approval of its clients. It shows that although they may have understood the importance of their customers, in this case at least, they exaggerated and lied to win their approval. Both such practices will almost always be discovered sooner or later because too many people are involved in keeping secrets. Customer centricity may not be easy, but it’s the right way to conduct business in today’s informed world.

When faced with a crisis, a customer-centric business follows the 5-step process mentioned above, to empathetically respond first to its clients, and then to the press and relevant authorities. It’s a clear sign that the organisation has the right priorities.

If you’d like a useful checklist about what to do in a crisis, I highly recommend the one which Forbes published a few months ago in their article “You have 15 minutes to respond to a crisis; A checklist of Dos and Don’ts.”

Have you prepared several future scenarios to be prepared for the opportunities and challenges your organisation may follow? If not, then let’s discuss possible solutions. Contact me today here.

Winning Customer Centricity BookThis post includes concepts and images from Denyse’s book Winning Customer Centricity. You can buy it in Hardback, Paperback or EBook format in the members area, where you will also find downloadable templates and usually a discount code too.

The book is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook and in all good bookstores. The Audiobook version, which can be integrated with Kindle using Amazon’s new Whispersync service, was published last week.

Customers in your vision

Marketers, Do You Know Everything You Should? From the 5Ps to the 7Qs.

Marketing is a great profession. I’ve worked in or with marketing teams for most of my career. From the outside, they are seen as the department that comes in late, parties every night and gets to talk about advertising at conferences in exotic places. For those in operations or finance, they don’t seem to be that serious; they just appear to be always having fun. I’m sure you’ve heard such comments yourself.

Well, as you yourself know, marketing IS fun, but it’s also a lot of hard work, often close to 24/7 on some occasions. So is all that hard work paying off? If you work in marketing, you certainly know the 5Ps and hopefully you also check them regularly for your brand. However, the problem with them is that when you find an issue that needs your attention, you don’t always know immediately what to do. So I suggest you answer the following seven questions instead. They all explain what to check and why. And if you can’t respond completely to each one, then perhaps you need to do a little more work and a little less partying!

Q1. Who are your customers?

I don’t mean just their demographics. I mean who they really are; what, where and how they use or consume your brand. And especially why. If you can’t give all these details about your customers, then you’re in serious trouble. See “12 things you need to know about your target customers” for more details on defining your customer persona. You can also download a free, blank template at

Q2. How are your customers changing?

Hopefully you answered Q1. without any hesitation – you did didn’t you? It’s great that you know a lot about your customers, but people change. Are you following how your customers are changing? Are you keeping up with them and their new needs and desires? Do you know the impact of the latest trends on your customers’ opinions and behaviours? Do you know how these trends will develop and impact the market in five, ten or even twenty years from now? 

There are countless examples of brands that have disappeared because they didn’t keep up with the changing needs of their customers:

  • Kodak LogoKodak who didn’t understand the impact of digital photography.
  • Borders bookstores who didn’t get into eBooks.
  • Motorola, once the leader in smartphones, who didn’t embrace new communications technology.
  • Blockbuster LogoSony who resisted MP3 and lost the portable music player market that they had led for many years.
  • Blockbuster who survived the transition from VHS to DVD, but failed to adapt to consumer demands for home delivery.

The easiest way to be ready for any future changes is to prepare for them, by developing future scenarios. (>>Tweet this<<) How many possible future customer changes have you already planned for?

Q3. What does your brand stand for?

I don’t mean it’s marketing identity or slogan; I mean how your customers, or your competitors’ customers would describe it, its image? Is it strong and consistent? Does this image align precisely with its identity or the positioning you want today? Do you follow changes in its image regularly? Do you adapt your advertising and promotions to strengthen its desired image and eliminate negative changes before they impact the image? Is it authenticated by your customers’ experiences with your brand? It should be a direct reflection of your brand’s (internal) identity and promise. (>>Tweet this<<)

You should be able to describe your brand in one or at most a couple of sentences, using the words and ideas you want it to stand for, like these:

  • McDonalds offers “quick, convenient, family oriented and fun, casual dining.”
  • BIC LogoBic disposable pens, lighters, razors offer “high quality products at affordable prices, convenient to purchase and convenient to use.”

Q4. How are sales and distribution?

I don’t mean just the totals. I mean the local specificities. The regional differences and anomalies. Do you know why they occur? Do these differences result from cultural differences, alternative traditions or usage, historical reasons or just distributor practices?

If you don’t know why your brand is doing better in some regions than others, then you’re probably missing opportunities for growth. (>>Tweet this<<)

Q5. Do you know what your brand is worth?

I don’t mean how much it costs to manufacture or distribute. I mean how it is valued by the end user. How does its value compare to its current price? If you are not pricing it correctly, then you are leaving money on the table.

If you are priced lower than your customers’ perceived value, you could be asking for more. If you are priced above the perceived value of your potential customers’, you are stopping many new customers from buying into your offer, as they don’t think you’re worth it.

Either way you could be earning more and possibly selling more too. (>>Tweet this<<)

Q6. Are you using the right channels for communicating?

Many marketing plans are still just a rehash of last year’s, especially when it comes to advertising and promotions. With today’s huge array of media opportunities, both on and offline, it is important to choose the most appropriate ones for your customers.

If you answered Q1. completely then you will know which ones they are currently using most often, and if you are also able to answer Q2. you’ll know how these are changing or likely to change in the future.

Q7. Is your messaging consistent and complementary

Answering Q3. means that you know what you want to stand for and the image you want to portray. Image metrics will tell you which of them need to be boosted, depending upon the desired changes.

Do you want to attract new customers, support current customers, or develop your image in a certain direction? Appropriate analysis of your image data will give you all the information you need to adapt your messaging and strengthen the positioning you have chosen for it.

Next time you review your brand’s performance, why not use the above 7Qs rather than just the 5Ps? It will provide you with a clearer picture of your brand’s current and future development opportunities, and more importantly, will identify the actions you need to take to progress its growth.

If I’ve missed any important points that you check regularly for your own brand, please share your thoughts below by adding a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

Winning Customer Centricity BookThis post includes concepts and images from Denyse’s book Winning Customer Centricity. You can buy it in Hardback, Paperback or EBook format in the members area, where you will also find downloadable templates and usually a discount code too.

The book is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook and in all good bookstores. If you prefer an Audiobook version, or even integrated with Kindle using Amazon’s new Whispersync service, you’ll have to be patient just a little longer – but it’s coming soon!

Market research & Insight's new role is customer centricity champion

How to Use Marketing Quotes to Inspire and Catalyse Action

Posts which include quotes are amongst the most shared on social media. Everyone seems to love them. This is because they are short, simple and often inspiring. They also usually fit conveniently into the 140 word limit of Twitter posts.

C³Centricity is no exception; our marketing quote posts are always the most popular, year after year. In fact it has become something of a tradition to share a post of the recent and most inspiring marketing quotes during the Summer and Winter vacation breaks.

Here are some we have found recently and love. As usual, we also add our ideas on how they can inspire action in your own organization. We know you will love them too, as you can add them to presentations and reports to inspire and catalyse needed actions and changes.

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”(>>Tweet this<<)

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 24th & current President of Liberia 

IDEA: If we don’t aim for the stars, we might just end up with a handful of dirt! Customers want to believe that you can bring them the best experience they can get for the price they are willing to invest. Remember it’s value not cost that really counts. With consumers quickly sharing their experiences online these days, the true value of your products and services is known almost immediately after launch. Make sure yours are worth it, and why not even a little more?

“Marketing used to be about making a myth and telling it. Now it’s about telling a truth and sharing it.” (>>Tweet this<<)

Marc Mathieu, Global SVP of Marketing at Unilever.

IDEA: It is almost impossible to pretend to be what you are not. As mentioned above, customers share their opinions – quickly – so be the best you can be and proud of it. Aim to go beyond satisfaction to customer delight. Read more about this concept in “The New Marketing Challenge“.

“IncreasiSegmentationngly, the mass marketing is turning into a mass of niches.” (>>Tweet this<<)

Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired

IDEA: Gone are the days of mass marketing. Customers today expect you to understand and speak to them as individuals. This can only be achieved through a deep understanding or their needs, desires and hopefully dreams as well. Use the 4W™ Template and watch the video series about this topic – both available for download in the members area – to ensure you are going deep enough.

“Marketing is telling the world you’re a rock star. Content marketing is showing the world you are one.”

Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer for the Content Marketing Institute

IDEA: Customers aren’t listening as they used to. There is so much “noise” today that they turn off to anything that is not  useful, interesting and relevant to them personally. Make sure you’re sharing what the customer wants to hear and not (just) what you want to tell them.

“Your website is your greatest asset. More people view your webpages than anything else.” (>>Tweet this<<)

Amanda Sibley, Campaign Manager at Hubspot

IDEA: Do you spend as much on improving your web pages as you do on your advertising testing? If not, you’re probably wasting your online spend, or most of it. Eye-tracking linked to facial coding for emotional analysis, will quickly tell you what needs to be changed, in all your communication platforms.

“What you prefer or what your designer prefers doesn’t matter if it’s not getting you conversions.” 

Naomi Niles, Brand Strategist

IDEA: Apologies to the C-Suite, but your ideas don’t matter that much anymore. OK you still get to approve the budgets, but think customer first when reviewing product marketing, concepts and communications, rather than expressing purely your own opinion, please.

“The key ingredient to a better content experience is relevance.” (>>Tweet this<<)

Jason Miller, Senior Content Marketing Manager at LinkedIn

IDEA: Just because it’s worked for another brand, doesn’t mean it will work for yours. Start with your customers; is it relevant for them? If it is publish; if it’s not, rework it or forget it! Despite what many online articles may lead you to believe, not everyone wants to watch babies or cats all day long, unless you’re following Gerber or Friskies.

“We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.”

Craig Davis, former Chief Creative Officer at J. Walter Thompson.

IDEA: Listening is the new skill that marketers need to learn – quickly! No longer can you talk to customers, they now talk to you and they expect you to listen – really hard!

Storytelling in business“If your stories are all about your products and services, that’s not storytelling. It’s a brochure. Give yourself permission to make the story bigger.”

Jay Baer, Speaker & Author

IDEA: Make the customer the hero of your story and not your product or service. We all dream of being a hero, so why not grant it if you can? This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t speak about what you have to offer, of course not. Rather, you should show how your product or service fits into the lives of your customers and makes them easier, simpler or more enjoyable. Remember too, that showing is better than telling. (>>Tweet this<<)

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about.” (>>Tweet this<<)

Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the US.

IDEA: There is so much information out there, that customers have (too much) choice as to who and what to believe. Make sure you are that one – every time!  It’s customer value that counts, not what the value is to you, to share your information with your customers.

“Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.”

Andrew Davis, Author of Brandscaping

IDEA: Even if the world has and continues to change, it remains built on trust. We spend money on products and services that we trust will deliver the experience for which we are looking. Your content  should provide the reason to believe and help build that trust.

These are some of our favourite marketing quotes of the moment. You will notice that many refer to social media this time. We believe that advertising and customer connection has reached a tipping point, where mass messaging is replaced by relevant, useful information that is also time relevant. Have we missed your favourite? If so, please add below.

Winning Customer Centricity BookThis post includes images from Denyse’s first book Winning Customer Centricity. You can buy it in Hardback, Paperback or EBook format in the members area, where you will usually find a discount code. It is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook and all good bookstores. If you prefer an Audiobook version, or even integrated with Kindle with Amazon’s new Whispersync service, you’ll have to be patient a little longer.

Connect with customers

4″Free” Ways to Connect with Customers for World-Class Understanding

Last week I spoke about five of the most important actions you can take when starting your journey to improved customer centricity. If you missed it, you can read the post here; it will be good background information to build from for this week’s ideas and suggestions.

In this post, I would like to continue to support your efforts with some suggestions on an area that many struggle with, that of connecting with and understanding your customers.

I believe that one of the main reasons for this, is that the target customer segment has been poorly defined. Perhaps it is too wide, such as all category users, or only superficially described just in terms of demographics. C³Centricity’s 4W™ Template, free to download in the members area, will provide a simple way for you to complete a more detailed description of your customer. Once you have that, you can then start to connect with them to deepen your understanding of them.

1. Retail connections

There are numerous ways that an organisation can connect with its customers. If you have a retail presence, then this is as simple as going to a few of them and then talking to the customers present. If you yourself don’t own the outlet then you will need to ask permission of the owner, but since retailers are also interested in getting to know their customers better, they will usually accept in exchange for your sharing any learnings with them. (>>Tweet this<<)Customers are more sensitive to value than price

Another opportunity to connect with your customers in retail is through promotions, demonstrations and sampling activities. These have the added benefit of being able to speak with customers who are already interested in what you have to offer, because they have stopped beside your stand. They also are generally more willing to take the time to talk to you even if they are busy, something which can be a struggle if you are just walking up to customers in the store. (>>Tweet this<<)

In addition, I have found that both these exercises can be a great way to improve your image with the retailer and may even warrant special treatment for your brand.

2. Secondary connections

If you don’t have the luxury of meeting your customers in person, then there are still ways to learn more about them. If you have a call centre, then why not listen in or even spend time answering calls? It is both a rewarding and useful exercise to do. This is why many organisations such as Zappos, make their new employees do just that in their first few weeks after being hired.

Market research can make you more customer centricMarket research projects are also another easy way to observe and listen to your customers, although in general you will be a silent observer behind the interviewer, who is asking the questions. Some people prefer to follow focus groups or in-depth interviews, even from behind the two-way mirror, since they will have the opportunity to impact the discussions by feeding questions to the moderator.

A third way for you to make these less direct connections is by following social media discussions. These can either be on the major platforms such as Twitter, FaceBook, Pinterest and Instagram, or your company’s own panel if you are lucky enough to have one. In either case, I would encourage you to observe and not get actively involved in the conversations. There have been many infamous embarrassments caused by under-qualified people responding to heated customer conversations on social media. DiGiorno (Nestle) and Progressive are just two of the more recent examples; this post gives many others that can heed as a useful warning should you be tempted to get personally involved.

3. Website connections

Today, most organisations rely on some form of online presence, to be available wherever and whenever their customers would like to connect with them. Understanding why your customers need to contact you is important to providing them with the best experience. (>>Tweet this<<)

The first place to ensure you are supplying the right information is on your contact page. Are you requesting customers to complete an online form where you request many details from them? If so, it is definitely worth checking if everything you are demanding is really necessary for that first connection. Name, email address and perhaps telephone number if you plan to call them back, should be sufficient, together with the reason they are wanting to contact you.

Connect with customersSecondly check that you are giving your customers multiple ways for them to contact you. (>>Tweet this<<) The form mentioned above is a rather anonymous connection, since there is no way for the customer to follow up, other than by sending a second completed form. The vast majority of consumers hate such forms with a vengeance and prefer to chat directly, or at least to be given alternative contact choices. Therefore you should provide your email address, telephone number and ideally a postal address. How many times have you been interested in a company only to find that you don’t know in which country they are based? Frontiers today are more linguistic than geographical, so your customers have the right to know whether or not they can visit your offices in person.

One area where this becomes vital is in online purchasing. Ensure that you make it as easy for customers as possible to shop your website. Enable them to check-out as a guest if they want, rather than imposing the completion of a long form of their details. Kissmetrics wrote a great post on this topic, with good and bad examples, which is worth a read if you are selling online.

Finally you should check the performance of your website; how many visitors do you have, where do they come from and what are they looking for in terms of information? This understanding could be a whole post topic on its own, but since there are many already available, suffice it to say that if your website is getting few visits or your customers are bouncing away quickly, then it is not serving its purpose of building a relationship with your customers. (>>Tweet this<<)

4. Sharing connections

Meeting and getting to know your customers is probably one of the most enriching and inspiring experiences an organisation can have. (>>Tweet this<<) There is so much you can understand about your current category and brand users by talking to them, that everyone should find ways to do so on a regular basis. As already mentioned, this could be by speaking with them directly whilst shopping, during a market research project, or over the internet.Share experiences when you connect with customers

You won’t be able to speak to everyone, so you will also rely on your colleagues to make such connections, or even external hostesses. This is why it is important that you get a full debrief, ideally in person, whenever you can.

It amazes me every time I speak to demonstrators, that they just go home at the end of the day with rarely any sort of debrief back to the client. On the rare occasions when they do tell their supervisors something of interest that they discovered, they are generally met with a lack of interest and enthusiasm. What a waste of intimate knowledge about the customer, their likes, dislikes and unmet needs and desires! Therefore share whatever you learn with your colleagues and ask them to do the same.

These are four ways for you to get a deeper understanding of your customers and which are probably already available to you today. How many are you using on a regular basis? Which have you found to be the most useful or inspiring. Please share your experiences below; it would be great to hear about your own successes.

Winning Customer Centricity BookThis post has been inspired by the first chapters of Winning Customer Centricity and includes images from the same book. You can buy it in Hardback, Paperback or EBook format in the members area, where you will usually find a discount code. It is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook and all good bookstores. If you prefer an Audiobook version, or even integrated with Kindle with Amazon’s new Whispersync service, you’ll have to be patient a little longer.

Connect with customers

4 Marketing Essentials for 2015: What You Must Do Differently to Excel

As you will have seen, if you’re a regular follower here, I was in the US last month, catching up with a few partners and clients. We discussed their marketing priorities for 2015 and what they still needed to accomplish to meet their annual targets and objectives.

At the beginning of last year I wrote a popular post you might have seen, on the marketing essentials for 2014 and how marketers could meet the needs of the new, more demanding customer. Eighteen months on, a lot has changed. That is why I decided to review my last post and update it here, with some suggested actions.

Also, June is the ideal time to review annual plans, and decide what needs to be stopped, started or changed in the coming six months, before the vacation period is upon us.

Social Media versus Email

Last year we saw a lot of articles discussing whether, with  social media’s popularity, digital (email) marketing wasn’t losing its importance. One such post in AdWeek made a useful comparison of the pros and cons of each, and came to the conclusion that we need both. As was the case for almost every new media, it appears that digital marketing is an addition and not a replacement for other forms of marketing.

However, your CEO is still not that interested in how many Facebook Likes you’ve managed to get, or how many retweets your Twitter messages got. And he still wants to know, as we all should, what the impact of social media is on the business. Some standard numbers, as mentioned in “10 Social Media Measurement Best Practices” on the SalesForce website, can help, but engagement and listening remain better metrics for customer understanding, as stated in this Business Insider post. What everyone does agree, however, is that every campaign must have objectives and metrics to gauge their efficacy; do yours? (>>Tweet this<<)

ACTION: If you are not completely satisfied with your current measures, take a look at these two articles mentioned above for inspiration, then review and refine them.

Blogging isn’t Enough

When blogging started out, we all thought that customers would appreciate all this free information. However, there is now far too much to read, and we must also keep in mind that reading doesn’t appeal to everyone. Therefore, we should try to offer more variety in our content. That means adding Podcasts, Instagrams, Webinars, Pins and other forms of content, to complement our blog posts. This post on PRNewsWire listed 77 types of content, to feed your audience!

One of the latest technical additions in the mobile area is the smartwatch, which has forced those who have been slow to adapt to adaptive content, to catch up. This can only be a good thing, since mobile passed desktop for online access in the USA in 2014, and other countries are not far behind.

The good news is that we no longer have to produce all the content ourselves, since we can count on curation and customers themselves, to provide some of it. However, that does mean that our own content must be of the highest standards possible. With so much content available today, customers will quickly leave if we are not providing the best quality content to keep their interest. (>>Tweet this<<)

ACTION: Make sure you are not sacrificing quality for quantity of output. Find new ways to invite your customers to engage more and even provide content for you to publish.

Virtual Storytelling

Prepare for the marketing essentialsTelling stories remains the most liked form of content, whether in articles, videos, podcasts or other audio content. Good storytelling will keep your customers coming back for more, which is the first step on the road to trust, consideration, purchase and loyalty.

According to a recent article in Wired, in the not-too-distant future, we won’t just be listening and watching stories, we will be standing in the middle of them. They will involve new technologies which allow us to experience the story, with panoramic vision, smells, and probably an occasional feeling of vertigo or motion sickness.

Virtual reality will also enter the retail environment, enabling shoppers to see how products they might buy could be used, or how they would look in their homes, office or even on themselves. It also enables retailers to hold less stock and still offer maximum choice to customers. (>>Tweet this<<)

ACTION: Find new ways to tell stories throughout the purchase cycle, by using 3D catalogues online, or providing more interactive and engaging in-store environments. These provide customers with the experience of your product before it’s purchased, and helps you tell a better story of all the possible ways that it can be integrated into their lives for increased satisfaction.

Customer Experience as a Priority

As a result of both social media and the greater transparency now offered by many organisations, customers expect a rapid response to every question, comment or issue they might have. Disatisfaction is shared widely and rapidly with the world online, rather than with just a few friends and family as in the past. Customer ratings are being published not just for hotels, restaurants and online purchases, but also for all types of experiences that the customer has had.

Some companies such as Amazon, Zappos, Yelp and Angie’s List have built their companies on customer satisfaction, as much as the products and services they sell. They even specifically mention this in their vision and mission statements:

  • Amazon: Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
  • Zappos: The mission statement of, is referred to by its employees as their “WOW Philosophy,” is to provide the best customer service possible.
  • Yelp: Connecting people with great local businesses.
  • Angie’s List: Our mission is to help the best consumers find the best service providers and promote happy transactions.

ACTION: Review where customer service excellence sits in terms of company priorities; if it is not one of the top three, it’s time it was. (>>Tweet this<<)

These were just four of the topics I discussed with my US partners and clients. Have a look at your own plans and see whether you are not just playing it safe, by adapting what you did last year. The same media, the same content style, the same stories told in the same way; that just won’t work today.

There’s still time to make 2015 the year of exponential growth and change for your company. Let me know in the comments below what you think and what you plan to change in your own plans this year.

Winning Customer Centricity BookThis post used images from Denyse’s latest book Winning Customer Centricity, which is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and in all good bookstores. If you are not yet a C³C Member, sign up (for free) in the C3C Members area, where we frequently offer discount codes for the book, and where you can also download many of its useful templates.





Customer satisfaction is not enough

The New Challenge of Marketing: Customer Satisfaction is Not Enough!

We all know how extremely demanding consumers have become in recent years. Constant innovation and novelty has made us all more impatient and critical. We want things better, faster and sometimes cheaper as well, especially when innovation isn’t happening quick enough. And customer satisfaction is becoming insufficient.

I was recently in the US and as seems to be the norm these days, the hotel in which I stayed asked me to rate their performance afterwards. I completed their form, giving only four and five-star ratings, as I had been very satisfied by the hotel, its rooms, the staff and their services. Imagine my surprise therefore when I got the following mail a day or so later:

“Thank you for taking the time to complete our online survey regarding your recent stay at our hotel.

On behalf of our entire team, I would like to apologize for failing to exceed your expectations. Your satisfaction is important to us and we will be using the feedback you provided to make improvements to ensure we offer an exceptional experience for our guests in the future.

I hope that you will consider staying with us again so that we can have another chance to provide you with a superior experience.”

Shocking mail isn’t it? To think that a Hotel apologises for not exceeding my expectations! (>>Tweet this<<) But I believe that is the reason why they get a 4 1/2 star rating on TripAdvisor. For them customer satisfaction is not enough; they want their guests to be enchanted, enthralled, excited, so that a return visit is a “no brainer”; no other hotel choice would make sense!

How do you treat your own customers, consumers and clients? Do you do just enough to satisfy them, or do you consistently look to exceed their expectations?

If you are a regular reader here – and I’d love to know why if you’re not, so I can do better in the future – you will know that I often talk about “surprising” and “delighting” our customers. These are not hollow words; there’s a very real reason I use them. The reason is that our customers can be satisfied, but will never stay satisfied for long. (>>Tweet this<<)

The above example I gave is one way that the hotel staff ensure they have enough time to correct whatever is not a “superior experience” as they term their own desired service level, and to continue to offer total customer satisfaction.

Here are a few examples of other companies who go above and beyond in terms of their own customer service; I hope they inspire you to do the same and to aspire to exceed customer satisfaction whenever and wherever you can.


Amazon's amazing customer satisfaction logoI have to start with Amazon because they clearly mention in their mission statement that they want “to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Although they don’t specifically mention exceeding their customers’ expectations, they are known for regularly giving extra in their customer service. This might be by surprising their customers by sending the ordered goods by priority mail when only standard was paid for, or refunding the total cost of an article that failed to totally meet if not exceed expectations.

They are also known for being extremely helpful in proposing other articles you might be interested in buying, based upon your current or past orders. Yes it might also make good business sense to do this, but as a result of this practice, who doesn’t trust Amazon and start their search online on their website? Customer service to Amazon means going beyond customer satisfaction alone.


Zappos is built on customer satisfactionTheir mission statement, also referred to by Zappos employees as their “WOW Philosophy,” is “To provide the best customer service possible.”

CEO Tony Hsieh is often quoted as saying that “We believe that customer service shouldn’t be just a department; it should be the entire company.” That makes it crystal clear how customer centric they are.

Another of his quotes is “To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means do something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver.” 

This mentions another of the reasons it is important to go beyond what customer’s expect today – the emotional connection. That is what touches our customers and makes them feel differently about our brand, company or service. Customer satisfaction is not enough, we need to stimulate their emotions too. (>>Tweet this<<)


Apple-logoSteve Jobs is famously quoted as saying that “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

It was therefore his philosophy to do limited market research and never to ask the advice of consumers on his innovations. What he did ask questions about however, was their pain points.

In a video last year Tim Cook, who replaced Jobs as CEO, talked about being “better.” While Cook mentions the environment, the bigger picture in what he was saying was that he wanted Apple to produce world-changing products that leave the planet better off. This can be in a literal sense like pollution, but also in a more figurative sense, like the iPhone, which has made millions of lives better.

In conclusion, these examples provide a clear roadmap for anyone wanting to move their customer service and engagement to the next level;:

  • Surprise your customers with something unexpected. Whilst I know it is more difficult than ever to do these days with such demanding customers, it is definitely worth the effort to build their loyalty.
  • Touch the customer emotionally so your product or service resonates with them. (>>Tweet this<<) As Maya Angelou is famed for saying “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 
  • Strive for better in everything you do; never be satisfied yourself with just repeating previous successes. This is perhaps the greatest lesson from all these great companies. As the Hotel mentioned, they want to exceed the expectations of their guests.
  • Make it a part of every employee’s objectives to ensure products and services that not only obtain customer satisfaction, but go even beyond that in any way they can. As Tony Hseih says, customer service is not the responsibility of any one department.

I am sure you too have examples of companies that were not satisfied until they had gone above and beyond what you expected of them. In a previous post I mentioned Dyson; what others can you add to this list? Please share your suggestions below.

This post used an image from “Winning Customer Centricity” Denyse’s new book out next month.

Show your customer care

No Trust without Respect: 7 Rules to Winning Customers

I got an email this week that was just so wrong I almost replied to it offering my help to the sender, as he clearly needed it.

The email started, “Hello Deny, I will keep my introduction brief. I’m Scott XXX, CEO for YYY.” He was informing me about his company’s training offers, which he then went on to explain in excruciating detail! What was wrong with this email? Well a lot, for which I thank him, as it gives me a perfect example of what we need to do when looking to connect with our own current or potential customers:

  • My name is Denyse not Deny. If you are going to write to someone, get their name correct. This is the second time I have received a letter that was not correctly addressed this week! This attention to detail is absolutely essential, otherwise customers are likely to feel that you don’t care enough to get their name right, so why bother reading any more!
  • Scott started by saying he would keep the introduction short, but I could see from the length of the email that he hadn’t done this for the contents. I’ve noticed that when someone takes space to say he’s going to be short then it’s certain he won’t be! People are less patient today so delivering the goods as quickly as possible is the second business essential.
  • He is offering marketing training; I’m a customer centricity champion and know a lot about marketing. Clearly he didn’t segment his list and select the most relevant group to whom he offered the training. Relevance is the only way to be of benefit to customers.
  • The letter mentioned that “We proud to be partnering with …” No, that’s not an error on my part, it’s taken directly from the mail. I don’t know if Scott is non-mother-tongue English but if you’re selling professional services, you have to be professional. (>>Tweet this<<) I know I make mistakes too from time to time, but in a mailing going to hundreds or even thousands of people, it’s definitely worth getting a spelling and grammar check made.
  • Highlighted in the text is a bold claim that “Quite simply, our e-Learning curriculum will be the cost-effective way to build … skills, knowledge and capabilities.” My question is why? No mention of prices is given so why has he made such a claim? Today’s customers want proof not just thin claims and promises. (>>Tweet this<<) 
  • Towards the end of the email I am told that “This information is being shared with the understanding it will not be shared with others outside our consortium partnership team.” What? I’m not a partner and you’ve just shared it all with me! Is it supposed to make me feel special or threatened? Either way I’m not buying, sorry. We need to give something to our customers, be of value to them before asking for their collaboration and respect. (>>Tweet this<<)
  • The last sentence sums up all of these errors beautifully; “Deny, I look forward to further discussion and to understand your interest as a consortium partner.” As far as I know we haven’t had a discussion yet; YOU Scott have been talking AT me. We haven’t had any sort of engagement and I will definitely not be responding, as I have absolutely no interest in what you are trying to sell me.

To conclude, I’d like to thank Scott for this week’s Blog post topic and for these valuable lessons that I can now share with all my followers and readers. 

What should Scott have done?

To sum up the above seven learnings, when looking to engage potential customers and convince them to buy what you have to offer:

  1. Pay attention to details. We all like to think we’re different so treat your customer as an individual, not just a number or name on a list. And get the name right please!
  2. Fast is never fast enough, so if you promise fast or easy service then you have to deliver. Adding an example or proof of what you have already done in the past, will also help customers believe you can give it to them too.
  3. You can only attract customers by being relevant to their needs or desires. This means it is essential to segment your mailing list when identifying your target customers. If you try to attract everyone, you end up being too general and appealing to no-one.
  4.  You want to build a great reputation with your customers so decide on your personality and then fully support it. Fun, serious, professional or creative, choose how you want to be perceived and then live it and demonstrate it in everything you do.
  5. Stand by your claims and deliver on your promises. It’s a waste of money to make advertising claims that will not be met in the customer’s experience. You may get the first sell but there will be no repeat purchases, no loyalty. And you might also damage the company image too!
  6. To be valued you need to first give value. Respect and trust are built over time, not through one connection. Be patient and consistent and they will follow.
  7. Customers want connection and engagement. Whether it is online, on your website, your advertising or your CRM activities, share information the customer wants to hear, not (just) what you want to share. Listen more than you talk; that is the start of a discussion and relationship building.

Thanks to Scott, I was reminded of some of the essential rules of customer engagement. Hopefully I live them every day; at least I try really hard to do so.

Do you have examples where a brand has not respected you or one in which you lost trust because of their behaviour? If so, then I would love you to share them here.

If you are struggling to gain the respect and trust of your own customers then contact us for a short discussion on how we might help; I’m sure we can.

C³Centricity used an image in this post from Denyse’s forthcoming book Winning Customer Centricity out next month.

Businessman worried about jeopardising customer loyalty

Are you Jeopardising your Customers’ Loyalty? Or is it Going to Disappear Anyway?

As you have no doubt already noticed, my Blog posts and those of many other Bloggers too, are often prompted by real-world experiences. This week is no exception.

I want to share with you some examples of how companies jeopardise the loyalty of their customers and also seriously limit their chances of getting repeat purchases. But manufacturers aren’t the only guilty party; there have been some interesting comments on retail loyalty as well these past few weeks, so I will touch upon that too.

Promising More than the Customer Gets

This week I bought a new brand of bacon; I fancied a real English breakfast for once. When I opened the pack up, I was shocked to see that under the first three or four deliciously lean slices, was a pack of rather fatty, poor quality meat. Now why would a company do this? To make the sale of course. Seeing such great quality you would rightly expect the pack to contain similar meats to the front slices.

Another example which uses a similar ploy involves packaging. How often have you been enticed into buying a new product because of the picture on the pack? Or perhaps it was in an advertisement showing a delicious-looking meal or an amazing improvement to the skin or hair? Sometimes the pack content or product result may be acceptable, but when it’s not, you’re disappointed rather than delighted, aren’t you? (I previously wrote about one such experience in a post on brand honesty here) Again, why would a manufacturer set themselves up to deceive the customer into buying – once?!

Are such behaviours customer-centric? Certainly not! They are deceitful tricks used to sell customers less than they were led to expect. Yes you may get the sale, but you won’t get repurchase and certainly not loyalty. Which do you want? One, several or long-term purchases?

Raising Prices without Saying so

Most major markets have seen low rises in their CPIs (consumer price index) in 2014 with Switzerland actually in the current situation of a deflation! However that hasn’t stopped several manufacturers from increasing their prices. Or should I say decreasing the content of their packs, as that seems to be the more usual response of many of them? This is not a very customer-centric approach to pricing.

The shopper is buying the same brand at the same price, but the contents, which the consumer rarely verifies, have decreased. If the reduction is significant, consumers may notice that the pack is significantly larger than the contents inside, which may then prompt them to check the actual weight they have bought.

A recent article in the UKs “The Telegraph” talked about some of the most noticeable offenders, including Birds Eye (Pirmira’s Iglo Group) and Twix (Mars) candy bars. However many categories were using the same method of hidden price rises.

A survey of 1,257 UK’s Which? members found that over half (58%) said they would rather prices rose than packs got smaller. A further 37% would rather the pack shrank, but only if they were told. (>>Tweet this<<)


Mandatory Sign-ups for Free Products

There are hundreds of new offers on the internet every day, trying to entice new customers to “try before you buy”. However some sites demand mandatory sign-up to the paid program before allowing their customers to test their service. Credit card details and other personal information is requested, supposedly to “help the customer to subscribe more easily” should they decide to buy after the trial period.

However there is also most likely an automated transfer included from the free to a paid service should the customer forget to cancel in time. They then find themselves in the situation of buying a paid suscription without full knowledge of it. Is this customer centric? Of course not. If a customer decides to buy, he would be much happier to provide the necessary information to do so at the time of purchase. Again, you may have sold one more membership, but are extremely unlikely to get a happy or loyal customer.


Cheap isn’t Always Less Expensive

More and more airlines and hotels are selling their services “on the cheap” or at least that’s what it looks like. However, when you start adding on the extras, those attractive prices don’t seem quite so cheap anymore.

Take a low-cost flight for instance; in Europe that would probably be with Ryanair or EasyJet, and in the US with SouthWest Airlines or JetBlue. In addition to the cost of the flight, you will often pay for hold luggage and sometimes  carry-on items too, as well as food on board, priority boarding, seat reservation, pillows, blankets, headphones and even entertainment.

Hotels will add on charges to guarantee bed type, taxes, WiFi, breakfast, gym use, bag storage, resort fees and even mandatory gratuities.

IMG_0217Retail advertising and promotions are other areas where shoppers need to have their wits about them and a calculator on hand. The old adage that bigger is better no longer seems to apply. If several sizes are offered purchasers really need to check prices per 4 ozs or 100 gms. The BOGOF (buy-one-get-one-free) and BOGO promotions can also sometimes work out more expensive than buying one pack at the usual price charged.

One of my favourite promotional ads of all time is one I photographed in the UK at the local Pound Store, the equivalent of the Dollar Store in the US. See the photo above. Now that really is a bargain!

Consumers are Getting Wiser

The above are just a few examples of “tricks” that manufacturers and retailers play on their customers. It’s almost as if they are trying to see just how far they can go before their clients notice. Well, I think we have noticed, and this is confirmed in an article on that caught my eye last week. It mentioned a panel discussion at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York City. Faisal Masud, Staples’ chief digital officer and EVP of e-commerce, who was part of a panel discussion at the event, made the following comment:

“Consumers are agnostic to where they shop. The days of window shopping and just paying the price you think is fair are gone. A lot of folks don’t even want to interact with people or companies. They just want their goods fast and at the lowest possible price. For that reason, a lot of the retail loyalty programs are a little bit doomed.”

I would add that a lot of brand loyalty will go the same way if practices such as those mentioned in this article continue. I believe these behaviours are short-terms acts of desperation of a losing brand. In fact I spoke in detail about using pricing in another post calledAre you on the way to brand heaven or hell?

Winners treat their customers as important people who have a choice and to whom they offer the best product or service they can, to satisfy, delight and why not also surprise them? If you are still thinking of such trickery as a way out of your current brand decline think again. It’s just not customer centric.

Do you have other examples you have seen of behaviour that is not customer centric? If so, I would love to hear about them.

And if you would like help in finding a solution to your own current business issue I would love to help. Just contact me for a chat and let’s see where it takes us.

C³Centricity used an image from Microsoft in this post.

Lady on customer service phone

Five Essentials of Customer Service Excellence

Recently, I took a very early flight with British Airways (BA) out of Geneva airport and once again, BA staff demonstrated their excellent customer service.

That morning Lionel was on duty and I appreciated the fact that he allowed me to have a quick coffee in the club lounge even though he had already called the flight. The rule in such circumstances is not to admit lounge access to passengers once the flight has been called. It was refreshing to be treated as an individual and not as just a part of the mass of passengers taking that early morning flight. Allowing me to have a quick coffee before dashing to the gate certainly made my morning and my own speed in doing so enabled him to empty the lounge as he was required to do without too much delay. What has this got to do with your own customer service excellence? You’re not in the airline business? Well in my opinion, quite a lot; let me explain.

All over the world people are moving from rural to urban areas, and they are challenged with living a crowded life, with little chance to be alone let alone to be treated as an individual. This has created an increase in the perceived value of space and individualised service. (>>Tweet this<<) People today desire and actively seek out that little bit of extra service and recognition that means so much to them. In the case of Lionel, he apparently saw me as a low risk and that he could trust me to have the quick coffee I so desperately needed. I am sure such behaviour wasn’t specified in his customer service manual; he took the initiative himself. Isn’t it time you let your own customer service people free to best serve your customers?

Call Centre Scripts

In most companies interactions with  customers are carefully scripted. The call centre metrics are designed for operational efficiency rather than customer satisfaction. Time per call is targeted down and calls per advisor are constantly being targeted up. Last year I shared the story of a CEO who had decided to throw away the scripts for his customer service personnel and to trust them to satisfy the customers in the best way possible – for the client! I am sure you can see how satisfaction went up, for both the advisors and the customers.

In an excellent post by Dave Paulding of Interactive Intelligence on the dos and don’ts of call scripting, he summarised the results of some research he conducted amongst a panel of experts as follows:

  1. Use scripting sparingly on inbound contacts, whether by phone of email
  2. Pre-written statements for online use. It can be useful to have a bank of pre-written statements with pertinent information in them, to insert into text, This particularly important when health, safety or legal issues are discussed.
  3. Don’t read out scripts for outbound use, to avoid mechanical and impersonal responses. However many find it useful to have key words and phrases written down as bullet points to act as an aide-memoire when speaking with customers.


Employee satisfaction

Time and again research has shown that employee satisfaction is closely linked to customer satisfaction. If customer service personnel are valued and respected, then they will respect and do the best they can for the customer. In an excellent article by Iwona Tokc-Wilde in Raconteur, she gives several new examples of organisations where everyone from the CEO down is involved in satisfying the customer. They are given the freedom to do whatever it takes and this responsibility makes for happier employees. No matter which level you are at within your own company, when did you last talk to customer service personnel? When did you last engage with customers directly through your call centre, online or through email? Everyone should do it. Regular connection keeps your finger on the pulse of customer change and provides an amazing amount of information and ideas.

In another article, this time on Entrepreneur, entitled “30 Ways to Show your Customers they’re Always Right” they include some great phrases your care centre personnel should learn and abide by, to keep your customer happy. These include:

  • “How can I help?”
  • “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”
  • “I will keep you updated.”
  • “I will deliver on time.”
  • “It’ll be just what you ordered.”
  • “I appreciate your business.”

These should not be said without the conviction to follow-up and deliver what is promised. For instance, on-time delivery means just that, if not even earlier, as Amazon often does! Keeping your customer updated means that you will get back to them, even if it is just to say that you are still working on the issue. Knowing that they have not been forgotten is a wonderful emotion for customers and confirms their importance to you. They are more likely to accept waiting without any build up of negativity in the meantime until a solution is found.

Rebecca Brown of SalesForce added a further three phrases, that I particularly like for reducing customer frustration; they are:

  • “I have your information right here”
  • “What do you think?”
  • “Help me help you”

These additional ideas work because they recognise the importance of the customer to the company and avoids them getting frustrated when they have to repeat their issues over and over again. These phrases also build the spirit of teamwork to resolve the issue and empowers the customer and employee to work closely together without being on different sides.

How do you Train your own Customer Service Advisors?

If throwing away your call centre scripts is too far for you to go, at least for now, but you could do with improving your care centre operations to make them even more customer centric, I have a few more ideas for you:

  1. INVITE: How are you currently inviting your customers to connect with you? On your pack or in your advertising? Is the invitation clearly legible and does it offer your customers a choice of channels that they can use to connect? You should want as many connections as possible with your customers, so openly invite them wherever they will have the chance to see it. Some of you will certainly see this as a risk; more contacts equal more complaints, no? Well yes – hopefully at the same proportion as currently – but wouldn’t you rather know if your product or service has problems so you can quickly resolve them?
  2. LISTEN: Advisors should listen attentively to what the customer has to share: it always amazes me how often they try to interrupt the customer in their explanation of why they called. Perhaps this has to do with the call-time targets that have been set. Why not replace them with satisfaction targets? Let the customer talk until the reason for calling is fully explained and they feels that the advisor has really listened.
  3. RESPOND: If your care centre has scripted responses and you can’t throw them away, at least give your advisors permission to go the extra mile and do whatever it takes to respond and satisfy your customer. Your customers have taken time and effort to reach out to you, so don’t disappoint them. Surprise and delight them with your response and generosity. Don’t just offer them a replacement product or coupons; everyone else does that. Add samples of new products, send the replacement by express mail, or offer an additional, usually paid service for free. What more can you do for your customer, so their problem turns into a positive story that they will share with friends, family and even the world if they are active on social media?
  4. KEEP LISTENING: Don’t assume that the first thing your customer talks about is the real reason for their call or connection. Sometimes there are other things that would be useful for you to know but you never get the chance to hear them because your advisors are ending the calls too quickly. Perhaps you customer believes you wouldn’t be interested so never calls about their ideas or suggestions. Before ending the connection, why not ask if there is anything else your customer wants to share of talk about with you. More information in this area is always better information.
  5. ASK: Only when your customer is fully satisfied with your responses and has no other things they want to share, can you broach the subject of whether or not they would be willing to answer a few questions for you. If they are, keep it short and if necessary arrange for a follow-up call for more. Please don’t go through your full segmentation questionnaire; just ask the three to five questions that will help you know them better.If they are not, respect their decision.

In summary, to satisfy customers, make sure you invite them to connect with you, then listen, give employees the freedom to respond appropriately, and then listen some more before asking anything yourself. Your customers’ surprise and delight turns any problem into a reason to share their experience as positive advocacy.

These are my steps to customer centric excellence for care services. Which are the most important in your opinion? Do you have any others you would add? I would love to hear from you if you have.

Need help in improving your own customer care? Let us help you catalyse your customer understanding and connection; contact us here for inspiration.

C³Centricity sourced images from for this post

This post is an update of one that was published on C³Centricity in December 2011