Perfecting Service Management

Issue #71

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Customer Advocacy - What Is It?
by Kurt Jensen

This is the second article in our series about Customer Advocacy. In the previous edition, we discussed the need for Customer Advocacy. In this issue, we better define what Customer Advocacy is.

Customer Advocacy is a function that focuses on the customer, not an individual department, organization or division of a company. Many companies are recognizing the importance of "customer centricity" and the implied customer focus and are thus choosing to implement a Customer Advocacy role. In fact, well known Cisco Systems refers to their entire Customer Care/Customer Service function as Customer Advocacy – empowerment on a wide scale! In this series, however, we are going to discuss Customer Advocacy within the context of handling exception situations, those that tend to be escalated, complicated and challenging to resolve.

For the purposes of this article, we will define Customer Advocacy as follows:

A cross-functional role empowered to marshal organizational resources to resolve troublesome customer issues and identify root cause while balancing the financial realities and strategic goals of the company.

Cross-Functional Go-To Person

Customer Advocacy is engaged when all else has failed the customer. In this capacity, a Customer Advocate becomes the customer's "single throat to choke." The key role they must play, as far as the customer is concerned, is that of ensuring the firm fulfills on its commitments. As such, the Customer Advocate must carefully "manage" the customer's expectations, which may require that customer expectations be reset based upon the realities of the situation.

To achieve resolution, the Customer Advocate may need to escalate (hierarchically and/or cross-functionally) within an organization until full ownership and accountability are obtained. Said another way, the Customer Advocate will relentlessly drive resolution which may require resources and/or agreement across several departments.

Getting to the Root of the Matter

To facilitate resolution, the Customer Advocate will be required to "get all the liars in the same room" to facilitate cross-functional dialog. During this process, the Customer Advocate will note any items related to root cause, which could include broken or non-existent processes, a product-related issue, or simple miscommunications. Once the immediate customer issue is resolved, the Customer Advocate will provide information in a format that allows roll-up analysis and links directly to performance and service improvement plans. Without this root cause analysis and subsequent follow-up, the firm is likely to see the situation recur for the same or other customers.

Expectations and Reality

A key role for the Customer Advocate is to manage the customer's experience "through" resolution of a troublesome situation. As such, he or she is responsible for keeping the customer up-to-date on the situation as it is being handled. This requires clearly setting customer expectations and providing timely updates, regardless of status. Doing so establishes a level of creditability that is rooted in reality. Reality, not quoted service levels or other standard responses, is of the utmost importance. This requires an "opening of the kimono." Remember, these situations have already gone through normal channels, passed quoted service levels and exhausted escalation paths. The goal is for this process to bring the firm back into the "good graces" of the customer.

To achieve this, it is crucial to frequently (weekly, daily or more) communicate to the customer on the progress being made. Additionally, if/when something goes off track, it is the Customer Advocate's job to update the customer accordingly. This will require that the entire organization line-up behind the Customer Advocate, rather than having each individual in the organization bombard the customer with incremental information. With this alignment, the Customer Advocate can provide a comprehensive update (hopefully, most all of which is good) and, at the same time, share a "blip that has occurred" within the context of the greater good that is occurring to resolve the customer situation.

On the Bus or Under It

From a practical standpoint, having a Customer Advocate unleashed on your department or division isn't exactly fun. In fact, from the perspective of a departmental leader/manager, it is often downright uncomfortable – and it should be! The Customer Advocate has the customer's best interest in mind (not necessarily yours) and is engaged because something is not working…part of which may be owned by you. As such, it is important for the Customer Advocacy function to have complete Senior Management air cover to make or recommend improvements.

It helps to consider the following perspectives with regards to Customer Advocacy:

  • If you are championing the creation of a Customer Advocacy function, expect resistance. There are plenty of folks deeply rooted, their position buoyed by broken process, problems or 'cross functional issues.' For these folks, fixing root cause issues reduces job security.
  • If a Customer Advocate engages you, it is for the larger good of the customer and therefore the company. Customer Advocates have the advantage of providing views from multiple perspectives. As such, seize the opportunity for betterment – it will benefit your customer (and your team).

Ultimately the Customer Advocate's goal is to address the immediate customer issue in a highly responsive manner, proactively identify the root-cause and (if possible) provide recommendations for resolution to prevent a similar issue from recurring.

Our next edition will cover what Customer Advocacy is not.

In the meantime, if you would like to receive an in-depth overview of this topic and/or conduct a strategy discussion regarding your Customer Advocacy initiative (or concept), feel free to give us a call.

View previous articles in this series.

Southwest Airlines: Keeping Customers First
by Craig Bailey

During a recent interview with a reporter who was preparing a story on Best Buy's Customer Centricity initiative, I was asked for an example of a firm that I consider to be truly customer centric. I felt that the response would be worth sharing in expanded form to our esteemed newsletter subscribers.

Who do I think of as a customer centric company? Southwest Airlines. Before I tell you why I believe this (from personal experience), I'll share the results that this company has achieved. The book The Southwest Airlines Way by Jody Hoffer Gittell, published in 2003, offers the following information:

  • Southwest Airlines has a market value greater than the rest of the U.S. airline industry combined.
  • Southwest Airlines has 31 consecutive years of profitability. The only year they weren't profitable was their first.
  • Southwest has sustained a steady 10 to 15 percent rate of growth throughout its history.
  • In the wake of September 11, Southwest Airlines kept ALL of its employees working and continued its unblemished record of growth and profitability while other airlines laid off thousands, begged Congress for money and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
  • Fortune magazine calls Southwest Airlines "the most successful airline in history."

If you'd like to learn HOW Southwest achieved these outstanding results, read The Southwest Airlines Way by Jody Hoffer Gittell, available online at Amazon.

Now, why do I think that Southwest Airlines is a customer centric firm? The answer will be shared in 4 parts:

  • Countless customers, yet they reach out to the individual
  • Southwest bends the rules for me
  • Southwest is easy to do business with
  • Southwest helps my bottom-line


Reaching Out to the Individual

With the number of customers that Southwest has, it is refreshing to experience how they frequently touch customers as individuals. The examples that follow are based upon personal experience, beginning with the mundane and finishing with something I consider amazing.

Each week, I receive at least one email from Southwest providing travel savings opportunities and related updates. Some might consider this spam; if so, you can easily opt not to receive these messages, or filter them into your bit bucket. However, if you are on the watch for low-cost opportunities for a last minute weekend get-away, then this information is invaluable.

I recently received a Birthday Card from Southwest. Sure, you might say "don't many of your suppliers send you a card?" Well, many do and they are certainly appreciated. Southwest's was no typical card, though. It was a 3D birthday card that is STILL sitting on my desk. What a conversation piece this is. Each time someone picks up the card and glasses for viewing they will likely hear a Southwest story from me. Geez, I wonder what the ROI was on THAT investment...

This Valentine's Day I received a small package from Southwest. In it was a gift: booties to prevent my socks from getting dirty after taking my shoes off at the airport security line. To be clear, I never did wear those booties (you can get beat up for that), nor have I seen anyone else wear them. However, it does fall under the category of "it's the thought that counts."

The most amazing example I have to share in the category of Southwest reaching out to me as an individual relates to the Super Bowl. Being from New England, I was happy to (again) see the New England Patriots achieve victory. The next day, to my amazement, I received an email from Southwest indicating that they were awarding me Rapid Reward points (a.k.a. frequently flyer points) because my hometown football team won the big game! The award amounted to almost 1/4 of what is required for a free roundtrip ticket!

All of the above - consistently achieving profits with delighted customers - from a "no frills airline." Hmmm...makes you think, doesn't it?

In the next edition, we'll share other examples that demonstrate Southwest being a customer centric firm.

Contents

+ Customer Advocacy - What Is It?
+ Southwest Airlines: Keeping Customers First
+ Recommended Reading

 


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Presentation Available
Visit CCI's website to download Positive Power Influence, presented by Craig Bailey at the Project Management Institute's (PMI) Mass Bay Chapter Career Development Day on May 14, 2005.

 

Recommended Reading

Companies that have implemented CRM know that as difficult as it is to design, develop and execute enterprise-wide CRM, system roll-out is just the beginning. In CRM Magazine article CRM Is a Journey, Not a Destination, Jason Compton presents learnings from 5 companies who have "looked at CRM not as a quick-fix, but as an evolving business improvement."

Reader-Input Incentive Program
Do you have opinions or input on any of our articles? Send us feedback you think might be useful to our readers. If we publish it, you'll get your pick of an item from the Customer Centricity Online Store.


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