Customer Advocacy - Hostage Negotiator
As we've been
discussing in this series, Customer Advocacy is a highly responsive
process and/or role engaged to handle exception (even escalated) customer
situations. This results from the reality that many companies have an
acute need for such a process, role and/or function. Creating a Customer
Advocacy process or organization requires a number of key steps, including
obtaining enterprise wide commitment (and necessary air cover) and
aligning people, structure, process and technology. In this issue, we will
focus on some of the key skills and abilities of the highly successful
Building upon the reality that a Customer Advocate will frequently find
him/herself in responsive/reactive scenarios, the two-word phrase we would
use to describe this role is: "Hostage Negotiator." The Customer Advocate
must have the ability to enter into emotionally charged situations between
multiple departments of your firm, the customer's organization and
potentially third-party vendors. The first thing that a Customer Advocate
must do is "peel people off the ceiling" to get everyone to understand
that the situation is recognized (the first step of recovery) and very
important, so that the "team" can determine the best course of action to
get things back on track.
We will now discuss some of the key skills to enable this. While each of
these is deserving of its own seminar, we are only covering them at a
Straight forward and honest – The ability to deliver good news
(easy) and bad news (not so easy) in such a way that demonstrates to the
customer that their best interests are being represented, effort is being
invested and forward progress is being made. This is vital to building
chits, or credits, so to speak, which can be used (when needed) throughout
resolution or at a later date.
Interpersonal Management and Communications - Customer Advocacy
requires a high-degree of finesse in getting things done with and through
other people. The Customer Advocate must not only demonstrate effective
communications and interpersonal relations him/herself, but he/she must
also make sure that all individuals involved in the situation are
communicating effectively. While this is a subject deserving its own
seminar, here is a crude example: The customer might say "I want a blue
pen." Sounds like a simple request. The seasoned Customer Advocate would
respond with "Would you like us to provide a pen with a blue case, a pen
with blue ink or a pen with both a blue case and blue ink?"
Good business sense and judgment – The Customer Advocate must grasp
the concept that the enterprise is engaged in profit making activities.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but at some point someone has to say,
"Enough" or "Not Enough." That someone is the Customer Advocate. The
Customer Advocate must be able to make decisions or drive the
decision-making process as necessary, willing to assume authority when no
one else can or will make a decision.
Organizational navigation – The ability to navigate the
organization is crucial. While coaching baseball, we teach the kids the
following. When you are in position (say short-stop) you need to think
about what you are going to do when the ball comes to you (prior to the
pitch being thrown). Don't wait until the ball is hit, or in your glove.
You will only waste time, create confusion and let down your team. This
concept applies equally for the Customer Advocate. Additionally, your
Customer Advocate cannot have any inhibitions about contacting the right
person (in your organization, that of a vendor or a customer), regardless
of rank, to engage on a situation.
Executive presence – A reality is that a Customer Advocate will
find him/herself interfacing with people at all levels of your, and your
customer's, organization. An important area that a Customer Advocate must
interface well with is the executive level. This requires the Customer
Advocate to be a master at organizing what may be very complex information
into business terms and realities, to support a business, not a
technical, discussion. The Customer Advocate must also be well composed
and confident, as he/she will be representing your firm in the eyes of the
senior decision makers at your customer's organization.
Time management – The ability to manage time and associated
expectations is critical. The Customer Advocate must be prompt (the first
one to the meeting) and follow-up by doing precisely what he/she committed
to doing (complete tasks and activities on time, every time).
Project management – The Customer Advocate is usually engaged when
the many "moving parts" in your organization don't come together to meet
the customer's expectations. As such, the Customer Advocate must put
together and manage the customer's multi-faceted "get well plan."
Finally, the Customer Advocate must be empathetic yet firm; calm yet
assertive; decisive yet respectful.
In our next article, we will discuss the process framework in support of
the Customer Advocate so that there is a level of discipline, methodology
and most importantly, continuous improvement. In subsequent editions of
this newsletter, we will share how to take Customer Advocacy to the next
level by getting into the hearts and minds of your customer to build
long-lasting, mutually profitable relationships.
View previous articles in this series.
Easy to Do Business With
continues our series highlighting Southwest Airlines, a firm that
demonstrates the characteristics of being customer centric and reaps the
benefits of doing so. To review prior editions
A key factor to becoming customer centric is being easy to do business
with. Southwest Airlines has this "nailed." Here are some specific ways I
find SWA easy to do business with.
1) I am able to select the modes of interaction for conducting business,
and each is integrated with the other.
For example, I am able to book travel arrangements (flight, auto and
hotel) ALL from their web-site. Even better, each component of travel
(air, auto, hotel) provides Rapid Rewards points towards that free ticket.
If I am on the road and need to make a change, I can phone them and they
have ready access to my profile and itinerary. When I arrive at the
airport, I can walk up to the kiosk (bypassing any/all lines), check-in
for my flight, and print out my boarding pass.
Of course, if I have made my arrangements well in advance, I can check-in
online and print my boarding pass. Doing so early enough ensures my "A"
status, allowing me earliest boarding and best seat selection.
You might say, "Don't many airlines offer multiple modes of interaction,
all of which are integrated?" Well, many (now) do. SWA was doing it before
most of the others and continues to lead the pack on innovative ways to
make it easier to do business with them. For example, I am presently
participating in a beta program trying out their desktop applet "DING."
You know, the DING in their commercials (prior to the "you are now free to
move about the country"). This applet provides direct access to SWA
information (i.e., travel savings opportunities) and services (booking
travel arrangements, online check-in, flight status, ability to customize
my real-time flight status messaging and more). Oh yeah, and in typical
SWA fashion, they are awarding me Rapid Rewards points for participating
in this beta program for 30 days...Only 2 weeks to go!
2) I simply don't have ANY hassles when I redeem my frequent flyer points.
When I've earned a free ticket, I get a free ticket. It is usable on any
SWA plane at any time there is an open seat - period. Just think of the
simplicity...SWA is not required to program and maintain complex
algorithms for determining when frequent flyer points can be used nor do
they have to spend ANY time explaining these things to customers and
If you use online travel tools such as Orbitz or Travelocity, you will
observe that SWA is not there. Why? Because they simply don't need to play
in that game. All of the above ensures SWA that if I need to get
somewhere, I check with them first. If they serve the city I need to get
to, I'll fly SWA - no question.
By making it easier to do business with them, SWA is able to operate much
more efficiently, and therefore more profitability. Hmm, is there a theme
here? Do what is best for the customer which turns out to be best for the
business. Does your firm GET THIS? Many don't. Instead, they do what is
best for the department, functional unit, or product line. Why is this so?
The reasons include politics (protecting of one's turf or power
structure), a philosophy of "we've come this far, why should we change
now" and a lack of knowledge of the benefits of doing so.
In closing, the next article in the series will cover how SWA helps my
bottom-line. And, I look forward to sharing concrete evidence as to why
other well-known airlines are in the toilet, learned first hand while
traveling recently to a city that SWA doesn't (presently) serve...
View previous articles in this series.
+ Customer Advocacy - Hostage Negotiator
+ Southwest Airlines: Easy to Do Business With
+ Recommended Reading
If you have received this newsletter from a friend
and would like to subscribe:
here to subscribe
View previous newsletters
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.
Why Customer Service Needs Service Process Management by Ken Jochims
reiterates the importance of business process, as well as tools and
people. As Mr. Jochims writes: "An organization with the best tools,
but poor processes, can fail if those tools do not help support the
objectives. Conversely, organizations with the best processes, but
inadequate tools, may not be operating in the most cost-effective manner,
even if they have loyal customers." People, process and technology
must all be aligned to the goal of best serving your customers,
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.
About Customer Centricity, Inc.
We strengthen overall company performance through
better service delivery and management.
We boost efficiencies in front-line customer service and technical support
teams, order processing, fulfillment, field service, logistics and other
key operations functions.
In short, we align the resources of your organization to exceed your
customers' expectations in the most effective and efficient manner
See What Our Customers Say