Perfecting Service Management

Issue #74

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Customer Advocacy - The Continuing Journey
by Craig Bailey

Customer Advocacy is a journey, not a destination. So far in this series, we have defined what Customer Advocacy is and isn't, and we have discussed the required skills and abilities of the successful Customer Advocate. In this article, we will begin discussing the process framework to ensure a level of discipline, methodology, and most importantly, continuous improvement in addressing critical customer issues.

The Customer Advocate process framework involves the following:

- Customer segmentation
- Engagement process
- Escalation process
- Response planning, analysis and execution
- Managing the customer experience through resolution
- Internal management review

Customer Segmentation
The first step in determining how best to align Customer Advocate resources to "respond" to customer situations is to define (or leverage) your customer segmentation model (see Issue #22 for a broader discussion of customer segmentation). The reality is not all customers are created equal. If you haven't read "Angel Customers and Demon Customers" by Larry Selden and Geoffrey Colvin, get a copy.

Every customer deserves an "appropriate" level of support. However, not every customer deserves the "same" level of support. A strategic account (based upon name recognition, revenue and/or breadth of products purchased) may warrant your most seasoned resource(s) being 100% dedicated to addressing situations that impact the account. A client on the other end of the spectrum (that provides minimal to no profit margin - yes, they exist at your firm too!) may simply need to live with standard operating procedures. Alternatively, you may wish to engage "less-seasoned" resources on those accounts that are on this end of the profitability spectrum.

How, then, do you make the customer advocate "offering" available to your customer-base? We typically suggest one of two approaches, depending on the need and resource availability.

  1. Offer to the entire customer-base, or a specific subset thereof - Make the customer aware that "If ever you feel we are not meeting your expectations, or that an exception has occurred and our standard operating procedures have failed you, feel free to engage a customer advocate." Of course, you will want to couch this with a statement about your commitment to quality and responsiveness. Remember, we are covering this subject because the savvy customer already knows there are challenges and exception situations that DEMAND a customer advocate. So, put it out there along with your commitment to continuously improve.
  2. Only engage a customer advocate when specific account situations warrant such a response.

Engagement Process
Now that you know which customers warrant the engagement of a customer advocate, we will now discuss the process for doing so. Basic guidelines that we recommend include the following:

  • Employee observes a troublesome account situation. This may include the customer expressing comments such as:
    • "I've already spoken to 3+ people at your firm. I'm sick of re-explaining myself."
    • "Who then, CAN I talk to, to resolve this issue!?"
    • "I'm going to cancel (sue, etc.) if this issue isn't resolved IMMEDIATELY!"
    • "We have been unable to conduct business for several hours."
  • Customer expresses extreme dissatisfaction in the context of a survey.
  • Customer specifically requests that a customer advocate be engaged.

The next step is determining when (time of day, or night) to engage a customer advocate. For urgent matters (the customer is "presently impacted" / unable to conduct business, etc.), it is appropriate to engage a customer advocate on a 24x7 basis. For non-urgent matters (which may include responding to a situation that has since "passed" for which the customer demands a get well plan assuring it will not recur), engaging a customer advocate during normal business hours may be fine.

The final concern with regards to the engagement process is determining when it is appropriate to disengage. This agreement should be established with the customer up-front. This is accomplished by first confirming with the customer the true nature of the situation and what it will take to get things back on track. Next, set the expectation with the customer that once this issue is resolved AND irreversible corrective action has been put in place, standard operating procedures should again suffice. At that time, but not until then, the customer advocate will disengage. In summary, you don't want the customer advocate to become the de facto account manager; there needs to be a clear beginning and end of the process.

While there are other considerations and nuances, the above framework will get you started with your Customer Advocate engagement process.

In the next edition we will cover other aspects of the process framework. And, in subsequent editions, 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.

As always, if your firm has a need (acute or otherwise) that warrants a Customer Advocate capability, feel free to give us a call. We would be happy to brainstorm with you and share practical approaches to consider and pitfalls to avoid in implementing Customer Advocacy at your firm. Admission of a problem is the first step to recovery!

View previous articles in this series.

Southwest Airlines: Helps MY Bottom Line
by Craig Bailey

This article 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 articles on this topic, click here.

After considering the many positive aspects of doing business with such a customer centric firm, it is now time to share how SWA helps MY bottom-line. I cover this topic last, as SWA is often viewed as ONLY a "low-cost" airline, when they are so much more.

Being a business owner and head of a larger than average household, I am especially sensitive to expenses and select the most cost effective options to meet my travel needs. SWA comes through again.

Great pricing - always
SWA offers great pricing at all times, including same day travel. With that said, they continuously offer promotions to get butts in seats. And, obtaining a last minute ticket does assume that seats are available. Consistently great pricing enables me to maintain flexibility in my travel schedule without the anxiety of paying exorbitant prices if I need to book my trip inside of 10 to 14 days of the desired travel date.

No penalties - ever
When the inevitable occurs, and my travel plans change, there is no penalty to change with SWA. I can simply apply the funds to future travel plans.

A final perk
Throughout this series, I have covered many of the perks of traveling with SWA. The final one to share is the little perk that accompanies each free ticket earned: drink coupons. At your option, you are entitled to 3-4 drinks (beer, wine or mixed drink) of your choice - for free! Just don't burn through all your coupons at once, as SWA is not responsible for your post-flight activities :-)

In summary, we have covered a number of ways that Southwest Airlines has tailored its business model to meet the needs of its customers, resulting in their achievement of consistently high levels of profitability in a battered industry, while creating loyal, and in my case delighted, customers. Consider this, in contrast to the approach of other firms (maybe even yours?) where all decisions are focused purely on the bottom-line or made from the inside looking out.

SWA's simple, no hassle model not only pleases customers, but it is much easier and cheaper to maintain. Instead of focusing on corporate efficiency, SWA focused on the customer, which RESULTED in corporate efficiency and profitability.

The final article in this series will share 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. Names will be changed to protect the guilty...

If you are interested in learning pragmatic approaches to achieving the benefits resulting from being a customer centric firm, feel free to give us a call (barring airline employees).

View previous articles in this series.


+ Customer Advocacy - The Continuing Journey
+ Southwest Airlines: Helps MY Bottom Line
+ 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
This issue we recommend the book "Angel Customers and Demon Customers" by Larry Selden and Geoffrey Colvin.

Every organization has them, including yours. We may know this intellectually, if not based upon the day-to-day interactions that we have with our customers. However, if you'd like to understand more concretely those customers who are creating shareholder value vs. those who are destroying (yes destroying) shareholder value, this book tells you how.

You will learn how to:

  • Rigorously track your profitable and unprofitable customers
  • Manage your entire portfolio of customers to maximize shareowner value
  • Place customers and customer segments at the center of everything you do
  • Assign bottom-line responsibility for the profitability of each customer to a single individual

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In short, we align the resources of your organization to exceed your customers' expectations in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

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