Six ways to respect your customers

It’s the unusual organization that’s set up to let people think and act collectively on behalf of customers. We’re stuck in our silos making independent decisions and taking isolated actions in order to execute our discipline, achieving good numbers, and earning good reviews.

But the customer experience doesn’t happen neatly down each individual silo. The customer experiences a company horizontally, across the silos. This is the breeding ground for the lack of respect customers feel and the discontent they have with us. Can you do more to show your customers you repect them? Yes, but it will take time and effort. Here are six suggestions:

Eliminate the customer obstacle course. Figuring out whom to talk to and how and when to get service has become overcomplicated, conflicting, and just plain out of whack. We force customers to try to figure out our organization charts in order to do business with us. Instead of seamlessly executing a customer interaction, we deliver discontinuity wherever there are organizational breaks. So simplify the roadmap for customers. Make it clear for them how they can do business with you in a way that’s beneficial to them.

Stop customer “hot potato.” He who speaks to the customer first should “own” the customer. Nothing sends a signal of disrespect faster than an impatient person on the other end of the line trying to pass a customer off to “someone who can better help you with your problem.” Yeah, right.

Give customers a choice. Do not bind your customer into the fake choice of letting him “opt out” of something. Let him know up front that he can decide to get e-mails, offers, or whatever else from you, but give him the choice. You may initially build a bigger mailing list by binding customers in with the opt-out policy, but I don’t think it’s something your mom would teach you about respect.

Consolidate phone numbers. Even in this advanced age of telephony, companies still have a labyrinth of numbers that customers need to navigate to talk to someone. These grew out of separate operations deciding on their own that they needed a number to “serve” their customers. Get people together to narrow down this list, and then let customers know about it.

Fix (really) the top 10 issues bugging customers. We’ve created a kind of hysterical customer feedback muscle in the marketplace by oversurveying our customers and asking (ever so thoughtfully), “How can we improve?” Customers have told us what to do, but we haven’t moved on the information. You can probably recite the biggest issues right now. Do something about them. Customers read the lack of action as a lack of caring and certainly a lack of respect.

When you make a mistake, right the wrong. If you’ve got egg on your face, admit it. Then right the wrong. There’s nothing more frustrating to customers than a company that does something wrong, then is either clueless about what it did or won’t admit that it faltered.

Jeanne Bliss is founder of Redmond, WA-based Customer Bliss, a consulting and coaching company, and the author of Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action.