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Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Customer Care

Is Your Customer Intelligence a Crystal Ball or Just a Rearview Mirror?

Find ways to gain real-time customer intelligence that yields insight and action

Published: Monday, July 24, 2017 - 12:02

‘How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree? How ya gonna keep ’em away from Broadway, jazzin’ around and paintin’ the town?”
This 1914 song by Andrew Bird was a hit as soldiers returned home from World War I. The song captured the concern of farmers whose sons left their plows and cows to fight a war that opened their eyes to new experiences, altering their desire to return to a routine and dull rural life.

Service providers share Bird’s sentiment when their customers go off to find new experiences in “Paree” or Zappos or Nordstrom or Cirque du Soleil.

Customers judge service based on their perceptions. And perceptions are made up of customers’ needs, myths, aspirations, experiences, hopes, beliefs, and values.

Best-selling author Tom Peters wrote: “Customers perceive service in their own unique, idiosyncratic, emotional, irrational, end-of-the-day, and total human terms. Perception is all there is.” Customers’ past and present perceptions shape their future expectations.

Seeing (and wanting) red cars

The premise behind Laura Goodrich’s book, Seeing Red Cars (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2011), is simple: Once you buy a red car, you seem to see red cars everywhere. Customers are the same: Once they see greatness is possible, they sharply notice when it is absent.

But customers go one step beyond just seeing red cars; they also want a red car, so to speak. Their experiences get bundled not only into their perceptions shaping their observations, but also in their desires as well. For example, let’s say your customers visit Disneyworld. The next time they come to your establishment, they are greeted by your employees. They don’t just notice the gap between your employees’ disposition and the magic of the Magic Kingdom; they are puzzled by why they can’t get from your employees what they got from Mickey. It is these changes in expectations that make disruptor-watching so crucial today.

Disruptors don’t just create unique experiences; they birth new customer expectations. Soldiers returning from the war did not just desire to head off to the lights and glitz of “Paris-like” Broadway in New York; they returned with expectations of how every aspect of their life was to be lived. Similarly, Amazon doesn’t just alter our expectations for user-friendly websites; it influences customers to generalize their Amazon experiences and form expectations for hassle-free service in every component—the simplicity of paperwork, the speed of product delivery, and the ease of invoicing.

Shyp is a small upstart seeking to disrupt the way customers ship packages. Download the Shyp app, take a photo of the object to be shipped, and within 20 minutes a Shyp hero (aka associate) shows up at your door to take your package and prepare it for shipping. Thanks to the app, you know who it will be before you hear the doorbell (much like an Uber driver). Shyp’s box maker customizes the container, lowering your shipping costs by reducing weight. They select the best routing based on your preferences. Your cost: $5 plus the cost of shipping. Now what do you think of the U.S. Postal Service or the local UPS Store? How about your mailroom? And, if Shyp can do this at such a bargain price, how about your grocery store, dry cleaner, or pharmacy?

Learn customers’ aspirations, not just their history

Customer intelligence gathering is a sometimes occurrence for many organizations. An annual survey is sent out, or a set of quarterly focus groups is conducted, fooling leaders into believing they know about changes in expectations. Imagine going to your doctor with a lump you feel in your upper body. You would be shocked if your physician said, “We did a CAT scan of that section when you had your physical 10 months ago, and you were fine.” Customer expectations can change as fast as a lump in your upper torso. It means never-ending learning. It takes finding myriad ways to gain real-time customer intelligence in a format that can yield insight and advise action.

But, too often customer intelligence gathering is not only dated, it is also focused on history—an assessment via a rearview mirror. We ask a departing hotel guest, “How was your stay?” We tell call center visitors to hold for a brief survey, then proceed to place a “looking back” report card in their hands. But, customers can tell us their hopes and aspirations if we structure the right query. Their insights can provide a platform for invention and innovation, not by telling us how to concoct the next Uber, but what they desire the features of an experience to become. “What if” questions could accompany “What was” questions. Evaluation and history could be supplemented with anticipation and dreams.

Get customers involved in creation

How could you improve on a product as simple and pedestrian as a baby bottle? Playtex, Evenflo, Similac, Dr. Brown’s, and ThinkBaby have tweaked the hundred-year old design with better nipples, easier handles, and ways to minimize uncomfortable air intake. But, inventor-entrepreneur Jason Tebeau took the baby bottle in a completely different direction. He created a hands-free bottle that left baby independent during feeding time.

It all started when Tebeau’s mom asked, “How do you feed a baby while in a car seat or stroller?” His inventive brain went to work thinking through the mind of the ultimate user. Assembling a group of 40 to 50 babies with parents in tow, Tebeau observed babies interacting with bottles in various stages of the design process as he solved assorted product challenges—how to work with the physics of liquid moving up a tube or how to capitalize on babies’ tendencies to put everything in their mouths and treat every object as a toy.

The end result was the wildly popular Pacifeeder, one of several products from Tebeau’s company Savi Baby. Sold at such retail outlets as Target and Amazon, the bottle became so popular many older babies preferred it to the traditional “lie in mommy’s lap” variety. His customers were intimately involved throughout, even helping determine the appropriate price for his creative product, knowing retailers might see it as “just another baby bottle.” Customers not only care when they share; they also help innovate when they are involved.

Remember when you were perfectly fine with the speed of a fax over the pace of a letter? You were OK driving to Blockbusters to pick out your movies. Phone booths were everywhere. You relied on paper maps, the TV Guide, an address book, and a set of encyclopedias. The rate of change in everything, including customer expectations, is growing expeditiously. It is time to recalibrate how we wisely anticipate through the customers’ eyes.


About The Author

Innovating Service With Chip Bell’s picture

Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Chip Bell has helped companies dramatically enhance their bottom lines and marketplace reputation through innovative customer-centric strategies. For the sixth year in a row, Global Gurus in 2020 ranked Bell as one of the top three keynote speakers in the world on customer service. Bell has authored 24 books; seven are international best sellers. His latest book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions (Berrett-Koehler, 2020), shows how co-creation partnerships enable you to tap into the treasure trove of ideas, ingenuity, and genius-in-the-raw within every customer.