Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Give Customers What They Don’t Expect

Raise the bar, instead of falling short of it.

By Anirudh Kulkarni

Posted Jan 1, 2009

...The CRM initiative’s mandate is often narrowly focused on addressing customer expectations through large technology-driven change management projects. And while these initiatives play a critical role in advancing customer centricity, customer satisfaction often fails to match the resources expended on these efforts.

The Accenture 2007 Global Customer Satisfaction Survey bears this out: 75 percent of participating executives felt their customer service was moderately or extremely good, but 57 percent of consumers described themselves as upset or marginally to extremely dissatisfied with their experiences. The temptation is to close this gap by pouring more resources into understanding what these dissatisfied customers do expect—and then trying to exceed these expectations. However, there is a growing realization that small initiatives designed to deliver what customers don’t expect can also have a significant impact. ...

Small, unexpected customer service efforts can be valuable within the context of a broader CRM strategy. That said, identifying those initiatives—and executing them—requires a strategic organizational approach incorporating the following elements:

  • Voice-of-Customer approach—To know which gestures would show your customers that you value them, you have to get inside their minds. What have they grown to expect? ...
  • Competitive analysis—A commodity service (hotel rooms, office products) can still create memorable customer experiences, using small gestures as competitive differentiators. ...
  • Internal organization maturity—Some things that seem easy to do are hard to execute. ... Make sure you understand the organizational implications of any gesture (no matter how small). ...
  • Keep it simple—The gesture needn’t be elaborate or complicated—just something unexpected that gets the customer talking about it with friends and colleagues.

The role of process and technology in improving customer service is indisputable. Organizations intent only on large-scale improvement initiatives, though, may neglect the small but impactful efforts that go beyond the expected. These gestures enhance customer satisfaction, improve customer loyalty, and attract new customers.

Anirudh Kulkarni ( is founder and managing principal of Customer Value Partners, a customer lifecycle management consulting firm.

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