Thursday, May 18, 2006

Listening to customers

“In J.D. Power and Associates’ new book, ‘SATISFACTION: How Every Great Company Listens to the Voice of the Customer,’ they’ve been able to directly link changes in customer satisfaction to changes in stock prices..."

I have long been astounded at the complete failure of almost every big company in existence to have an input line from their customers. You know, just an email link on their site for people who have something to tell the company, anything. And crucially, somebody to *answer* those emails!

Apparently it is not considered interesting what the customers have to say!
Or it is not considered cost-effective.
This is weird, because I am running a commercial web site with over 100.000 visitors every day. I encourage feedback, and I read and usually answer all emails. All by me little self. And it is not tough at all. At most an hour a day in total for the stuff that goes beyond strictly necessary customer support.

So can somebody explain to me how Microsoft or Apple Computer, each with billions of dollars in the bank, can't afford to hire a handful of people to answer emails from their customers, without whom the company would not exist?
The resulting boom in satisfaction and loyalty to the company would by far outstrip the expense.


CS said...

Simple = Wall Street ... the pressure to produce quarterly profits has turned most senior executives in publicly traded companies into short sighted buffoons ... they also rotate and look at their stock options and not on the customer ... nobody gets "rewarded" for paying attention to customers (at least not in the big companies) ... i just gave a guest lecture to graduate level marketing course in NYC and one of the guys from American Express hit the nail on the head, "Chuck, sure Brand Vision is important but how do you measure it and account for it - all my team wants to do (and can do) is cut costs. I'm frustrated by all the operational cutting and am taking this class because i want to start to become part of something that is additive and creates value versus shrinking and cutting values" ... the politics and egos of public companies, and those VC funded, are the root to your explanation of why the obvious is not being practiced ... note this is not just me saying this - i attended private lecture with Mr. Carl Icahn at the Harmonie Club in New York City a couple weeks back .. Carl is perhaps one of the wealthiest business men in the world and he said the same thing ... in essence, American companies have a CRISIS in executive leadership ... he told fascinating story of eliminating 8 floors of executives in downtown Manhattan company and the company flourished ... it was his first big investment as a corporate raider (a term used in the 80s and now is referred to as an activist) and was reluctant to make cuts because he was new to the business ... he paid a consultant $250k (or might have been 1/2 mil) to come in and do a 6 week study to tell him what these guys on 8 floors actually did ... the consultant was reluctant to tell the truth and after presenting Carl with a huge binder full of graphs and charts, Carl handed him check and said, "Look - here is my legal pad and i have my pen in hand - can you please tell me exactly what is going on so i can write it down on just one page in English." ... the answer was they were doing "nothing" ... Carl had much more to say but you get the idea :>)

Ian said...

Don't get me started. When I wrote to tell a company of a problem with their software I was informed that I "must be doing something wrong" because they "had thousands of satisfied customers worldwide". Later they bowed in defeat to another user after he blitzed bulletin boards for weeks with proof that the fault existed. Finally they said lamely it would be fixed in the next version, but without acknowledging their intransigence or apologizing for being a bunch of wankers. I feel slightly guilty that I no longer have the energy to tilt at windmills, and these days almost always give up after the first attempt—blood sugar and pressure are serious considerations for me. SERENITY NOW!

Management theory abounds with descriptions of the dynamics of complacency, and advice on how to deal with the problem. Yes, you are quite right, it's not actually that onerous, but still companies fight implementing the necessary procedures. When I am appointed to rule the world, every company will be legally required to have an independent customer advocacy department as part of its license to trade. Every CEO/MD will be required to offer themselves as a contact of last recourse after the minions have been identified as guilty of turning a rubber lug to punter communications.


Wonko outside the asylum said...

I agree entirely!

I am often bewildered by the apparent contempt for their customers some companies seem to have. Without customers they would have no business, so why would you piss them off? I guess they rely on the fact that:

a) People are lazy, and will put up with a certain amount of crap rather than go through the hassle of taking their business elsewhere.*

b) There will be enough Charlies who they haven't annoyed and are yet to be their customer and will replace the ones that leave.

I have noticed a corelation (though not one that would necessarily stand up to mathematical scrutiny) between the size of the company and how little they care. Basic rule of thumb: one man band is usually okay, small family run business is also usually okay, local larger scale business may have problems depending upon the character of the owner, big national or multinational couldn't give a fetid dingo's kidney for your opinion.

They - whoever "they" are - say that on average you tell four people about good service, but ten people about bad service. I think a management consultant could make a good living explaining that to some corporations.

* Not me! In the last six months I have changed; bank, gas and electricity supplier, mobile and landline provider and am in the process of switching Internet Service Provider too. And I can tell you that writing a nice letter to tell whoever it is where they can stick their product/service is most satisfying.

Damien said...

One reason why companies won't answer to or welcome customer suggestions is that they're afraid of the aforesaid customer suing them for royalties when they implement a similar feature, whether or not the suggestion had any influence in the process. And, sadly enough, those fears are quite justified...

Irv said...

My personal feeling is that 'customer satisfaction' is primarily a nuisance problem for them. Providing a web or email address would open them up (so they feel) to endless volleys of 'flame-throwing' which would expectably be costly in man-hours to de-fuse, and probably a losing battle in the end.

If, for instance, Greyhound Bus Lines ever gave me the opportunity, I would really blast them!

Which is not to say I don't agree with you. Even in terms of providing a safety valve, it would pay public relations dividends.


Kevin Acheson said...

There are different reasons that I see. For many the fear is to get a suggestion and NOT adopting it seems like worse PR than never asking for input. And most companies I am aware of tend to fear change. So unless they see a huge problem that won't go away, they just keep doing what they've always done. Our company is ISO 9000 registered. Part of being registered is to do a certain amount of "Preventative Action". This seems to be a difficult concept for many at our company.

The prevailing attitude is that if you fix a problem by doing something that prevents similar problems in the future, that's preventative action. But it's not really. To me preventative action is looking for ways to improve what you are doing. Your idea about establishing and maintaining an open line of communication with your customers is a great way to do my vision of Prevrentative action.

By the way, Eolake, your product and how you run your website is done so well that the comments on ways to improve it must be relatively managable in number. If a company has some real big problems, this may take a lot more time to maintain. But then a lot of change would be needed too...

Anonymous said...

At least you can complain about the service.

In South Africa we can't complain about the service....there is no service to speak of in the first place

slady said...

I think this is a matter of the size of a particular business.

If you have, let's say, a small and nice boutique, you can listen to each of your customers individually. Then you can consider their thoughts and do something to improve your store.

Then, think of a really big hyper-market. There are always some staff people in the "information office" to talk to you. However, we still keep comming with so "divergent opinions", so that the staff cannot make some big picture of how the company can be improved.

I think, that the measuring scale to distinguish a big company and a small business is toilet seats.

You will not leave your toilet dirty, while at home with your wife, simply because your wife would be angry with you. Likewise, nobody dares to enter the public toilets in the New York city underground, because so many bumps live there, who do not care if you get angry with them.

I know that this scale is somewhat limited and it does not apply to online biz, as your, but I think you get the idea. :)

jeda said...

have you ever tried flower essences?
they have proven to work well with many types of problems. Go ahead look them up right here on the net.I have been working with flower essences and gemstone elixors for over ten years. They have worked with depression ,ADD, Hdd, and so many of those things that a doctor would give you pills for the only side effect --- smiles -- bach has a site, f.e.s. has one I recomend star flower essences.