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The Enemy of Marketing is Here

Sep 1, 2008
Do you leave customers breathless and begging for an encore, or fuming and screaming, "No more!"? How do you know... for sure?

I had almost finished a glorious shopping experience at one of my favorite stores. The shelves were stocked with plenty of options, and the helpful salespeople gave me good guidance. I made it almost all the way to the cashier when it happened. If the cashier later sensed my agitation, she didn't let on. Neither did I, until I walked out of the store. Then I shared my complaints with anyone who would listen.

Marketing's Payoff

The event I will describe happened at a Bass Pro Shop, but my intent is not to pick on them. In fact, I would bet the same scenario has happened to you at numerous stores you frequent.

Here's the situation. Companies like Bass Pro Shops spend millions on marketing every year to induce customers like you and me to give them our money. I get their direct mail, and I spot their ads in the newspaper. I visit their website to investigate purchase possibilities. Now I'm in their store, encountering carefully-place displays and special offers. I choose item after item and their marketing investment is about to pay off: I am headed to the cashier lanes.

It's a slow day, and only one lane is open. I'm No. 3 in line, then No. 2, and now I'm next. The transaction ahead of me runs into a snag. The line grows; now 6 are waiting behind me.

Another employee walks toward a nearby cashier station. He has at least three possible choices of what he could say and do. They are:

-- He approaches me and offers, "Sir, I can take you over here." Then he helps me carry my loot to his station.
-- He motions to me, looks me in the eye and says, "I can take the next person in line."
-- He looks down at his terminal to avoid eye contact with everyone and announces, "I'm open over here."

Guess which one he chooses?

More Than a Feeling

As the people behind me scurry to become his first customer, I realize I'm penned in and there's no way I can beat them there unless I climb over a point-of-purchase display. If I change lines, I'll be No. 5 instead of next in line. I've already been standing here 10 minutes, and I have no reason to believe it won't be another 10 minutes. Smoke is coming out my ears; I decide to stick it out and complete my purchase anyway, but only because I am holding someone else's birthday presents in my hands.

Companies in highly-competitive markets often find it difficult to create and articulate meaningful points of brand differentiation that can support their business growth objectives. When customers have a hard time finding differentiation, it's often the simple things that drive those customers to the competition. Companies like Bass Pro Shops spend millions to generate repeat customers that will have significant lifetime value for their company. When a grand and glorious shopping experience is capped by a torturous conclusion, what elements of the experience are most likely to be remembered and shared with others? In a matter of a few seconds, the opportunity for referral and word-of-mouth business is converted into customer attrition.

I See What You're Saying

It's evident that neither customer-facing employees nor their managers pay attention to the outcomes of their careless customer dialogues. They fail to see through their customer's eyes. Every business is smart to automate processes where possible when we remember that automation is designed to serve the masses over the individual. Oftentimes attempts to monitor individual customer satisfaction are again automated through online and paper surveys, providing managers with a misguided illusion that everything is alright with their systems and procedures.

While mass surveys do provide useful data and information, the real knowledge (and, often, wisdom) comes through real-time interactions with customers. Here are three ways to make that happen.

-- First, get trained eyes to watch the body language of your customers in a multitude of situations. I've learned through decades of customer interactions than I can learn more from what people do than from what they say or don't say. A wrinkle of the forehead or a curl of the lip can tell me volumes about what a person is thinking and feeling. When it contradicts what they're saying, I believe what I'm seeing first. Experienced eyes can easily spot confusion, disappointment, contempt, frustration and many other feelings your customers may never admit to verbally. Yet these feelings are what customers remember and are often what keep them from coming back for more.

-- Second, reward customers who show you your faults. It's tough for us to hear that something is wrong inside our organization that we work so hard in every day. It's also hard not to shoot the messenger of the bad news. Every time someone points out a deficiency, we're given an opportunity to make our business better. When customers give us these gifts, let's remember to be cordial, make things right for them right then, and then give them a gift or reward that will encourage them to offer more useful feedback in the future. A gift card virtually guarantees that you'll see them again.

-- Third, arrange for "mystery shoppers" to evaluate you. It doesn't matter what business you're in; you'll benefit from getting an outside-in perspective of what your customer-facing employees do for and to your customers. When we mystery shop our clients' sales organizations, it may involve walking into a retail store, meeting with a salesperson face-to-face, talking to the salesperson over the telephone or even through website chat. While we often find them doing many things right, there are always opportunities to grow. Get someone from outside your company to mystery shop your organization if you really want to see through your customers' eyes.

Surveys and Other Black Holes

Remember that your customers are really on your side as long as they believe you are on theirs. Customers want to do more business with you; it's easier than finding another supplier. Give your customers reason to believe you're going to be a better resource tomorrow than you are today. For example, if you rely on surveys to collect customer feedback, do you routinely let survey participants know how their input has led to changes designed to improve service delivery levels? If you're not already, perhaps you could call the customers who've responded to three or four surveys to personally thank them for their participation and discuss some of their responses.

Because Bass Pro Shops does so many things right, I'm willing to give them another try. Perhaps that check-out lane experience was an aberration; I truly want to believe that. They are not my enemy, nor am I theirs. The enemy of marketing is anything that disrupts our customers' reasonable expectations. These enemies are insidious and hard to find because they creep into our business through carelessness. Renew your efforts to look at your daily customer interactions through their eyes. Do that and they'll be eager to come back for an encore and invite you to sell them more.

Copyright 2008 Paul Johnson.
About the Author
Paul Johnson the Trouble Breaker is a keynote speaker who works with organizations to convert trouble into double and triple digit performance breakthroughs. Discover breakthrough concepts at http://ShortcutsToResults.com. Visit http://TroubleBreaker.com for presentations on performance improvement.
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