02/10/10

Social Media: Listen More and Sell More

There are so many articles and blogs about marketing through social media. I just read one titled Social media: Listen Less and Sell More, by Clay McDaniel. It’s a great article about how companies should use buzz-monitoring tools to find out what people are saying about their brands and what people want, and then give customers the right promotion through social media.

Although Clay meant that companies need to analyze social media data to get social medial promotion right, the title “Listen Less” might be misleading. As a matter of fact, companies need to continue to listen more and then sell more!

I wish my personal experience can be a showcase of why companies need to listen more to Voice of the Customer (VOC) through social media and keep customer loyalty.

My husband and I used to be loyal Amazon.com customers. We bought everything from books to high-end camera equipment for our small business because their price is almost always lowest one in the market. We paid for an Amazon Prime membership so we could enjoy two-day free shipping. We also shop from their vendors through Amazon marketplace so we don’t need to register at other sites. We might not be their biggest customers, but we spend a fairly large amount on their site. We also rarely returned any shoppings, one or two out of our hundreds shoppings, as I can remember. We’re the best customers every company desires. However, our feeling got hurt recently by their ignorance of our voice through twitter.

Recently there have been quite a few incidences of stock-out and long delivery lead-time up to two months with Amazon.com. So, my husband and I both tweet @amazon and asking about the stock-out situation. I understand stock-out happens as a supply chain professional, but I need a response to let me know when I can expect to receive my product, not up to two months! No response. Quiet. So, I tweeted: ”@amazon has fulfillment issue lately even we paid for Prime membership! Too busy with their acquisitions apparently.” Still NO response!

Now, I’m angry. Amazon apparently is not listening to customers now because they are too big and too busy, so they don’t need to care about customers experience although they say so all the time. Thus, we found the same products at B&H Photo and Video at competitive price. We would rather pay for shipping to get the products quickly. My husband sent a tweet: “Just placed 1st order from @bhphoto (since @amazon was out of stock).” We didn’t expect @bhphoto to response, but Henry Posner @bandhphoto saw our tweet and bumped our shipping to UPS 2-day rush! This unexpected surprise definitely made us decide to more business with B&H in the future.

Now, it’s fairly clear how company should use social medial to sell more. They need to constantly listen to what their customers say about their brands and then interact with their customer. Many times, customers just need some little comfort from their response. It’s OK to be out of stock or delay delivery, but they should do something, such as a small coupon for next purchase, to rectify the situation and keep our loyalty.

Service companies already realize the importance of social media and utilize these tools to interact and communicate with their customers in order to provide better customer satisfaction. For example: Marriott hotels were one of the first to use twitter to engage directly with customers through their @MarriottIntl account. My husband, as a Front Office Manager, even monitors the comments about his hotel at property level through @TheFrontDesk on twitter. Many times, I hear stories how customers are happy with their quick responses and small little ways to remedy the damages. Just like us, many customers prefer to express their opinions through the internet even when they’re at the locations, hotels or restaurants. Through monitoring the social media closely and responding to customers complaints will significantly improve customers experience and improve their reputation through “word of mouth”.

Yes, I’m now leaving Amazon.com because our Amazon Prime membership didn’t give us customer satisfaction, especially because they ignore our voice through social media and deeply disappointed our trust of their service. Companies listening to Voice of the Customer and giving more than the customer expected will definitely sell more and win over the market.

08/7/09

Use Value Chain Analysis for Customer Satisfaction

When a company starts to hear their customers saying “it’s very difficult to do business with you” without providing exact details; when a company sees their internal customer service scorecard showing good numbers, but the customer survey result shows “poor service”; or when a company starts to see their long term customers switching to their competitors; it is the time for the company to evaluate their value chain to understand what they need to do win the trust and confidence back from their customers.

However, it seems difficult to figure out what customers are really looking for, and it’s difficult to decide which actions to take to improve the customer experience. There are many functions in the company, what exactly are the areas causing negative customer experiences? In order to understand what activities are leading to customer satisfaction, we can begin with the generic value chain and then identify relevant firm specific activities.  “A value chain is a chain of activities. Products pass through all activities of the chain in order and at each activity the product gains some value.” (Wikipedia) Using value chain analysis will quickly help a company map out “touch points” with customers, capture pain points, and identify opportunities for process optimization. I’d like to use a case of an equipment rental company to explain how value chain analysis is used to identify issues in order to enhance customer experience.

In this case, customers choose to rent instead of buy equipment for a lower cost but at the same time expect good service. Customers can have the company deliver equipment to them or pick them up with their own trucks. After finish using the equipment, the customer can self return them to the company service locations or the company will arrange collection from customers upon request. Customers pay an initial fee when they receive equipment and then start to pay rent based on the days of usage. Below is the value chain analysis I did for the company to understand how each function interacts with customers and how they can impact customer services. Please note below analysis only include primary activities. Supporting activities such as procurement, technology, human resource and firm infrastructure are not in the analysis, although they can also indirectly impact customer experience from different prospective.

A Value Chain Analysis

Primary functions of inbound logistics, operation, outbound logistics, marketing & sales, and customer services are interacting with customers on a daily basis; hence activities under those functions directly influence customers’ satisfaction and their purchasing decision. By breaking down those functions into activities, we can easily see the components in the value chain and how they create and build value for customers. By asking questions for each activity, we can thus realize what customers are expecting for each activity and whether there is enough to be done to guarantee customer satisfaction.

I’m not going to explain each activity in detail. The result of this exercise is to help company executives realize the challenges from their existing process structure and to make the right decisions and actions to truly “serve” customers. Executives should also face the fact that internal metrics are not always reflecting a customer’s true experience. When the metrics are designed to meet internal criteria and when those numbers are tied to employee performance bonuses, we can expect that employees are incented to make a good number instead of to provide good service. For example, on-time delivery performance is a key measurement for each employee in the company. However, the company only measures the shipments with Prove-On-Delivery (POD), and thus filters out at least 10% of data from measurement because carriers do not provide POD for every single shipment. The company measures on-time based on the final date stored in the system. When a shipment is going to be late, the employee in Logistics calls the customer to get “approval” of changing the date of delivery in the system, as if customer had another choice. At the same time, the company defines the on-time delivery window which is not necessarily what the customer is asking for. Using a six sigma term, there is a gap between internal specifications and external customer measurement. Unfortunately, because of political reasons and high pressure for “performance”, even functional high level executives are not willing to change the wrong measurements to correctly reflect real performance. No wonder that even with high performance numbers in the service scorecard, we can not prevent customers from switching to competitors.

From such a value chain analysis exercise, many functional experts can identify process improvement opportunities and take necessary projects to reengineer processes. However, without further data analysis, the analysis won’t lead to a priority list to allow the company to put the limited resources to the most critical processes. Besides, the company will not make fundamental changes without establishing performance metrics truly reflecting customers’ requirements. Value chain analysis can help companies to understand where they can create value for customers.  However, only when the company truly embraces “customer experience” and makes fundamental changes will the value chain create real value for customers.

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