It seems that no matter how hard we try, negative events, no matter how small, seem to occur that impact our customers. A dropped call to customer service, an inadvertent comment, a minor product defect, a non-responsive web site, or even a misunderstood feature or explanation in an instruction manual are a few of the events that can occur that impact our customer relationships. If a customer, through some previous negative experiences, is predisposed to expect the worst, a minor incident will reinforce their negative feelings. If it hasn’t happened to you, just talk to a friend about their experiences with their cable company. Chances are you or they can immediately recall a negative event that has occurred in the past with them. We all seem to remember bad experiences far more vividly than we remember the intervening good experiences that we take for granted.
Assuming that at some point some negative events will occur, there is something that can be done to counteract or at least minimize the impacts of these unfortunate events. A goodwill bank account can be established with some small incremental efforts. Using a checking account analogy, think of each negative event as an account withdrawal. Similarly, think of each incremental positive action as an account deposit. Just as with actual checking accounts, small incremental deposits can grow to become a large positive balance that can be used to offset either small or large withdrawals. On the other hand, unexpected withdrawals made without a large enough balance to offset the withdrawal can have significant negative consequences. The article in this collection “Be Like Sand” introduced the notion of building consensus within a customer’s organization as part of the selling process. Not only can small positive actions help to build consensus, they can also be thought of as making small deposits in the customer’s goodwill bank account. All of us experience this concept with others. In some cases, when a negative event occurs with someone else, we are willing to overlook it or at least give them the benefit of the doubt. In other cases, as mentioned in the cable operator example, the opposite occurs; a small negative event can result in an out-of-proportion negative feeling.
The key to building up a positive balance is to do it subtly over time. Multiple individuals within the organization can all make deposits. In fact, it is better to have multiple individuals involved to build the company’s account instead of one individual. If, for example, all of the positive deposits are made by a single sales rep, the customer may associate their goodwill account with the sales rep and not the company. If a negative event occurs that does not involve the sales rep, the customer may make a withdrawal from another company account that may not even exist.
Deposits can take many forms. The only criteria is that they need to be clearly recognized by someone in the company’s organization as originating from your organization. Examples of some possible deposits are:
- Someone in the accounting department thanking the customer for a payment.
- Someone in shipping following up to make sure a shipment was received.
- Someone in order processing personally confirming the receipt of a purchase order.
- Someone in customer service following up a few days after an interaction to make sure the original issue was resolved.
- Someone forwarding an article that may be of interest to the client about their company or the market.
- Someone reviewing customer statistics and reporting results that may not be obvious to the customer.
- Someone informing the customer of an upcoming product upgrade to allow them to plan accordingly.
- Someone providing pre-release information to a customer to provide them with a heads-up before the general announcement is made.
- Someone asking the customer for their opinion regarding a new product or product feature.
- Someone informing the customer of a common error or misunderstanding that others may have experienced to make them aware of the possibility that they may experience the same issue.
All of these examples contain five common elements:
- They involve someone taking the initiative. A personal touch must occur. A “To Whom it May Concern” or a blast email will not have the same impact, and in fact, may have the opposite effect.
- The communication is targeted at an individual, a personal interaction.
- The deposit is unexpected, a positive surprise.
- The effort is small, almost inconsequential, and easy to perform by an individual without placing an undue burden on them or interfering with their normal responsibilities.
- The effort is fairly time independent and occurs seemingly randomly. This time independence allows the initiator to work the communication into their schedules and delay them if other unexpected, more urgent issues arise. The random nature also increases the element of surprise for the recipient.
Although the process could be easily automated, even outsourced, it is critical to avoid a mechanical approach. If the customer senses the loss of personal interaction, there will be no benefit to the program. For example, a handwritten note that is actually printed by a machine may be viewed with contempt as worse or a silly gimmick at best.
The process described above is intended to be very different than an automated, standard customer feedback system whose results are aggregated to provide management with a “feel good” report. The target of this program is the customer with benefits that will accrue over time.
Unlike most bank checking accounts that pay little or no interest, the customer goodwill checking account process will pay large dividends and always be ready to offset those unexpected rainy day expenses that are sure to occur.