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Customer challenged

CEOs universally wish to know what customers are experiencing and what they make of their experiences, says Khaled Choudhury. Often, ...

By Khaled Choudhury 01 March 2009

CEOs universally wish to know what customers are experiencing and what they make of their experiences, says Khaled Choudhury.CustomerchallengedOften, they don’t have a clue. Is this because most businesses haven’t looked outside for competent market researchers or the best customer relationship management software? Actually, it’s more basic than that. There are six common barriers that must be overcome – and they are all inside the company.


Customer-service axioms are common in companies, as prevalent in the boardroom as in marketing, driven by the belief that their repetition engrains healthy customer orientation in the business. This belief is largely delusory, since there is commonly a large gap between business leaders’ aspirations for customer service and the reality of their customers’ experiences.

Indeed, for all the proclaimed efforts of businesses to put customers first, most companies fail to delight most of their customers most of the time. This means there are still big prizes for companies that can deliver a customer-experience edge. Finding that edge, however, requires significant investment in acquiring, interpreting and acting upon customer insights. Most executive airtime in addressing this opportunity is given to discussing which customer relationship management (CRM) tools best fit the bill in the hope that knowledge technology will provide the answers. I believe that the most ground can be gained not by using technology but by addressing internal barriers that hinder the acquisition of customer insight.

Business leaders are routinely misled into thinking that they are serving their customers as well as possible. I commonly see six barriers to clear thinking that make the deception systemic in some organizations: unrepresentative front-line experience, stage-managed customer contact, employee discounts that corrupt perception of value for money, the low-price/low-expectation fallacy, CRM hype and poor research.


Barrier #1 Unrepresentative front-line experience


There is nothing like real front-line experience; and, as they often say on the front line, when a “suit” comes down from the executive offices, what he usually sees is nothing like real front-line experience.

I once had the privilege of witnessing an airline general manager hefting baggage. From a customer perspective, it was a wondrous thing to see a person of such seniority getting down and dirty with a basic operational chore. From an executive perspective, his efforts developed his understanding of issues in the operational processes and built a degree of industrial relations credibility, but the experience offered little insight into everyday customer experience – partly, of course, because he didn’t see customers, but mostly because his experience was unrepresentative. He was in the baggage hall at a moment of crisis when all around him the operation was going pear-shaped.

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