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Author's profile photo Manju Bansal

Companies Struggle to Serve the Digital Customer

/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/bizzy4_121356.pngThe consumer today is lot more digital and social-driven than ever before in history, yet companies continue to market to them and service them just as they would have decades ago. Think of the number of times you have received unsolicited spam from providers you regularly do business with, or the large number of zombie Facebook pages with content so old you can almost discern the cobwebs, or the perpetual stream of mismatched offers from vendors who ostensibly have your purchase history on record. And even though customer relationship management (CRM) software is a near $50 billion category with an established footprint in companies both big and small, businesses still struggle to serve (and service) their digital customers. 

Beyond the Obligatory

Take Sears Kenmore, for example. A decade ago, they had a 40% plus market share in the US major appliance market. Today it is below 30% and dropping fast, thanks to savvy big box retailers who are offering cleaner, better lit stores with programs that cater to web-savvy buyers who have done their homework before they even walk into the store (i.e. product reviews read, check; price comparisons done, check; service histories pored over, check, check and check again). When I had an issue with one of my Kenmore appliances, I discovered they had a Facebook page, so off I went and logged my comments where it appeared many other customers like me had found relief. Within 2 hours a rep responded and asked me to contact him directly with specific warranty details etc. At that point, I thought, wow, this company really has their act together; maybe I need to look beyond their less than perfect stores. Alas, it has been 3 months since and no one has responded thus far, either to my post on their Facebook page or to the direct emails I sent to the person who was triaging social media posts that day. In an epic comedy of errors, I was also provided a customer service survey asking for my feedback on the way my non-existent service call had been handled. 

Customers Won’t Wait

From my perspective, Sears messed up on multiple fronts, giving me multiple reasons to defect the next time I am in the market for a replacement appliance:

  • You have to understand the totality of a customer’s experience with the company, not just in silos. The guys who ultimately helped resolve my issue were great but my overall experience with the company was spectacularly sub-par
  • When it comes to social media, merely checking the proverbial box doesn’t work. If you want to do social right, you have to have someone who monitors the appropriate watering holes all the time and has the ability to engage in a dialogue that customers are there for
  • Close the loop with your customers – after I dutifully filled in the feedback form, not a single person either contacted me or bothered to explain their side of the story. I don’t know if the feedback was even read by anyone. 

There are several vendors in the market, like SAP for e.g., that offer solutions that connect the social media world (data from Facebook and other community sites) into the customer service workflow, so that the social web becomes just another extension of the same service process. Integrating social and traditional communication can be a huge win-win for both companies and their customers, as companies can deliver a richer and more superior customer experience by engaging with their customers where they are likely to hang out anyway. 

Understanding the Customer

An example of a company that does get it is Sherwin Williams, the paint company. They have figured out the fine art of aligning their online marketing with their physical stores to deliver an unmatched customer experience. I was in their stores a couple of months ago to buy some paint and when I got home, I found one of those customer feedback forms waiting in my email inbox. As is my habit, I filled those in, fully aware that it was likely going into yet another black hole. To my surprise, 48 hours later I received a personal email from the manager of the local store where I had done my shopping thanking me for my business, and inviting me back again to shop with a set of exclusive, high-value coupons that were relevant to my needs as a homeowner.

In the olden days, the friendly hardware store owner personally knew his customers and their unique situations in life. Today, companies like Sherwin Williams are attempting to replicate that level of informed customer service by using their CRM systems well. Since my original purchase, every time I have redeemed one of those coupons, I get another high-value offer redeemable for a product that is a natural fit with what my purchase history is telling them. In another words, Sherwin Williams does more for consumers who spend in the hundreds than Sears does for consumer who spend in the thousands. Maybe it is a function of being a smaller company (as compared to Sears, that also owns K-Mart), or a more agile company that knows how to use CRM software more efficiently, it is pretty clear that even though this company was founded back in 1866, it is firmly moving with the times. No wonder the stock is up +89% in the last 52 weeks. 

In the real world, we might voice our displeasure with a particular provider to a handful of friends and colleagues; in the virtual world that gets multiplied by a factor of hundreds, if not more. After all, who knew that “Like” could have the power to be a potent 4-letter word.

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