Thinking only RIO may very well leave you SOL.

Customer Experience creates loyalty or animosity. There is very little in between.

Companies love the idea of creating great Customer Experiences. It makes sense that if you create positive customer interactions that customer loyalty will follow. But building a culture of positive customer interaction can be harder than it looks — and it gets even harder as the company gets larger.

Most big companies want to simply “buy it”... and buy it cheaply. So we get “loyalty cards” instead of good service.

If you think about it from the point of view of “budget-driven” organizations, you soon realize it is a very hard to figure out who pays for the effort. I think it is not a budget item, it is an attitude that must be nurtured by every customer facing part of a company. If your billing department deals with directly with customers, they are now part of your “customer experience strategy.” Since marketing cannot control customer experience in those cases, they usually opt to compete in other areas.

Here are some of my recent customer experiences that illustrate the problem.

I love my cell phone provider.

How often do you hear that? Republic Wireless has a great attitude in dealing with their customers. And for me that is the key: a great attitude. It is not that they do not make mistakes — we all do, but how they address them is what makes me happy.

They also have a way of stripping away the company-customer divide. They pull customers very close in the way the communicate. It is strange… they have developed an authentic “we are all in this together” feeling of camaraderie. Partly because they offer an incredibly unique service at a very attractive price, partly because they sound like great people. I will give you some examples.

Real Customer Engagement

Republic Wireless has begun a program called Republic Labs where they gather together willing customers to test new product or service ideas. I participated in the Lab that tested the idea of rebating the cost of your unused cellular data each month. They were working from a report that said most people use less that half their data on their big carrier data plans.

I was on the the experimental service for just over 2 months as they worked out the program. It was not perfect, but it is now. Today, on this plan anyone can opt for, I pay about $3.50 per month for the data I use. Because, frankly most of the time I am connected to WiFi and the little amount of data I use checking email or a getting directions is tiny. If I was to need a ton of data for a time when I might be traveling, the data costs the same as any other carrier. Win, win… for me.

Great Customer Service

Oddly enough Republic flubbed my transition to the actual live data plan mentioned above. The fact that I have two accounts with them caused them to cross the service with the other phone we have. I submitted a ticket on their support site stating my problem. They asked one clarifying questions and all was fixed. I do not know how hard it was on their side to figure out, but it does not really matter — it is their job to get it right. And they did — without a lot of commotion.

A few weeks after all this was over, I got this card in the mail. I think I must have recommended Republic Wireless to someone on Facebook.

How does a company make a customer appreciated?

I think my customer experience must be common in the cellular carrier world:
Ars Technica: Switching to a smaller wireless carrier could make you happier

I hate my Internet service provider.

That’s more like it, we all know this one. Actually, I was OK with my ISP at work until we moved our office. The process started out well, but by the time we had cleaned up all the problems that resulted from our move I had learned to hate Time Warner Business. (Hate may be a little strong, but you get the idea… I have no loyalty at this point.)

It was similar to my problem at Republic Wireless. Time Warner did not have the same fiber data to our new office that we had in the old office. The fact that we went from fiber data to cable data required closing and opening accounts. Unfortunately the never actually closed the original fiber account and continued sending bills to the old address. To make things worse the post office seemed incapable to forwarding mail to the old address.

By the time we realized there was a problem we owed about $1,000 more that we should have. To get their attention I had to fully outline the situation like I was a defense lawyer using images of the various invoices from the accounts, then a timeline of billing and are actual move. Yet it still took a series of calls to our account rep, then a Time Warner call center to some movement on their part.

What was the attitude of Time Warner? The on-hold recording said “It is important to us that every customer have the best service possible.” But even after I they said they would fix it and get back to me, they never did. It was up to me to follow up and go through the process again. Their attitude was indifference. I guess that was the best service possible!

It was eventually sorted out, but credits to invoices were confusing and I suspect a few hundred dollars was never refunded. And I know that I spent at least 5 or 6 hours on the problem.

By the way, the technician configured our router wrong so that we had all sorts of reliability problems. It took a second technician to get the configuration right. Indifference again.

The Lesson?

Outside of the basic requirement of doing your job as best you can, you (as a company) have to keep a good attitude. How do you attached an ROI and policy to that! Too many companies build policies around protecting themselves, then try to market their way out. Customers may get tricked once (or even twice) but they eventually figure out what you are made of.

I know that some customers will never be happy. Those customers are just the lumps you take by being in business. If you let them color your approach to all your customers, you will make them all unhappy.

I read once that great customer service is not a strategy, it is an attitude. I like it.

There is always a TED talk.

This sums it up very well.