Why Customer Strategies Fail

Here’s what keeps CEOs awake at night: Their companies are spending billions on customer service , loyalty programs, new CRM initiatives, and technology tools. Yet customer satisfaction levels are decreasing, defection rates are increasing, and most CRM programs are forecast to fail.
After decades of relentless effort in putting the customer first, it seems that the holy grail of customer delight continues to elude big and small corporations alike. Probably David Ogilvy was on to something when he said, "the customer is not a moron: she is your wife." Today’s customer seems determined to be a demanding mistress, disrupting best laid plans and destroying the bottom line.

Consultant, celebrated author and speaker Lior Arussy has made it his professional mission to guide corporations out of this conundrum. In Passionate & Profitable (John Wiley & Sons), he holds up a mirror to show executives the 10 fatal flaws their companies make — from "putting lipstick on a pig" (hiding faulty business processes behind cosmetic marketing and customer service initiatives) to taking "technology shortcuts."

Perhaps the deadliest flaw he talks about is the failure to operationalize, the inability to make customer strategies an integral part of the company’s operations and culture. Here he puts forward an amusing paradox.

Executives go to CRM seminars, read the right articles, learn the right things, but when it comes to the crunch they fail to act on their learnings. They know but they don’t do. "Education without execution is just pure entertainment, and Lior illustrates this beautifully in his book," says Tim Sanders of Yahoo.

However, all is not lost. Salvation comes from making the right critical choices, as many as possible from among the 10 in Arussy’s list. From defining the role of the customer in your business and clarifying the kind of relationships you seek with customers to actually deciding which customers to select and which to drop. From avoiding silo-based ways of viewing the customer to adding innovation and value through post-sales dialogue.

A proponent of CEM (customer experience management), Arussy brings this all together in his chapter on customer experiences, which, as he rightly claims, are the building blocks of customer satisfaction and the catalysts for differentiation.

In today’s time-poor, broadband-connected world, where consumers can shop around and compare between offerings with a few clicks, product advantages are increasingly becoming scarce and a "wow" customer experience is the only profitable way to differentiate.

"Wow" customer experiences are delivered by inspired, passionate employees, but only when there is a lifelong commitment on the part of the company, not one-off initiatives with an eye on quarterly results or fashionable but soulless CRM programs. You can’t fake it, either with customers or employees, Arussy says.

This is an important book and a good read, if slightly academic at times, punctuated with wonderful examples of companies that get it right.

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