3 Critical Considerations Before Following Amazon to Customer Obsession-dom

obsessedAre you ready to be obsessed with your customers?

Evolving marketing slogans, values, principles, mantras – whatever you want to call them – have driven significant improvements in customer service. Examples include “the customer is always right” and “we put our customers first.” Slogans like these have been adopted wildly as companies gradually recognized the need to meet, if not exceed, customer expectations.  Oh, wait! There goes another! “We will meet, if not exceed, customer expectations.” As a result, customer relationships and customer experiences are now often considered to be as important, if not more important, than the product itself.

But time never stops and so the slogans continue to evolve. As each one becomes commonplace and ceases to stand out in the crowd, someone installs an upgrade. Amazon’s “Customer Obsession” is a case in point. It’s quite the attention getter. “Wow! Amazon is upping the ante on customer centric commitments!”

So what are you waiting for? Are you ready to declare your “Customer Obsession”? Or maybe you want to leapfrog the competition and be the first to claim “Lunatic Devotion.”

Before you do that, there are three things you need to think about when adopting a new approach.

1.   There is a vast difference between memorizing slogans and changing organizational behavior.

Slogans and values are pretty easy to remember, especially if catchy or surprising. Customer obsession is a good example. But slogans and values are worthless unless translated into specific behaviors that are desirable so employees truly understand what is meant and what is expected.

If you are obsessed with customers, will you drop everything when they call? Everything? Will employees still need permission to make an unhappy customer happy or will you trust employee judgment in favor of a speedy and competent resolution? Will you devote hours to a customer who never spends more than a nickel? What do you expect from employees with casual or peripheral contact with customers? These are legitimate business questions and employees need clear answers.

Once you’ve committed the slogans to memory and identified desirable behaviors, you still aren’t finished. Changing habits isn’t fast or easy. As employees try to live up to these new expectations, what will you do to support those changes? How will you ensure employees receive feedback, both formal and informal, in synch with the new expectations?

Before deciding to launch a catchy new slogan, be sure you are committed to the hard work of changing organizational behavior.

2.   Proclaiming your values should be an act of labeling, not wishing.

When you tell the world you are obsessed with your customers, you better be putting a label on existing behaviors and not trying to reinvent yourself with smoke, mirrors, and wishful thinking. In other words, the behavior should already be obvious.

The first time I heard that Amazon was customer obsessed, I believed it instantly because just a few weeks before, an Amazon employee, while on the phone with me, got UPS customer service on another line to straighten out the pickup of an item that had arrived broken. That was a first for me. In every other case I can think of, I was the one left with the mess of calling, negotiating, and untangling whenever more than one service provider was involved in a problem. Amazon definitely raised the bar with that one.

No matter what your slogan, value, mantra, or mission, you shouldn’t have to sell it or explain it. Your behavior should do both. The best slogan in the world won’t create a brand. All it can do is create a label to help you generate enthusiasm and make it easy for others to spread the word. So create the desired behaviors first. Talk second. The last thing you need is a loud mantra backed by zero correlating behavior!

3.   Misunderstood slogans can cost you millions.

Setting market expectations and setting employee expectations are not the same thing. I’ve already talked about the importance of your employees understanding and embracing new values. But danger lurks here if they do this too well also. When you translate new slogans or values into behaviors, you must also consider how well you want employees to do their job. You need to determine what you don’t want employees to do.

For example, it isn’t smart business to always exceed expectations. This problem plagues my high tech clients in particular. When an employee embraces over-delivery it can mean hundreds and thousands of hours invested in features that customers may not want, need, or even recognize. Furthermore, those same super cool features can reduce ease of use and increase long-term support costs. While the company loses money, these engineers are over-achieving.

This top quality attitude will send profits right down the drain as customers walk away with “quality” they don’t value. It’s like giving a small child a gold-plated popgun.

Walk into new slogans with your eyes open and the ability to practice what you preach. Catchy phrases and wishful thinking are not an alternative to relevant action. The single most important requirement for building a strong brand and happy customers is clear expectations and meeting those expectations. The catchy phrases and lists of values are completely optional.

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