By Jeffrey Graham
Atticus Finch, the wise father in Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird," tells his children, "You never really knew a man until you stood in his shoes and walked around in them."
Make that the No. 1 rule of customer relationship management (CRM).
Despite starry-eyed visions of hyperpersonalization and solemn vows of customercentrism, many companies continue to thwart, frustrate, and punish their customers. I find this very upsetting.
Why should I care? Apart from being a customer myself, I get most upset because the reputation of the entire Internet is damaged every time a customer goes away unhappy. We can't expect to attract more people and more money to the Internet if we continue to screw things up.
Case in point. Last Saturday I read in the newspaper about a new service that allows you to see the credit-rating formula that mortgage lenders use to evaluate borrowers. It's the first time that this type of rating has been made available to consumers, and because I'm in the market for a home, I was immediately intrigued.
I dialed over a 56K modem to access the Web site. It took an eternity to load because the designers had apparently decided that fat GIF images of happy customers were more important than happy, real dial-up customers.
When the site came up, I clicked through a few screens and then indicated that, yes, I did want to pay $12.95 to see my credit score. Nothing happened. I went back, tried again, tried a different route, all to no avail. It wasn't happening. Ten full Saturday minutes had gone by.
I really wanted to see this score, so I went to the company's main (slow) Web site. Eureka! The service was being offered there, too. And when I clicked to order, I was given a sign-up form. I diligently filled in all the required sensitive information and assented to a lengthy disclaimer. When I submitted the form, I was told that the server was unavailable. Too bad, try again some other day.
I wish that this had been an isolated experience. But it happens all the time. After closing an old account, I tried for weeks to change the credit card that my Internet service provider (ISP) was billing. Because I can't remember the stupid logon and password supplied to me two years ago and because 20 minutes is too long to wait over the phone, the ISP lost my business. It will probably pay a $400 rebate to acquire the next customer -- instead of keeping me at no cost.
I am sure that plenty of companies with sites that fail customers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants, fancy software, and even "e-CRM solutions."
But you have to start with the basics: usability, reliability, and efficiency. It's e-CRM for dummies.
Anybody with a Web site should submit to the following weekly exercise. First, make a list of the top five reasons your customers come to your Web site (find this out by asking them). Second, dial in from home (don't believe anyone who tells you all your customers are on T1 lines). Third, pretend to be a customer, and do the five things on your list. You might be surprised by what you find.
Many companies are now holding back investment in order to first determine a solid Web strategy. I sure hope that future strategies focus not on fancy Web sites or business plans but on happy customers.
Reprinted from ClickZ.