Many corporations exhibit bizarre behavioral extremes when dealing with consumers. Some businesses spend a fortune striving to engage, attract, and sell prospects -- only to take extreme measures to avoid interacting with these same people after they become customers.
In Part 1 of this two-part series, we'll describe the symptoms of this common corporate affliction.
Once Upon a Time...
Once upon a time, not too long ago, many businesses actively sought interaction with customers, even if it was to hear complaints. These companies understood they could learn about the perceived value of their offerings -- competitive strengths and weaknesses -- which could help them strengthen the relative positioning of their products and services. Many organizations understood not only that current customers were their lifeblood for current operations but also that staying on good terms with these customers was an investment that would pay off for years in future revenue streams.
Businesses also recognized their current customer base was their most promising prospect for new business. This group represented a select market segment that knew and trusted the company and its products and services.
Welcome to Customer Hell
Somewhere along the line, something bad happened: The Call Center was created. The thinking behind the Call Center was: "Customer service costs money. By consolidating and automating customer service operations across the company, we can save money."
One would think, given the opportunity to interact with customers, a company would want to put its best foot forward. It would have the brightest and most informed personnel available.
This was not part of the plan. Instead of their best and brightest, many companies brought in poorly trained, ill-equipped, badly paid people to serve as their primary customer interface. Worse, these poorly trained people were given direct incentives by management to provide inadequate service, often pressured to keep talk time low to keep call volume high.
The result: Corporate Schizophrenia. Companies that would spend billions engaging, wooing, attracting, and selling prospects -- by funding lead-generation programs, designing and implementing sales and marketing campaigns, hiring and training sales forces, creating and executing advertising and promotional campaigns, and maintaining far-flung distribution channels -- would suddenly treat these same prospects like dirt the minute they became customers, shunting them off to Customer Hell.
The Call Center was a place neither the employee nor the customer wanted to be: the employee because the pay was lousy and the hours long; the customer because she wasn't going to get what she wanted. It didn't take long for customers who had a problem, needed help, or simply wanted information they should have received before they bought the product or service to quickly sense the harried, confused, and unempowered person on the other end of the phone didn't have the expertise, authority, or knowledge to solve their problems.
In Part 2, we'll explore the progress in curing this horrid and strange disease.
Arthur O'Connor is a director and heads the CRM Integration Practice at Reuters Consulting, a unit of Reuters, PLC. As one of the nation's leading experts on CRM and business intelligence solutions, he writes on business and technology trends for eCRMGuide.com, as well as on CRM strategy for ClickZ.com. He is a frequent speaker at industry conferences. Last year served as chairperson of the Institute for International Research's CRM Project Management Conference.