Effective Customer Service Program
Can Your Organization be Too Customer-Focused: The Gentle Art of Saying "No"

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Many businesses have instituted new IT projects, or flashy new organizational schemes under the auspices of creating a "customer-centric" organization. Operating under the old adage that "the customer is always right, these organizations bend over backwards to accommodate even the most asinine whims of their customers.

One of my personal favorite examples was an organization that ran a large call center selling office supplies. A customer called and demanded a system be implemented to prevent one of their employees from ordering. Apparently the employee had been fired, but still had access to the company purchasing account, and they were concerned he would call in bogus orders out of spite. Rather than admitting this was an internal problem, they put the onus on their vendor. This was a low revenue account, but the company immediately called in their IT folks to build a custom service program enhancement to their call center applications, to flash a "DO NOT ACCEPT ORDERS FROM JOHN DOE" message whenever someone from the account called. Scores of back office personnel maintained these messages on an ongoing basis, rather than manning the phones, or following up on legitimate customer problems.

The dirty little secret of most successful "customer focused" efforts is that they are actually designed to sell more products, not bow to every customer whim. The best "customer centric" efforts are the ones that increase revenue from the right customers, not necessarily increase overall customer satisfaction. One way of accomplishing this task is determining which customers add the least to the bottom line, and serving them in the cheapest possible manner, or even abandoning them altogether. When a customer who contributes very little to the bottom line requests highly specialized services that your organization does not offer, a smart organization will respond with a gentle "no," and steer that customer towards a more generic product or service.

However the same organization will recognize when many customers in a particular class are requesting a product or service, and it is something that the organization can deliver that meshes with their current offerings and overall strategy. Rather than mindlessly "serving customers" a true customer-focused organization involves them in the design of product and service offerings, and removes products and processes that do not serve the customer while contributing to the bottom line.

The second part of that sentence is the key to a successful CRM or customer service program. Printing invoices on pink paper to be delivered by carrier pigeon to appease one customer is not being customer-focused, it's being stupid. Streamlining invoices to make them more understandable for all customers, while eliminating back-office steps that do not add any customer value is being customer-focused and contributing to the bottom line. If you have products that are compelling to a customer because they were designed with their input, and offered at a competitive price point, you will always have customers. If you can serve those customers in the most cost effective manner you will be customer-centric and cost-conscious, a very effective weapon in any company's competitive arsenal.

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