Businesses work with suppliers, across divisions, and with distributors. In the age of relationships, when the art of conversation has made a big come back, and more and more people have access to search and publishing tools, the answer to the question "who are your customers?" may not be as straight forward.
Break any one of those connections, make it less than smooth, and you have a hard time servicing the end customer. The answer never was straight forward, it just got easier to see inconsistencies.
Organizations used to be able to separate customers from prospective customers until they were ready to put them in the same room. Or, as the discussion in the comments at Jackie Huba's post about Groupon shows, it was easier to separate the experience of buyers from those of suppliers.
How about the treatment you receive as a customer buying books and goods on their site, and the experience you have as part of the Amazon affiliate program? Do they reflect the same company culture, or are there gaps in execution?
The way we wereNine years ago, Charles Fishman set out to discover why so many customers feel betrayed, even though everyone believes in delighting the customer. See if this conversation from his article sounds familiar (both from the inside and the outside of the situation -- an alleged fraud case):
Fraud: "He thought he was cloned, but he wasn't."
Chad: "His bills did go from almost nothing to sky-high ..."
Fraud: "We can send him to a cloning specialist and make it 'official' if you want ... "
Chad: "He's denying that he made or received the calls."
The impatient woman from fraud dials the Sprint PCS cloning customer-care department and ... is put on hold.
Do you ever wonder what's going on while you're waiting on hold for customer service? Really, you couldn't even imagine.
Chad, the customer-care advocate, is talking to a woman who is Chad's customer-care advocate. She has called her customer-care advocate, who is busy on another call. So now we have two customer-care advocates on hold waiting for a third customer-care advocate. Meanwhile, a fuming customer from Lubbock (who may or may not be trying to rip Sprint off for $1,600) waits. On hold.
That, right there, is customer service in the new economy.
Read the whole article, it's well-researched, and much of it is still very relevant today. Maybe customer service is not worse than it used to be, or as bad as we'd like to say it is as customers. Twitter accounts are only raising expectations if the business is not fixing what is the problem in the first place.
I'm with Fishman, although as customers we can be quite bitchy and irrational,
what is striking is how little it takes to make people happy, how little it takes to get it right, and how long 40 seconds really is. But what is also striking is how hard it would be to automate this process. To do it right doesn't require much, but it does require a spark of human intelligence on both ends of the transaction.
Customer service can be an endless source of ideas for the business, an opportunity to analyze problems and devise solutions, kind of like the way Amazon treats it. Problems are bound to creep up with so many moving parts in business. It's what you do with the information that makes a difference.
Armed with the ability to spread information and attract others who are having a similar issue, research options, and mobilize teams on the inside of the business, is the customer finally in charge?