Tag Archives: customer relations management

Identifying and Catering to the Discerning Consumer: Quality and Service Above All

by James D. Roumeliotis

Customer service - white gloves and tray

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During my days in the mega yacht charter industry, I recall dealing frequently with assertive clients who were judicious with their expectations and utterly demanding with their occasional extraordinary requests. As a case in point, a VIP couple was cruising on a chartered mega yacht in the Aegean Sea and during one morning, unexpectedly, insisted that an additional stewardess be brought on board to increase the service level. He also requested five cases of Louis Roederer Cristal champagne. Despite the minor challenges, both requests were fulfilled within a few hours. My staff and I arranged for a stewardess to be flown in from Athens to the island where the yacht was docked that particular day. As for the champagne with its limited supply, I couldn’t locate all the quantities from any major purveyor in Athens. Consequently, I secured the remaining cases from Salonika – a city 188 miles (304 km) north of Athens. All five cases were eventually delivered to the yacht on the same day. It goes without saying that the client was elated.

The “discerning”, also referred to as the “discriminating” consumer, is characterized as showing careful judgment and savvy especially in matters of taste and judgment. This person is finicky and possesses an acquired taste habitually for premium products and services. Essentially, he/she falls short of a compromise. Going above and beyond the call of duty to meet and, at times exceed, expectations is an important principal to apply.

James - Looks like me in this photo

An Inside Look at the Discerning Consumer

More often than not, the discerning client typically possesses a high net worth. This translates to owning financial assets not including primary residence) in excess of US$1 million (source: CapGemini, “2017 World Wealth Report”). High net worth individuals (HNWI) cherish their time and know what they want, to such a degree that they would rather spend their funds for efficient results than waste the limited resource of time. They value time as a luxury, thus saving time greatly trumps saving money. This is part of the reason service is crucial for them.

In a nutshell, the discerning client can be generally described as:
– To a greater extent, belongs in the “affluent” (an investor with less than $1 million but more than $100 000) and “HNWI” (in excess of $1 Million) category;
– Seeks a higher and exacting standard with a minimum set of expectations;
– Fussy in nature;
– Values his/her time;
– Often requires customized solutions to mirror his/her lifestyle – whether a product or service;
– Takes pleasure on getting extra attention;
– Expects to be offered unique choices and experiences;
– Desires value for money under all circumstances;
– Synonymous with a taste for luxury with pedigree and craftsmanship which he/she is willing to pay for;
– Aspires an aura of exclusivity;
– Craves an experience heightened by exceptional service along with a personal relationship;
– Seeks products which are different and more sophisticated – whether it’s apparel, electronics, food or insurance.
– Wants to feel in command of his/her purchase decision without any buyer’s remorse.

Moreover, what he/she purchases is a visual extension of his/her personality, individuality and lifestyle. A well crafted product, for example, reflects his/her individual call to beauty.

Discerning vs. Demanding

There is a clear distinction between a “discerning” client and the “demanding” type.
A discerning client is one capable of good judgment. This client will typically:
– Appreciates the difference between quality and quantity;
– Carefully considers what his/her requirements and needs are and be able to prioritize them;
– Value good service and products, and acknowledge them;
– Be able to judge which consultant can be trusted and be relied upon to do great work;
– Understands that there are other clients and other priorities beyond himself/herself and his/her own.

Thus, the discerning client appreciates what is really required and feasible to obtain, understands the concepts of quality and function, and appreciates the value of good products and services.

On the other hand, a demanding client is one that could, in the worst sort of instance, be summed up by the word “demand.” This type of client could typically display one or more “imperfections”, for example:

– Simply wants everything he/she feels he/she wants or needs to be done;
– Wants everything done promptly;
– Persists in making additional requests for further work (products, changes, etc.) while reluctant to consider the issues of impacts on other factors of function, schedule, cost or quality;
– Expects a lot of attention on demand;

Hence, the demanding client expects plenty, regardless of the true value of it, whilst failing to properly appreciate core concepts such as quality and value. Additionally, his/her behavior is typical of someone who is self-centered and selfish.

Catering to the Discerning Client

It takes skill, patience, resolute and a good understanding of needs to cater to discerning customers – most notably in the luxury sector. It takes an even greater effort to keep them coming back repeatedly.

To succeed in gratifying the seemingly sophisticated client, the organization should develop a comprehensive strategy along with efficient implementation tactics. These include:
– Having a clear and unique value proposition that hooks them;
– In retail and hospitality sectors, exploiting the five senses to attract and retain them – categorized as “ambiance”/”sensorial” marketing and branding;
– Staff must be customer centric, patient, empathetic, and good listeners – remaining calm under duress during client interactions;
– Employee retention – hiring for attitude and training for skills;
– Utilizing a hands-on approach;
– Probing clients’ specific needs/requirements – know their motivations;
– Earning their trust and confidence;
– Offering a personal touch – individualized attention with customized solutions;
– Being frank and transparent with pricing, offers, proposals and promotions;
– Proposing an expansive product selection and service options;
– Outstanding and consistent levels of customer service throughout the organization;
– Reducing or eliminating waiting times – whether on the phone (reservations, customer service etc.), as well as for service or an appointment at the physical location;
– Offering customer loyalty programs – a great way to make them feel special and that they’re getting something extra;
– Asking for feedback with regards to service and product experiences and ways to improve those experiences – they’re typically strongly opinionated and relish giving it;
– Implementing the latest technology with all touch points (where applicable).

In addition, keep your brand offerings constantly refreshed. Give discerning customers a reason to repeatedly do business with you. Macy’s in New York, considered the world’s largest department store, underwent through a four year $400 Million makeover. Product is organized by lifestyle to help customers create looks and build wardrobes across categories.

Sell a distinct lifestyle which is what discriminating clients crave and gladly relate to. Be in the forefront of creativity and have all your staff, regardless of department/responsibility, on the same marketing page.

Occasionally, organize exclusive by invitation only events as a patron appreciation gesture. Being invited to an exclusive event makes one feel notable. For example, Italian sports automaker Maserati invited a select number of brand loyalists to a new experience in Europe that gave them the opportunity to sail on-board the 70 ft./21,3 m Maserati sailboat. In addition, they drove models in its current range including the new Maserati Gran Turismo Sport model.

Create/publish an upscale lifestyle magazine, every other month or quarter, which should include noteworthy information on the brand – in an environmentally friendly print format, as well as in digital format. The Bentley motors magazine is a good case in point.

Putting it All into Perspective

Discriminating customers’ purchasing attitudes are based on personal beliefs and taste for finer things in life. They are quite selective, know what they want and aspire to be catered to effortlessly. They seek the total customer experience along with pampering, personalized service and value for money. Some will argue that discriminating customers also consider transacting with companies that demonstrate corporate social responsibility.

A key difference between “discerning” and “demanding” is that the former requires what is important and expects it when it can be reasonably obtained, whilst the latter requires everything regardless of other considerations.

A brand which is involved in the business of offering a luxury and/or premium product or service should be well prepared to cater to a discerning clientele and avoid complacency. As a result, the entity will benefit through repeat business, as well as a word-of-mouth angle, since such customers are likely to tell friends and relatives about their experiences – especially in the world of social media.

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The Post-Sale Customer Service Conundrum: Lip Service or Genuine Care?

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Customer service - white gloves and tray

Delirious, confused and frustrated are merely three terms which best describe what clients typically experience when dealing with many customer support representatives. Excellent customer service is a crucial component of your business image and philosophy. Regardless of how good your products and prices are, if you can’t offer a positive experience for your customers, they will likely not return. Moreover, you can be certain they will spread negative word-of-mouth. With social media so prevalent, a brand’s reputation can eventually take a nose dive. Today, customers are more demanding than ever. They want to know their issues are genuinely acknowledged and demand timely results. Simply apologizing to them does not suffice.

Do head honchos get it?

Much is touted by companies about customer satisfaction but surprisingly only a few actually deliver on their promises. Prominent brands are not immune either. At the outset, it appears that many lack a vital customer relations policy. Inadequate staff training amongst other factors further aggravates the problem.  Picking up the telephone and calling certain companies, for example, can sometimes lead to an exasperating experience. People love to hate the phone tree experience where you have to go through a maze of menus until you eventually get to speak to a human – assuming you’re lucky. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

The executives who are is in charge of finance and operations respectively (consider the CFO and COO) are mainly focusing on costs and productivity even to the detriment of the average customer. Consequently, they will measure the calls answered per minute – regardless of the outcome. In contrast, a customer focused executive will reward those who take their time to listen, engage and solve customer issues.

Deliberate bad customer experience

Sadly, some brands have a built-in mechanism to test their systems with some clients in the hopes they will give in which in the short term will not entail refunds or product returns which can hurt bottom lines. However, this approach is quite short sighted with long term negative consequences. Those companies use their seemingly discounted prices to lure customers but their real business model seems to be in tricking customers with inaccurate payment information and then charging extra for any delayed payment amongst other inconveniences and unpleasant surprises along the way. Many gym memberships and website hosting service organizations are notorious for such trickery. Their hope is that through a lack of awareness, or constant frustration an average customer will simply cave in. This ultimately backfires with constant negative consumer publicity and an unusually excessive business turnover. Most modern consumers are too sophisticated to relinquish their rights to fair treatment. Companies may ignore this syndrome claiming it’s a ‘numbers game’, as well as a cost of doing business. Though, in the process, they also corrupt their front line staff who have to address an abnormal rate of legitimate grievances.

Marketing maven and best-selling author, Seth Godin rationalizes it this way:

Unfortunately, just about all big customer service organizations do this precisely backward. They don’t escalate to a supervisor or roll out the kindness carpet until after someone has gone to Defcon 4. They decide that it’s too expensive to be flexible, to listen or to treat people fairly, and they wait until the costs to both sides are really high, and then they give an empowered person a chance to solve the problem. There’s huge waste here, as the problem costs more to solve at this point, and the unseen challenge is that they’ve established a cycle in which umbrage is the rewarded behavior.”

The customer centric organization: solving issues before they occur

Going above and beyond customer expectations is focusing on customer centricity. It begins by developing, implementing and continuously delivering a total positive customer experience at every touch point and beyond. The costs and benefits of this practice are equally beneficial for the customers and the business. A University of Michigan study revealed that companies which received high scores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) consistently outperform the S&P 500. Those companies include Walt Disney and Amazon, amongst others. Those are most certainly organizations that focus on quality over quantity and measure what truly make them remarkable.

The after sales service department should be designed with an efficient infrastructure in place so as to make the entire experience an effortless task for both the customers and employees who are assigned with the responsibility. It should be easy for the client to reach a customer service agent and/or online agent to chat with. Moreover, the client should not have to be placed on hold for more than 5 minutes. Whenever the wait is more than two minutes, there should be an option to offer a simple way to be called back. The organization’s mindset should be to constantly think of ways to release tensions and give solutions to the client promptly.

Since many of the inbound calls normally concern frequently asked questions, why not have them prominently displayed on the website and/or printed on the product insert. Having them recorded as an option on your phone line, in a clear English voice (and second or even third most popular language relevant to the region’s business demographics), can eliminate unnecessary calls and waiting times with a live person.

Staff tasked with customer service should:

  • Possess a positive attitude under duress;
  • Be initially trained and occasionally re-trained,
  • Treated with respect, and
  • Be empowered to make timely customer satisfaction decisions on their own.

There is no better example to illustrate this than online shoe retailer Zappos.

What customers get to see displayed prominently on the web site:
– 24/7 1-800 number on every page
– Free shipping
– Free return shipping
– 365-day return policy

What customers will experience:
– Fast, accurate fulfillment
– Most customers are “surprise”-upgraded to overnight shipping
– Creating a “WOW” factor
– Friendly, helpful “above and beyond” customer service
– Occasionally direct customers to competitors’ web sites

What’s done behind the scenes?
– No call times, no sales-based performance goals for representatives
– The telephone is considered for them one of the best branding devices available.
– Run warehouse 24/7. Inventory all products (no drop-shipping).
– Five weeks of culture, core values, customer service, and warehouse training for everyone in Las Vegas office.
– A Culture Book
– Interviews & performance reviews are 50% based on core values and culture fit.

Customer Experience equals customer abbreviation

Putting it all together

Within every organization, decision making drives performance. Every day, employees at work make decisions that impact performance. These decisions, at every level of the organization, including customer service policies and tactics, define the corporate culture and drive performance.

It’s important to keep in consideration that measuring customer satisfaction is a way to assess its effectiveness, and refine what’s necessary along the way. This is performed by evaluating communication at your help desk or and/or call centers, as well as conducting surveys or sending out brief questionnaires soon after a call has been consummated. How satisfied were your customers with the level of service they received and will they do business with you again in addition to recommending you to others?

Customers are not concerned about your operational problems, your costs and margins, your lead times, your staff shortages, and much more. They are only interested in themselves and the benefits they may be able to obtain from your business instead of the one down the street, or the other ones found over the internet.

Thus, a priority need for every (selfish) customer or prospective buyer is timely and personal service.

Bill Marriot said it succinctly with “Take good care of your employees and they’ll take good care of the customer—and the customer will come back.”

This management philosophy isn’t common but it is shared by both Southwest and Costco. When using either company you can experience it as employees are generally in a great mood, and in turn, happy to help.

Customer centricity should be everyone’s job in an organization. It’s to be embedded in the internal culture. It begins with the top leadership and permeates through the entire organization. Implementation of new and refined strategies and tactics equate to daily and long-term success in building profitable customer relationships. Been helpful with your customers, even if there’s no immediate profit in it, is simply a good business practice with pragmatic thinking for the long-haul.

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