Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Get Your Company To Know Your Customer

Before starting graduate school, I worked for an organization* that had an internal communication vehicle called the Buzz, which published several times a week on the company's intranet. The Buzz reported on company projects, new associates, new procedures, etc. Its purpose was to keep associates in the loop on the goings on of the company, and hopefully help them feel more engaged with its growing infrastructure.

Often, buzz stories centered on new client work - the unique demands of the project, the innovative services we were applying, and so on. But as I think about it, we never really got to know the customer. Sure, we would be briefed on the client company, but did we really know the actual people we were working for?

Often, when a consumer interacts with a faceless company, there is an emotional detachment that can lead to behaviors that would be regarded as unacceptable in a face to face encounter. Think about a time you wrote a scathing communication to an underperforming company (I'm guilty of it...this past summer Kia got an 'earful' from me in a very long, very detailed letter). And in a state of absolute frustration, consider how simple it is to harshly criticize a product feature on an organization’s community forum or feedback page.

This concept unfortunately also works in reverse. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to let a deadline slip by (but it was just a day or so, you tell yourself) when the only interaction you've had with a client is over email? Or, when in a meeting with your coworkers you spoke in a careless or rude manner about a challenging client? After all, the client doesn’t really know what they want, do they? Before you know it, the impact of those detached behaviors could cost you a client relationship.

I think there is a great opportunity with corporate intranets to introduce associates to actual customers, the people they are working for one on one. Through a simple interview, an organization can provide a face to a project or customer - for example, a profile on Mark Smith, his role within his organization, reasons why he chose to work with your company or buy your product. Companies would better position their associates to provide an exceptional experience, namely because they would feel a greater degree of accountability when relating to a person rather than a corporation.

*I used to work for WD Partners, a firm specializing in delivering an exceptional prototype and rollout experience for national retail and restaurant clients.