Customer Retention in the 21st Century.
Byline: Paul Rolich
Sometime this year the number of
users will exceed
the number of desktop users. In developing countries that has already
taken place. Mobile internet use in India surpassed desktop use last
spring. The smartphone market has been larger than the PC market since
The mobile device revolution in and of itself is not a game
changer. But the combination of ubiquitous mobile devices with
unprecedented amounts of
data available on those devices and
the nearly continuous connectivity available in first and second world
nations is a game changer.
We have seen social network drive political change throughout the
world. We have seen
catapult talentless performers to
worldwide fame and fortune. And we have created a new type of consumer
that we cannot market to or serve in the same ways we used to build our
Old School = Fail
The enterprises that are able to provide
goods and services
21st century consumer will survive and prosper. The rest will die quick
and merciful deaths. I don’t really care about the survival of
individual corporations, but I do care about the survival of the people
employed by those organizations–and I care about the investors in those
All too often the people who run corporate America don’t care;
they are too busy stuck in old ways of thinking.
been a successful methodology 25 years ago, but methodologies developed
in a pre-Internet, pre- Amazon, pre-smartphone, and pre-email world do
not empower organizations. They often serve to decrease the ability of
organizations to act and react nimbly.
The rate of change in the world today is unprecedented and business
must react to the change. And that means having systems in place to
react to change before that change occurs.
Running faster isn’t the answer
Radio was around for 38 years before it had 50 million users.
Television was a little quicker – reaching that number in 13 years. The
Internet took four years; Facebook had 50 million users in two years.
Gangnam Style video was released In July 2012. On December 21,
2012 it was played on YouTube for the one billionth time.
Change occurs at such a rapid pace in today’s world that we
must be able to react immediately to the needs and desires of our
customers. Microsoft missed the boat on the “Internet
revolution” a few years ago. Netscape had 90 percent of the market
in 1995. Microsoft was able to react and recover because they had a
monopoly on the desktop in those days. Things are moving way too fast to
play catch-up in today’s world.
Once again Microsoft is in the same situation–desperately trying
to win the personal tablet wars with Windows 8 and their own branded
hardware. So far that hasn’t worked out too well. You can’t
afford to wait until your competitors have conquered the market before
you enter the market. HP has been playing that game for years and still
hasn’t learned the lesson.
The amount of data available to the consumer is staggering. I call
it data rather than information because the term information implies
that the data is useful, actionable and accurate. In fact most of the
data available for consumption is neither.
There was a time in the recent past when authors or publishers had
a reputation for publishing the “truth.” The
Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
and the Encyclopedia Britannica were considered authoritative sources of
information. Publications like the National Enquirer were considered
tr.v. mis·in·formed, mis·in·form·ing, mis·in·forms
To provide with incorrect information.
or dis-information. That distinction is gone.
There is no “truth” in the Internet age. There is only
trending or public opinion. Broadcast news networks don’t report
news–they interpret events to suit the agenda of the owner or
publisher. Wikipedia is accepted as a valid source of information. There
are something like 1,500 blog posts a minute. There are 700,000 search
queries on Google every minute. There are also 700,000 Facebook updates
What is going on is that we are churning all this data and
providing very little in the way of useful information. People no longer
need to think…they just re-tweet or repeat what someone else has
already dumped onto the Internet.
I recently had a conversation with a teen-age relative. I asked her
why she re-tweeted a particular item the previous week. She said that
she didn’t even remember doing it nor did she remember the
sentiment expressed in the original tweet. The idea of consuming and
evaluating information is gone. If you can’t say something in 140
characters you might as well not say it. No one is listening anyway.
I remember reading Walden for the first time. Thoreau made the
observation that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet
desperation.” That thought had a profound impact on my thinking at
the time, but it was profound in the context of the extended essay he
wrote while living alone in the woods, a mile from any neighbor.
Seeing those few words tweeted without context robs them of much of
their meaning. They appear like a million other worthless aphorisms in
the context of today’s social media. Interestingly, when I Googled
the quotation to make sure I got it right I was directed to a page that
not only listed the quotation inaccurately but also provided the
opportunity to “like it,” “tweet it” or “share
it” on Facebook. Unbelievable. A totally inaccurate rendition of
Thoreau’s words ready to share with the world. I had to go to a
copy of Walden itself to find what I was looking for.
Where is the Customer?
So how do we attract new customers in this rapidly changing world
of misinformation? Most every good or service that we offer has become
commoditized. There is nothing your organization can provide that
another organization can’t also provide. Using that certain
knowledge, Amazon has almost single-handedly destroyed
brick and mortar
retail. Offerings in the
and insurance industry are
not easily differentiated. Consider banking.
I haven’t been to a real bank in about three years. The reason
I went even then is amusing. I was caught in one of those very rural
towns whose sole source of income is trapping out-of-town drivers who
miss the posted 15 MPH sign and charging them exorbitant fines.
state of the SE United States. It is bordered by North Carolina (N), the Atlantic Ocean (SE), and Georgia (SW).
Facts and Figures
Area, 31,055 sq mi (80,432 sq km). Pop. (2000) 4,012,012, a 15.
and was on a bit of
two-lane blacktop that cut the corner on the intersection of two
interstate highways. I figured to save about 40 miles of travel. As soon
as I hit town I knew it would have a speed trap but even forewarned I
was tricked into exceeding the limit and was slapped with a $400 ticket.
The magistrate/mayor/chief of police was not available and I was ordered
to either return for a court date or send in a money order.
That sounded a little suspicious to me. Money orders are those
things you get at the 7-11 and are like bearer bonds. So I called and
spoke to the mayor, et al and had my fine reduced to a couple of
Franklins (still outrageous) and then enquired about the need to pay
with a money order. I finally got him to say he would accept a
cashier’s check. At least the check would actually be made out to
the town instead of bearer. And that was my last trip to the bank.
Excellent Customer Service
The reason I don’t need to actually go to a bank is because
they have such good customer service. I am able to perform all banking
duties I need online with maybe the occasional fax thrown in. My salary
is direct deposit; my bills are all scheduled for auto-pay. I rarely
write an actual check. I am able to deposit stray checks using my
Which brings up one other anomaly; my wife has a different last
name than I do. Even though our accounts are joint she always had
difficulty depositing checks made out to me or to both of us. The new
banking apps have totally removed that difficulty. We are now able to
deposit any checks we want without silly
Country: United States of America
I recently moved to nev.from abut have been going back to ca. every 2 to 3 weeks for med.
from a teller. Just
wondering: Why are tellers so suspicious of good, loyal customers?
So my point about banking is that it is the customer service that
makes me a loyal customer. I know that any of the big four banks are
going to be able to provide me with the services I need, but the reason
I stay with my preferred banks is because of the level of customer
I can say the same thing for most of my insurance needs. I have
been with the same large firm that provides all of my homeowner and
automobile needs as well as other financial services for years. I
suspect that I could probably save some money on premiums for this or
that but over time the service has been impeccable.
They have a marvelous online presence. I recently transferred funds
from an investment account there to an account at my personal bank. The
transaction was completed in minutes, the funds were available in 12
hours, and the entire experience was accomplished without having to
speak with a customer service representative.
Calling Customer Service
Since we are talking so much about customer service let me
intr.v. di·gressed, di·gress·ing, di·gress·es
To turn aside, especially from the main subject in writing or speaking; stray. See Synonyms at swerve.
Consumers hate to call customer service. To begin with the chances are
that they are only calling because they have a problem, which sets the
stage for a bad experience. Interactive voice recognition menu’s
(where you have to listen to 15 possible choices before making a choice
which then leads you into another endless set of menu choices) are time
consuming and extremely frustrating.
Voice recognition is not good. I can’t tell you how many times
I have been speeding down the highway heading to the airport in my
rental car screaming into the cell phone “speak to an agent.”
Natural language methods are an improvement. Instead of listening
to the menu you are asked to start speaking. Hopefully you will utter
the correct combination of key words that will get you to the menu you
Even better is customer service chat. You communicate with the
customer service agent using chat–just like you were on Sametime or
or Skype. There are many benefits to using chat. It doesn’t require
100 percent of your attention. You can do other things while texting
It is more efficient from the call center perspective. One agent
can carry on multiple chats but only a single voice call. It removes all
ambiguity from spoken language. It also provides a record of the
interaction for both the caller and the call center. Typically only the
call center has a recording of a customer interaction. The more chat you
are able to use in your call centers the more time your very best
CSR’s are available for customer conversations. The only downside
for me is that I can’t do it while driving (at least I’m not
Never let go
Getting customers in the door is the hardest thing we can do.
Consumers are fickle and capricious. They don’t always make
rational decisions. If using a lizard or a cute girl in your advertising
brings customers your way you must be doing something right.
But the proof is in retaining that customer. Customer service after
the sale is the real measure of success. And that is what keeps great
businesses successful. A few extra tweets about your excellent customer
service may bring you a lot more success than a few extra lizard ads. I
would rather work for an organization recognized for excellence than