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Remove The Road Blocks, Make Life Easy

By Ifeoma Tete Mbuk
It is true customers want your product, but they don’t want to spend ten minutes ordering it, six days waiting for it to arrive, two hours assembling it, or 45 minutes on hold with customer support figuring out why it isn’t working properly. These moments are all objectionable.

Or perhaps the price of your product includes the cost of providing numerous features in which they have no interest. They are meaningless to your customers. Go through the portions of your business that you or your team control and eliminate as much as possible that is objectionable or meaningless to your customers. Doing so will have a more positive impact on customer loyalty than any other initiative I can name.

Vic Mills, a Procter & Gamble employee, accomplished this when he looked for a better way to diaper his grandson and came up with the disposable diaper that people today know as Pampers. By minimizing time spent on what can be an unpleasant task, he freed parents to enjoy more priceless experiences with their babies.

So did Seymour Rubenstein and Rob Barnaby, who developed WordStar, the first commercially available word processor. They launched an idea that has saved billions of hours for people around the world, or that has made it possible for others to soar to new heights. Arthur C. Clarke, the best-selling science fiction author, is reported to have said upon meeting the two that “I am happy to greet the geniuses who made me a born-again writer, having announced my retirement in 1978, I now have six books in the works… all through WordStar.”

You don’t have to invent a brilliant new product to succeed in the way I suggest. You can create value for customers – and in the process earn their loyalty – by stripping away the obstacles that surround your products and services: the unwanted junk mail, the unnecessary – and wasteful – repetition, the unwelcoming attitude of overstressed employees, and the senseless bureaucracy that attemtps to take root in nearly every human organization.
Never stop looking for ways to create more value for your customers by giving them less of the things they dislike.

Anticipate More
My conversation with customer service was now stretching past 30 minutes, and I pointed out to the woman on the other end of the phone that if I did as she asked and waited “five to seven days” for her message to reach the other end of the bank, then I would be charged a late fee.

“No problem, she said, “Just call us back when that happens.”
My life didn’t exactly pass before my eyes, but I did see ten more minutes on hold waiting to talk with an operator. Another ten minutes of explaining. Five minutes at a stretch as she put me on hold, figured out what to do, and called her husband to see what he wanted for dinner.

I objected. “Why should I have to call you again to tell you things you already know?” It didn’t work. She couldn’t understand the point. Later that day I drove to the branch of a smaller, friendlier bank and opened an account.
But this is wonderful news if you need to get a leg up on your competition.

Most firms don’t even make an effort to anticipate what the customer will do – or need – next. If you do so, you can become dramatically more responsive in the customer’s eyes.

For example…
If you know something is going to happen a day, week or month from now, accept responsibility to call the customer back rather than making them reach out to you. Interacting with a customer is the best way to get more business from them, if you view things from this perspective.

Look for patterns on your Web site, in phone calls to customer service, in orders you get from customers, and even in returned products.

By doing so, you can get a pretty good idea of what is going to happen next, so you can anticipate what a customer is going to need when it does. Better yet, prevent annoying incidents from happening at all.

Whether you have 500 customers or 5 million, you have a lot more information than any single customer. Use this information to his or her advantage and smooth the path ahead. If you know that 50% of customers who order an item come back weeks later and order a specific additional product, save such customers time and tell them about this pattern.

Some Web sites have learned the order in which visitors click on links, and these sites start downloading new content to your computer before you click on the link. To save you time, these sites are guessing what you will click on next. You can use similar thinking across your business to anticipate the customer’s next need.

Easy For Customers
To make life easier for customers, you first have to make it easier for your employees.
One small, but rapidly growing, advertising agency I know noticed recently that their clients often called at 4:30 pm with emergencies, such as needing to reprint a brochure overnight. Employees were often unable to comply with these requests, because personal and family commitments required they leave work by 6 or 6:30.
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