A bee will travel miles to pollenate an attractive flower, but it will only tell its hive about the experience if the nectar was wonderful. The same lesson applies to customer experience — and it’s one benefit advisers must keep in mind in this age of growing consumerism, said Martha Rogers, founding partner at management consulting firm Peppers & Rogers Group.

Addressing the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers’ annual Employee Benefits Leadership Forum in Colorado Springs, Rogers told advisers, “It used to only matter what we say to customers. Today, when customers talk to each other, all that really matters is their customer experience.”

In other words, customers are in control. For example, Rogers noted 80% of corporate executives say they give customers a superior experience, but a paltry 8% of customers say so. “What we think doesn’t matter,” she said.

If a company screws up today, “it’s instant, everywhere and permanent,” Rogers said, thanks to the Internet and social media in particular. The rise of social media is requiring businesses to build and permanently maintain the customer’s experience the way the customer wants it, “so they will say good things about it.”

While the old days were about “developing a product and winning market share,” Rogers said, today successful companies are focusing on one customer at a time in order to get a greater share of their business. “It’s now about managing customer experience,” she said. “The customer manages public perception, whether we like it or not.”

Friction elimination

To manage that experience properly, Rogers urged CIAB members to eliminate all friction in their services. “It’s what makes trouble,” she said, as it not only reduces loyalty, but also cross-selling ability and trust.

The friction elimination process starts with meeting the client’s needs. “The customer just wants their problem solved conveniently and quickly,” Rogers said.

A frictionless experience removes obstacles. For example, when an observer asked a shoe salesman why he was promoting one particular shoe to customers over others, his answer was simple: “The shoelaces are already in the shoes.”

To create a genuine customer experience, Rogers said, advisers must be “reliable, relevant, valuable and trustable.”

Rogers distinguished being trustable from being trustworthy. New technology mandates trustability, and “being trustworthy is not enough,” she said. “Brand trust is not enough.”

Relationships based on trustability move faster and recover from errors and even lost trust, Rogers said. Customers must “believe you’re going to understand their point of view and not just push something because ‘this is what we do for everybody,’” she said.

For example, cell phone companies that alert customers when they’re entering a roaming zone or tell them they’re due for a free phone upgrade are more likely to gain trustability. And customers will reward them for it. Rogers noted they will pay $11 more per month for service from a trusted cell company — and $25 per month to a health care company with the same mentality.

Companies that are able to claim trustability status genuinely have good will and wish their customers well. Those that won’t give a refund unless the customer asks for it, for example, are not being proactive and are therefore not trustable, Rogers said.

However, she added, empathy works both ways. When USAA sent refunds to car insurance policy holders who were deployed overseas, and therefore not using their cars, more than 2,500 of those members sent the refunds back. “Do the right thing — proactively,” she said. “That’s it.”

People like to work for such companies as well, Rogers said, and will reward their employers for it. “Strong cultures inspire workers to want to provide a better customer experience,” she said, adding that motivated workers will triumph over obstacles.

As well-known management consultant Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” Rogers noted.

“The way you do your business,” she told CIAB members, “will highly affect the way people live and die.”

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Employee Benefit Adviser content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access