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Insights and news /

08 February 2018 3 min read

Avoid antagonising your customers; by talking to them and the people who deal with them.

Front-line teams – contact centre staff, retail assistants, sales agents, field engineers - are all at the pointy end of a customer’s relationship with a brand. Our work with this group is invariably about providing better customer outcomes more efficiently.

For exciting product launches, most organisations remember to test the thinking with customers.

When we find ourselves addressing commercial, operational or regulatory motivated change with potentially regressive impact on the proposition, there’s a tendency not to make eye contact with the customer. Pragmatism, necessity and ‘business as usual’ excuses help us rationalise this thinking.

Recent high profile incidents have prompted the questions “How do we avoid changes exploding in our face?” and “Could that happen here?”

Are you making any of these mistakes?

  • Hoping no one will notice. Twenty years ago you could get away with anything as long as That’s Life didn’t pick up the story. Social media feeds lets us shame brands on demand
  • Rewriting history. If you offered “Lifetime Updates” consider what the customer might expect. Disingenuous retrospective interpretations of your own promises that do the bare minimum to comply with legislation can’t be right
  • Ignoring the total cost. If it is not commercially sustainable then it must stop. There is a cost to stopping – time and effort. Try to get out too fast and you’ll find yourself reversing the decision and suffering the original costs plus the pain of the “undo”, as well as the consequential  reputational fallout
  • The majority will be better off. “The rate of unemployment is 100% if it's you who is unemployed”, David L Kurtz. Customers ask “what’s in it for me?” The benefit to others is rarely a good answer
  • Offering spurious trade-offs. Firm: “X now costs £100 more and also comes with a new App.” Customer: “Why would I pay £100 for an App?”

Brands seek to have a dialogue with customers. We often mean this in an abstract sense. Doing it literally might help.
Let’s call our proposition change DeltaP. Work down the following list. If you get to the bottom without thinking “we need to do this another way” then you might be OK:

  1. Imagine how you explain DeltaP to the most affected customers. Think about how you’d open the conversation and justify it. Now say it aloud. Still OK?
  2. Find a customer who is affected. Give them a call. “Hi I’m Someone from Brand X. We are thinking of doing DeltaP and would like your view.” Don’t fancy calling? There is your clue.
  3. Phone another five customers. This will give you a real sense of how DeltaP will fly. You should now have enough insight to vary it, or think about how you tell the story.

If your organisation doesn’t have a mechanism to let product people engage customers quickly then you have a problem. Front-line teams are a great proxy for customers. Ask them What will happen if we implement DeltaP on Monday? and you’ll probably learn everything you need.

Better still, make sure those teams have a direct and continuous role in the development of products, services and the experience around them. It will give you great insight and increase the chance of successful launches and surviving those more difficult changes.