Going the Extra Mile for Customers – Even when it Bends Processes

I was talking to Paul Greenberg last week (and by the way, I’ll be moderating a webinar with him on June 7 on the topic of “Social Media: Hope or Hype?“), and it’s always amazing how radically different our conversations are that, say, conversations with CRM vendors. We all live in our unique areas, and we develop our own languages and blind spots; software companies love to talk about software, features and version upgrades, while CRM users like to talk about their business problems, their desires and their goals. For both sides, it’s always “me, me, me,” although I think the CRM users’ orientation around their problems is more justifiable.

But back to what Paul and I were talking about. If you follow CRM, you know that the three legs supporting the concept are people, processes and technology – and in that order, as I’m fond of asserting. The goal of CRM is to win new customers and to keep the customers you’ve won by building relationships, and using processes and technology help you scale those efforts up.

But as Paul and I were discussing who’s winning at this, and who’s losing, something started to jump out at me. The processes that keep customers satisfied can be defined, built, instituted, managed and mandated. They’re really useful when that’s all done properly. But to deliver a standout experience – the kind that transforms a customer into an advocate for your company – you need to empower your employees to bust out of those processes once in a while.

When customers see that a business – B2B or B2C – is willing to go beyond the normal processes to help meet their specific needs, it’s powerful. Exceeding expectations – particularly when expectations are already high – is the way to turn a customer into an ambassador for your company. But the environment for this does not happen by accident.

There are two aspects to it. One, you need to create a culture that allows employees to “jump the turnstiles” in order to do something outstanding for customers when the circumstances are right. You can’t tether them too tightly to process; they should understand that your processes are the best ways in most cases to deliver the best experience to the customer. But, in some cases, there will be a chance to go beyond what the process allows – and going beyond shouldn’t be frowned upon if your employees do it in the right way.

That brings up the second aspect: the employees. Hiring the right kinds – the ones who understand that process provides structure but who know when process can restrict their ability to truly build relationships – is critical. They need to have a good feel for why the process is there in the first place and when it’s acceptable and appropriate to go around the process. Part of this will come from training, but a lot of it will stem from the personality and the intuition of your employees – especially in service and, in a B2C environment, in sales.

In addition to happier customers, the other nice by-product of this is that it can enable you to spot areas in your processes that can be upgraded to improve every customer’s experience. If an above-and-beyond moment had no negative impact on the bottom line, didn’t represent a drain on employees’ time, and was potentially repeatable, why not build it in to your regular processes?

You’ll never make every customer an advocate for your company, but if you make sure that every employee is an advocate for the customer – even if that means they  have to bend a process here and there – you’ll build a stable of champions for your business.


5 thoughts on “Going the Extra Mile for Customers – Even when it Bends Processes

  1. Pingback: CRM Outsiders » Blog Archive » Going the Extra Mile for Customers … » Veille CRM

  2. Chris – This is a great post. Selecting employees who can be advocates of the customer and then building a culture that encourages the type of “process bending” you advocate is essential. But I think there are three other factors that are critical to building the culture of service you advocate. First, managers should teach employees how the company makes money. Most process exists to guarantee that services are delivered consistently and cost effectively. If smart employees understand what drives costs and thus the financial success of the business, they can more easily decide when to “jump the turnstiles” with confidence that they aren’t bankrupting their employer. Second, I think its important to publicly acknowledge employees who take risks in support of a customer. While employees are often internally motivated by making the customer happy, they are almost always doing so in the context of a team environment within their own company. Acknowledging their risk-taking behavior within the team creates the support mechanisms that are essential to developing knowledgeable and confident employees that can act decisively and independently to solve customer problems. Finally, if an employee uses her best judgement and takes a reasonable risk on behalf of a customer and that action turns out to be the wrong decision, the employee must not be blamed. As long as the employee has not acted dishonestly or negligently then it is the role of management to take responsibility and blame for any outcome. (And if the employee did act dishonestly or negligently then he should be fired.) Employees will only step-up if they know their managers have their backs. After all, its the managers that created the rules and established the processes. If bending a process results in a bad outcome, it is ultimately management’s fault, not the employee’s.
    Keep up the good posts!

    • Thanks for the additional wisdom, Bill! I think what we’re both looking at is a phenomenon in which, if you wish to establish better, peer-to-peer relationships with customers, you also have to establish better, peer-to-peer relationships with employees. In a lot of ways, the discipline of CRM doesn’t just mean building a 360-degree view of customers – it also means changing the way the organization relates to people in general.

  3. Pingback: Going the Extra Mile for the Customer…Then Turning Back | Epicom

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