The folks who handle your company’s “complaints” about its branded products are a wealth of information. Even though many companies think of customer service as “complaint resolution,” we always thought of it as customer intelligence, or “customer intel.”
But if you have the top-down paradigm, then it’s understandable how you can miss out on this brand-saving information. For instance, if you believe that first you design your product, then your marketing people come up with a plan to sell it, then your salespeople execute the sales plan, then your customer service people resolve any complains, that’s top down. And you wouldn’t want any objections or challenges to your product percolating back up.
In fact, many companies judge the effectiveness of their customer service departments by how few complaints come back up the ladder.
In an effort to “resolve” complaints at the customer service level, these companies are shutting off the vital communications that should come back up the ladder because they can improve your product, marketing, packaging, and even your morale. When your people know that your brand is current, relevant, and responsive, they are more likely to stay with you. They are proud to be part of a company that values customers’ comments, and quickly responds to keep their customers happy. This is the way to stay ahead of the competition.
You can capitalize on the wealth of current information your customer service people know by taking these 5 steps:
- Change the Department’s Name. Call it “Customer Intel” to describe its true function and realize that outside of your salespeople, nobody in your company knows more about your customers’ experience with your branded product than they do. Don’t keep it a secret either. Make sure your entire staff knows this and respects their unique relationship with your customer.
- Change the Plumbing. Install a permanent and official “pipeline” between the “Customer Intel” folks and your Marketing, R&D, and Production people. Make it company policy that customer feedback collected by Customer Intel takes top priority. In fact, run any new initiatives by them (and your Sales team) first, for their input. This will save your company from expensive flops in the marketplace.
- Change the Conversation. Encourage your Customer Intel people to collect information about the customers’ experience that may have nothing to do with their complaint or comment, but everything to do with improving their experience. For instance: Where did you buy our product? Do you go there often? Was it in stock? Was it priced right? How often do you purchase it? Has it lived up to your expectations? Did you feel you received a good value for your money? And so on.
- Change the Direction. Instead of top-down, chose bottom-up. In other words, truly put the customer on top. Entrepreneurs starting off in a garage know that the customer is on top. They know that if they don’t make a sale, they will be out of business. So, it’s not really how you gain the entrepreneurial spirit as it is how you lose it. And you lose it when you force products down to the customer.
- Change the Schedule. A brainstorming workshop should be scheduled quarterly between the R&D, Production, and Marketing folks on the one hand, and the Sales and Customer Intel folks on the other. Create a regular forum where customer suggestions, complaints, and comments can be discussed and ways to improve your products and marketing can be discovered, and employed.
Make some changes today. Don’t let your customers say, “It used to be my brand!”
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders