Saturday, September 19, 2009

Do You Really Know Your Customer?

Earlier this week I participated, as a speaker panelist, in a joint meeting of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) and the Greater Midwest Chapter of PCMA. (Professional Convention Management Association)  The program, entitled “Future Trends and Forecasting in Hospitality” took place at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison, WI.CallingCustomerService

Unlike most trips, I traveled by car on this one.  John Folks, the moderator of the session, was kind enough to invite me to carpool with him.  John is the CEO and owner of an Event Management and Marketing firm called “Minding Your Business.” John is also the current Chairman of the Professional Convention Management Association. (PCMA)  A savvy business person John has been a mentor to me over the years in my leadership development within PCMA.

During our drive John and I chatted about many things but the one topic that resonated with me most was customer service. John and I both believe the currently tough economy has created an opportunity for businesses to experiment with new ideas and create new “cutting edge” customer service “best practices.”

The events of the past 18 months have altered the complexion of business.  We now work in a highly competitive environment, facing challenges and pressures like none experienced in our entire careers.  With shrinking revenues, staff reductions and budget cuts, business people are expected to do more with less and find new solutions to sustain/grow their business.

On a high level, our problems as a business community are all pretty much the same, but drilling down into specific business sectors and demographics, the dynamics and contributing factors are varied.  So where does the solution lie…. what is the formula for success?  I believe, as John does, the answer is customized customer service experiences.  So what does that mean exactly?

Here are my thoughts —

  • #1 — Understand your customer’s unique set of needs
    • How do they prefer to communicate — Telephone, text messaging, email or social media
    • What are their challenges — what’s keeping them awake at night?
    • What are their strengths & weaknesses? — acknowledge their strengths and offer assistance in the areas they lack knowledge, experience or skill.
    • What are their bandwidth issues — where are they short of resources?
    • What are their personal interests? — this intelligence will offer great insight into their personality and also assist you in finding areas of common interest.
  • #2 — Invest the time and energy to understand their organization
    • Do the research — understand their business … their products, services and customers
    • Meet their peers and leadership — Learn the culture
  • #3 — Develop a service strategy that aligns with these components
    • Ask for their input — What are they looking for?  Engage them as part of the service solution.
    • Offer innovative focused solutions — Tailor your recommendations to their perceived needs.
    • Exceed their expectations — Deliver exceptional value, more than they asked for.
    • Add the extra touches — Little things make a large difference
  • #4 — Communicate with them frequently, openly and sincerely.
    • Consistency is quality
    • Transparency breeds trust
    • Sincerity leads to loyalty

Historically, technology and innovation have been crucial components to recovery from past recessions.  This time will be no different.  With the emergence of social media in the business world, organizations now have more options at their fingertips, than ever before, to bond with their customers.  Web 2.0 applications such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or blogs are examples of new communication channels to help build and sustain relationships.

Customers want a voice, they want to contribute to the development of the products and services they will consume.  We must build collaborative partnerships with them.  Think “outside the box,” try new ideas, without fear of failure, and take on calculated risk.  Its ok to fail, as failure brings learning, and learning brings success!

Deep meaningful relationships are the glue that holds business together.  More than ever we must work diligently to protect and grow them!

Question:  Do you have a customer service success story you’d like to share.  I am sure there are a few people out there, myself included that could learn from it.  I look forward to your comments.   Let the discussions begin!

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenise Fryatt September 19, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Thank you so much for this insightful post. Like many, I believe these trying times offer great opportunities. Your post does a good job of articulating some great ways to rise above the crowd. It is very apparent that to create lasting and beneficial relationships with clients, we all have to do much more than just making sure they know what we have to offer. A genuine desire to help and get to know are clients are a must.


Michael M McCurry CMP September 19, 2009 at 11:14 pm

@Jenise Fryatt,

you hit the nail on the head… so true… we must get to know our customers… deeply.

thanks for your comments and look forward to seeing how others weigh in on this subject!



(Anne) Carey September 19, 2009 at 7:20 pm

It is time for the tide to turn. Early in my career, when I was at American Marketing Association, customer service was the big thing. Then the world became a confusion of telephone menus, unintelligible accents and people who aren’t empowered to solve your problem. Companies that see this time as an opportunity to customize customer service as you describe will be the cream that rises to the top.

Great discussion, Mike!



Michael M McCurry CMP September 19, 2009 at 11:16 pm

@(Anne) Carey,

You are so right Carey… looking at each customer individually is the key to taking relationships to the next level..

Thanks for calling that out and I look forward to seeing the cream rise to the top!



Brian Slawin September 20, 2009 at 2:32 pm

The role of a true professional is not to ‘cower’ under the demands of a client.

Instead, it’s our goal to recognize that the client has a goal to accomplish and that if you’re lucky, they’ve asked you to help them.

At a company previous to BusyEvent, we recognized that while the customer may not always be right, the goal is to make sure they stay being a customer. That helped me then and it helps me today.


Michael M McCurry CMP September 21, 2009 at 12:22 pm

@Brian Slawin,

Great point Brian… while we may not always be in total agreement with our customers on issues that arise, we need to respect their perspective and find a way to respond productively, exercising compassion.

Thanks for adding to the discussion.



Eli Gorin September 21, 2009 at 9:03 am

Michael, you are spot on with this. To some of us, this just seems like common sense, but unfortunately it’s not the norm. As I like to say, common sense, while not common, makes sense.

To think that the same service works for all customers just doesn’t work. I call my company a boutique firm because to me, that signifies a focused and customized service for the client. Think about when you go to a boutique shop or even boutique hotel. It’s not cookie cutter and its tailored to the client’s needs.

We should all be thinking about our clients as individuals and not as companies. We work hands on with people to make their meetings and events happen. I have worked with many different clients who have very different demands, and not just from the corporate requirement standpoint. Each of the people I work with in those companies has a personality and business ethic of their own which is what we need to cater to. When you are dealing in service, one size does not fit all.



Michael M McCurry CMP September 21, 2009 at 12:24 pm

@Eli Gorin,

YES, you are absolutely right. Our clients don’t just represent companies, they are human beings with needs and styles of doing things. We need to embrace those subtle characteristics that distinguish them from others and adapt our approach to communicating with them!

One size definitely does not fit all!!

Thanks for contributing to the discussion.



Dave Lutz September 21, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Mike, another great conversation started! Boy I could write a novel on this topic, but I’ll try to stay brief.

Since the economy started tanking last year, my advice to many is to put most of your focus on retention not on attraction. When times are tough, what was once a loyal client, can be gone in a heart beat. You need a loyal/consistent customer base to help refer new business to you. Loyalty becomes a reputation for successful companies, but loyalty is often more based on the person(s) handling an account more than the company under contract.

I read a great column from one of my favorite author/speaker Jeffrey Gitomer today on customer service – In this article, he recommends offering to work in your client’s office for a day. What an easy, game-changing idea!

In our industry, many people will think of exceptional customer service examples where a planner is putting out fires…reacting to every crisis. While there is much to be said about visible problem solving skills, there is more to be said about planning so well you don’t need to put out fires in the first place.


Michael M McCurry CMP September 21, 2009 at 5:28 pm

@Dave Lutz,

All I can say is Wow! Thanks, as usual for treating us to your insights and acquired knowledge. That article from Jeffrey Gitomer was excellent! So good, in fact, I just tweeted it!

I think your comments underscored that we as business people need to think outside our normal zone of reference. During times where we aren’t as busy as we usually are, what a great time to try something new and different to wow our customers. I like that!!

Thanks Dave for adding a great component to the conversation!



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