I just finished reading “Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt” by Edward Renehan. Vanderbilt’s steamship business offered speed and economy, but not what you could consider courteous service. In fact, one group of east bound passengers purchased space in the New York Times to vent their anger. The open letter leaves no question that their “customer experience” was awful by any standard.
Vanderbilt took advantage of the new steamboat technology while gaining a reputation for being fiercely competitive and ruthless. In fact, he is often referred to as “the first of the robber barons.” When he died in 1877 his net worth in today’s dollars would be somewhere around $150 billion. To put that in perspective, Bill Gates, who is ranked #1 by Forbes, is currently worth $80.3 billion. His business continued to grow; so was the “Commodore” getting a free pass when it came to the customer experience? Perhaps, business conditions and laws were different during his time. When gold was discovered in California many of the tens of thousands who rushed to San Francisco had to travel by his steamships. However; in this particular situation the passengers did unite to voice their complaints in a very public forum. In today’s world of social media can any business leader expect to get a free pass in regards to the customer experience? All it takes is one customer with a cell phone and the video can go viral immediately. And what about customer dissatisfaction that goes unreported? You’ve seen the research before, the number of customers who don’t complain, but still tell their friends and family about the bad experience.
How do you want your customer experience to be remembered? I think it’s an interesting question because if forces you to examine your customer relationship mindset. Is it time to take off your blinders, and start looking at your business from the only perspective that matters, your customers? Here are four quick ways to help you see your business through customers’ eyes:
1. Provide channels for feedback. No business is perfect. There will always be room to improve. Make sure you provide several communication channels for your customers to provide feedback.
2. Ask a question. No, not “Was everything all right?” Most people answer that question with a “yes,” even if there was something that could have made the experience better. Instead ask, “What’s one thing we could have done to make your visit more enjoyable?”
3. Talk to your frontline employee’s. Ask for their insights. They hear from disgruntled customers and are probably closer to the action than you are.
4. Care about complaints. After reading about Vanderbilt I can say that he is not one of those historical figures I would go out of my way to spend time with even if someone could magically make that happen. In short, I don’t think he cared much about the customer experience. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. But his focus on winning at the transactional level doesn’t lead me to believe he saw the long-term value of relationships.