Providing a great customer experience is not a well-kept secret that only companies like Amazon can access. In fact, the best customer service I get today is at my local hardware store.
Let me describe my experience here. Every weekend I find in my email inbox, an updated online catalogue of new products, mailed to me by my hardware store. When I drop by at the store, the single clerk at the register is non-intrusive but attentive to answer any questions. Aisles are labeled correctly and goods organized according to categories with little scope for confusion – customers can pick up what they need, independent of a sales person.
Features of every product are described on charts along with the pricing. A Wi-Fi enabled computer kiosk in the store helps shoppers who want to look up reviews of any product online. And that’s not all, if I have to wait in the billing queue for more than 5 minutes, I am offered a discount on my next purchase – and complementary home delivery. And post my purchase, I can call the store for free help any time.
To me, the management of this store knows exactly what their customers want at every stage. Week after week, I leave the store with a smile on my face and the store has earned itself the loyalty of a customer who remembers it above competition.
Why has this small corner store gone through so much end-user value addition focused on keeping a customer happy? Because they know something that organizations across the world are beginning to understand: the value of retaining customers through good customer service. It’s no secret that the most common way of losing customers is through bad customer service. And if we’re talking numbers, the average value of every customer relationship abandoned or lost to competition is approximately a hefty $289. My hardware store has understood this and supports my shopping path right from the time I plan to buy, look around for product information and discounts, make a purchase, look at delivery options and seek after-sales support. Furthermore, their main focus lies on keeping a customer happy while empowering other players in the chain to contribute – in effect, it is creating a Value Constellation.
This is a far different from traditional routes where companies position themselves appropriately on the Value Chain, so that they provide the right experience to their customers and offer them value in the right ways. This model requires suppliers to provide the required goods and/or services to a company, which would then add its value to these goods and services before passing the offering on to consumers. Every level in the value chain played his role as best as he could; but there was little effort towards complementing and supporting other levels in the chain.
In a Value Constellation, the focus does not lie on the company or the industry(as it previously did) but on the value-creating system itself, within which different economic actors – suppliers, business partners, allies, customers – work together to co-produce value. What my small hardware store is doing, was creating an entire business environment that was empowering other players in the economic chain – the store, the delivery personnel and the customer to be a part of the process of creating value.
Value constellation works so well because it allows you to gather customer feedback at every stage of the lifecycle. Your representatives will not be called only when there is an issue late in the buying cycle or post purchase but rather, you could gather data based on experience at every stage, and provide your customers with more intuitive, “proactive”, game-changing and differentiated experiences.
Renowned furniture retailer Ikea is a great example of a company that functions successfully as a Value Constellation. Ikea itself is not just a retailer as much as it is the center of a value constellation of goods, services, management, design and support. With Ikea, a customer understands that their role is more to create value than simply consume it. What the company manages to do, (and successfully), is orchestrate the entire social, financial, managerial and technical engineering that ensures its smooth operation.
There are an increasing number of companies jumping onto this bandwagon. Amazon.com discovered that it could provide its customers with a larger range of services interconnected with their basic service which was e-commerce. It has progressively partnered with a number of companies such as Marks and Spencer, Toys ‘R’ Us and Target to offer integrated value to its customers. It now ranks as one of the top companies in the world for great customer service.
Your company could benefit from a similar approach. In our coming blog posts we will delve more into the concept of a Value Constellation, so you can see what you could do to keep your customers happy and your business profitable.