How wide is your industry’s San Andreas Fault?

ImagesDespite the plethora of awards, self-congratulatory pats on the back and feel good phrases such as ‘attaining the fifth seat’, the fact remains the fact: the PR profession is woefully ignorant about the actual end-user experience. As Monday’s Daily Dog reports, new research from the Customer Contact Association warns, “…There’s a major fault line separating the board room, marketing suite and customer contact center.”

As a result, says the CCA, many brands are falling short of meeting the expectations of an increasingly demanding customer. No duh.

I’ve known this ever since reading Emily Yellin’s seminal book on the subject, ‘Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us.’ As a result, my firm has changed the way we think and begun offering a service called Audience Experience that helps corporations change the way they think and close their particular fault lines.

I’m saddened to report, though, that most marketers and chief communications officers with whom we’ve spoken, have turned a blind eye to the CCA’s warning (and our service offering). Why? They cite such excuses as:

– Budgetary restrictions (“We just haven’t budgeted for what you’re talking about, Steve.”)
– A reluctance on the part of the old white guys to change the way they market (“We totally get what you’re saying, but we’ll never get the corner office guys to buy into it.”)
– Or, my personal favorite, (“That’s just not part of my job description. Have you tried our sales folks?”)

Ask most CCOs how they stay in tune with the ever-increasing demands of consumers (and please read the customer-word in its broadest context: we’re talking about employees, CFOs of Fortune 500 corporations, busy moms, local community leaders, prospects, etc.) and they’ll respond in one of two traditional ways:
-    They wade through increasingly dense reams of data from market research companies, hoping against hope to gain some sort of insight.
-    They ‘listen’ to what’s being said about their brand on social channels and then take the negative conversations offline to fix the problem.

Both approaches are archaic and lazy.

The best ways to close the San Andreas fault lines that separates customer care from marketing communications and the C-Suite are two-fold:

-    Elevate the role of customer service within the organization and stop treating it like the ‘office ghetto’, as Ms. Yellin calls it
-    Roll up your sleeves, slip into a comfortable pair of shoes and experience your brand exactly the way your audiences do (i.e. walk into a retail store and see how the sales clerk sells your product as well as your competitors, try connecting to a living, breathing human being on your 1-800-customer service line, wade through your web site and see how long it takes to find the exact information you’re looking for, etc. Find each, and every, touch point and experience it yourself to uncover weaknesses.

The C-Suite and CCO’s need to meet the increasingly demanding customer where he or she wants to meet. That means abandoning traditional forms of advertising, PR and social media, investigating the 5Ws and asking the why question that drove your customer’s purchasing decision. It also calls for greater understanding of exactly where your product, service or organization fits in your customer’s decision-making tree. Most CCOs would be shocked to discover they are near, or at, the bottom of the list.

Finally, brands need to stop relying on their data to determine exactly who their ideal customer is. I remember one home security company was so sure their end user was a 32-year-old male who was an early technology adopter and was seen as arrogant by his BFFs, that they even gave him a name: Tommy. Another brand thinks it knows its time-starved, self-absorbed mother of three so well that they’ve come to calling her Debrah. Talk about inside-out, top-down MarketingThink! Ugh. Consumers would be appalled to learn how top brands have marginalized them (“I’m not Tommy. I’m Ed. And, I have nothing in common whatsoever with that 32-year-old jerk!’)

If Corporate America wants to avoid sustaining a 9.1 customer earthquake, it needs to start treating customer care with the respect it deserves. It’s time to elevate the job title and compensation structure of these hard-working individuals, break down the silos within Fortune 500 corporations and, most importantly, get CCO’s out of their ivory tower and begin walking in their customer’s shoes. The latter, however, would mean missing the upcoming industry award shows and conferences. Who would be there to accept the trophies on their behalf?

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