Changing the Game, NOW!

Thumbnail option 3 Chess

As a lifelong lover of board games, a statement in a recent report by Forrester® research really grabbed my attention. It said: “Companies have gone from a whack-a-mole approach to playing a very different game in order to advance their customer service.” I was intrigued. What is this new game and how do you play it?  

But here’s the thing—they never said—so I am left to ponder it with you. 

In the article, marketing efforts were compared to a whack-a-mole game because a majority of CMOs focus on fixing fundamental problems as they pop up, often in their back-end systems and processes. However, times they are a changin’, and so must the game. Replacing a reactive response with a proactive approach will lead to a long-term win. Think chess.  

Bobby Fischer, the most accomplished of chess grandmasters, had the ability to see five or six moves in front of his opponents. With that view, he could strategize his choices and, at the same time, respond when a move was made that he didn’t anticipate. Remember: responding is different than reacting. When you react, you create a disjointed customer experience. Forrester said, “Disjointed experiences cost millions and lose customers—they are the antithesis of customer obsession.” To me, that is the best rationale for learning to play this new game today to attract and retain new customers. 

Your objective should be to put the customer at the center of everything you do. It should have been the priority all along, but we’ve not always experienced that. For example, a customer-centered approach would include things like flexibility in changing travel reservations without penalty or getting a refund on theater tickets with enough advanced notice. Instead, the policies of the past are focused on keeping hold of all committed dollars, no matter what. 

Let’s take a look at three moves that are smart strategy in a post-pandemic marketplace. 

Checkmate Your Rewards programs 

It is predicted that spending on retention marketing will increase by 30% in 2021. To meet this demand, it makes sense to adjust from frequency-based rewards to a highly developed loyalty program. By creating a reward program that is so desirable it “leaves your buyer with no choice” but to get involved, you’ve checkmated them. A great example of this is my regional grocery store. They offer a free perks card for their Fuel Saver® program. With that card, I can take advantage of discounts on certain items and get points in the form of cents, which accumulate over a rolling 30-day period. This leads to big savings on the gas I purchase at the same chain. It’s not uncommon for us to fill up the tank for free! 

Recently, they added plan for those 55-plus that offers a 5% discount off our entire order if we shop on Mondays. Combine these two offers with product coupons and we have no choice but to be loyal to that store. How could they take this one step further and keep me even happier? Add more cashiers during peak hours. Oddly enough, the senior discount cannot be applied in the self-checkout lanes, so having only one cashier on Monday is not acceptable. 

What does a refreshed rewards program look like in your organization?  

Find a Grandmaster Move 

The highest title a chess player can attain is that of Grandmaster, a level that only about 3% of all registered players hold. Although I don’t know what it takes to become a grandmaster, we can assume it is detailed, difficult, and comes by setting oneself apart from the competition. We all need to think about that in our businesses. I’m always on the lookout for professionals who do something that is different than others in their field, and last month I encountered a new one. Professional photographer John DeMato was brought to my attention by a colleague who could not stop talking about this amazing person. I’ve met a lot of photographers over my career and, while happy with the final product each time, the process of doing business with each was very similar and predictable. However, last month I found myself onstage at a once-in-a-lifetime special event, and I didn’t think to line up a photographer in advance. John was in attendance and took all kinds of photos of those onstage, but I had not formally engaged with him yet nor did I ask him to photograph me.

A few days after the event, I received an email from him that included 30 amazing pictures (that’s right three-oh) from that night. Not only was there no watermark (an industry standard) but he encouraged me to use as many of them as I could with his compliments. He did not ask me to become a client. He did not send me a sales lead letter. He did not take any action at all except to pick up the phone when I called to thank him. Will I hire him for my next photoshoot? Without a doubt. He has positioned himself as the Grandmaster by having an amazing product, extensive recommendations from colleagues I trust, a unique approach to his craft, and a giving spirit that I have not encountered before. Well played.  

Can you develop a creative move that sets you apart from your competition? 

Avoid the Zugzwang at All Costs 

A zugzwang is a German word that, in chess, means “it is your move and all options are bad.” Literally translated, the word means “compulsion to move.” In a business situation, it means that all the policies and procedures you put in place have left your customer with no great options. 

Case in point, my 20-year-old kid is a fan of anime (Japanese animation) and annually attends one of the largest industry conventions called Anime Central, hosted in Chicago. A group of friends purchased tickets for the 2020 show, which of course had to cancel due to the pandemic. Several months later, an email was sent out to all ticket holders announcing they were also skipping 2021 and now ticket holders had only two options, use the ticket for the 2022 show or buy merchandise. Neither of these options are good if one can’t go on the new dates. Basically, it’s a “use it or lose it” situation.  

Short of a full refund, what could be done to make this feel better for the buyer? What about a show credit to use in any future year, not just 2022? How about a limited-edition item made exclusively for this reason and only available to those with a bumped ticket? Or maybe it’s an item that’s low cost to the association and high value to the customer—and comes with a free pass to a future convention. The ideas are endless and not always expensive. 

What creative idea can you use to bump old rules that result in a happier loyal buyer? 

Every time I research and write an article about my passion of customer service, I return to the same conclusion: service is simple if we just stop and do the work. If we could put ourselves in the shoes of the buyer and really pause to think about how we can deliver the right experience consistently, the results would be amazing. In fact, it would be a game changer. 

An entrepreneur, keynote speaker and author, Laurie Guest, CSP is a “go-to-resource” for customer service excellence. For more than two decades, she has shared her practical point of view on customer service and staff development with audiences and companies across the country, blending real-life examples and proven action steps for improvement. Her latest book, The 10¢ Decision: How Small Change Pays of Big, presents her most sought-after and impactful strategies to find and retain the best staff and highest-quality customers while delivering exceptional guest experiences.

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