Likely the biggest sin committed by companies is the violation of trust and therefore the relationship. Directly lying or deceiving a customer is unforgiveable and sometimes literally criminal. This should be obvious to anyone who reads this, but what about the perception that you are lying or covering up even when that was not the intention? In looking at customer experience cases this happens more often than you would think.
Let me relate a story that recently happened to me while shopping for a new car. Being tech savvy, and like over 50 % of all car buyers, I did my online research. When I found makes or models that I might want I went to the manufacture’s website. Most of these sites have an option to “build and price” your vehicle. You select the model, colors, options and accessories then submit the order for pricing, search inventory or get dealer quotes. By the time I go into a dealer for a particular car, I know what I want and I am armed with information, pricing data etc. I am a well informed consumer. By recent statistics from the automotive industry and national dealers association I am a part of the majority. Many dealerships do more business through the internet or internet leads than people who happen to visit their show rooms.
Knowing that a majority of your customers are well informed should change the way that you treat them and how your sales staff is trained, wouldn’t you think? As a customer experience junkie I observed that the opposite is true in the automotive industry. The online experience and in person experience is quite different. Why? My observations went beyond just my personal buying experience as I observed the phenomena at many car dealers and all tiers from low end / low cost to high end luxury segments. At the core was an information gap between the online marketing information from the manufacturers and the direct sales staff at the dealership. When there is conflicting information between the manufacturer’s website and the dealer sales person; which one will most people choose to believe?
Here is the scenario: You gather information from the “official” website about feature / function and options. Knowing what you want and armed with what you think are the truthful facts. (Of course, the web never has incorrect information, does it …. ) you then visit the dealer only to have the salesperson try and correct your misconception that what you saw online is ACTUALLY available. In other casess the salesperson’s information about feature and functions is fuzzy or lacking. The perception that you will have is that the live person in front of you is at best ignorant or in the worst case a liar. Neither of these cases may be true but the perception is a key driver in the customer experience.
In my observations there were several different scenarios. The worst example came from a highly respected dealership group that is known to use all of the right customer experience management techniques but the sales and service people did not know the products they were selling. Here are the different scenarios I observed across the car dealers spectrum:
1. The manufacture’s website and online materials were quite good but the people at the dealership level did not know their product. They were good at the sales processes and treatment of customers but seemed to assume the cars would sell themselves. The sales people were not well informed about the products and had no idea what the manufacture’s site said or did.
2. Inconsistent information between the online manufacturer’s data and what the dealers had been told / trained on by the manufacturers rep. Online you could configure certain options but the dealer was told that in fact those options would not be available for 6 -12 or might never be made available. They knew the product and had more realistic information than could found on the website but the data was conflicting across multiple sources.
3. Some dealers chose to ignore what was shown on the manufacturer’s website and only sell the cars, services or products that they had in hand vs. what the consumer really thinks that they want. The perception is that the dealer has internal incentives to sell you something different and is therefore no longer a trusted advisor.
4. The sales people not knowing or understanding the competitive products (via public internet sites). This includes services or dealers add on items like extended warranty or paint treatments that might be available cheaper in the aftermarket. There are hundreds of sources of data about new cars outside of sponsored sites. They need to be consistent and updated as information changes.
Simple steps can improve the customer experience in the scenarios above. First, empower and train your employees. They should be as well informed as their customers. This means taking them outside of their comfort zones and making sure that if they do not know something they know where to find out. As I have said many times, customer experience is a team sport. At the very least the front line employees (really everyone ) should know what the marketing thrust is and what is on your website, your competitor web sites and they should test the experience as if they were a customer. If there are inconsistencies between the channels of information get them corrected or at least be able to explain them. Take an outside – in view of the world. Understand what your customers are experiencing from their viewpoint and broaden your perspective. Know the competition and your value to the customers.
What does this have to do about lying to your customers? These scenarios do not just apply to the automotive business. In each of the cases stated above the greater the disparity and inconsistencies of the information provided to the consumer, the more that there was a distrust of the people and organizations involved. When confronted with conflicting information between the websites and the live interactions, consumers felt that there were other motives in place that were not in their best interest. In the case where the dealer that was not knowledgeable about their own products the consumers felt like they were being lied to because the dealers gave answers that were inconsistent with the manufacturer’s online information. There was no intention to lie and the information might not have been incorrect but the perception caused distrust in the relationship. This can happen in any business where the information provided to, or by, the frontline staff is inconsistent with other public information. In the automotive case the dealers are mere representatives of the manufacturer and the information across the channels was not consistent. Information sources go beyond your four walls and may include suppliers, sales channels or even social media.
Are the people in your company perceived as trusted advisers and partners or liars? How you treat, train and engage your employees will make all the difference in the customer experience. Bad customer perceptions are never designed that way. It happens whenever there are organizational disconnects. In the car examples, the dealership is the customer of the manufacturer. The end consumer is only a customer of the dealership. This type of channel relationship happens in many industries. If everyone is working at optimizing their own domain, the customer will see the inconsistencies from their vantage point. Again, customer experience is a team sport and organization alignment is important.
Here are the key lessons from this:
1. Assume that your customers are likely well informed and that you need to understand their potential sources of information. Ensure that your customer facing people are armed with the right tools and information sources so that they can be perceived as experts and trusted advisors.
2. Customers will believe what they believe, do not argue with them or dispute their sources of knowledge. Work with them to understand their needs then find away to solve those needs without regard to the data gaps. Where possible correct the informational disparities as they are discovered
3. Ensure that there is coordination across your organization and eco-system when putting out marketing or other customer information. Everyone should be aware of any information posted for customer consumption but most especially the channels, the channel partners and the key customer touch points.
4. Shop your own company. Mystery shopping is used routinely in consumer or B to C but the same techniques are needed in B to B transactions. You would be amazed at what you would find out when you act like a customer and experience the view from their perspectives.
There is nothing really magic here but it requires the right discipline to execute effectively. You would be surprised about the number of times that customers feel that you have broken the trust that you try so hard to maintain. This loss of trust has a big impact on your potential customer equity. Ask your customers if they have ever felt deceived or lied to by your company. You might be shocked to learn the results.
That is my opinion, what is yours?