The Last Mile…

Pankaj Kulkarni | August 16,2013 10:07 am IST

If you have ever worked in an organization that sells to other businesses (or B2B in business parlance), you would have noticed that there is a serious attention that the company places on every customer. B2B deals are generally large in size, fewer in number and thus the customer literally dons the role of a king.

A client that ‘walks away’ in a B2B setup usually leaves behind an impact that could affect the organization as a whole. This clearly demonstrates that there is merit in being customer centric in a B2B system.
 

Does the same hold true for a business that sells to end consumers or what we know as B2C? Of course, it does – our commonsense tells us. Customer is the king regardless of whether it is a business customer or an end consumer. However, try to recall and generalize your experiences when you called up various customer care centers – your internet service provider, or your mobile network operator or your bank. Chances are high that you won’t be delighted. How come such experiences can be common for most of us and across industries? Why do we have a pattern here?
 

Two things that contribute to this the most are people and processes. If you are hiring a salesperson for B2B selling, you will most probably be very selective in your hiring decision. Do bear in mind that for B2B, organizations typically assign account managers that handle a few select businesses. However, for B2C, talent does not come in abundant supply. You need a lot of people for your customer care centers, and you will keep needing a lot of people because of the attrition that you have to deal with. Customer care executives are also bound by processes. These processes are sometimes so stringent that they reduce the employee to a machine that follows given instructions and does nothing else.
 

Why then, do B2C companies continue to falter in this area? It is because the loss of a few frustrated customers among lakhs does not set the alarm ringing. It is simply not threatening enough. While the company may think it has not lost much, it is losing out on a big opportunity. Good customer service can earn referrals. They can contribute to creating an asset that can make a company stand out among is rivals – brand reputation.
 

The CEO and the top management devise strategies for an organization. However, most of this band of people is confined to the boardroom and does not have an ‘end-customer-facing-role’. So what is left for the customers to fight with are employees not equipped enough to satisfactorily handle customers, leave alone delighting them. The last mile in the organization’s structure that connects to customers, is the most vulnerable.
 

What then is the solution? The answer lies in strengthening the last mile. Customer-facing employees should be taken extra care of, lest they develop a just-another-job attitude. No-nonsense training programs, that make work fun and do away with the sleepy ‘lecture method’ of training will help in up-skilling employees. Variable pay tied to performance, paid on a monthly basis instead of an annual basis, will go a long way in extending loyalty and bring down attrition levels. True, this would dig a hole in the budget, but the returns from a reduction in attrition will justify the investment in the long run. Processes that currently prohibit employees from thinking on their own should be revisited and restructured. Employees should be empowered to solve customer issues. There are a lot of other things that be done to make the last mile the best one.
 

So, does it follow that ever company will implement measures to better the last mile? Probably not. In fact, many will not and that is why we as customers continue to be disappointed with after sales service. Why on earth would a company not do something that is beneficial? The answer lies in the jargon called ‘Marketing Myopia’. CMOs, marketing managers and others involved in the overall function of marketing have an immediate-benefit mindset. The long term goal of creating a strong customer centric employee base does not really fit into their scheme of things and yes, everyone is too busy with their own KRAs.

 

It is time high time for B2C organizations to look at this problem closely. Perhaps, a way out is to create a dedicated team that works towards this long term goal. The team should be headed by a ‘Chief Customer Officer’, a term and position not so widely known in today’s business world. Google it and compare it to the likes of CEO, CMO, CSO, CFO Etc. The number of results returned by Google for each of these terms (non abbreviated) may be an indication that currently, the ‘Chief Customer Officer’ commands the least importance.

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Pankal is a market research professional with around 5 years of experience. He work for a well known business services and analytics organization. Pankaj area of expertise is consumer insights through social media research. Pankaj hold an MBA from PESIT Bangalore, with a specialization in marketing. ...