I’ve been using Amazon for 17 years. Not quite from the start, but pretty early on. In those years I’ve seen the range of products, as well as the services the company provides, grow immensely. Very little has gone wrong in our relationship over all these years. However, when a product arrived broken a few months ago, I contacted customer services for a refund.

The way Amazon dealt with me made me realise that as a customer I’ve become used to abusive relationships with companies who just want to sell me things but don’t want to take any responsibility in the relationship. Many companies still focus all their effort on selling, rather than on enabling customers to buy and enjoy products.

In contrast, the Amazon rep sympathised and apologised for my problem. Let me sort this out for you, he said. I offered to send a photo of the broken product as proof. And this is when the rep uttered those four little words. Words that were transformational.

“We believe our customers.”

Think about it. The vast majority of customers are honest and yet are treated like potential con artists trying to get one over on the brand. They are seen as a risk, not an asset.

Yet data Amazon holds on me going back 17 years shows them that I have only ever complained about 2 things. I don’t behave like someone who is not being honest.

Rather than focus on me as a cost in that moment, Amazon focused on the entirity of our relationship. I wanted to return less than £20 of items against a background of having spent thousands on their site over the years. Being told I was trusted not only deepened our relationship, it made me more likely to be honest with them in future because trust goes both ways. The relationship was strengthened, not weakened, by a problem that was resolved.

Contrast that to the way telecoms service providers treat customers. They are often suspicious, require proof and will try their best to shift responsibility. The excuse for this bad behaviour is “process”. But at the bottom of any process is a person who decided that this is how it should be.

They too have oodles of data on their customers. The difference is they don’t use it constructively to understand value and behaviour. They show no trust or loyalty and therefore aren’t trusted and don’t engender loyalty.

As a result, telecoms firms are often in the bottom tier for NPS. Customer Gauge, for example, found that the average score in retail is 56, while the average in telecoms is 27. In B2B telecoms it’s far lower than in B2C, with many firms having negative or single-digit scores.

Service providers don’t try and build loyalty. Instead they lock customers into contracts as a poor proxy, with their efforts to retain customers focused on the dying months of the contract. This has driven huge churn rates in prepaid bases, and poor retention of contract customers. Rather than fix this, they spend huge sums trying to recruit new customers to replace the ones they’re losing. This is crazy economics.

Small gestures and better communication earlier on in the relationship can foster trust and loyalty and ultimately costs far less. But still the industry is driven by churn management and mistrust of customers, rather than by loyalty to existing customers and investment in existing relationships.

A good example is the way that the best deals are always focused on new customers, or on those that negotiate the hardest and use threats to leave. This behaviour is the opposite of what customers expect, since customers themselves expect that loyalty is rewarded not penalised. By incentivising disloyalty, service providers create a tension-sprung and exploitative relationship. Rewarding loyalty restores the natural order and costs far less in the long run.

B2B service providers therefore need to consider how their behaviour drives up or decreases loyalty, and put their effort into rewarding the behaviour that most benefits their business – ie customers who stay with them and buy more products from them. They need to practise customer mindfulness and understand that customer experience is created in the moment, continually changes and is contextual. NPS, in contrast, only provides a snap shot. A still image, not a movie of the relationship. Too much reliance on NPS causes service providers to lose sight of huge amounts of vital customer context and insight.

By working every day to stay relevant and in step with their customers’ changing needs, the relationship grows and prospers. Which is why B2B service providers should remind themselves that without communication there is no relationship. Without respect there is no love. And without trust there is no reason to continue.

Posted by Teresa Cottam

Teresa helps B2B service providers improve their commercial results and the customer experience they deliver through research, insight and analysis that builds effective strategy. She is a judge of the GSMA GloMo's for customer experience and enterprise innovation, and for the UK Cloud awards. You can follow her on Twitter @teresacottam

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