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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Follow-up: 2% additional effort, 100% customer impact

I’ve had a good run to start 2010. Or rather, the businesses I regularly interact with have, following up on recent transactions or past relationships, generally making me feel like a valued customer.

Of course, the company providing solid follow-up is usually the one that also provides the best service experience, hence (usually) the one I choose for an enduring relationship anyway, but the attention has been nice. Maybe 2010 will be the year business recognizes service as the critical differentiator after all.

Follow-up, inconsequential as it might seem as a service behavior, is one people pay for.

It improves assurance feelings by closing the loop on open interactions or by giving customers a feeling that a business is ‘thinking’ about them when not actively engaged in taking their money. It demonstrates empathy in recognizing how a customer would like to be treated and fulfilling that promise. Over time, it improves the perceptions of reliability, setting lasting expectations for a customer on how interactions are going to be handled. (This can be a burden also - if Nordstrom were to stop their regular and post-transaction follow-up, I'd definitely notice and see it as a dissatisfier.)

We all know of individuals in organizations who provide outstanding follow-up, and most of us can name a few organizations that have been able to institutionalize it in a “follow-up culture”. As much as follow-up works on an individual level, it is much more powerful institutionalized as a brand statement or part of the organizational culture.

So why do so few companies engage in systematic, organization-wide follow-up?

Follow up doesn’t have to be expensive. Sure, at the top end, it can be a completely CRM-enabled function, with all the capabilities to never miss an interaction opportunity. Still I’ve seen plenty of companies with expensive CRM packages fail on executing responses to unresolved service issues.

Truthfully, it can be as simple as the time to write an email or make a phone call, the card stock for a handwritten note and a business card, a 140 character tweet.

The investment comes in the form of a culture that fosters proper follow-up. The service orientation, the proper organizational / managerial support, tools, and time. It takes a willingness to step away from “measured behavior” - time spent on concrete operational tasks - and allocate it to fuzzier relationship-building.

Like most service, the tools can be relatively simple. It is the cultural orientation that is the barrier between average commodity interactions and those that are reinforced by positive follow-up.

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