The sometimes tricky path to customer intimacy

Sometimes all the good intent in the world still means that a customer does not come out of an interaction happy.


The question I pose is can we please all the people all the time?

I was saddened by an email I received directly from a customer this week accusing RedBalloon of not listening. I reviewed all his correspondence, we had clearly acknowledged each of his concerns and offered suggestions; hence I could see that the RedBalloon team member had listened.

The reality is that the customer just didn’t like our answers. And my suggestion that he could use his unwanted voucher to support a charity and its fundraising only brought more upset. Can we achieve customer intimacy and still completely uphold our terms and conditions?

We know of the Zappos story that, as a customer relationship exec, you can do anything to keep a customer happy. I wonder if this remains the same after the acquisition by Amazon – maybe someone can let me know.

So I turned to a book that I read recently, Small Giants by Bo Burlingham and to the chapter that he writes about customer intimacy. The author quotes a business that says: “I have an intense, nearly neurotic interest in seeing people have a good time.”

He then quotes Tom Peters from In Search of Excellence, “that great companies are usually founded by people with a not totally stupid obsession around which they build their business”.

Burlingham goes on to explore the construct of the customer transactions; but, ultimately, the customer’s “experience of connection” will greatly impact on his or her concept of service.

“For lack of a better term, we might refer to the process as building a sense of community – that is, a sense of common cause between the company, its employees, its customers and suppliers. That sense of community rests on three pillars. The first is integrity – the knowledge that the company is what it appears and claims to be. It does not project a false image to the world. The second pillar is professionalism – the company does what it says it’s going to do. It can be counted on to make good on its commitments. The third pillar is the direct, human connection, the effect of which is to create an emotional bond, based on mutual caring.

“Companies that succeed in developing such a sense of community with their customers and suppliers find themselves in possession of one of the most powerful business tools in the world.”

So if I review this particular customer’s email against these three pillars, I can hand on heart say that we fulfilled them all. The reality remains that I did not agree with his request. Does that mean that customer intimacy will forever be illusive? Or does it mean that this one just got away?

But if I have an almost obsessive focus on listening to customers and then responding (because that is what made RedBalloon what it is), how can I possibly achieve this for everyone?

Naomi Simson is considered to be one of Australia’s Best Bosses. An employee engagement advocate, she practises what she preaches in her own business. RedBalloon was named as one of only six Hewitt Best Employers in Australia and New Zealand for 2009 and awarded an engagement scorecard of over 90% two years in a row – the average in Australian businesses is 55%. BRW also nominated RedBalloon in its list of top 10 Best Places to Work in Australia, behind the likes of Google.

One of Australia’s outstanding female entrepreneurs, Naomi regularly entertains as a passionate speaker inspiring people on employer branding, engagement and reward and recognition. A blogger and a published author, she has received many accolades and awards for the business she founded,


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