In The World Of Customer Experience, Does Size Matter?

By | Small Business

The customer is always right, the old saying goes. But if a company is big enough, should it care what the customer thinks?

Too Big to Care
A survey of American consumers conducted by Ipsos found that the organizations with the least to lose—like government services, which often have no competition, or telecom companies, which often have near-monopolies over the districts they serve—tend to have the worst customer service.

Forbes translated the results of that survey into this graphic:

forbes

At first glance, it seems counterintuitive that massive, high-profile organizations wouldn’t make customer experience a priority. After all, they have the money and the means to invest in implementing the best CX resources. And governments, which are among the biggest organizations of all, theoretically only exist to serve their customers. Yet large organizations, especially those with few competitors, can usually afford to suffer through PR disasters in ways that small businesses can’t. It’s easy to be insensitive and get away with it when you dominate the playground.

So at what point does an organization become too big to stop caring about its customers? And why do other companies choose to prioritize CX no matter how big they are?

Who’s The Boss?

Apple famously began as a small company led by a few guys tinkering around with microcircuitry in a garage and has grown into the most valuable company in the world. And it’s managed to become the king of the corporate world while still keeping its customers at the forefront of everything it does, from its streamlined user experience (UX) design to creating a retail experience that its competitors envy.

So what gives? Perhaps it’s all in the company’s attitude regarding the importance of CX. “[O]ne of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology,” Steve Jobs famously said at an Apple conference in 1997. He continued:

[A]s we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with “What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer?” Not starting with “Let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have and then how are we going to market that?” And I think that’s the right path to take.

As we have discussed previously on The CX Report, the participation of top executives directly correlates with an emphasis on customer service. And Apple is not the only major enterprise to continue to put its customers first: cue Samsung (especially in mobile), Nordstrom, and UK grocer Waitrose (which is not public but employee-owned).

For a large public-traded company, market realities traditionally dictate that revenue is king. Customer satisfaction scores aren’t necessarily what shareholders want to hear about on the quarterly earnings call. But for companies that decide to make the customer king, is it any surprise that revenue usually follows?

Growing Pains

Or is it company growth itself that lets large businesses think they can ignore CX? A Harvard Business Review article suggests that CX can suffer as a part of scalability efforts.

At the startup phase of a business, it’s all hands on deck—everyone needs to be a customer service representative to a certain degree. If you do have someone specifically dedicated to customer service, that person might handle those communications across every channel, naturally offering a seamless customer engagement because the same employee handled a customer’s phone call, sent the follow-up email, and saw that customer’s complaint on Twitter. And when your business has only a handful of customers, it’s easy to track and respond to every problem. You could even say it’s essential to your survival.

But as your company grows up, you tend to separate departments and responsibilities, creating silos and trying to keep track of the communications between them. Thousands of customers later, salespeople care more about closing sales than post-purchase support; your IT team focuses on upgrading the network infrastructure instead of investing in expanded CX capabilities; and your CEO is preoccupied with preparations for going public when the focus should be equally weighted on CX. All too often, the customer gets lost in the shuffle.

Making CX A Cultural Priority

Some evidence suggests that it’s not how big a company is but rather where they are that counts. The Japanese are famous for their focus on hospitality, whether it’s riding the elevator at department store Takashimaya or service at the top-floor bar of the Park Hyatt Tokyo. And a Reuters report found that U.K. customer satisfaction in general was higher than ever last year. Consider also the reputation of pretty much any major U.S. airline against the superior customer experience provided by international carriers like Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, and Qatar Airways.

So where does all this information leave us?

Small companies have a natural motivation to please their customers, as doing the opposite would probably put them out of business. Just look at Philz Coffee, the San Francisco Bay Area’s most popular local coffee chain. In a world dominated by Starbucks, which built its international empire by providing customers with a unique experience, Philz has managed to compete with them by placing an even stronger focus on the customer and providing what is arguably a superior coffee-drinking experience. “Customers take time out of their day to visit us; this is very valuable to us and we are humbled by it,” reads the Philz mission statement. “This gives us the opportunity to make a positive impact on our customer’s day. We do this by serving an amazing cup of coffee and delivering really great customer service.”

Small businesses might also be structurally predestined to provide a more seamless customer service, with fewer customers to handle and fewer employees and departments to silo into isolation from each other. Large companies, with the budget and muscle to choose their priorities, probably don’t make a conscious decision to deliver poor customer service, but if their leadership does not actively prioritize CX, it stands a good chance of falling by the wayside, especially as a company grows.

Globalization and the advance of technology might force the big kids out of their comfort zone to play nice. Just look at the reaction of the taxi monopolies worldwide to the sudden threat by Uber. If smaller companies offering a superior customer experience can now threaten larger organizations that quickly and dramatically, perhaps it will mean that the customer isn’t necessarily right, but he’ll find a way to get what he always wants: a good, efficient customer experience, on demand.

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: In The World Of Customer Experience, Does Size Matter?

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