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Of Money, Trust and Elephants

by Miki Saxon

A study by Bain & Company, published in 2001, showed that acquiring a new customer can cost six to seven times more than retaining an existing customer, and that increasing customer retention rates by 5% boosts profits by 25% to 95%.

3381349126_c6d811c4f8_mWhy is it that so many managers ignore the connection between happy employees and happy customers?

Why do they insist on putting the cart before the horse and only invest in their people after revenues increase?

In yet another study researchers again found that customer retention is a function of great customer service, in other words, happy employees result in more loyal customers who spend more.

Zappos may be the poster child of the happy workforce, but there are many ways of achieving the same happy results.

2006, American Express, the credit card issuer, started an internal program that involved training and incentivizing its staff to get customers more engaged. The company transformed its traditional service call by getting rid of scripts and taking customer service representatives off the clock — which allowed the representative to decide how long he or she wanted to spend on each call. It also changed its employee compensation structure, directly linking a big portion of incentive pay to customer feedback. The result: Customers increased their spending on Amex products by 8% to 10% and overall service margins widened, according to a case study by Joseph Handelman, a professor at Ross. In the most recent quarter, the company announced that card members spent a record amount on their Amex cards; total revenue was $7.74 billion, up 5% from a year ago.

Underlying Amex’s actions was recognition of the intelligence of their customer service workforce and a decision to trust their people to treat their customers well and the payoff for doing so was substantial.

Lack of trust in employees is the elephant in managerial corridors and while it sometimes stems from a manager’s own insecurity it’s more often the result of poor hiring.

Managers claim that careful hiring is time-consuming and takes too long, but that’s a cop-out to short-term thinking, as is gutting customer service when the economy slows.

“When sales and profits are down, customer service is easy to cut. It [poor customer service] doesn’t show up right away. Where it shows up is in long-term customer profitability.” –Ronald Hess, professor of marketing at William & Mary School of Business, who studies customer satisfaction and loyalty.

And while you can’t control the economy, you can focus on eliminating the elephant within your own organization.

Flickr image credit: Phillip Martyn

One Response to “Of Money, Trust and Elephants”
  1. April 2012 Carnival of Leadership Development: Earth Day Edition Says:

    […] her post titled “Of Money, Trust and Elephants” Miki Saxon points that focusing on profits doesn’t make a company more profitable, while […]

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