Break the Power Circle to Save Your Customers

tl;dr: Empower the people who interact with your customers. Keep them happy, train them, love them. They are your shining stars.

Usually a company's power hierarchy looks like this:

  • The inner circle of CEO and top-heads have the most power, they care about company the most and yet they are most distant from their customers.
  • Managers and in-betweens have moderate power, sort of care about company and are sort of near customers.
  • Retail people, customer care and sales people are closest to customers, not at all worried about the company and least powered to make any decisions on their own.

Who is breaking the pattern? Apple Stores and Nordstrom, Beyond Computers, Small businesses, DIY Themes, Open Source Communities...

KFC! I remember they offered me and Risahbh Verma free drinks, while we waited for their kitchen tour. Can the people who interact with customers in your company, win customers?

Who is embracing the pattern? Many of us!

In fact, I just experienced a well known blog handing over it's emails to an intern. So the main communication channel is in hands of someone who doesn't know better! (They have balls!) The intern sounded like an automated reply, because the top-heads asked him to be "neutral".

Now that's an "interaction"! [Sarcasm, yes]

More Examples

Recently I was invited to a product launch by HP, thanks to 64 Notes. It was nice to see a corporate honoring blogs or organic news medium, in India.

It was really interesting experience to interact with people behind the giant brand and see local reporters at work (aka free lunch). Brands would do so much better if the leverage the faces behind the logo. Here is what I mean:

I met Seema Dawar, who's working with HP in Delhi. The best part of her introduction:

"... I love what I do! I love my job!"

She was interesting, full of energy and eager to interact. She helped me try out their new printer. She wanted me to try it out, genuinely! She was Zappos of HP. There HP, you sold me a printer.

How? With their refreshed logo? Nope! (yes a refresh, they added a gradient to it!) Was it that the launch was at Taj? Was it that I was invited? Nope! Nope! Nope!

I am sold because of the people who are representing that brand.

Small and traditional businesses understand this. They know who sits on the counter is their going to close the deal, not the name of the shop, not the color, not the variety they have.

Once my aunt called up a TATA Telecoms guy to enquire about new internet connection. She asked him something about the billing. Reply? "I wouldn't know about that. That's work of billing department of company!"

Hello?! Right here and now, you are representing the company!

Beyond Computers is a traditional computer sellers with non-traditional relation building. College crowd (read: the gadget buying crowd) is on their facebook group - winning free stuff, buying other stuff. And their customer service is just fab! You can't think of buying a gadget from anywhere else. [More on this later]

How can you break the circle? How can you meet your customer over a cup of coffee?

PS: The launch was for HP's wireless printers. Here is one I liked. They still need an industrial designer though.

PPS: Thanks to nice people at the PRactice for inviting me to the event.