A customer dialogue approach to customer support differs from traditional service models in at least one critical way. The most basic difference is that a customer dialogue approach insists that businesses perform better in the market when they minimize the self-orientation of their business processes and maximize their customer-centeredness. Yet, a customer-centered business strategy requires more than being nice to customers. Many “customer care” approaches call for treating customers the way you’d like to be treated—the so-called Golden Rule. Treating customers the way we, as service providers want to be treated implies that we inherently know what’s best for them. A customer dialogue approach alternatively assumes that customers know, or can quickly learn, what’s best for them as individual customers. We need to treat customers the way their actions indicate they want, not the way we would want to be treated as a customer.
Paradoxically, even authors encouraging companies to minimize their own self-orientation end up advocating the Golden Rule of customer support, which is really more an attribute of a self-oriented approach than a customer-centered one. Peppers and Rogers, for example, in their recent book Return on Customer (2005) make the following assertion:
The secret to earning a customer’s trust is to see the situation from the customer’s perspective. You will need to treat the customer the way you yourself would want to be treated if you were the customer…everyone at your company must embrace this mission (2005, pp. 26-27).
Peppers and Rogers(2005) slip from advocating customer research to earn the customer’s trust by seeing the situation from their perspective, and manage their experience with your business, to advocating that your organization can do it by having its support staff imagine the customer’s perspective from their own experience. The two are not the same.
The Golden Rule is helpful in honing communication skills, but it is not sufficient to see the service experience from the view of the customer. The fact of the matter is, you can either do the customer research needed to understand your customers and develop ongoing efforts to manage their experience with your business, including training staff in dialogue techniques, or you can imagine you know your customers based on your own experience alone and make sure your staff at least follows the Golden Rule in designing and delivering services. It’s great if the latter approach works for your business. But, don’t confuse its success with understanding your customers.
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