Customer contact points, and why they matter
What are customer contact points?
Customer contact points are those points of contact at which businesses interact directly with their customers. This can include, for example, in-person communication, telephone conversations, interaction through the Internet, company-sponsored kiosks, and in-person customer support. Most businesses generally know what their customer contact points are, but many don’t seem to realize the importance of them!
When you think about it, most businesses have a very limited number of opportunities to come into direct contact with their customers. In fact, many businesses pay tens of millions of dollars (in the form of advertising) to fund a wide variety of ways that they can get their names and their products in front of their customers. What is amazing is how many businesses will pay big money on advertising, but then neglect (or mess up) the contact with their customers that they can get on the cheap, or even for free.
An example: At the grocery store
The other day I took my kids to the grocery store – not the one I usually go to, but in fact a bigger, better one, with a greater variety of foods and brands, a full pharmacy, and a selection of foreign and craft-brewed beers (which is always nice). The first place I took the kids on this occasion was the deli – it was right near the entrance.
At the grocery store we normally frequent here in Charleston, the people at the deli are courteous, quick, and friendly… and whenever I go to that particular store with my kids, the people at the deli always (maybe not without fail, but at least most of the time) offer us sample slices of whatever it is we’re buying (even if we already know what it tastes like, and don’t need to try a sample slice to see if we like it). It’s a great deli.
At the deli at this other, larger grocery store, the people behind the deli counter were lifeless, disinterested in me, and sloooow… you could tell that prompt service was not one of their priorities. When it was my turn to be served, I gave my order and, at the request of my kids, asked for a sample slice. The lady gave me the slice, which I divvied up for the kids. When I ordered my next item, I asked for another sample slice. This time, she cut the order, put it on the scale, measured it, and then gave me the slice… thereby charging me for it. The third item we ordered, she did the same thing. By this time I was already unimpressed with the store.
Now, I realize that it’s not a grocery store’s duty to give someone a free slice of something whenever they take an order – in fact, some people might think it silly of me to expect to get a free slice of anything at the grocery store. But remember that while at this deli, I was basing my perceptions of the customer service at this store by comparing it to the other store – one of its biggest competitors in the city. This store, with its poorly trained deli operators delivering sub-par customer service, was coming up short. And remember – this was a much bigger, better store!
Maybe even more so than most retail businesses, Grocery stores have extremely limited opportunities to give great customer service. When you go to the grocery store, there are only a few people that you ever actually talk to – the cashier (unless you use self-checkout), the person at the meat counter (which I never go to), the fish counter (which I never go to) and the people busy stocking the aisles who you can occasionally ask for directions to an elusive product that isn’t where you think it’s supposed to be. Of this select handful of people, it is the person at the deli that has the greatest opportunity to give you excellent customer service! What difference is a few cents (the cost of a slice of Creamy Havarti Dill Cheese), when the person who is arguably the most important customer service representative in the whole grocery store can use it to deliver excellent customer service? With such a limited number of customer contact points, I was basing my impression of this store on poor service I received at the deli. Which may not make a lot of sense, but hey… I’m the customer, and it’s my perception that counts.
Some people might think that the CEO is the most important person in the company – they’re certainly paid the most, and get the most attention. But to a customer, the CEO is of limited value, at least where customer service is concerned. In fact, those people that customers correspond with the most are often some of the lowest paid people in the company! And it is with these people that the reputations, via the perceptions of customers like myself, of entire businesses are at stake.
I told my deli story to a friend of mine here in Charleston, and he relayed a story of his own about taking his own 5-year old daughter to the grocery store that I normally frequent (the one with the excellent customer service). While my friend was waiting for his order from the deli his daughter happened to complain to her father that she was hungry. Overhearing this, the fellow behind the deli counter promptly cut a few slices of meat and offered them to her. He then asked, “would you like some bread with that?” Bewildered, she nodded her head – and so the fellow headed over to the bakery to get two slices of fresh bread to make her a quick, free sandwich on the fly. Needless to say, considering I pay a visit to the deli almost every time I go grocery shopping (you tend to go through a lot of sandwiches when you have three kids), the next time I go shopping, I’m going back to the grocery store whose deli offers excellent customer service… and probably the time after that, too.
Now, if only I could get them to expand their beer selection…