Being Customer Centric – what a SIM card got me thinking about

I have a need.

I have a SIM card given to me by my broadband service provider about 10 years ago. It is part of the bundle I subscribed for my internet services.

The SIM card provides data services somewhat insignificant by today’s data plan standards, but nevertheless it is a data plan that allows me to tap if I need.

The problem is, with technological advances in recent years, the SIM slot in phones and tablets has shrunk in size. Obviously I cannot use this card with the latest phone models.

And I am uncertain if trimming the SIM card on my own will damage the card.

So I did the next logical thing: check in at a shop outlet under my service provider. Would you have a SIM card trimming service?

Sorry, we don’t.

I have a SIM card that can’t fit into any phone, since phones mostly take in nano SIM these days. Are you able to help?

Yes, we can help you change it to nano SIM. But there will be a charge to replace your SIM card.

I was speechless. Where is the concept of customer centricity? Why charge for a request to change SIM card size, if new SIM cards come in different sizes for the customer to choose from today?

I went home, thinking that instead of paying for a fixed charge to replace a SIM card, I would rather trim the card on my own.

And the modified SIM card works.

In case you are wondering, I don’t think my request to trim the SIM card is unreasonable. I made a similar request a couple of years ago, but with a different service provider.

That service provider trimmed my SIM card for free, even though I had offered to pay.

I think this episode contains two issues, from my perspective:

1. How much attention a company pays towards its existing customers.

2. How a company defines chargeable services.

Customer Loyalty

I have suspected for a long time that many companies are more interested in securing new customers instead of finding ways to retain their customers. It is hard to dismiss this thought when most of the advertisements and offers I see in the media are targeted at consumers who have not used these goods and services.

Think about it: telcos and media companies are prime examples. They offer attractive discounts and gifts, usually for new subscribers only. Even retail companies do it too. There are always gifts and deals to attract people to sign up for membership (think of welcome vouchers and discounts, and you get the idea).

To be fair, companies do look into strategies to retain their customer bases. After all, it can be more costly to bring in new customers than retain existing ones. Many companies are venturing into annual birthday greetings to their customers, usually with a slew of offers and discounts arranged specially for them. For example, a higher discount or exclusive deals if you purchase their products during your birthday month.

My take is that such strategies are inadequate. Put bluntly, many strategies are only aimed at maintaining the revenue base. That is not enough in today’s day and age, where consumers are becoming more discerning and are asking for more than just the product or service. Consumers want to know that the products they use are in line with their beliefs. They want services that address their needs. To them, branding is more important. If a company seems to put profit above relationship with the consumer, it may not appeal much to the consumer.

My question is: do companies know what needs their customers have, and whether their range of products and services meet those needs? Will they be able to differentiate and engage different consumer segments appropriately?

Between Revenue And Costs

Nothing is for free, that much is true. The cost of doing something has to go somewhere. Even clean water and air is a result of some form of intervention provided by external parties, like governments and corporates. There are externalities everyone has to consider. You cannot have your cake and eat it.

A bank whom I have a relationship with wants to engage me and know my thinking and opinions, which may help in their company strategy and planning. In return, they are willing to pay a token sum to every contributor who spends a bit of time in their portal each month. Without the token sum, I don’t think the bank will succeed in having a large base of consumer opinions.

Which is why I am prepared to pay for a nominal sum to trim the SIM card to nano size. I was not prepared, however, to consider a SIM card replacement service as the alternative to what I was looking for. The service fee for this is ridiculous, in my opinion.

Do all companies really follow their own rules strictly rather than meet customer needs? I don’t think so. Insurance companies don’t scrutinise claim applications and strike them out simply because the claims were made beyond a reasonable time. At least that’s what I know of so far.

Of course companies have to watch their costs. They cannot afford to let their costs increase without a sustainable and growing income stream to mitigate any risks to their businesses. I can understand this. Yet when employees are unable to think creatively on how they can engage their customers and insist on following protocols, I think that is a sign of problems within the company. Call it rigidity, inflexibility or following protocol. This is a tension companies need to maintain and decide how best to meet customer needs while watching costs.

Customer Centricity Is Both Culture And Learning

I got to know of this practice in a hotel chain recently from reading a LinkedIn post. I thought this is one way to balance the tension I outlined above fairly well.

Ritz Carlton has a staff empowerment programme where each staff (regardless of levels) is empowered to spend up to $2,000 per guest per incident. The staff (the hotel chain calls them Ladies and Gentlemen) decide how they can meet the needs of the hotel guests in that moment without having to go through administrative procedures.

I consider this a unique practice that gives the Ladies and Gentlemen flexibility and autonomy in making decisions at the local level. When they report on the expenses incurred, that will provide data to the hotel on the reasons behind the expenses and how the service level can be improved. Hotel guests get unique experiences with Ritz Carlton and have their feedback taken seriously during their stay.

Is it expensive for Ritz Carlton to have such a programme in place? I did not do a check on it, but from what the Leadership Center says, it may not be so. My guess is the Ladies and Gentlemen strive to provide the best service possible before they tap on this $2,000 fund. In the long run this empowerment programme does not cost much.

Another company with a similar practice is Zappos, which empowers local decision making amongst its call centre operators in engaging customers. That move is a strategic decision made by Tony Hsieh in Zappos’ early years. Since then, Zappos has grown from strength to strength, and it has become well known for engaging its customers through its call centre. The call centre operators are important in putting a human face to the company brand.

It is possible to be customer centric. Zappos and Ritz Carlton showed that they can find a way. Companies cannot rely on their own products and services to define and meet all customer needs. They have to go beyond the parameters of their products and services and ask themselves how they wish to retain their customer bases. Even expanding into new products and services may not be the full answer.

The key lies in their staff.

Hopefully companies will start paying more attention to being customer centric, and work on upping their game in engaging their customers. Otherwise, customers can vote with their feet, bringing their buying power elsewhere. This is even more critical today given how the internet empowers people to search for products and services they need worldwide.

What issues do you have as a consumer that are not met or addressed by companies? How would you as a consumer want to be engaged? Will companies ever balance the tension between profitability and engaging their customers?

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