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Do you present one face to your customer?

This might seem like silly question for a one-person business (“I only have one face”), but as your company gets larger, it becomes critically important. I started thinking about this as I have navigated through the maze of relocating my mother-in-law to a retirement community from her house. Some companies seem to be able to pull off this “one-face” business, while others fail utterly. For some reason, banks and insurance companies seemed to have more trouble than other companies. And, in a surprise, I had as much trouble with small companies as large ones, for different reasons. How well your company presents one face to its customers makes a huge difference in customer satisfaction.

Frankly, I learned more about how checks clear in the last few days than I ever expected. And, in truth, I’d have preferred to die ignorant of the entire process. What precipitated this forced learning was my attempts to aggregate the money in one place that I must pay my mother-in-law’s new retirement community, so I can hand them a check next week.
It turns out that one of the six-figure checks was troubling one of the banks, because its computers were questioning the computers of the bank it was drawn on. The fun began when I got a call from the branch manager who heard that the check might be returned–she advised me to call the other bank to find out what the problem was. They knew nothing about it, but by the time I called the first bank back, the branch manager had left for the day and locked her papers in her desk. I was advised to call the bank’s customer support line.
They knew nothing at all about this. I persisted, saying that someone in the bank told the branch manager the news, so can I just talk to that person? No, no one can talk to the “back office” people. And the customer service department doesn’t have any information about the problem because only the branch managers get that information.
Now, you know, I thought computers solved this problem. The information is in there and anyone can access it and all tell the customer the same story. But not at my bank.
Not at the other bank, either. The branch and the back office had no idea what was going on but kept sending me from one to the other in hopes someone else knew. It got to the point that when anyone used the word “we,” I asked them does “we” mean your department or your company? It was their department every time.
Now maybe there are some privacy practices that prevent people from seeing my personal information, but I think I should be allowed to give permission and override them. In the end, there was nothing wrong with the check, but the bank put an extra five-day hold on it that was immediately removed when I called the branch manager again. Huh? If someone at the bank had called the branch manager, there would never have needed to be a hold.
I had a similar experience with my mother-in-law’s small insurance agency this week. I was asked to forward some papers to them and they never did what was needed, which caused a crisis this week, When I called, I was told by the owner that if they had received the papers, they’d have done what was required because “we do that automatically.”
Then came a pregnant pause. “Wait a minute,” he said. He returned to phone chagrined and apologetic. “I found the papers–we’ll handle this immediately.” Apparently he had an employee not doing her job, whom he had just fired, but they hadn’t cleaned out her desk yet to find all the stuff she hadn’t handled.
Regardless of the cause, you look bad when a customer communicates with one person at your company and that isn’t good enough. If you expect the customers to find the right person at your company–the one in the right department, or the one who has that skill, or the one who is competent–you are expecting too much. If you can’t provide one face to the customer, don’t be surprised if your customer finds a new company with a new face.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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