Book Review: Hooked On Customers by Bob Thompson

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John E. Smith
John E. Smith is a board certified leadership and life coach, who helps individuals and groups engage in transformational change through learning and strategic planning. He blogs at The Strategic Learner on Wordpress and for Weaving Influence, Lead Change Group, and other sources of leadership and personal development.
John E. Smith

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John E. Smith

John E. Smith’s review of ‘Hooked On Customers’ by Bob Thompson

The Overview:

Bob Thompson eats, sleeps, and dreams effective and integrated customer service for every organization … and we all benefit from his doing so.

With decades of experience in effective customer service and “Customer-Centric Business Management”, Thompson writes passionately and capably about how we can create truly effective customer service within an organization using proactive and data-driven action to meet actual customer expectations.

Hooked on Customers is full of examples of real organizational leaders dealing with the “messiness” of achieving customer focus in real environments.  Not every story is a happy one, but you will find much to reflect on its pages.

The Gist:  “Customer-Centric Business Management”

Thompson gives us a specific and attractive reason to be interested in customer-centric business:   “Customers of leading customer-centric companies are more genuinely loyal, which drives long-term profitable growth and shareholder value … loyal in both purchasing behavior (retention) and advocacy attitude (positive feelings)” (p. 13).

Who would not want this type of customer loyalty which results in continuing and increased revenue, along with active supporters of your brand?

Thompson begins with a necessary, but slightly tedious overview of the history and evolving thinking around customer service, including concepts like Technology-Enabled Relationship Management (TERM), Customer Relations Management (CRM), Customer Experience Management (CEM) and now currently Voice Of Customer and Customer-Centric Management (CCM).

The Five Habits:   The real meat of Hooked On Customers is in Thompson’s identification of five key behaviorsessential to a successful customer-centric approach, each explained in detail in separate, fully-packed chapters.  A very short thumbnail of each follows.

Habit 1:  Listen ~   “Customers are speaking to you implicitly via their behavior, captured in the footprints they leave behind in your systems.”  (P. 41)

Loyalty and advocacy are ultimate measures of customer satisfaction.  Three distinct types of loyalty exist, along with six general types of structured or unstructured feedback from customers to us.

Habit 2:  Think ~  “… making smart, fact-based decisions is absolutely essential to customer-centric leadership.”) p. 36

Thompson illustrates common data analysis and decision-making mistakes, along with the need to coordinate efforts across channels and silos.  He also highlights the emerging role of speech analysis technology to help inform decisions.

Habit 3:  Empower ~ “If employee efforts are not aligned with creating customer value that also helps the organization succeed, its’ just wasted energy” p. 80

Employee engagement and empowerment are two separate things, and we need to align employee activity with meeting customer needs more closely.

Web 2.0 technology, especially in the social media environment, helps us more clearly hear the voice of the customer.

Habit 4:  Create ~ “… pick the correct market …, then come up with a solution that addresses the unmet needs in the market.” (Jeff Bezos, p. 113)

Thompson shares several helpful stories around creation, innovation, and invention, both painful failures and smashing successes.

Habit 5:   Delight ~ “Delight literally means a combination of surprise and joy … do more than what’s expected.” P. 134

Thompson identifies the difference between fixing customer problems and providing real delight by doing something extra.  Creating delight creates loyal customers and the majority of positive experiences are due to employee-customer interactions.

The Leadership Chapter:

The last chapter helpfully describes the essential components and operation of a state-of-the-art Voice of Customer Command Center.   Of particular note are discussions of four developmental stages for a customer-centric approach and the need for a Chief Customer Officer (COO) position.

Some Things I Particularly Liked in This Book …

Focus on Measurement:   Thompson continually reminds us that words mean little without solid data.  Whether determining what customers really value or think about products, services, and employees, the lesson is clear:  use intentional and well-designed metrics which fit your context and situation to decide action.

Strong Emphasis on Current Research:

In addition to documented experiences of various organizations, Thompson includes current research from several respected sources in the areas of neuroscience and behavioral economics into his discussions, including Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, and Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Employee Value for Customer Service:

Thompson continually reminds us that memorable interactions create happy and engaged customers.  In approximately 75% of memorable customer interactions, the essential ingredient is interaction with an employee.  “People are what customers talk about most often” (p. 138).     The best customer service is an engaged and well-trained employee with the freedom to delight their customers.

Tough Love Writing Style:  Thompson writes with passion, but also employs a hard-nosed business approach.  He comes prepared and liberally shares this preparation with us.  You may not want to adopt the approach he recommends, but you will find disagreeing with his arguments pretty difficult.

Action Plans and Questions to Consider:   Almost every chapter ends with one of these two useful tools.  You sometimes have carefully designed steps to move you toward a specific goal or a list of questions to spark your thinking.

Clear Differentiation of Ideas and Ownership:   Thompson states his perceptions and beliefs clearly, using phrases such as “I believe …”, “I would say …” or “My take is to clearly show when he is reporting on general information or someone else’s ideas and when he is presenting his own thoughts.  By the way, every time he shares his viewpoint, value follows.

“Fair and Balanced” Concepts are clearly supported with solid research and varied examples, not all successful ones.  Thompson discusses both RyanAir, a European air carrier, which violates most customer service “rules”, yet prospers, and JCPenney’s failure to achieve market growth while using strategies in this book.

Sprint’s fascinating increase in customer service metrics reflects strong leadership focused on value and metrics to lead that organization out of near failure and Intuit’s Delight by Design program is celebrated as inclusive and comprehensive.  Other stories feature Amazon.com, Apple, Home Depot, IBM, JetBlue, Macy’s, Nordstroms, Southwest Airlines, Weber Grills, and Zappo’s.

 A Quibble About Hooked On Customers:

Thompson uses many specialized business terms and acronyms from various business environments and the customer service arena.  This and the sheer amount of support information provided was sometimes challenging.  However, if you hang in, you will grow in your understanding of these business concepts and ideas.

The Bottom Line:

Thompson’s thoughtful, and thorough approach demonstrates true thought leadership in the area of effective customer service.  His work reflects solid research with a real passion for the topic.

I will be revisiting this book to continue to absorb its lessons.  Hooked On Customers is a keeper.

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