Don’t Leave Your Customers in the Dark!

At Heart of the Customer, we work across many different industries – in the past six months alone, we’ve partnered with life insurance, SaaS software, healthcare delivery, property and casualty insurance, non-profits, and staffing enterprises.

These organizations serve a wide variety of customers who have very different needs.

Or do they?

We’ve found that there’s one need that crops up in nearly every industry and journey. (It almost feels like we could reuse this section of our recommendations for every client!)

It’s the need to keep the customer informed.

New habits…and expectations

Domino’s went and ruined it for everyone else, by telling customers things they never even knew they wanted to know about ordering a pizza – who was making their pie, when they were putting on the sauce, when it went out the door for delivery, etc.

They got customers thinking, “Hey, why can’t it be this way with everything I order?”

To which Amazon replied, “Hold my beer.”

The surge in online transactions as a result of COVID-19, and changes in both B2B and B2C spending habits (that many believe are here to stay) have only made this need more pressing.

A few weeks back, I wrote about West Elm’s tremendous failure in this regard for a chair I ordered, and last week, our CTO Shawn Phillips wrote about a lapse with much higher stakes – UPS’s failure to tell a customer that her COVID test result was misdirected and delayed.

Customers’ expectations for operational transparency are at an all-time high. (Read more about the concept here.) They demand to be notified when a company can’t deliver on time…and often want to know even when they do.

Yet customers still find it easier to track a pizza than a $10,000 life insurance check.

Knowledge links to emotion

But there’s an upside – the inverse of out of sight, out of mind, if you will: Customers appreciate your work more when it’s visible to them.

During a webinar at the beginning of the month, we released the results of our massive 2020 research initiative, wherein we engaged with more than 300 CX pros to determine what separates “the best from the rest” when it comes to CX programs that make a business impact.

One of the four CX accelerators we discovered was the need to measure and manage emotions.

Very few CX programs do this – and no, likelihood to recommend, effort, and satisfaction aren’t emotions!

Sharing basic information reduces frustration. Reducing frustration builds confidence. Confidence builds loyalty.

If you’re one of the few who do measure emotion, you know you can see the impact of a lack of operational transparency. Customer frustration drains loyalty; empowerment fuels it.

Most programs create black boxes. A customer request (e.g., a sale, complaint, or feature request) comes in, enters the big black box…and stays there, with no information released about its current state.

Eventually (but not always) the request comes out of the black box, but customers don’t know when to expect that.

How come can Amazon tell me when my SodaStream flavoring will be here, and even show me a photo of it on my doorstep, but your company can’t tell me where my $250,000 truckload of fuel is?

Businesses also need to know

Sharing basic information reduces frustration. Reducing frustration builds confidence. Confidence builds loyalty.

Not only should you build a process around how customers want to be informed – remember, it’s all about centering the customer! –  but make it visual. The science is clear: people more easily absorb and recall visual information.

Domino’s and Amazon raised the bar, and now even hardcore B2B companies need to respond. Insurance agents want to know where their policies are in underwriting. Software clients want to know when deployment will truly be completed. Patients want to know when their exam results will be available.

Keeping customers in the dark fuels disloyalty, no matter who they are or what industry you work in. It’s time to make operational transparency a priority.

If a pizza joint in a strip mall can keep its customers informed, so can your billion-dollar organization.

1 reply
  1. Chris Thomas
    Chris Thomas says:

    Hey Jim,

    Great work on this! Personally speaking, I often take for granted how loyal I’ve become to companies who keep me up to date in the manner you’ve described – Domino’s included! I can’t imagine ordering a meal now without wanting to see the updates in real time. In general, I think the food delivery sector seems to be pretty good on this kind of customer engagement.

    I’m thinking of Uber Eats and Deliveroo in particular, who do great work at keeping customers up to date. Some retailers have gotten a lot better at this too, but I still think there’s a lot to be learned as you suggest.

    In terms of how B2B SaaS companies conduct themselves in this manner, have you noticed the growing popularity of coders/companies who now ‘build in public’? Mainly from smaller startups, these companies seem to get great engagement from their audience by delivering frequent updates on how their products are coming along. There’s an example of this kind of thinking here, from Magnus Hvidtfeldt, a branding consultant I recently interviewed alongside a number of other marketing consultants and strategists:

    The way I see it, the companies adopting this method are updating their customers before they’re even customers! It’s almost a form of marketing in itself.

    Personally, I love seeing these updates from fledgling companies on social media – even if I’m not a customer yet. The transparency piques my interest, and I get a glimpse behind the scenes. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this kind of strategy.

    Anyway, thanks again for your post – a great read.



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