Nigel Barlow has come up with a refreshingly no-nonsense, jargon-free and, above all, lively read that is a powerful antidote to all the technology-biased 'Customer Relationship Management' guff that is flavour of the month in business thinking at the moment.
Barlow's starting point is that word-of-mouth tales told by customers to each other - which he calls 'service legends' - are a far more powerful communication than we give credit for.
If you doubt him, you only have to look at the research done into how urban myths spread like wildfire (there's a book by a Berkeley academic called 'Work Hard and You Shall Be Rewarded'- written by someone called Dundas, I think - that is all about the power of urban myths in the workplace) to realise that customer-to-customer storytelling can be the ultimate in free marketing.
Barlow cites Disney, Virgin, the US store Nordstrom and one or two others as the handful of service-centred companies that people currently tell each other tales about. My favourite is the story of the customer who walks into a Nordstrom store and insists the manager gives him a refund on the tyres he bought there. The manager listens, agrees with the customer's argument and gives him the refund. The catch in the story is that Nordstrom do not sell tyres. The customer had bought the tyres from the company that was on that site before the Nordstrom store took it over and moved in.
Barlow's point is that whether this kind of tale happened or not is not important. Nordstrom customers and fans spread the story around because it fits with their experiences of the store as the kind of thing that Nordstrom WOULD do. How much free marketing is that for the cost of a set of tyres! Perhaps that wasn't the first time you've heard that story. If so, makes the point, doesn't it?
The author looks at how to harness this power through ensuring your customers experience the kind of service from you that shows your organisation has its 'batteries included' - focused and energised as opposed to the 'lights on but no-one's home' service experience that doesn't treat the customer as a person with individual needs and wants.
Organisations that practise the latter or insincere scripted service are on the way out in this age of authenticity, in which knowing customers will see through the insincere and choose to do business with organisations they like and who seem to like them, argues the author.
Checklists, suggestions for action at the back of the book for each chapter, and a willingness to tackle the big subject - how to develop personal relationships with customers through impersonal digital media as well as face to face - make this book practical and useful.
We've moved into an era in which we have to be creative and surprising (pleasantly so!) if we are to get customers to come back to us. This book should help you be more creative and put the batteries into your organisation's dealings with its customers.