It’s Customer Care, Stupid!
Why do we call it TQM or Digital ‘whatever’ when it’s all about customer care?
In the mid-90s, management styles trended toward TQM (Total Quality Management). It spread from the manufacturing industries (where it had almost become a requirement to overcome the 80s crisis) to the services industries. Everything needed to be touched by the magic wand of quality. Eventually, thousands of companies and people throughout the world embraced the whole TQM toolkit: PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act), JIT (Just in Time), Benchmarking, poka yoke, process re-engineering, QIP (Quality in Process)… Do any of these terms sound familiar to you? I am sure they do!
TQM had, as I said, a magic aura. If you wanted to succeed in life, you needed to know these management basics. Graduate students from all fields (including me) ran to complete master’s degrees on quality. Hundreds of consultancies mushroomed here and there and the best students of each promotion were “called upon” to surf the quality wave.
Customers wanted to feel that companies were taking care of them; and then there were us, the new kids on the block, fighting against an obsolete model and trying to implement customer surveys (and do something about their concerns and complaints), setting-up internal and external communication models that focused on both internal and external customers, and applying techniques inherited from manufacturing industries into services. Those were years of paradigm shifts and we were young and inexperienced.
Soon enough, companies integrated all of these expensive outsourced services into their structures, as many of the new employees already had the know-how, and the quality consultancy businesses went down.
Nevertheless, those who worked at the consultancies are very smart people, and the advent of the internet gave them a fertile ground ready to seed, and so they did. The blast of social networking sites again revolutionized management styles. Everybody needed outsourced help and terms such as avatar, blog, community manager, ROI, SEO, organic reach or hashtag became the norm for those taking advantage of the novelty.
And once again, some constellations of independent advisors and consultancies sprouted before others realized what was happening and have made a lot of money from this. But (there’s always a but somewhere) we have reached the point where companies are starting to understand how socializing online works.
Do you believe in déjà vu? It was (and still is) simply a matter of communication and perception and, of course, customer care. Nothing more.
What do customers want? What do customers need? As a customer yourself, you should be able to answer these two easy questions. They — we — now want hyper-connected companies that can answer them immediately; they want 24/7 service because the world goes around 24/7. The paradigm has changed again and customers are no longer just product or service receivers. They want to be the main character of their own lives and interactions, and they want to play a role in the ‘game’.
People have taken advantage of technology and they are far from going back to the top-down model where companies were the ones dictating everybody’s rules. Customer care now flows top-down and also bottom-up with no preset guidelines. Resilient companies will survive in this jungle. Those that cannot adapt will die. It’s Darwinism applied to the economic system.
Have we understood their message? And, more importantly, what will be the next step?
Lay down your bets!
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