Customer Experience News & Trends

6 customer relationship lessons reality TV has taught us

Don’t feel so guilty about your reality TV addiction. There are quite a few lessons in managing the customer experience those housewives, beach bums, losers and bachelors have taught us.

That’s right. There’s no need to whisper by the water cooler so the boss doesn’t know you spent two hours watching the Bachelorette season finale. Feel free to bring up the Kardashians in your next inter-departmental meeting. Don’t bother hiding that office pool for the next season of Survivor behind an Excel spreadsheet. And for goodness sake, never be afraid to admit who your favorite dance mom is!

Reality TV is good for company’s customer experience. Yep, we said it. Reality TV is good for something other than network ratings.

We’ve loved them all along

Why shouldn’t it be? Americans fell in love with reality programming not long after they fell in love with the television: Allen Funt’s Candid Camera started viewers’ affection for other people’s talents, drama and idiocy in 1948. Truth or Consequences and What’s My Line kept audiences happy, and secretary pools talking through the 1950s.

The next decades ushered in the likes of The Dating Game, PBS’s groundbreaking An American Family and crime-related series such as America’s Most Wanted and COPS. The current TV explosion hit in the late 1990s with MTV’s The Real World. From there … well, if you’ve been in a workplace since then, you probably know the trash and triumphs that have made weeknight television for more than a decade.

Use it, don’t lose it

As professionals, we might scoff at the train wrecks the reality stars become on camera. But as a customer experience professional, it’s more than OK to indulge in your addiction to all things reality. Turns out, these shows have some meaty lessons we can take right to the conference table.

Then our teams of marketing, sales and customer service professionals can use the lessons to create or maintain exceptional experiences throughout the customer lifecycle.

Some lessons:

Lesson No. 1: Only real relationships last

These next three words have probably never been spoken or written together: Poor Kim Kardashian. (Sigh …)

The star of the Kardashian empire of reality TV shows — there are too many to mention just one — might get fashion, hair color and fake eyelashes right. But one thing she isn’t so good at is real relationships. She’s proof positive that fake relationships don’t work. Her 2011 courtship, engagement and wedding to Kris Humphries was full of pomp and circumstance, but the wooing ended and the battling started after just 72 days of marriage.

For customer experience pros: Customer relationships can survive ups and downs if they’re authentic.

Take Spinnaker Coating in Troy, OH, for instance. It was able to increase customer loyalty by revisiting the baseline for relationships and increasing personal contact with customers. CEO Lou Gezzetti and VP Jim Severs went straight to long-time customers and employees and asked, “What made us so good in the past?” They found out that personal touches and old-fashion conversations fell by the wayside as the customer base grew.

Then, they invited all customers to visit their facility to make personal connections again. Next, they changed procedures and technology so every person who had contact with customers could update accounts to cover exactly what happened — and follow up on what still needed to be done.

Lesson No. 2: Only offer customers what they need

Having too many options is not a good thing. Just ask any contestant who’s appeared on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. Of the roughly 25 couples manufactured out of the reality dating show, just four have made it to the altar and are still together. If you’re counting (and we know you marketers are), that’s just about 16%.

The problem in these relationships is often the overabundance of options to get through to find the right fit. Too much information and too many choices at one time is overwhelming and bachelors or bachelorettes make the wrong decision (if there is a right one anyway) because they can’t properly sift through all the muck.

For customer experience pros: Offer customers what they need – never more than what they need, can afford or should have.

Visa found out it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the profitable thing to do. An executive decision was made to only offer existing customers additional products that were exactly what they needed, said Michael Marx, VP of Market Intelligence at Visa.

They did some internal research to figure out which products fit which customer types, and trained sales and service pros to listen more closely to identify customers’ changing needs.

It built stronger relationships because customers are happy when they get right-fit products. In the end, Marx said it boosted customer commitment by 17%.

Lesson No. 3: You don’t have to win to be a winner

The name itself of this reality show suggests contestants are destined for failure: The Biggest Loser. On the contrary, almost every person who starts the show is a winner in the end. They may not walk away with bundles of cash. Instead, they’re healthier and have a new lease on a life.

For customer experience pros: It will likely never, ever pay off to be the winner in an argument or disagreement with a customer. Even if customers are wrong, they need to feel they’re right — or at least not wrong — so you still win by maintaining the relationship, their loyalty and their business.

When employees find themselves on the verge of arguing with customers, customer service and sales expert Jeff Gee suggests they:

  • Focus on facts. Avoid taking anything personally by sticking to what’s on record.
  • Look at things from the customer’s point of view. It helps to build empathy.
  • Focus on solutions. Offering a few solutions and allowing customers to choose one helps everyone move away from emotions that trigger bad customer experiences.

Lesson No. 4: Stick to what you know best

For the most part, the women of The Real Housewives of (Name Your City) have failed at anything other than applying bright lipstick, strutting nearly everywhere in high heels and stabbing so-called friends in the back. Off-screen (and sometimes on-screen), their business adventures have been less than spectacular. At least four have unsuccessfully tried singing careers, a few have attempted authoring books and one or two want to be on TV as journalists or actors. In all fairness, some have succeeded outside the reality TV arena — but it was in careers they’d already mastered.

For customer experience pros: Your company and people are probably already well-known for a product, service, brand or experience. It’s smart to capitalize on what customers know and love. However, you want to do serious market and in-house research before breaking into completely new areas.

It might even pay off to listen to your front-line customer service professionals before making changes. Rogers Communications, Inc., did and made a smart decision because of it. Customer Service Rep Valerie Gervais suspected a large group of customers wouldn’t be happy about an upcoming change to the company’s service. So she researched the difference between the current option and the proposed one, followed blogs and Facebook entries that mentioned the change and took as many calls as she could from customers on the change. She compiled her facts and presented them to management, suggesting they stick to what they’ve done well all along. They did, and Gervais got to announce the decision to customers.

Lesson No. 5: Accept flaws, move on

Even President Obama has taken jabs at Snooki of Jersey Shore. Her hair, fake tan and poor choice in bikinis have been fodder for talk show hosts, mainstream news magazines and neighborhood BBQs for years. Yet you never see her waste time beating herself up over any so-called flaw. She laughs and moves on (to more reality TV success, actually).

For customer experience pros: Like any profession, you won’t get it right all the time. Campaigns will fail. An error will slip through the cracks and upset customers. And a long-time loyal customer will walk.

We could give you a long list of mistakes companies have made, how they owned up to them and moved on, preserving their customer relationships. But we’ll stick to this brief one: A camera recorded a FedEx delivery person throwing a computer monitor over a fence and breaking it. Video goes viral. FedEx immediately acknowledges it, apologizes, replaces the broken equipment and promises to beef up training. FedEx moves on moving stuff and customer relationships are saved.

Lesson No. 6: Don’t badmouth the competition

There are no secrets in reality TV, and you’d think Survivor contestants would figure that out by now. But they still trash talk their cast mates and assume their secret is safe. It usually turns out to bite them in the butt and get them kicked off the island.

For customer experience professionals: It’s never good form — in your promotional material, advertising, sales presentations, scripts, personal conversations with customers, etc. — to trash talk the competition. But it’s always smart to know what the competition is doing.

At a small Midwest manufacturer, the service manager regularly updates information on the competition’s product lines and pricing, and passes it along to reps so they’re well versed on what the competition is doing. But commenting on how those products, services and companies stand up is taboo.

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