Customer service: not just another department anymore

What comes to mind when you think of customer service? Maybe it’s that picture on the ‘contact us’ page of the headset wearing model with a megawatt smile. Or more likely, it’s the memory of your last conversation with your cable company slash internet service provider.

What having to call customer service sometimes feels like. Photo credit: Dilbert

Whatever the image or experience that’s top of mind for you, the role and importance of customer service for any company has become significantly more critical to a businesses success than even just a few years ago. Technology and the internet has played a large role. In one recent study, over 80% of executives surveyed said that customer expectations were much higher than even just three years ago. Whether it’s through a community generated forum like Reddit, listings sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, Amazon product pages or social media in general, the voice of the customer travels far and wide.

Customer service is no longer the thing companies can worry after they’ve sold the thing they’re trying to sell. How many bad reviews do you have to see before you start to reconsider  a purchase? There could be 30 five star reviews but if there’s one two star,  I know which one I’m going to be reading first.  And this doesn’t just apply to companies anymore, the same goes for doctors, lawyers, hair salons.

Hmm….which reviews do I want to read first?

Customer experience > Customer service

Today, good customer service and customer experiences are something that successful companies given just as much attention to as their product or service itself. Customer service is what can set you apart from the competition. According to a Gartner study, 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience – up from 36% just four years ago.

Customer service used to be reactionary, problems were addressed after the fact. Today however, a huge part of customer service is being proactive about anticipating what problems might happen and getting ahead of them. Being proactive meant that a company would need to be able to listen to it’s customers better and use this feedback as an input to designing a better customer experience. The ability to collect feedback in an accurate and timely way can give a business all the info it needs to make the necessary adjustments and improvements to improve and more importantly, stay ahead of the competition.

The two main goals of a customer service strategy usually include these two things:

(1) Companies want their customers to keep being customers and

(2) Companies want their customers to tell their friends about them

Everyone should have a role in customer service

If I’m doing a project with a Client with a business that has a customer support team , I always ask to meet with their customer service team as early on as possible. I can almost guarantee that this is the most effective way to find out very quickly what’s working and more importantly, what’s not.

Giving all employees an opportunity to be on the front lines, even if just for a few hours at a time, has become a proven way to align an organization on customer-focus. Jeff Bezos tells Forbes that that “everyone has to be able to work in a call center,” and this is why all employees at Amazon are required to do two days of call-center training each year. And what does he say he hopes to achieve by doing this? Larger profits and higher sales? Well not directly, “humility and empathy for the customer” is the payoff he says.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon has also said focusing on the customer makes a company more resilient. Photo credit: SMB CEO

We could also stand to learn a lot by looking at industries outside of our own. The restaurant industry in New York is one I’ve always found fascinating. Danny Meyer, owner of the infamous Union Square Hospitality group is probably one of the most successful restauranteurs in the world. He evaluates potential hires using what we calls his ‘hospitality quotient’, which is made up of traits he considers essential for someone to have in order to be successful at any of this restaurants. Similar to Bezos, Empathy is one of them. Another is ‘optimistic warmth’, which very similar to ‘humility’.

Danny Meyer, Founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group at Gramercy Tavern. Photo credit: Adweek

Perhaps in way, the digital space is becoming more like traditional customer service operations like restaurants where products and services are delivered in real time. Like being in a restaurant, a company has a window of time of make and impression and the customer will decide whether to return, maybe with a new friend, or look elsewhere for a better experience. I think there’s a lot we can learn from industries outside of our own.

And if time is still money regardless of what industry you’re in, the more you can leverage customer feedback as an input to how the entire organization understands the customer experience, the faster you’ll achieve the results you want to see on the bottom line.






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