One may wonder how the invisible can be important. However, when this invisible is missing, it is painfully obvious. This invisible can make or break a company. This invisible will help organizations get through an economic downturn.
This invisible is good customer service.
I am not talking about great, WOW-the-customer-service. Five Star Customer Service stands out in a crowd and is usually applauded. Good customer service is expected. In fact, if customer-company interactions are good, they are usually forgotten. “Did everything go according to plan? Did I get my product or service when and how I wanted it? Yes? OK, then I can move on to my next activity.”
Good to Great – Is it worth it?
When customers equate a business with having good customer service, it becomes an expectation. No one writes glowing blog posts about good customer service at XYZ Company. No one refers their friends and family to a particular restaurant or shop because they have “decent customer service”. Service needs to be exceptional in order to be noticed – exceptionally good, or exceptionally bad!
What does this mean for those who offer good, solid customer service? Should they strive to make every service interaction worthy of rave reviews? It depends.
There are companies whose key differentiator from competitors is their service. I know a local hair salon that prides themselves on being “A customer service company that happens to cut hair.” For them, it is one of the most important training and hiring items, as their reputation depends on fab service!
Others may do just fine with meeting, and sometimes exceeding, customer service expectations. I want to emphasize the “sometimes exceeding” piece. Competition for customer business today is fierce, and a challenging economic environment can be cause to hold onto budgets more tightly than ever. Customers are likely to continue buying from their current providers as long as those providers keep them happy with both prices and service.
I believe one way for companies with solid customer service to help cement loyalty and create those “exceptional” stories is to surprise customers every now and then. Throw in something extra because they are long-time clients. Use existing customer information to pre-fill forms for them. Send them a thank-you note. These may seem trivial, but when they are not expected, they become special in the eyes of the customer.
Five Key Steps to Become Visible
As customer service gets better and better, customers will come to expect more. How can companies continue to satisfy when the bar is constantly raised? Here are five key actions to take in order to make sure the customer’s entire experience with your company is positive, loyalty-inducing, and very visible.
- Understand customer expectations. You can’t meet and exceed expectations if you don’t know what they are!
- Check customer expectations against your offering. Can they be met, or would they be better served elsewhere? Customers are the most satisfied when their needs are met. If your firm can’t meet them but you point them to someone who can, you will receive very positive word of mouth as well as engender loyalty!
- Be consistent with your customer service. “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” In other words, one bad customer service experience may ruin all the good will that has been built up with a customer. Very loyal customers may tolerate a poor interaction, but being consistently good is far superior to being great one day, then terrible the next.
- Look at customers as relationships to be cultivated. It is possible to turn around bad service experiences. For example, look at what Frank at Comcast is doing on Twitter. He is taking customers with complaints one by one and working to turn each of them into raving fans. When companies look at customer service as a key relationship-builder, rather than as a cost center, they start to allow it to positively impact their strategic plans as well as their core culture. You can learn a lot by listening to customers!
- Proactively create a customer strategy. Think about what you want your customers to experience when they interact with your company. Now take that across all customer touch points, including customer service, marketing, R&D, web, social media, and in-person contacts (including channel partners). The successful business will decide how they want customers to be treated, based on customer needs and expectations, and then they will execute strategy across the entire customer experience.
It Starts With Customers
The best place to begin this journey past the invisible is with customer conversation. Listen to what your customers are saying to you and to each other. Start to interact with them in the places where they are already congregating (online and offline). If you aren’t sure of something, ask! Customers are usually very interested in working with a company that is interested in them.
Over time, you will find that while good customer service may be invisible, great customer relationships shine out for all to see.
Becky Carroll is a long-time customer advocate and someone who is passionate about the customer experience and writes at Customers Rock! In 2005, she founded Petra Consulting Group, a strategic consultancy helping companies grow through lengthening and strengthening customer relationships. Through her work with companies such as HP, Electronic Arts, and Ford, she has spent a lot of time improving customer experiences, driving increases in marketing results, and helping companies re-think their customer service and support.