In this era of commoditized products and services, price and customer service are the primary differentiators between otherwise similar offerings. If you’re not the lowest-cost provider, competing on price is a losing proposition, so customer service is the best opportunity for differentiation for most organizations. But great customer service is disappointingly rare.
It’s easy to identify examples of bad service. We see it every day when we go to the supermarket and stand on long lines to pay for our groceries; when we go to the doctor/dentist/hairdresser and sit in the waiting room long past the time of our appointment; when we go to the health club and have to wait for the treadmill, etc. But, waiting may turn out to be the best part of the customer experience. Anyone who’s flown on a commercial airline in the past few years knows the pleasure of spending a lot of money for a ticket only to be x-rayed, patted down, and then shoved into a seat next to someone with questionable hygiene (not to mention frequently having to wait for a late-arriving aircraft). Anyone who’s called a customer service department has experienced long wait times, uninformed, un-empowered, under-trained and often over-stressed agents who often think the best way to resolve an inquiry is to transfer the call. And, everyone’s favorite – US-based cell phone providers, who oversell and under-deliver every step of the way. (All the great apps are not enough to enough to make up for dropped calls.)
Identifying examples of outstanding service is a little more difficult, which is a sad commentary on the state of the market. Are consumers so jaded that they no longer expect good service and therefore companies are just giving them what they expect? Is great service so expensive to provide that companies are not willing to make the investment because they don’t think they can recoup their costs? Or, is it possible that companies don’t even know how to provide good service anymore? Unfortunately, most of us believe that it’s all of the above…which means that there is a logjam that needs to be broken if the poor reputation and perception of customer service is going to change.
This sad state of affairs also means that small acts of service “goodness” – which translate into good customer service – are strong differentiators, go a long way in pleasing customers, and can drive profitability. There is a reason why customers are willing to pay extra to shop at Zappos, the online shoe and apparel retailer. Besides the fact that they’ll take back any purchase, no questions asked, they are well known for rewarding their agents for thinking outside the box instead of for rushing customers off the phones. Nordstrom is another provider of good service; their case is interesting because they have maintained a sterling service reputation for years while many of their competitors – both high-end (like Bonwit Teller) and mid-range (like Marshall Field’s) have gone out of business. Clearly, shoppers are willing to pay a few extra dollars to be treated with respect.
The apparent conclusion is that companies can charge extra for good customer service. But if it were this easy, more companies would do it. Here are a few tips that work for organizations known for delivering consistently excellent customer service:
- It starts at the top. Senior management must show their dedication to customer service in every decision they make.
- Delivering outstanding customer service must be a core corporate value, not just a sentence in a mission statement.
- The company must embrace a service culture.
- Customer service must be an essential component of every employee’s evaluation and compensation plan.
- Poor service is never tolerated.
As you will see in my upcoming post, it’s harder than it looks, but it’s worth it for companies that can make a customer service strategy work.
Donna Fluss is the founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, the leading provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis and consulting. She is the author of The Real-Time Contact Center, the Contact Center Executive and Management Briefing, the Contact Center QA Guide, the PC-DSS Guide, and many other leading industry reports on contact center hosting, UC, dialing, IVR, speech analytics, performance management, workforce management, surveying, QA/recording and contact center analytics. Contact Donna at firstname.lastname@example.org.