Few if any business executives would debate the importance of customer service as a key ingredient in profitability and sustainability. But the fact that this is universally acknowledged makes it increasingly difficult for companies to leverage customer service as a unique selling proposition or area of distinction. After all, if everyone is doing it, just how unique can it be?
In truth, exceptional customer service is still very hard to find and in some quarters sadly at an all-time low. That’s because there is a wide divide between talking about it and really hitting the mark. But in 2017 a commitment to superior customer service is no longer an optional pleasantry. Instead, it is fast becoming a requirement for one simple reason: the center of gravity has shifted and today it is the customer who has all the power.
The internet has changed the world more dramatically than any invention since the wheel, and when it comes to customer service, its impact has been like an earthquake in two areas. First, thanks to the internet, consumers have more choice than at any time in history — not just locally, but globally. That alone should make high customer service a priority. Second, and equally as important, the internet has made social media a popular currency through which consumers can communicate with each other with dizzying ease and speed. Service metrics are transparent and negative comments flooded with images appear in real time, often magnified beyond all scope and reason.
As a result, smart businesses are looking for strategies that will allow them to move from organization-centric to customer-centric. Here are four good ways to start on that journey:
Get Personal – Nordstrom provides its customers with personal shoppers. American Express has special hotlines their customers can dial into and are constantly asking for feedback on its performance. Some companies, including ours, offer personal concierges to answer member questions and help provide easy access to the services and resources they need. These companies aren’t just talking about customer service, they are establishing and then refining programs that make those words real. In doing so, they are extending their brand into places that their customers find important.
Get Intimate – The next generation of customer service is customer intimacy … and that generation is already upon us. Intimacy means having in-depth knowledge of your customers and acknowledging that all consumers are not alike. Segmenting your customers by age, ethnicity, income or education can provide an insight into each customer’s needs and wants. So, too, can geographic segmentation or psychographic segmentation, which looks at the personality, values, attitudes, interests and lifestyles of individuals. All help contribute to creating a virtual circle: the better the organization knows the customer, the better it can anticipate and provide for that customer’s needs. And the more that happens, the happier the customer will be and the stronger the bond between the two parties.
Do Good – Today’s consumer, more than any who came before, cares not only about the product or service they are buying, but the company they are buying it from. They want to feel good about their purchase decision and know that they are supporting a company that shares their values. To win over these potential customers, companies should think about forming strong community bonds, being visible in important causes, treating their employees right and playing well in the civic sandbox. In short, being a good “corporate citizen” has a direct correlation to customer service and retention as never before.
Think Empowerment – Companies that believe in customer service also believe in empowering their employees to make decisions on their own without taking it to the next level for approval. The “next level” should only handle exceptions. Empowering employees not only better serves the customer but carries with it many residual effects for the company such as leadership development, increased productivity, trust building, improvement in team morale and the encouragement of innovation.
Delivering on true customer service is a competitive advantage. Much akin to how technology and product innovation paved the way for many flourishing companies in the past, today it is service that will feed the consumers’ appetite and, in the end, that food is the recipe for success.
Wendy Karsten is CEO of Care N’ Care, a locally based Medicare Advantage health plan serving seniors in seven counties of North Texas. cnchealthplan.com.