February 24, 2010

Customer Service: More Than Just Putting Out Fires

BY John Paul Narowski IN Customer Service One Comment

Every business person worth their salt knows the statistics on customer retention and the importance of customer service.  This area of business always seems to receive flowery words and big promises in mission statements and employee manuals but often falls short in real world situations.

Customer Service: A Necessity

Unfortunately, many business owners see customer service as just another expense item in a budget.  It seems like many of us come from sales backgrounds so naturally our attention is drawn to obtaining more revenue.  As sales and management professionals we often obsess over revenue sources and relegate customer service to auxiliary importance in our businesses.

Yet, we forget that a huge part of the revenue equation is customer retention.  Customer service should be looked at more than just putting out the fires of dissatisfaction though.  If you’re simply reactionary you’re always just chasing the last problem and not getting out in front of the causes.

People will go out of their way to do business with people they know and like, no matter what the other guy’s price is.  So how do you encourage near fanatical devotion amongst you customers and keep the revenue stream from drying up?  I’m a big fan of not reinventing the wheel; I find people who do things the best and emulate them.  If you’re looking to up your customer service game then you need look no further than Zappos.com.

Follow the Leader: Zappos.com

The online shoe and clothing retailer, which was recently purchased by Amazon.com for close to $1 billion, is widely respected as the king of customer service.  Their corporate culture, policies and training are all geared to produce an environment where workers feel good about providing great customer service.  This devotion to superior customer satisfaction has allowed them grow by leaps and bounds with relatively no traditional advertising costs.

Here’s some examples of how you can implement Zappos.com-like customer service in your business:

  • Blow Expectations Out of the Water: When a Zappos.com customer called to ask if she could return a pair of boots she had purchased for her recently deceased husband even though it was past the regular return period the rep not only took the boots back with no shipping costs but sent flowers to the man’s funeral.  If you’re aiming for the status quo then that’s what you’re going to get.  While that may keep costs a little lower you’re not going to get the customer loyalty and repeat business you’re looking for.
  • Provide the Proper Environment: Zappos.com gives their customer service reps the power to do almost anything a manager can do.  They are well trained and told to “use their best judgment”.  They are not judged on call time, efficiency or any other criteria.  Don’t talk big about customer service but then hamstring your reps with goals that send the wrong message.
  • Customer Service is an Investment, Not a Cost: Yes, you can squeeze every last penny out of your customer service department but the long term effects will be disastrous for customer retention.  Zappos.com pours money into their customer service department and make sure there are enough well trained reps ready to answer calls 24/7 in their outstanding fashion.  This has paid off in spades with much of their business coming from word of mouth.

Put a Customer Service Plan in Place

No matter your business’s size if you’re not looking at customer service this way then you’re going to run into problems.  No matter how great your sales engine is it’s easier and more profitable to retain the customers you already have.  Sit down and review your current polices, attitudes and environment when it comes to customer service.

What can you do encourage more repeat business and fanatical customer loyalty?

I’ve been hacking at various business ideas since I was 16. I’m a full stack developer and love crafting user experiences. I’ve been nose deep in code since I put the legos down, and built several successful businesses in the process. I’ve lost some hair, gained some experience and throughly enjoyed the journey.

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