Too many people look at customer service as a cost center, when it really should be a profit center.
I recently read B-A-M!: Delivering Customer Service in a Self-Service World and it’s an important refresher and reminder of the importance of great customer service. Customer support is something I’ve obsessed over for many years.
The authors say it very clearly, and I’ve said it in the past as well, “Customer service is generally so bad that even a slight improvement can be a huge competitive advantage.” Customer service is critical for client retention as well.
Here are 9 important reminders + revelations from B-A-M!:
- Tie customer service to revenue & profits. Barry Moltz and Mary Jane Grinstead (authors of the book) make it very clear that the nice, fluffy, altruistic reasons for providing great customer service aren’t enough. You have to tie the support you offer to revenue and profits. That starts by understanding the economic value of each customer, and then understanding how customer service is implicated in generating that revenue (and future revenue). This is all about cold hard cash.
- Proactive support is key. In many cases, responding after a problem has emerged is too late. In that circumstance you tend to be dealing with angry people. But proactive support is all about reaching customers before the shit hits the fan, alerting them to problems, or reacting to what you see in terms of product usage. So look at what metrics you track on usage, and use those metrics to trigger proactive interactions with customers. For example, you might find a customer isn’t using your product a lot. Having that as a metric versus baseline usage (or expected usage) is a great way for customer support to reach out and ask, “Why? And, how can we help?
- Think of customer service as a feature. The more you think of customer service as an intrinsic feature of your product and not some ancillary thing you “have to do”, the better you’ll be.
- Think of customer service as part of your brand. You don’t get to define and control your brand like you used to. Your customers, prospects and users have taken it over. And that means how you service people has become a huge part of your brand awareness and value.
- Tie customer service to surprise. I’m still obsessing over Surprise and its uses and implications for Web businesses. Surprise should be incorporated into your customer service initiatives. This shouldn’t be done by “under promising and over delivering” (I agree with the authors of the book – this is bogus). But it can be done in a much more subtle (and proactive) way. Matt Brezina, founder at Xobni, calls at least one customer per week to stay close to his customers and make sure things are going well. That’s smart for customer service, word-of-mouth marketing, brand building and PR.
- Consistency is key. You want every interaction a customer has with your company to be very similar. You don’t want customers having a great experience one day only to be hugely disappointed the next. That inconsistency will make any great customer service you provide a moot point. This means investing significantly in training your staff and having well thought out policies in place.
- Empower your people. Customer service people are treated like shit. The jobs are often low paying and the work isn’t easy. You need to empower these people to make decisions on-the-fly and respond effectively to customers. If every “tough situation” results in escalation to managers, you’re going to eat into profits and have more frustrated customers.
- Loyalty programs work. The book has a section on using loyalty programs. They do work. But just to remind us that Barry and Mary Jane aren’t hippie socialists trying to kill companies by forcing them to spend all their money on customer service, I had to include this quote:
“Let’s be clear. We appreciate loyalty. Companies that treat customers with dignity and respect want to reward that loyalty–but the primary purpose of loyalty programs is to create velvet handcuffs to lock our customers in and have them come back even when they have a choice.”
Velvet handcuffs. Gotta love it.
- You should sweat the small stuff. The authors point out that even “…tiny slivers of a customer’s total experience has the potential to affect the big feeling the customer has for the company.” This speaks to the issue of consistency, and the importance of each and every customer interaction for the overall success of your customer service initiatives, and ultimately your business.
B-A-M!: Delivering Customer Service in a Self-Service World is a fairly quick read with some very good reference material / checklists at the back. In my mind we still have a lot of work to do in terms of elevating the importance of customer service inside the hierarchy of organizations. Too often, customer service is an afterthought, something scrambled together piecemeal to deal with customer complaints. That’s simply not good enough.