Leading With Change + Innovation

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“If you really want to know about business, you should refer to Scott Steinberg.” -Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group

How to Provide Incredible Customer Service

Good customer service is enough to satisfy a purchaser. But great customer service is what it takes to make a purchaser come back to you time and time again. Case in point: One major study found that 69 percent of customers typically cease to do business with providers because of poor service (whether real or perceived), while only 13 percent part ways with the provider because of the quality of the product itself. Further research also shows that while you have a 60-70 percent chance of successfully selling again to a current customer, you enjoy only a 20- 40 percent chance of winning back an ex-customer. In essence, not only do you have to offer a superior solution if you wish to win in business today – you’ve also got to offer superior customer service if you want to maximize opportunities to grow and thrive in the market. No matter how good your product or service is, shoppers will still leave you if you don’t know how to properly take care of them.

A simple, powerful way to enhance your customer service is to anticipate what your consumer loves – and give them more of it. For example: Online shoe retailer Zappos randomly upgrades customer shipping speed whenever possible. It initially cost the startup money out of its own pocket to deliver shoes to its customers a day or two earlier than anticipated, but imagine the surprised look on its’ customers’ faces when they received products ahead of schedule – and the amount of positive word of mouth discussion that this practice has inspired. As evidenced by its ongoing success and high-profile acquisition by Amazon, Zappos only serves to demonstrate how a little innovative thinking can help you take shopper satisfaction to the next level. By relentlessly focusing on finding ways to surprise and delight customers at every turn, Zappos has built a legion of long-time, repeat customers – and generated millions in sales that have more than made up for the initial shipping investment. You can never go too far when it comes to putting customers first. As one chef put it, “Always serve too much hot fudge sauce on hot fudge sundaes” – in other words, in today’s often harsh and competitive business world, providing superior customer service is an area where too much of a good thing is seldom enough.

Premium customer service requires you to not only empower your customers, but your colleagues as well. As a simple illustration, Nordstrom employees are taught to do whatever they can to take care of customers within reason – not simply within the corporate guidelines’ reasoning, but rather within their own best judgment. Customer service expert Micah Solomon calls this “an ethos of lateral service:” For everyone in the organization from the CEO on down, the goal is to offer superior customer service, and everyone is on call when the consumer needs them. To succeed in business using this kind of strategy, it’s also worth noting. It’s imperative that everyone in the organization shares a concrete definition of great customer service – and that everyone hired into the enterprise is genuinely interested and capable of making purchasers their number one priority every single time.

Film and theme park giant Disney offers some of the best customer service in the marketplace because it encourages its staff to always be on-call. It’s a serious tenant taught at famed leadership academy the Disney Institute, according to an executive who trained there. “Staying in character” to the business means that for employees at its amusement parks, you always are Snow White, whether you are greeting kids in the main area or taking a bathroom break. It may help to remember that no matter your line of work – and whether you wear jaunty costumes or not – all of us are always on-stage, too: Not just when we man the front lines of a brick-and-mortar store, but when we man the front lines of a management team, interact on social networks, or take customer calls. Like a doting Disney performer, our priority should always be to make consumers as comfortable and as happy as possible, and – in the event concerns arise – to do what it takes to make the situation right for them.

Great customer service further prioritizes quality over quantity. In a well-shared anecdote, the legendary music producer Quincy Jones recently held a book signing on LA’s famous Sunset Strip. The line stretched well out of the store, but Jones was determined to spend quality time with each and every purchaser, sharing stories and posing for pictures, and the octogenarian stayed on-site for hours – well past midnight, in fact – making sure that readers were served. It’s extremely easy to focus on hard numbers such as call center or meal delivery response times, but, as Jones’ decades-long career underscores, building business longevity requires us to build relationships and loyal customers.

At the same time, there also needs to be a way to make sure every customer feels cared for even as they wait to have their needs met, and even slight shifts in the way we use technology can help create lasting goodwill. For instance, broken website links are rarely pleasant to encounter, but witty 404 (a.k.a. “Not Found”) pages can turn a frustrating roadblock into a delight: The web hosting company Kualo routinely turns its’ error pages into a little game of Space Invaders. Another easy trick here if you run a call center might be to replace repetitive hold music with fascinating facts related to your industry or service; provide offers to call customers back when their place in line is ready to be served; or use artificially-intelligent chatbots to quickly address less-urgent or more routine requests (i.e. queries re: what hours your business is open).

Lastly, if your team is truly swamped with customer care requests, consider addressing the most recent customers first, then working backwards. As some business owners suggest, responding to backlogged requests means that your most recent customers will also get a slow response time. However, if you quickly take care of those who put in the most recent requests for help, you have the opportunity to at least give a portion of the waiting customer base an amazing experience, rather than frustrating all. While it’s a counter-intuitive approach that some may take umbrage at, perhaps satisfying some is better than displeasing all.

Whatever your preferred approach, experts can agree on one thing: Putting customers first can help put you at the top of prospective or current shoppers’ lists, no matter how crowded or competitive your market or industry. The better you treat buyers? The better your business will ultimately be.

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