As bloggers, we all struggle over creating valuable content for our readers, but sometimes great content just falls into your lap and reminds you about what’s really important in selling your brand — customer service.
Don’t get me wrong, social media is a GREAT tool for creating warm fuzzy feelings that lead to increased sales, but that can all be destroyed in a heartbeat (or a Tweet) when you fail at customer service. Then, social media becomes a vehicle for sharing your customer service failure far and wide.
The Customer is KING
One factor many companies STILL don’t get is that customers have choices — and in many hyper-competitive markets, customers have LOTS of choices. When a product or service doesn’t meet customer expectations — even by a teeny bit — consumers leave in droves in search of more acceptable products.
Wisely, Sir Richard Branson, on Virgin Group, includes customer service on his social media teams to ensure the team ferrets out even slight dissatisfaction and to identify opportunities for Virgin brands to shine above competitors in the eyes of consumers.
Other companies prefer to gamble by providing minimal or no customer service. To these companies, profitability is a numbers game and the negative impact of a single customer defection is too small to warrant the expense of keeping that customer.
Customer service in relationship marketing
Scientific studies show that it costs 5X more to attract a new customer than it costs to keep an existing customer happy!
Throw in the ease with which negative word of mouth spreads in social networks and you’re compounding the problem of a single customer service failure. A single Tweet can snowball into a giant avalanche of negative feelings.
But, you have to figure companies KNOW this stuff, since relationship marketing has been a marketing basic for over 20 years. I think the problem lies in not having systems in place to ensure customer satisfaction.
How to ensure superior customer service that stops defection in its tracks?
Step 1 – Customer service audit
A customer service audit tracks the way a customer progresses through the service cycle from their first contact with the firm throughout their interactions with the firm over time. And, don’t forget that even firms who see themselves a simply selling a product also have service components. For instance, yesterday I encountered the book rep for Cengage Learning — which manufactures and distributes textbooks to colleges, universities, and schools. The rep had repeatedly ignored my request for materials over the course of the semester and became very defensive when I told her I wouldn’t adopt any more textbooks from Cengage. That cost them about $12,000 in sales just for a single textbook every year. Not to mention other books I might have adopted over the course of my career. Of course, that also ignores my immediate recommendation that all my faculty colleagues from Facebook and Twitter look elsewhere for their textbooks, and, possibly more importantly, when looking for a publisher for their textbooks — which can mean a shortfall in new books needed to remain viable in the market. I immediately got comments from my social network of similar problems with the company — companies rarely have only a single customer service failure — and others pledging to avoid the company lest they suffer the same problems, which make us less effective in the classroom and possibly affect our student evaluations that determine, in part, our tenure and raise decisions.
A customer service audit highlights areas where customers might experience service failure (such as the sales rep in the above example), determine metrics to track customer service (such as customer satisfaction in this case), and establish processes to both rectify any customer service failures and reduce the chances of future failures.
Tracking and monitoring customer touch points
In addition to a customer service audit, firms need to establish metrics and monitor performance across the organization, especially at customer touch points. This requires firms determine how their processes impact customers, determine what metrics reflect success (or failure) with customer service, and create policies that ensure the hiring, training, motivation, and performance of the firm across these touch points.
Don’t wait for customer complaints to take action. Studies show even seriously unhappy consumers fail to complain — they simple defect to another product. So, be proactive in finding problems and fixing them. Secret shoppers do this in retail businesses. And, the premise behind the TV show, Undercover Boss, is based on the value of upper management know what’s going on at the level where the firm touches customers.
Contingency planning and empowerment
Contingency planning and empowerment are keys to creating process that ensure superior customer service.
Contingency plans dictate actions when something happens that’s likely to be negative for customers. For instance, when bad weather grounds a plane. Sure, passengers know it wasn’t the airline’s fault, but that doesn’t make them any happier. What makes them happy is KNOWING what plans the airline has for getting them where they want to go with as little inconvenience as possible. Airlines should have systems in place to keep passengers updated on current conditions and plans, tell them HOW and where to go to reschedule travel, if necessary, and provide for expedient handling of these passengers. Of course, we know airlines haven’t done this, which encouraged the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to pass regulations imposing heavy fines on airlines.
Empowerment goes hand in hand with contingency planning. It doesn’t work to have a contingency plan that requires employees in the field get approval for every action from someone else. The key to handling customer service failure is to do it FAST. For instance, hotels like Marriott that boast really high levels of customer satisfaction commonly allow a great deal of leeway among front desk employees. Thus, when a customer complains about food in the restaurant, rooms not being ready, or other failures, front desk employees can make whatever accommodations make the guest happy — whether that’s comping the room, providing food vouchers, or gift baskets full of all kinds of goodies. This allows front desk employees to immediately make the guest happy.
Getting back to marketing basics
Customer service is but one aspect of getting back to marketing basics to create success for your organization. Sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss a single post in this series on getting back to marketing basics. We also blog about social media and marketing strategy, analytics, and effective use of social media and marketing tools, like perceptual maps.
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