In the beginning, word of mouth was how your business was built. Now, with Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp, it’s more like “word of fingertip.” From Fortune 500 titans with global reach, to firms with national sales and thousands of employees, to small regional and local companies trying hard to grow, customer experience can make or break a business on social media in the time it took you to read this sentence.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos summed it up when he said, “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.”
The good news is, if companies provide a top-notch customer experience, they can turn skeptics into believers and customers become evangelists for the business. Research by the Harvard Business Review found that better service translates to higher customer satisfaction, reduced churn, increased revenue and greater employee satisfaction.
So, how can companies improve customer service?
Let’s start with what you don’t want to do, as bad customer service can have an unpleasant effect upon the bottom line.
Take the case of a subscriber of the world’s largest multimedia company who called customer service to cancel his cable service. After ten minutes of being unable to accomplish that simple goal, the customer started recording the conversation with the customer service representative.
The rep repeatedly tried to sell the customer on maintaining his service. When the exasperated customer posted the recording online, it struck a chord with thousands of dissatisfied consumers and embarrassed the company, creating a public relations nightmare.
The lesson is clear. Listen to your customers and work to give them what they want.
Listening to the customer is what Chip McCarty, a salesperson with 20 years of experience at Herb Chambers Mercedes-Benz of Boston, does best. He believes that to be a good salesperson, you have to have exceptional product knowledge and patience. “You have to be a good listener. Most salespeople talk too much. They don’t listen to what the customer wants,” he said.
He cited a customer who lives in a northern suburb and commutes to New Hampshire, putting 25,000 miles per year on her vehicle. McCarty listened to her concerns and suggested a diesel Mercedes would save her money on fuel and time at the pump. McCarty is quick to note that he feels fortunate to work for what he believes is the oldest and best car brand in the world.
L.L. Bean, another iconic brand, also continues to do an excellent job of listening to its customers. The person who answers the phone knows the L.L. Bean product line and there is no friction when the customer asks to return an item. In fact, the L.L. Bean website states, “Our products are guaranteed to give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at any time if it proves otherwise. We do not want you to have anything from L.L.Bean that is not completely satisfactory.” Now, while many businesses may not be able to live up to such a generous guarantee, L.L. Bean’s global business has enough volume to cover the occasional customer who arrives with a 25-year-old pair of boots and is shocked, just shocked, that they are no longer water tight. The company has become a role model of what businesses should aspire to in delivering optimal customer experience.
The lesson here is, deliver on your brand promises.
A key question for companies is, who is in your customer service department? The answer is, everybody. That’s because every customer today is a mini media empire posting reviews all over the web. To be prepared, everyone in your organization should be cross-trained in more than their specialty and be empowered to make things right when they are wrong.
Steve DiFillippo is the author of It’s All About The Guest and the owner of Davio’s restaurants. His commitment to excellent customer service started when he bought his first restaurant in 1985 and stuck with him as he grew to be the owner of multiple restaurants and was inducted into the Massachusetts Restaurant Hall of Fame.
Today, he challenges all of his employees to make guests comfortable. If a server, a busboy or a bartender notices that it’s a guest’s birthday, a dessert with his or her name on it arrives at the table. DiFillippo said, “We really keep track of the guests. It’s the old ‘Cheer’s.’ People love when you know their name.”
To be competitive in the restaurant business today, this type of customer service isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. “It’s really not about the food anymore. We all have great food. Thirty years ago, there were some really great restaurants. Now all the restaurants are great,” said DiFillippo.
“What’s the difference? It’s the hospitality. Not just the person who walks in the front door but also the people who walk in the back door,” he continued. “If that server is unhappy, they don’t look at the guest. You see the cooks out back smoking by the dumpster, you wonder who is running this place. We were one of the first restaurants to have health insurance. That’s what you do. How can you be hospitable to your guests if you’re not hospitable to your staff?”
At the end of each night, everyone at the restaurant logs guest preferences into the computer. That way, when the guest returns, the staff knows his or her name, preferred table, favorite drink and favorite menu item. Davio’s also has a full-time staffer who monitors social media and responds to positive and negative reviews.
The takeaway is, customer service is delivered at every touch point and it must be maintained at the highest level throughout the customer experience to be successful.
Another critical question is, how should company representatives behave? As if they are always on camera. Every year, large companies spend millions of dollars trying to hone their image with glossy advertising campaigns. And every year, someone posts a humbling video that contradicts the image portrayed online or on TV. For instance, if a worldwide shipping company talks about how much they care about delivering your package on time, only to see a customer post a video of a delivery driver casually hurling a package with a computer monitor over a high fence, the brand promise just took a giant hit.
Employees are all brand ambassadors. The message is, they must embrace that role because with mobile devices now ubiquitous, someone, it seems, is always watching – and recording.
Sophisticated retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue make enormous investments in
Customer Experience and Voice of the Customer initiatives to hone their ability to deliver the best experience possible. It takes commitment from the top of the organization all the way to the front lines to make it work.
Suhail Kwatra is a Personal Shopper at Saks Fifth Avenue of Boston who has built a reputation for excellent customer service by offering unique items. Sure, he sells from the floor, but he also invites special customers into his Magic Closet. There, and only there, customers are invited to view the pieces he has personally shopped for all over the world. He wowed one customer with a trench coat from Paris crafted by Azzedine Alai. Now, the woman is not only a friend, she is also a customer for life.
Nordstrom is another large retailer with a deep commitment to delivering an elite level of customer service. In fact, some credit the upscale fashion retailer with leading the charge on the concept.
Consistently rich customer experiences build customer loyalty to those brands. Social media then turbo charges and amplifies the positive attributes.
Despite all the best of intentions – especially at this hectic time of year when staffs in all kinds of businesses are stressed to the breaking point – customer experience service may come up short on occasion. But companies well-trained in customer experience and satisfaction such as those mentioned use these instances as opportunities to earn lifetime relationships by keeping the customer at the forefront of everything they do – especially in difficult situations
Well-known organizations like JD Power and others that rank customer satisfaction have taken on a new level of importance for large companies hoping to retain and grow their existing customers, as well as attract new ones. There are new names emerging, too. Netpromoter.com creates a score for your business by asking people a single question, using a 0-10 scale: “How likely is it that you would recommend your company to a friend or colleague?” After crunching the numbers, Netpromoter presents the company with their Net Promoter Score, which they believe is an important indicator of future growth.
For smaller businesses, online resources like Desk.com can help propel growth with better customer service. According to Hana Mandapat, Director of Marketing with Desk.com, “Today’s customers expect you to be on, so whether you are talking to customers on phone, email or chat, you can manage all from one place. A lot of people might be on one channel, (but) it’s important to get all of those channels integrated onto one platform.
“Customers today are on Facebook and Twitter and they are likely to express their pleasure or displeasure on social media. You need to listen and respond,” she added. “It doesn’t make sense if a customer tweets about you, then you call them back. You have to get the multi-channel experience that is connected on the back end so you can give the customer the experience they want.”
There are many ways of thinking about customer service in the digital age and there is not one rule that is right for everyone. But, when in doubt, think about the Golden Rule: treat others like you would like to be treated.
This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's BG BrandLab in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.