As the chief marketing officer of an international brand, I spend more than 200 days a year on the road. And, in terms of customer service, I’ve experienced everything from warm to cold -- and light to delight.
Exceptional customer service, unfortunately, remains a pain point for many companies. But, no matter: Mastering this capability long-term has become more and more important. In fact, when a company doesn’t have good services in place -- and here I'm thinking of cable and satellite businesses (e.g., Comcast, Charter and Dish Network), that company might actually end up being investigated.
Why else must the level of service be sky-high? Exceptional customer service has been linked to a wide range of business benefits, from gaining repeat customers and spending less money on marketing to creating a better work environment and decreasing purchase abandonment.
“Somewhat good” customer service doesn’t even exist -- or shouldn't. If a customer has a single negative experience, he or she will need 12 positive ones, on average, to make up for it. And, once you’ve made customers unhappy, more than 90 percent of them will stop doing business with you altogether.
So, if you’re aiming for good or average customer service, you’ll be subpar in any industry: You may as well route potential customers directly to your competitors.
The royal treatment
To reroute those consumers back to your company, make common people feel like royalty. Customer-service paradigms start with royal decadence and submission -- for a reason.
Every company should consider itself a subject in the king’s royal court. If the king or queen (i.e., the customer) doesn’t like the subject’s offering, dire consequences may result. So, in this big-box world, why shy away from that fear? Successful companies don’t just compromise; they push to deliver the best service possible to each and every royal customer.
Amazon is an example. It's nailed how to establish a customer-centric organization: A 2015 survey discovered that Amazon had topped the charts six years in a row, with fewer than 2 percent of customers rating the service negatively. The issue boils down to whether an organization treats customer service as a process or a culture (in short, whether it treats customer service like yet another cost, or the cost of doing business).
My own tech consulting company, Wipro, released quarterly results revealing that approximately 98 percent of our revenue comes from our existing clients. A big reason for those solid ongoing relationships is that our value system prioritizes providing exceptional customer service. Here are three steps we take to achieve that goal, steps you may want to take too:
1. Switch hats when the king (or queen) asks you to.
Building customer service into your culture involves responding to any unhappy customers by doing whatever you can to turn that frown upside down. This is particularly important considering that any buzz about poor service reaches twice as many people as kudos for a customer’s positive experience.
Lufthansa’s flight directors examined recent survey data within similar sectors and then used that data to give directions to flight crews on how to best interact with customers. The data wasn't yearly, quarterly or even monthly, nor was it focused on large trends. Instead, it was micro and could be changed to make customers feel more comfortable with each flight.
So, to create a customer service-focused culture, concentrate on data at a micro level and be willing to quickly pivot.
2. Reduce your team of royal advisors to just a few.
Consider having to interact with a call center. While the process is well-organized, many customers become frustrated when they get passed from department to department -- unless they call Zappos, where the company’s flatter (than most) organizational structure allows faster decision-making.
Building culture through process is a long, painful exercise, but when it comes to customer service, it succeeds every time. While flattening your structure may temporarily burden a staff member, keep in mind what’s at stake: lasting, and sometimes lifetime customer relationships. That’s a high return on investment for any short-term pain.
3. Change with the king or queen.
Companies have to constantly reinvent their customer-service models to flex with changing consumer behavior. Technology is one obvious way the environment for customer service is evolving. Customers want to interact with a person directly -- not just by phone but via websites or social media.
If you aren’t sure what your customers really think of you, don’t assume they have the highest opinion. While looking at data on a micro level will quickly satisfy customer needs, examining it from a macro viewpoint gives ideas for bigger-picture changes. Use metrics, measurement tools and listening posts to assess customer needs and pinpoint unmet expectations. At Wipro, we not only study our Net Promoter Score, we also ask each customer for one thing we might do differently in the future.
At the end of the day, successful companies don’t just deliver better customer service at one point in time; they constantly change their businesses in response to evolving consumer behavior. If you can understand your customers well enough to anticipate their needs and empower your teams to deliver A-level service, you’ll differentiate yourself from the crowd and go a long way toward creating enduring success for your company.