Recently I read a report that suggested service is more important than the product it surrounds (CMO Survey, Feb 2015). This surprised me initially – could customers really value how a product is delivered over and above the product itself? A quick second thought, recalling some of my own experiences of late, and I understood.
We live in a world where there is a substitute for everything. Very little is truly unique and with global markets at our fingertips it is becoming easier to evaluate and obtain products and services from a much larger marketplace. Therefore, if we can meet our primary needs from a multitude of products, we are going to put increased importance on our emotional needs – and this is what customer service should focus on. It is the new ‘hierarchy of service needs’, says @mrjake74 on Twitter.
The good, the bad, and the walk of shame
Quite often we find ourselves floating through life buying things we have bought before, interacting with brands without a second thought. That is until something surprises us, something out of the ordinary, which makes us sit up and take notice. I’ve had a few of these moments lately. Charles Tyrwhitt, Amazon UK, Piel Frama and Nespresso have all delivered fantastic moments in my shopping experiences. The bad moments, and I mean absolutely gut-wrenchingly awful, consistently over months and years, are from some of our iconic, or ‘old economy’, brands. I won’t name and shame here, but if you follow me on Twitter, you will know who I’m referring to.
Old economy brands talk at us through slick marketing campaigns, glossy brochures, and carefully managed PR twitter feeds masquerading as customer service accounts – but often they fail to engage us. Motivated by the trading sheet, they harvest our wallets with calculated promises, minimal service standards, and no interest in developing a meaningful two-way relationship. If the retail industry had a walk of shame, we would be plodding home in last night’s clothes after a date with one of these brands.
Delivering great customer experience requires the ethos and culture of ‘doing the right thing’ to be embedded deep within the organisation, with customer service being seen as more than just a department on the second floor to the right of marketing. Customer service means making an organisation easy to interact with through clear policy, empowered front-line staff, great technology, decisive leadership, and most of all, meaningful values. It’s not about being perfect – things go wrong, we all appreciate that – but the marker of truly great service is in how you act when things do go wrong. Customers want to have their issue resolved by the first person they contact, so point them to the right place, and if it’s Twitter, make it a Twitter service that does more than link you to yet another ‘customer services’ team. And if that link fails to render on a mobile device, you really are sending a clear signal that you don’t care.
Brands that get customer service right create an experience that is designed, thought through, consistent across channels. Irrespective of the method of purchase or communication, the experience maintains a certain grace, and intuitive flow. Customers should not feel the need to make public rants on social media before they get the attention they deserve.
I’m upset and I’m going to tell the world
The social media angle is interesting. Twitter and Facebook have given consumers a way to stand up to big brands on a level playing field. Word can spread fast about bad brand experiences, and with the eyes of the world upon them, organisations are compelled to respond. Interestingly, first responders are all too often PR teams, not customer services teams, which is strikingly defensive behaviour, screaming ‘we care about how we appear to the world’ rather than ‘we genuinely want to solve your individual issue and improve things for you personally’. This approach is insulting to the individual, but the public platform means that everyone can see right through this sweet talk – and nobody wants to be just a number in a brand’s little black book.
Social media is also used by customers to make purchasing decisions, and old economy brands are finding that their cleverly crafted marketing messages no longer hit the spot. The first thing most of us do when evaluating a big purchase is hit the internet and find out what other customers think of that product or brand. Yes, the brand’s website is critical for product information and images, but customers will use online reviews and social media comments to get the real picture.
Be consistent. Be real.
Brands need to offer their customers an authentic experience, one that meets their expectations with interactions that are seamless, and which fit in to everyday lives without fuss or fanfare. Brands that walk the walk in terms of their promises will shine more brightly than those with multi award-winning advertising campaigns offering sparkle without the substance. Customers want and expect transparency and a human touch; no longer can they be fooled with cleverly controlled messages. This isn’t rocket science, but it is a case of getting it right, for real. Great service cannot be faked or polished to look right. In the age of modern communication, the truth will out.
So what is it that makes a brand stand out? According to a Which? report in September 2014 that surveyed 3,600 UK consumers, Lush and John Lewis both know the answer, placing in the top three brands for customer service. Two very different brands, but with vital characteristics in common: an authentic voice, modern customer service standards that are embedded within their culture, and a vital ingredient – realness.