Customer Delight

The business differentiator.

May, 2011

Customer Service Let's do a little experiment. Whip out your phone and call any company to whom you send a payment every month. Their number is right there on your bill. Go ahead; I dare you. Call your cell phone provider. Or your cable company. Call your bank. Heck, call your sanitation company. No doubt you will be greeted by some disembodied voice advising you to "please listen carefully as our menu options have changed". Why on earth has every company's IVR menu changed? We'll get back to that in just a minute.

Now, call a company with whom you might do business in the future. Call the other bank, or call one of the other cell phone companies. That number will be prominently featured on the home page of their website. A living, breathing soul will happily take your call (and your credit card number). These two experiences differ so simply because companies spend more money on attracting new business than they spend on retaining existing business. That's not just a shame, but it's bad business.

Before I go on, it's important to note the one important exception to this rule. Continuing the experiment, call the first company back and tell them that you'd like to terminate your service. You won't find this option on the IVR menu, so you'll have to expend considerable effort figuring out how to convince an actual human being to talk to you. "Considerable" effort might not be enough because this is no easy task. You might have to call the aforementioned, "prominently-featured on their website" number for potential customers. Even then you will probably be transferred to the dreaded IVR. So anyway, tell them you quit. You will ultimately end up speaking with a "Customer Retention Specialist" (yes, that is an actual job description on file in HR). These are, quite possibly, the nicest people on the face of the good earth, and they have all manner of special powers that make them the envy of the mere mortal and common Customer Service Representative. These mighty beings can lower your annual percentage rate, give you three free months of HBO and Showtime, and get a technician to your house first thing in the morning. These people are so powerful, I recommend you seek out their counsel at least once per year. Yes, you should threaten to break up with every company at least annually. It keeps your relationship healthy by ensuring you're getting the love you deserve (do not attempt this tactic with your spouse/significant other/life partner).

To repeat, the budget for Customer Service is much smaller than the marketing and sales budgets. A substantiating footnote to the previous factoid is not required, as the reader will concede that there are not line items in the the Customer Service budget that read "Super Bowl Commercial". Hence, we have to resort to threats and intimidation to get the attention of the people to whom we send our hard earned dollars every month. And as I said, that is a shame. It's a shame because as a consumer, you should expect nothing less than exceptional and continuously improving service. For sending that payment every month, you should be wooed and coddled and showered with love and appreciation. That's a pretty tall expectation, but you should insist upon it, do not back down, and yes threaten and coerce if you don't get it. You should also be prepared to make good on your threats and take your business elsewhere if you're not absolutely delighted.

I think it was Clark Howard who coined the term "Customer No-Service"; I could be mistaken but he says it all the time. Listen, I'm not naive, Customer Service is not easy. Customers can be a real pain in the you know what. This job would be great...As Randal said, "this job would be great if it wasn't for the [expletive] customers." But poor Customer Service is bad business. We could do business with a bank for 20 years and never have a problem but we will, in excruciating detail, tell anyone who will listen about our first bad experience there. People have been known to embellish and even rehearse these stories for greater dramatic effect. The story Elizabeth told at the Anderson's cocktail party last week about her homeowner's insurance claim nightmare will not be forgotten. I remember a lot of the best Super Bowl commercials but I don't remember which products they were promoting. But I certainly remember the company Elizabeth talked about. I even remember her agent's name and the horrible way he treated her. That's pretty effective negative advertising, and that's why poor Customer Service is bad business.

It's during those conversations at cocktail parties that Elizabeth will decide which insurance company she's switching to. No matter how funny the Super Bowl commercial, as consumers I think we make most of our decisions based on word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc. In other words, other consumers. For evidence of this, just look at the popularity of web sites like Yelp, Angie's List, and The Consumerist.

Quality Customer Service IS hard. [Cliche' Warning] If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. It's hard because companies have to continuously deliver ever-improving Service to do it well. If they give your kid a lollipop or your dog a treat at the bank, the next time you go you're like, "Where's my damn lollipop?" Niceties quickly become expectations.

And you only get one chance. When that Customer calls with a problem, the solution that absolutely, unconditionally, delights the Customer must be at hand. We're living in an instant-gratification world! No one waits 6-8 weeks for delivery anymore. We want it now! And how many have failed before? And at what cost? Remember the runaway Toyota debacle? It's amazing how quickly a company's reputation can fall.

Here's why it's so important that we get it right. Product bells and whistles are fleeting. Product features are like water. They seek their own level. Your company's electronic golf ball warmer may have a built-in wireless web interface, but the competition will not rest until theirs offers not only that, but an app so you can control it from your smart phone. So how do you stand out from the competition?

Service.

The message is this: Quality Service is what differentiates exceptional companies. How a company behaves when things go bad determines what is said about them at cocktail parties. Ken Blanchard writes that companies need to have Raving Fans. Raving FansCould you imagine your Customers painting your company name on their chests? Okay, maybe that's going a little too far. That's a tremendous read, by the way. And it's true. Have you ever heard someone rave about a positive Customer Service experience? I have, and it has certainly influenced my purchasing habits. It's comforting when a trusted friend tells us that we can spend our money on a product and know that we will be treated right if anything goes wrong. To me, it's more important than the product itself! In fact, I would venture to say that people would gladly sacrifice product quality if you guarantee them a quality service experience.

Now back to the IVR. For the uninitiated, IVR stands for interactive voice response. It's the thing that says, "press one for English", etc. I have no issue with this technology. Properly deployed, IVRs can be very useful and efficient. Unfortunately that's rarely the case. It's rarer still that I call one of these things and one of the options happens to be what I'm calling about. Instead, companies tend to offer the information they have available. "For account balance, press one." Chances are you already know your account balance, it's incorrect, and that's why you're calling. Why would companies put a phone number on your bill that you can call to find your account balance??? Earlier I said Customer Service was hard. Here's an exception. How hard can it be to analyze why your Customers are calling you AND PUT THOSE THINGS IN THE FRONT OF THE IVR MENU??? If these IVRs drive you nuts, you might enjoy this website.

Help Desk

So you might wonder what all this has to do with IT. Simple. We're first and foremost a service provider. Our Customers are those people out there in those offices and cubicles, the end Customers who use our services, and the owners of the business processes that depend on technology. And just like any other service provider, they have a choice as to whom they send that payment every month. Yes, they can choose to have some external outsourcing vendor replace you if they don't like your service. In fact, they should threaten to do just that at least once a year (to make sure you're loving them enough). So think SERVICE in everything you do. Before the Customer takes his business elsewhere.