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- 12/01/2014


Four Ways to Deliver Exceptional Customer Service

Customer service is a necessity for your business to survive for the long-term. Today’s consumer expects a quality experience when they pay for a product or service, otherwise they’ll take their business elsewhere.

According to marketer and serial entrepreneur, Peter Shankman, the economy of the future will be fueled by organizations who offer the best customer service.

“The economy of the next fifty years will be powered by customer service. Why? Because in the very near future, only the sentiment of a customer’s interaction with you will determine whether that customer brings in new ones, or lets your business die,” said Shankman.

Shankman is right. Now it is mandatory that you pay close attention to the needs of your customers and provide them with the best customer service in order to maintain your relationship with them overtime.

One of the best ways for an organization to scale their customer service needs is by relying on a variety of procedures and tools to help ensure a company is able to address the growing needs of their customers with their existing resources and staff.

Here are four ways your organization can use a succinct strategy and a few impactful tools to empower its customer service efforts.

1. Making the customer experience relevant.

When it comes to customer service your organization really has a dual obligation to fulfill. The first half of customer service is rectifying whatever problem the customer had. At the end of the day, this is the most important thing, but if you stop here you really haven’t maximized the interaction.

Ideally your customer service should also convert that negative customer experience into something positive and relevant to your brand. This is an important point to consider, because customer service should not just be about putting out fires. Ultimately it should be about building relationships as you continue to get to know your customer.

If a customer is taking the time and energy to call or tweet at your brand, chances are they feel wronged by you in some way. The sad truth is that you are likely not the first to hear about it either. They’ve probably already told a family member or friend about the bad experience or tweeted to their followers about it first.

To reverse this damaging word of mouth, simply addressing their issue will likely not be enough. They expect their problem to be resolved and people typically don’t talk about things they expect to happen. Your organization needs to go above and beyond in its response if you hope to repair (let alone improve) your brand’s reputation.

Luckily, delighting customers doesn’t take much effort. It simply takes a little bit of consideration as your team continues to differentiate your customers into proper segments to appropriately address their needs . Whether it’s injecting humor or personality into your response or offering a small token of apology, the slightest positive gesture can make a huge impact on the way a customer views your brand moving forward.

2. Establishing customer support across the organization.

JetBlue has become nearly legendary for their exemplary customer service. While you can try to pick apart all the things that make them such a wild success, it makes a lot more sense to look at the overarching philosophy behind their customer service.

This ideology is best summarized by Laurie Meacham, their head of customer service: “We call ourselves a customer service company that happens to fly airplanes.”

For many companies customer service is an afterthought. In an industry where the prevailing trend is to outsource it overseas, the notion that it should be the central focus of your organization flies in the face of convention.

However, making customer service part of the DNA of your organization is much more effective than confining this essential service to only one department. This is customer interactions with your brand are rarely confined to the customer service team.

Nothing could be more frustrating to a customer than asking an employee for help with something and to be met with the response “that’s not my job.” By making customer service a key part of your organization you not only ensure that this scenario will never happen, but you also empower all of your employees to make customer happiness part of their jobs.

This allows for cases like one that happened at a Pennsylvanian Trader Joe’s. One Christmas there was a horrible snowstorm and an 89-year-old WWII veteran’s daughter was worried that her father might run out of food. She called the Trader Joe’s asking if they could deliver. The employee responded that they normally don’t but they would in this instance.

After reading out a long order she asked how she should pay, and the employee simply replied “Merry Christmas” and said that there was no need, Trader Joe’s would cover the cost.

This story ended up going viral on Reddit and certainly enhanced Trader Joe’s reputation. This was all possible because Trader Joe’s actively encourages each and every employee to treat customer service as the highest priority.

3. Cultivating long-term relationships with customers.

Steven Levitt, the author of the wildly popular Freakonomics, once blogged about the way that United Airlines won his loyalty for life.

He was flying United home from New York, but his flight was cancelled due to snow. The next flight wasn’t for two hours, and since he arrived an hour early he was looking at a daunting three hour wait.

Just as he was sitting down for a dinner of fast-food Chinese, he got a call from an unknown number. It was someone named Michael who told him, “I see that you’re at the airport and your flight is delayed a few hours. A seat opened up on an earlier flight, so I grabbed it for you in case you wanted it. It leaves in forty minutes, so you’ll have to hurry.”

It turns out this was Michael’s job. United Airlines employs people specifically to handle frequent flyers. These employees go to great lengths to keep their loyal customers happy. It turns out that Michael had to call four people before anyone would give him Levitt’s number.

This unanticipated act of kindness won his loyalty for life, this was exactly what United created Michael’s role for. Instead of being satisfied with simply having a loyal customer, United understood that keeping a customer loyal was an active process.

It turns out they could not have been more correct. Levitt said that less than a week prior to United’s act of kindness he had pledged his lifelong allegiance to American Airlines for a similar (yet not as grand) act of kindness.

4. Delivering results for customers quickly at scale.

The popular social media scheduling tool Buffer serves nearly two million customers yet they only have a ten person customer service team. What’s truly remarkable is the fact that the social media focused customer service they provide is consistently stellar.

On their company blog they talk a lot about their approach to customer service and shed a bit of light on how they achieve so much with such a small team.

The first thing they do is divide and conquer. Instead of having a general customer service team monitor all the different channels, they have five pairs each specializing in one avenue of communication.

In an even further division of labor, they have one member of each pair focus specifically on measuring the success of the channel and the other focuses on the overall experience. Each member communicates with the other and the combined insights and actions help to enhance the channel overall.

For example, the member of the Twitter team focused on the experience found that other companies included a “tweet to help” option in their help menu. After implementing the feature, the member in charge of measuring the channel was instantly able to confirm the experiment’s success, since they are actively using live chat, e-mail and social media the right way to engage customers.

The other crucial choice Buffer makes is that they empower their customer service team to suggest changes to the product team. The idea is that customer service has the most intimate knowledge of what the customer wants out of the product.

One example of this was when customer service kept on getting complaints that users couldn’t add images to posts already scheduled. Customer service forwarded this suggestion to the product team and they were able to build out the feature quickly.

Not only did this make the customers happy and feel like their voices were being heard (because they were), this action also addressed a glut of complaints that the customer service team would have to deal with; thereby allowing them to be more responsive overall.

This last case perhaps best represents why Peter Shankman, sees customer service as the future of business. Customer service will fuel the future of the economy not just because happier customers tend to be more loyal, but because building your business around customer service is actually capable of making your organization more efficient, responsive and effective. To repurpose Meacham’s line “the economy of the future will be a customer service economy that happens to sell products and build services.”

Updated November 22, 2017.