Over the course of working 12 years for a company that literally holds trophy cabinets for their collection of client satisfaction awards, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the question, “so, what’s the secret to great customer service?” Many companies want to “wow” customers, but few achieve the enviable status of an Amazon, a Zappos or a Southwest. There is a very simple recipe for world-class service, but putting it into practice is much more difficult than it sounds.
Putting the recipe together for amazing service is hard because while so many companies are striving to hit quarterly earnings targets, it is difficult for them to not let the almighty dollar drive every decision. But in customer service – success is all about people. It’s about the human touch–not just metrics and equations. Here are the 3 basic ingredients plus the 1 secret ingredient to make the best world-class service that people rave about:
- Make sure your business works. Before you stop reading here, and as silly as this fundamental step sounds, this is the one reason why so many companies can’t even get the train to leave the station. It’s useless to implement a customer loyalty program if your product is never shipped on time. There is no point in having a 24/7 contact number if no one can ever reach a person to get their issue resolved. And what is the use of collecting customer feedback if you do not have a system in place for extracting its value? Yes, as basic as this sounds, the first step to great service is making sure that the basic components of the product, service delivery and troubleshooting are in place and working well. Before starting on the road to delighting customers, companies must be meeting their customers’ basic expectations.
- Keep a long-term view of profits. The best service organizations look at the lifetime value of a customer as opposed to evaluating the profitability of a single transaction. You never want to lose the next 20 years of your customer’s business over your “policy” to charge a $2 service fee. The best service organizations far surpass their competitors by prioritizing the lifetime value of customers. I’ll give you an example. I ordered a scarf as a gift from Nordstrom on December 11th. They sent me an email on December 22nd apologizing that the item was backordered and that it would not arrive in time for Christmas. I called Nordstrom and the person on the phone immediately found the item in one of their stores in Alaska. Within the hour, the item was gift-wrapped and sent by overnight mail to me, all at no additional cost. When all was said and done, the cost of shipping the item alone was twice the value of the scarf. But Nordstrom, like other great service organizations, looks at the lifetime value of a customer. To them, footing the $30 to wrap and ship a gift was worth keeping the thousands of dollars of my future business for many years to come. Thank you, Nordstrom!
- Let the customer drive your every decision. Throughout my career in client service, the one question we ask in every single meeting is, “how does this affect our customers?” In a great service organization, this is the priority we consistently have to consider to make a business case – not outlining the return on investment. At the base of every decision is a person. And great service organizations recognize that the person is more important than a quick profit.
- Employ the right people who care about people. This is the secret ingredient! The people you employ are the ones who make an emotional connection with customers. And it’s the emotional connection that keeps customers coming back again and again. Employing the right people goes beyond just hiring front line staff who score high on “customer focus” in your pre-hiring skill assessment. Most great service organizations have what I call “the circle of service” – the company treats their employees well and the employees then treat the customers well, and in turn customers treat the company well through repeat business and referrals. Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos and the foremost expert in correlating culture to profits said, “Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.” Hiring people who care about people throughout the organization is an investment in building this circle of service that enables so many organizations to have thriving, regenerative profits and an excellent reputation in the market.
So there you have it, in a 5 minute read, you have the secret sauce to world-class service. It is so simple, yet it is the hardest recipe to master. Since these principles must be driven from the top down within an organization, you must have a leader who is truly passionate about service to make bold decisions that may on the surface seem to ignore the short-term bottom-line. But take it from someone who has been there, the recipe works, and companies who use it will see the results!