Great Customer Service: Do it, Don’t Say it.  6/3/2016

In recent years, much has been said and written about the importance of customer service, and the role that a robust commitment to real customer service can play in a company’s marketing approach. One needs to look no farther than Zappos to find a company which used a tremendous commitment to customer service as the conceptual basis of a company devoted to a highly unlikely (in my opinion) business – selling shoes over the Internet. Seriously, my mother always told me that you should NEVER buy shoes without trying them on, but Zappos has convinced many folks, including myself, that they will take such good care of me that I can order an item online with no fear at all that I may have to return it.

The result of these customer service focused successes, not only with Zappos, but also Warby Parker and a host of others, has led to much discussion of the value and importance of customer service as a marketing tool, even as a marketing strategy.

Unfortunately, much of what I see in the marketplace is not the implementation of such customer service but instead, marketing blather promoting a company’s customer service, which, in my opinion is not only unhelpful, it is destructive to whatever marketing equity is left in a company with poor customer service. Let’s compare two recent experiences from my real life.

For 30 years I have been a customer of Time Warner Cable. A company with a longstanding reputation for terrible customer service. Recently, I have seen a huge amount of ads placed by Time Warner Cable talking about their new commitment to customer service, new promises about how they could install your new service very quickly (“even today”, one spot proclaims). This is a huge improvement over its traditional 1-2 week wait time for an appointment.

Despite these spots, I decided to switch from Time Warner to Verizon Fios – mostly because my apartment building struck a great deal with Verizon. So I called Time Warner to cancel, and the process of cancellation served to convince me that I was making the right choice. I had to negotiate an endless phone tree to find the right person to talk to, I had to explain my story to three different people in order to find the correct person to talk to, and when I finally found the right one, she kept me on the line for 20 minutes offering me better and better deals to stay – offers I never would have gotten if I had not decided to leave. All in all, the process of leaving convinced me that I had made the right decision.

In contrast to this is my Zappos experience. I was sitting at home in mid-December and a small package arrived from Zappos, from which we had not recently ordered anything. Inside was a small, elegant Jawbone brand Bluetooth speaker and instructions on how to connect it to your smart phone in two easy steps. We thought this was odd, until we saw the note from Zappos that simply said it was a Christmas gift to us to thank us for being good customers. No further explanation was offered or needed. This is typical for the online retailer; they will also occasionally upgrade my shipping to 2-day priority shipping at no extra cost. The Bluetooth speaker really works. It sounds great. Now that the weather is warm, the combination of the phone and the speaker has become our at-the-pool sound system – and we love it – and love Zappos even more. Next time I’m ready to buy more shoes, you know where I’ll be going.

The point of this diatribe is simple. Customer service is important, and it can be a driver of good marketing. But you have to DO it, not just talk about it. If you believe in customer service, then implement the changes, improve the process, deliver a better experience, but don’t spend a lot of time taking credit for that experience. Believe me, your customers will already know.

David Diamond

David Diamond Associates

David Diamond is president of David Diamond Associates, a consultant to retailers, manufacturers and service providers to the food and CPG industries.He can be reached at (646) 742-1373

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