For Gen X and Baby Boomers, giving great customer service was a matter of pride -- offering outstanding service was expected by company and consumer alike. It was all part of the plan to be "nice" because the "customer is always right." Even if a company didn't offer great service, businesses could still advertise it and add a celebrity pitchman to reinforce that message.
Fast forward to the post recession economy where the value of great customer service has radically changed. In today's world, geographical advantage has been largely obliterated. Most things purchased are commodities. As a result, customer service has become the only sustainable competitive advantage. It is the only proven way to ensure long term profitability for your business. In our "reputation economy", a company provides excellent customer service because it's the profitable way to do business. Customer service has become the new marketing.
Gen Y-ers realize that in this social media connected world, consumers are constantly tweeting and commenting about your company on the Internet. It used to be that companies were afraid that a dissatisfied customer would tell seven people. Now, through social media tools, they can tell seven million people! Peer review sites like Amazon and eBay have become the standard way for the uneducated consumers to choose what to buy. Consumers believe more about what their peers (even if they are strangers) think of the product than any Super Bowl corporate advertising campaign. Gen Y-ers understand that customer service is the critical factor in building their business because at any time, any one can tweet, blog or post anything about their product or service. They build this fact into the infrastructure of their company to handle feedback of all types from customers.
Here are five keys to what your company needs to do to offer excellent customer service in a social media world:
1. Don't ask customers how you can help them, ask "How can I help you feel more satisfied?"
Great customer service is about the attitude and actions we take to make a customer feel satisfied each and every time we interact with them. Customer service is difficult since it's a constant moving target -- it changes from customer to customer, day to day.
2. Provide many ways for customers to give feedback.
Don't just use comment cards or other surveys. Add e-mail, phone, Twitter and Facebook. Customers need a lot of opportunities to give feedback. No need to offer a bribe to them by giving a future discount. The ones that are very satisfied or very dissatisfied will always reply. Your company wants to get responses from the set of silent customers that will just sulk away, tweet or post, but never ever come back.
3. Don't just listen to what customers are saying, reply.
People realize that their issue can't always be resolved immediately, but your company can always be listening. Empathy is the biggest key to customer satisfaction.
4. Hire people who have been in the hospitality industry.
Studies show that with this type of experience, employees can build long lasting relationships with customers. Look for skills like courtesy and attentiveness. Problem solving skills can easily be taught.
5. Tie customer service to profit.
Keep the customers that make you money and fire the others that cost too much. Value a customer by looking at other areas besides revenue including the cost to service, referrals they generate, and their lifetime value. Know how you as the CEO personally stay connected to the customer through your actions every day.
How does your company offer great service in a social media world?