Once upon a time, customers relied on advertising to shape their perception of an organization. Certainly, some money was poured into customer service, but only enough to keep things moving. If customers had problems, their complaints were usually isolated to a strongly worded letter to the company. However, in recent years, two trends have combined to overturn the prioritization of marketing over customer service.
First, there has been a wholesale depletion of individual trust in large organizations. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, in the US, public trust in institutions fell across the board between 2008 and 2011. The increased access to information has exposed misdeeds in large enterprises from all sectors, whether it’s the Enron debacle, the Abu Ghraib scandal, or videos of tainted factories. Trust has fallen and continues to drop. Research continues to show that customers trust one another more than they trust individual brands. (Consider the rise of TripAdvisor.com, Yelp!, and Amazon recommendations.)
The second trend is the rise of social networking and the ease with which customers can communicate with one another. According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, even before social media, every dissatisfied customer shared his or her experience with nine to fifteen other people. Now, with the increased range of Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+, the average disgruntled customer can tell countless thousands within the hour.
What’s more, the number one way people search for information about a product or service is online. Accordingly to Bergstrom, over 55 percent of all Internet purchases begin at search engine. Since Google indexes negative social mentions, customer complaints really do live forever now. What’s more, search engines are increasingly prioritizing social content in search results. The frustrated customer who once asked to “speak to your manager” is no longer playing by your rules. The world is their stage, social networks are their megaphones, and you will be required to honor your brand promises or face serious fallout.
Now that control has shifted from the marketing department to vocal customer advocates, what’s an organization to do?
First, restrict your marketing messages to the boundaries of your delivery capabilities. Wise organizations know that the way to surprise and delight is to underpromise and overdeliver. The realities of your service capabilities must be part of every message that markets your organization. Today’s customer wants honesty, not hollow promises. By all means, say what makes you great or better: say it loud, and say it well. But build processes into your structure to make certain you can deliver on those promises.
Second, shift resources to customer service. Will this upset the balance of power in your organization? Of course. Do changing circumstances require changed business plans? Of course. The money must move to where it matters most. To reach customers, you have no choice but to provide stellar service, delighting customers who will then spread your message for you.
This is why wise advisors like Brian Solis and Frank Eliason say that “customer service is the new marketing.” An organization that delivers an extraordinary customer experience, complete with stellar service, will be met with a tidal wave of goodwill.
It is no longer enough to merely look good or sound good; you must be good. You must serve more powerfully than Roger Federer. You must be more polite than the Queen at high tea. You must show more concern than a certain TV doctor. You can’t just say you care; you must actually care.
Your customer service staff should have a genuine concern for the welfare of others. It must be innate, intrinsic, and meaningful. You must lead them with the same compassion and affirmation that you hope they’ll show your customers. You must model for them the exact behavior and respect that you want them to deliver to your customers.
Today’s customers have choices now, more than ever before. They will be loyal to the organizations that have proven to be honorable, trustworthy, respectful, and considerate. You have an opportunity to be that organization. The transition begins with you.
- Do I view my customers as statistics on my progress reports or as human beings facing challenges not unlike my own?
- Am I more concerned with metrics or with the person in crisis on the other end of the line?
- Will I take a shortcut to decrease my hassle factor?
- Do I have the integrity to make sure this person is taken care of, thoroughly and completely?
- Is this a job to me, or is it an extension of who I am as a person?
There are people who receive deep satisfaction from helping others, meeting needs, and saving the day. They are intrinsically motivated to go the extra mile, so long as they are treated with honor by those who employ them. You must begin by making sure that you are one of these people. Then you must ensure that your internal leaders have these characteristics. Finally, you must adjust your hiring practices and philosophies; move beyond pure technical skills or direct experience and search for those who are intrinsically inclined to meet others’ needs. You can completely transform your service center and customer satisfaction. You can build positive word of mouth about the quality of your brand that spreads like wildflowers in a field. You can move successfully from the era of empty promises to the age of accountability.
I believe in you. You can do this. Start today.
Tristan Bishop drives digital strategy at the world’s top security company, where he uses social media monitoring and social CRM innovation to capture customer commentary. He then shares this knowledge with business functions to drive continual customer experience improvements. Tristan is a passionate customer advocate and is known around the web as KnowledgeBishop.