Customer service is what ultimately makes or breaks a company. If it’s done well, it will establish a fantastic reputation that will spread goodwill towards the company by word of mouth.
Done badly though, and the results can be catastrophic. According to an American Express survey in 2011, 78% of consumers have abandoned a transaction or not followed through on an intended purchase due to poor customer service.
And data from “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner indicates that only 4% of dissatisfied customers ever voice their feelings. (Though that figure may seem much higher to you!)
But get it right and your business can not only shine as an example to others but make a lot more money while you do so.
A White House Office of Consumer Affairs report states that returning customers are worth an average of 10 times their initial purchase. They also don’t cost as much to retain as new customers cost to acquire.
With these facts in mind, let’s take a look at the world of customer service.
Customer Service Heroes
What is customer service, or more accurately, what does it mean to you? Customer service is one of those phrases that appear everywhere – Yelp, FourSquare, Google Reviews – and it’s one of the things most often remarked upon by consumers. But what exactly does customer service mean?
The term itself is rather abstract. What may be a deal breaker in how a vendor treats me, may be something you find completely acceptable – maybe even business as usual.
One thing is sure, though. We all know great customer service when we experience it.
And those who offer great customer service? They become almost superstars in the eyes of many, creating strong business brands and powerful personas that seem to spread their stories far and wide without effort.
Customer service fascinates consumers when it is approached with the right attitude. Just look at the success of the TV program Mister Selfridge, in which an American businessman from Chicago opens up a department store in London, UK.
Selfridge doesn’t have the necessary money to even get the store built, he lacks the finances to pay his staff, and worse – he has some very strange ideas about doing business. Ideas like allowing customers choose from a variety of items vulgarly left out on display rather than kept hidden away and recommended to them only when they gave specific details about the products they wanted.
All because his motto is to give the customer what they want. In other words, by placing the customer first. It was Selfridge who coined the proverb that drives many businesses service department policies (for right or wrong): “The customer is always right.”
The idea that a store owner might be a rebel for ensuring that a customer might choose from several products or be the one to decide what best fit their taste may seem like a bit of a joke to us. Nowadays that’s business as usual. But in London, 1910, this was highly unusual.
Selfridge’s store remains an iconic part of modern London, and the American’s influence changed the face of British retail. It is the only store to be named The Best Department Store in the World 3 times, and Selfridge’s management describes the store as a “shopping experience that promises to surprise, amaze and amuse its customers by delivering extraordinary customer experiences”.
With that as a store description, how can it possibly fail? But there’s more to Selfridge’s customer service than a fanciful description that could be straight from a Harry Potter novel.
In 2015 Selfridges added a tax refund lounge for its international visitors, 2 libraries and a meditation lounge and a theatre ticket booking desk. It tripled the size of its customer service area. How’s that for taking its customers seriously?
Here are 3 quotes from Harry Gordon Selfridge that illustrate his forward thinking and leadership in customer service:
“People will sit up and take notice of you if you will sit up and take notice of what makes them sit up and take notice.”
“The customer is always right.”
“Give the lady what she wants.”
This kind of customer-centric approach is common these days. “The customer is always right” has been overused to the point of cliché. But to say that people take notice when you take notice of them is still a fairly forward thinking idea.
Another great businessman of our time was Dale Carnegie. He was a man so focused on the customer that his writing on the subject has become some of the most influential business writing in the world.
Personally, I think he ought to have chosen a different title for “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I can’t imagine anyone of a shy disposition wanting to buy that over the counter. And they didn’t have Kindles back the
Carnegie was another American. A writer and lecturer, he was the founder of many courses on self-improvement. He worked as a salesman for Nebraskan company; Armour & Co.
An avid public speaker and teacher, he wrote pamphlets about his ideas on becoming more self-confident and interacting better with people. He was of the opinion that public speaking was the best way to increase self-esteem.
The most likely reason that Carnegie’s biggest bestseller (How to Win Friends and Influence People, which has sold over 10 million books in various languages) was so well received is that it lays out what Carnegie laid out as simple rules that made sense for anyone who wished to achieve success in interpersonal relationships.
Warren Buffet accredits much of his success to finding a copy of the book on his grandfather’s shelf when he was a 15-year-old kid who found it difficult to fit in at school.
Carnegie’s rules for behaviour aren’t big news anymore, but here are some of his quotes that should be immortalised on any customer service desk:
“Any fool can criticise, condemn, and complain — and most fools do.” “Abilities wither under criticism; they blossom with encouragement.”
“The only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.”
“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
“Begin by emphasising — and keep on emphasising — the things on which you agree.”
Carnegie’s brilliance was for seeing to the heart of what makes people tick – and that skill was one that people wanted to learn. A poor farm boy from Missouri, his first class was made up of 9 engineers in New York, and by 2012, a hundred years later, 8 million people in 83 countries and speaking 30 different languages had gone through his training.
The Dale Carnegie training method is still widely popular in business circles even today.
To learn more about Dale Carnegie’s courses visit http://www.dalecarnegie.com/www.dalecarnegie.com
In later days, Nordstrom became the modern leaders in great customer service. This time founded by a Swedish man who left home in 1887 to open a shoe store in New York, with $5 to his name.
Nowadays, the management at Nordstrom understands that the store offers products at higher price points than their competitors and decide to differentiate themselves with customer service that excels.
That’s the reasoning behind Nordstrom staff offering to gift wrap a customer’s purchase, even though he had bought it at Macy’s. And it’s why one staff member took a customer’s car keys and went to heat up his car in the snow outside the store while the customer was paying for his purchases.
Other initiatives employees have taken to ensure great customer satisfaction are:
- paying customer’s parking tickets
- accepting returns without question or hesitation
- lending money to customers
- sending tailors to customer’s homes
And then there’s what might otherwise have been thought of as an urban legend if it weren’t vouched for as true in the book, The Nordstrom Way (available on Amazon): a shopper decided to return a pair of snow tires – even though Nordstrom didn’t sell snow tires, the cashier refunded the cost of the snow tires to the customer.
Whether this is actually true or not, it might explain their decision to expand from shoes into other goods. Regardless, it demonstrates an absolute focus on becoming known for excellent customer service. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Nordstrom offers excellent customer service.
What We Can Learn from these Customer Service Heroes
You may notice that as these great men entered the business they made up their own rules and those rules always put the customer first in whatever methods of selling they employed.
The golden rule of all business is to serve others. When you find someone with a problem and solve it for them, then you have a business. You can become a customer service super hero by:
- helping your customer make the right decision about the product they purchase (make sure it effectively solves their problem)
- making your offer the best it can be (a product or service that over delivers for a price that’s reasonable)
- educating your customer on how to use the product (so that they are happy they understand how to get the best from it)
- being patient with them when they have a complaint or query
- adding some personality to the business transaction (people like to deal with people, not automatons that spew out pre-scripted replies designed to fob off an inconvenient complaint)
If only it were easy to offer such great customer service. We’d all love to be known as the Harry Selfridge or Nordstrom of our industry – but we forget that while this idea is perfect in isolation, customer service often doesn’t survive an encounter with customers.