Differentiate Yourself With Customer Service

I was on hold yesterday, listening to a recorded voice tell me how important my call was, when I realized I no longer wanted to do business with that company. The customer service representative came back on the line; I thanked her, ended the call, and went to a competitor.

Some of you may not consider customer service as part of marketing. I would argue that customer service is the cornerstone of a company’s “for the user” marketing effort. There are probably few other things a company can do that so strongly affect, for good or ill, users’ perceptions and satisfaction.

Servicesoft Inc. surveyed online shoppers who spent $2,000 or more on the web during a six-month period. Eighty-seven percent of them said they would abandon a merchant’s web site and visit a competitor if they were to experience poor customer service. Seventy-nine percent said they had increased their spending at a merchant’s site when customer service was good. A small difference in customer service can become a 180-degree difference in customer behavior.

A company’s marketing efforts are often designed to do three things: increase user adoption, increase revenue, and increase user loyalty. Good customer service can help achieve these goals.

Good service increases loyalty. I was looking for a gift online. I found it at Amazon; my wife found it somewhere else. It was cheaper where she found it, so she ordered it. Six weeks later, it hadn’t arrived, and the customer service representative could not tell us why it hadn’t yet arrived or when it would. I cancelled the original order my wife had made, and I ordered the item again, only this time from Amazon. We got it in two days. When I go to make my next purchase, where do you think I’ll go?

Good service increases revenue. I always buy my tires at a specific Northwest tire-store chain. The tires at this chain cost a bit more than its competitors’, but the difference is in the service — anytime I get a flat or my tires are low, an employee fixes everything free of charge. The good service is simply worth the extra money.

Good service increases user adoption. Receiving good service from a company allows me to feel comfortable telling my friends about the company. I won’t recommend something if I think it’s going to make me look bad. On the other hand, good service compels me to share the positive experience with others. Internet marketers trying to utilize viral marketing would do well to start with customer service.

Online, users have no physical interaction with company representatives, so we would hope that Internet companies would be knocking themselves out to make the customer experience as painless as possible. Still, we see report after report detailing the dismal outlook of online customer service. Jupiter’s 1999 study found that 46 percent of online retailers failed to answer customer service emails promptly. GartnerGroup did a study rating online retailers’ customer service. The results showed that 23 percent were rated as average, 73 percent as fair, and 4 percent as poor. None rated above average. Not so good.

Datamonitor estimates that decent customer service could have rescued $6.1 billion in revenue for Internet retailers in 1999. If Internet retailers do not actively work to improve customer service, Datamonitor foresees an additional loss of $173 billion by 2004. We need to look up from our cutting-edge technologies and realize that there’s a world full of customers out there clicking away from us because we’ve treated them poorly. Think back. When was the last time you happily went back to a company that ignored you, failed to notify you of something important, or abused your trust?

Streamline. Personalize. Explain. Clarify. Demonstrate. Inform. Simplify. Serve.

If you continue to treat your customers poorly, you’re likely to wake up one morning without any.

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