Back in 2007, I took an optional class in “Services Marketing” taught by Professor Leonard Berry at Texas A&M, Mays Business School. Before attending the MBA program, we (MBA students) received a copy of “Discovering the Soul of Service: The Nine Drivers of Sustainable Business Success.” The book was an eye-opener to services marketing. Dr. Berry studied labor-intensive companies like Enterprise Rent-A-Car, baseball team Saint Paul Saints, and The Charles Schwab Corporation and made an astonishing revelation:
“The single most important factor in building a lasting service business is not a matter of savvy business practice, but of humane values. In a world where customers regard flawless products as a given, service is the key differentiator between competitors in any field.”
Now it’s 2013. I am in India and the Internet has exploded here giving rise to e-commerce businesses by the dozen. Venture capitalists (VCs) have pumped in millions. We have seen mergers and closures at the same time. UrbanTouch.com was acquired by FashionAndYou.com. Zovi.com bought Inkfruit.com in February. Retail giants like Coca-Cola are dabbling with e-commerce. A recently launched Coke2Home.com delivers happiness to your home, same-day if you place an order before noon.
So what keeps e-commerce companies in India alive? What differentiates a Flipkart.com from the rest of the pack? It’s not the millions poured in by VCs, nor is it the affinity of Indians to shop online. And it isn’t shouting out loud on TV with quirky commercials. Marketing to some extent can act as a differentiator, but the real deal is service. There are a handful of e-commerce companies in India that are providing exceptional service (beyond marketing) – Flipkart.com, Dominos.co.in, and MakeMyTrip.com to name a few.
What tips can we get from these businesses? How can you improve service and differentiate your business?
1. Set up channels of feedback. You’re not a faceless business, even if you’re an online e-commerce store or a SaaS company. Consumers like to talk to real people when it comes to solving problems. Make sure you give your customer service a face across all your channels of communication. A good example would be using real names on your social media customer service channels. Take a look at @DellCares, Dell’s social media outreach team for listening and providing help and proactive information to their customers.
- Use on-site surveys to collect insights from visitors and feedback forms to gather additional information. Try WebEngage.com, KissInsights, or 4Q to close the feedback loop.
- Set up a phone number for your company that is easy to remember and is a go-to destination for customer service requests. 1-800-FLOWERS or 1-800-MATTRES (“leave off the last S for savings”) are great examples! Try Exotel.in or Knowlarity.com for setting up a cloud-based telephony system (if you are in India).
- Respond to consumer complaints over email as quickly as possible.
- Set up web chat for services/products that require significant hand holding.
2. Make yourself available 24/7. The Internet doesn’t have a sabbath, so why should your business? Most shopping happens over a weekend when consumers have a little bit more spare time. Moreover, the Internet makes shopping a 24/7 activity. A consumer may place an order at 3 a.m. and if she is facing difficulties in fulfilling an order and has no help, you have one less customer. Make sure that you have set up proper channels of communications 24/7. You can have your customer service staff work shifts or set up self-help in the form of FAQ articles, demo videos, and guides.
For example, for the search query “domain redirect godaddy,” I see three links to the support center and a video that explains the same. Maybe I will not have to wait to talk to a customer representative if I am searching at 3 a.m.
- To manage consumer complaints and queries, try Radian6 or Sysomos. If you’re a big business that can afford a few extra hires, look at remote customer service personnel who would be ready to take on the night.
- Categorize every consumer complaint/query and treat it as a bug in your system. Make sure that you create FAQs/videos/walk-throughs for such interactions.
3. Deliver on your promise. Most businesses lose customers because they suck at customer service and don’t fulfil promises.
If you’re a well-established brand, people are going to trust you. Make sure that you live up to your promises. One of the best examples of great customer promise fulfilment is the Domino’s Pizza Tracker that helps you track your order at every step. On most occasions, Domino’s delivers a pizza at your doorstep within 30 minutes. A result of a robust CRM that knows a customer based on her order history and an interconnected web and store system that manages the supply chain seamlessly.
- Fix your backend before you make promises. Take a look at your broken CRM or sales call center. Look deep into every process and identify consumer touch points that can be simplified via technology interventions.
- If you have delivered on your promise, then get feedback from your customer. It is most likely to be positive. See the Domino’s example above. It includes a customer feedback form at the end of the order process!
4. Apologize if you’ve messed up. Pick up the phone or send an email. An apology solves negative feedback from a customer.
This was what GoDaddy did on September 14, 2012. It sent me and all its customers an apology letter for a service outage on September 10.
- Train your customer service staff to be apologetic for errors/inconvenience caused to customers.
- Make sure that you have well-drafted policies and communication for emergency situations. Response mechanisms should include policies for social media management and how customer service personnel should respond via phone.
Now it’s your turn to work on customer service and create customer delight!