Serving Your Customer, an Overlooked Differentiator

Companies insist they want to understand, communicate, and establish conversations with their customers — all with the goal of being able to better serve them. You know what? Most companies sure don’t seem happy when we, the customers, actually contact them.

Yet, many companies have awful automated services, customer service reps with accents that no one can understand, a whole bunch of beginners manning customer service lines whose answers are wrong 95 percent of the time, and customer service e-mails and message board postings that go unanswered. Other companies try a different tact by burying their customer service number and e-mail addresses with the hopes that you’ll never contact them.

Well, this is great news for competitors of non customer-centric companies. Those doing customer service the right way can establish a huge competitive advantage. We all know that word-of-mouth cuts both ways — we share the good with our friends, family, colleagues, and everyone on the Web and always share the bad with everyone. Companies that care about their customers and deliver quality service will reap the benefits; those that don’t, risk the fact that everyone has a digital bullhorn and is ready to share a bad customer service experience.

In my framework,”12 Cs for Thriving in a Digital World,” customer service is the most overlooked and undervalued component.

Because customer service is a major customer touch point, you need to do it and do it well. What’s the use of great marketing if your inferior customer service alienates customers? Yes, there’s a cost to staff, train, and set up facilities for customer service, but you know what, there’s also big, big cost to marketing, advertising, public relations, and damage control.

The bottom line: great customer service drives customer loyalty and repeat business. A person who proactively shares her positive experience with others is marketing for you for free. Even if this doesn’t sway you and if you’re more of a FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt)-type person, then bad customer service could land you on YouTube with millions of people seeing first hand your company’s shortcomings. Remember everybody has a big digital bullhorn and content distribution to millions is just a few clicks away.

So let’s look at some examples of the good and the bad.

Let’s start with the bad:

The Bad: Creative Labs

“PC Sound Card Vendor Creative Labs Creates PR Nightmare on Their Own Forum,” reads a headline on AwfulMarketing.com. The site reports that the vendor admonished someone for providing a software patch so the PC sound card could work on the Windows Vista operating system.

AwfulMarketing concluded: “Most posters [in the vendor’s forum] are saying that they will either return their Creative Labs product, or that they will never purchase or recommend the purchase of a Creative Labs product again. Way to go, Creative Labs. Instead of taking care of your customers and making sure they had the software support for your hardware that they needed, you decided to publicly quash the only good thing your customers had going for them. Now they hate you. Oh well.”

The Bad: Dell

A video on YouTube, “Funny Dell Customer Service Call,” features a call we can all relate to. A customer service rep reads from a script like an automaton rather than using common sense to answer the customer’s question. Dell used to have a stellar reputation as a go-to dependable vendor but it’s fallen from grace because of its poor customer service. Also check out this entertaining video, “My PC Is On Fire –Dell Laptop Tribute Video.”

The Bad: Comcast

Then there’s “ A Comcast Technician Sleeping on my Couch,” on YouTube. A classic�¢ï¿½�¦’nuff said.

Now, after seeing the three examples, do you have etched in your brain an image of Dell, Comcast, and Creative Labs that they don’t want you to have? I bet you do. Will it impact how you think about these companies especially if you are considering using their products and services? I bet it will. Are you going to share the above stories and links with at least a couple of people? Definitely.

Here are two online services with very good customer service that deserve some recognition:

The Good: NetFlix

NetFlix, which has great customer service, makes sure you know every step of the way on where your next DVD is via e-mail. It also sends you regular e-mails inquiring as to when you got the DVD so you know the business is working on on-time delivery and accountability. Most importantly, you get the products fast and on-time.

The Good: GoDaddy

I also like domain registrar and Web hosting service GoDaddy, which has a great combination of online and offline customer service. Whenever I’ve had questions, both channels have worked well, where I get clear, accurate responses quickly 24×7.

So I tell all my friends about these two services and a few others that I like. My mention of them here in this article is free marketing. Unsolicited customer testimonials are always valuable to businesses.

My point for online publishers and any company: take customer service seriously as more than just a cost center. Good customer service will allow you to stand out from competitors in an age when differentiation is increasingly difficult, and it’s a great creator of positive word-of-mouth. It’s a touch point where you’ll directly influence a person’s opinion of your company and your services; whether you make a positive impression or leave a negative one is up to you. Why not make it a positive one?

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