“Customer service—now that’s a dying art.” I hear this sentiment often, and my response is, “Uh … I’m not so sure you’re right about that.” I'm just not convinced that customer service is in particularly bad shape compared to how it was in the gauzy, dimly-remembered past.
In fact, objectively speaking, customer service and the customer experience are in many ways better than they used to be. Delivery is faster. Quality control is better. Customers have outlets (Twitter, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon reviews) that they previously lacked. Inventory on many sites is real-time: When an item a customer wants is showing as “in stock” on Nike.com, the LL Bean site et.al., it truly will be in stock—goodbye to lagging data and the resultant disappointments.
Many merchants have developed true omnichannel capabilities: The ability for a customer to reach a company through one channel (for example, the phone) and continue the interaction on another channel (by coming in for a pickup, by making a return from home, by tweeting and so forth) without the merchant ever losing track of who the customer is and at what stage the interaction should be.
So, to say it again, objectively speaking, customers should be pretty happy about the overall state of the customer service experience, at least as it compares to what they’ve experienced in the past.
But there’s no such thing as objectivity when it comes to judging the customer experience. The only perspective in customer service that counts is that of the customer—and the customer viewpoint is far from objective.
Three particularly non-objective parts of the customer’s viewpoint:
Some customers get thrown off by changes in service style. Although many customers prefer today's more informal, “authentic” style of service, it's not to the taste of everyone
The recency effect. Sometimes service really does stink–and if that stinkiness happened to a customer recently, it can wipe out the memory of a lot of other, satisfactory service experiences that may have immediately preceded it
Hedonic adaptation. This is a biggie. Customers are all too quick to get used to the improvements you make in the customer experience, and to discount them or forget about them entirely. Think of the incredible improvements in the customer experience of the last few years, with which I started off this article, and consider how rarely these are given much credit, and how often they're just taken for granted, such as real-time inventory, overnight shipping, the omnichannel experience and companies’ achieving a single view of the customer.
What to do if you feel your business isn’t getting credit for the quality of its customer service
All of this non-objectivity on the part of customers can be demoralizing. So here are some suggestions for what to do if you feel you’re not getting credit for the level of customer service that you’re providing:
1. Make sure you’re defining satisfactory customer service correctly; make sure what you’re providing truly is satisfactory by contemporary customer standards. A leisurely company standard like “we strive to answer all emails within 48 hours,” which may have been fine in 2006, shows a misunderstanding of what satisfactory customer service calls for in 2016.
2. Never let up on providing the “satisfactory,” nuts-and-bolts, day-in-and-day-out part of the customer experience; on getting it right over and over and over in delivering; on responding; on taking care of your customers. There is no substitute.
3. Allow room for the magic to happen, for providing the kind of extraordinary service that can take you far beyond the realm of the mere satisfactory and cement your status as a truly superior provider.
Customer service magic can mean anticipatory customer service, for instance the way that restaurateur LDV Hospitality uses technology to enable its restaurants to remember and act upon guest preferences.
Magic can mean going above and beyond without prompting. A favorite recent example: When a very young guest at Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain lost his Thomas The Tank Engine toy, two junior employees took it on themselves to buy a replacement for the toy and mail it to him two days later, complete with a note written to the boy in Thomas's voice, with photos of what purported to be Thomas’s adventures in the interim. (Read the entire story – and see the photos – here.)
Magic can mean using your company as a conduit for customer relationships, as Mayo Clinic does by building comfortable, spacious consultation rooms so a patient’s loved ones can attend without feeling that they're in the way, and as Chik-Fil-A does with its Daddy-Daughter Date Nights and its more-recently introduced Cell Phone Family Challenge, where customers are encouraged to put their cell phones in quarantine (in a “cell phone coop,” as Chick-Fil-A calls it). If everyone at the table succeeds in doing this for the entire course of the meal, they’re rewarded with a small ice cream cone.
Most of all, magic means adding a human connection—between your employees and your customers, between your customers and each other, and, ultimately, between the customer and your brand. Customers will never, ever, discount these moments of connection, no matter how they disregard other improvements you’ve made to the customer experience. Because customers are humans—non-objective, but wonderful humans, after all.
For more on this topic, read NewVoiceMedia's eBook, Deliver positive customer experiences across every channel, every time.