The most important concept in business is customer service. Okay, maybe it’s not the most important concept, but it’s easily in the top three. And yet, business leaders tend to think of customer service as a non-critical function – an expense to be minimized.
Just look at the executive leadership of just about any company. You’ll find the heads of finance, operations, development, marketing, sales, and human resources – but you won’t find the head of customer service. The function is usually buried under sales or operations.
Believe it or not, there’s a relatively good reason for that. Customer satisfaction doesn’t exist entirely within the customer service department. Nearly every function is involved in the customer experience.
So how do you consistently deliver outstanding customer service? By building metrics into your entire executive compensation structure, investing in customer relationship management and other tools, and driving a customer service culture throughout your organization.
That may be all well and good, but it’s not good enough. It’s a requirement just to be a player in today’s uber-competitive global markets, but it’s not going to get you to the top of the heap. Here’s what will: Never let a customer walk away, hang up the phone, or end an online dialog dissatisfied.
Granted, there are caveats. Some customers are over-the-top demanding. They’re pains in the you-know-what that are never satisfied. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about customers that come to you with a real problem – a problem that should be resolved to their satisfaction.
Here are two examples of just how high executives and business leaders should set the bar for outstanding customer service, these days.
A few months back I bought an Apple iPhone 5S. After a couple of days, it developed a strange quirk: it just started doing things on its own, as if there was a mischievous ghost pushing buttons while I watched. So I brought it into an Apple store. After resetting the device and reinstalling the software and firmware, everything seemed fine.
But wouldn’t you know it, after I got home, the ghost returned.
The next day I went back to the store and, even though the newly launched iPhone 5S was in short supply with a several week waiting list, Apple had units available for customer service problems such as this one. They replaced the phone and, in a few minutes, I was on my way. If they’d made me jump through another hoop – more troubleshooting or waiting for a phone to ship – I would surely have been dissatisfied.
But that wasn’t the end of my technical woes. A few weeks later my old DirecTV infrared remote control died, so I ordered a new RF remote to control the receiver from anywhere in the house. But when the device arrived, its performance was sporadic. I contacted DirecTV and asked for another remote, but the problem was the same.
When I once again contacted customer service, they forwarded the call to a group called case management where one individual was assigned to handle my issue from start to finish. In other words, the case wouldn’t be closed until I was satisfied.
A tech came out, determined my old receiver was the problem, and upgraded me to their new multi-room system at no additional charges for the receiver or the service. The onsite tech spent several hours installing the system and ensuring its transparent integration with my highly convoluted home automation system.
When the case management rep called the next day, I told her I was happy and the case was closed.
Interestingly enough, both the Apple and DirecTV situations were similar in that they each required two steps to troubleshoot the problem, but both companies had processes in place to ensure that the second step was the last step.
Now, I can sit here and write story after story about customer service problems that were resolved so many steps down the line that I swore I’d never do business with the company again. And in all-too-many cases, the problem was never resolved to my satisfaction. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.
But in today’s world where technology is complex, our time is precious, and competition is fierce, companies have to be just as innovative with their customer service as they are with their products. And while it may take two steps to resolve an issue, if you want to be known for outstanding customer service, make sure that’s all it takes.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.