Customer service is really about customer satisfaction and in this peripatetic world of instant commerce and rootless transaction; keeping track on customer satisfaction can be a Sisyphean endeavor. It is only when something goes awry that a feedback loop is created to give signal to the noise. The customary response to situations as this is reactive and defensive as, like a biological host would when confronted with a deficiency, methods are imposed to root out the problem and in doing so destroy some of the good along with the bad. Backward thinking corporate mindset in regards to customer service can be, just as in western medicine, reductionist to say the least – attacking the outcome not the cause. Whereas a forward thinking company will take a more holistic approach to its customers and their service by creating a synergy, a partnership if you will – if everyone has a stake in the company they are less likely to storm the gates at the least provocation.
So, how does one grow an environment that allows for customer collaboration?
Let’s start by time lining Customer Service.
Back when people were breaking it old school and technology was in its infancy, customer service had a decidedly retro style – take it back to where you bought it and they would repair or replace while throwing in some hot tips on best use practices. A smile and a handshake went a long way towards building a brand loyalty that could project out generations. A great example of this is Craftsman Tools and their no nonsense lifetime guarantee – you break any of their tools they will replace it free of charge – no receipt, no explanation, no problem. Simple and to the point, it built Craftsman into the go to brand for all things implement related.
As technology grew, call centers began to spring up like acne on a teenager and the distance between the customer and the company expanded. No longer was there a face behind the product, just some amorphous entity that may or may not address the issue, but first you will have to send it in at your expense so we can see if your warranty has been voided.
Next, probably the biggest shot in the foot ever managed by the corporate mindset, customer service was offshored. Circadian rhythm deprived foreigners were rapidly becoming, if not the face, at least the voice of whatever brand had cycled through to their phone. This created, in the mindset of the customer, a subtle product schizophrenia where “Made in America” began to lose its cache and with it customer satisfaction. It also made the customer feel isolated, alone in this world with no one to trust – it wasn’t xenophobia – it was corporate phobia - corporphobia. The business model had become koyaanisquatsi.
The advent of the Internet helped to restore some semblance of equilibrium to the equation as people were able to interact, if not face to face, at least face to pixel and therefore regain a bit of control over the process.
Then, with the upsurge of social media, the consumer was able to become a part of the conversation as opposed to what they had been – the butt of the joke.
None of this addresses the real infrastructural contagion in the soup that is customer service. If we deconstruct we find a couple of areas of liability in the foundation: First, CS gets crumbs when it comes to budget – it is not a definable revenue stream, so it’s an expense which cuts into the bottom line. Therefore it doesn’t show well on the books. Secondly, and this is the important one, customer service is designed and implemented by the engineers of a company – and we all know what it is like to talk to an engineer, they’re brilliant, but they speak a different language. And if that is the language that is being used for the conversation with your customers… I’m sure you can connect the dots here.
The ideal would be to have engineering build CS and then have marketing run the operation so normal people could engage in the conversation and not come away frustrated. Of course, the holy grail of examples for this is Apple. They are the blueprint for a holistic approach to customer service. They have done so many things right with their CS that, well, one could write a book. The Genius Bar – sheer genius. Through product design and marketing driven customer service they have become a juggernaut and not only allowed the customer to be in the conversation, but to be the conversation and by that, fiercely loyal partners. And they did this by continually asking themselves one simple question: If I were the customer how would I want to be treated?
So remember these words, and try not to get caught up in the oxy that is moron, as you setup and budget for your customer service because: