In 2010, customer service makes a big comeback. It becomes the new marketing. Forget about paying lip service to offering “great customer service”. Let go all of those “the customer is always right” myths. It’s time to offer outstanding customer service only because it makes economic sense for your small business. It is the only truly sustainable competitive advantage.
What to watch in 2010:
- We Try Harder: With the economy still struggling to recover and unemployment at record highs, all “customer facing employees” actually will try harder this year to attract, satisfy and keep their customers. Job prospects remain slim in 2010 and every employee wants to keep any job they have. This year, effort from everyone will be in plain sight.
- It’s Not Your Product: Zappos‘ tag line is “Powered by Customer Service“. With the company being sold to Amazon for almost a billion dollars, there is no denying that customer service can build companies. Zappos proved that it can make money selling shoes over the internet by offering free shipping both ways. Amazon and Zappos are companies that really just don’t sell products, but a customer service channel to sell any product. All things being equal, I buy from Zappos and Amazon because I know I can count on them. This is the year that all companies will see service as the only way to keep customers buying from them.
- It’s All About You. Technology has allowed companies to personalize my visit when I go to buy from their web site. When I visit Amazon’s site, they welcome me back by name and suggest things I might want to buy based on what I bought in the past. This is the type of personalization I come to expect when I go to any face to face retail establishment. When I check into a hotel, I want them to greet me by name if I have been there before or I am a member of their frequent buyer program. This always happens when I visit the Portland Paramount but at The Nines hotel in the same city, they never remember who I am. With the immediacy and personalization of this fast paced internet world, great customer service is only what the customer says it is at a particular point in time. The difficulty is raised because this standard varies from person to person. This year, more companies will customize your shopping or service experience either online or in person because that is what you want.
- Tell the World. Tools like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube allow me to tell not seven people but 10,000 my pleasure or dissatisfaction with a company immediately after I interact with them. No more secrets here! Every satisfied customer is now a booster for your company and every dissatisfied customer potentially can hurt your business. Now, there is more of an incentive for every company to get it right for their customer. This year, no bad deed will go unpublished by a dissatisfied customer.
- The Brands are Listening. You as the customer are talking on Facebook and Twitter, but companies are also beginning to listen. Chances are that if you post a complaint using one of these tools, the company will respond directly to you. I have had this happen with Sears and Lands End. This year, all the major companies will not let any negative comment go by without responding to your concern.
- Online Service Gets a Face Lift. Forget the lag time of email or waiting for a call back. This year, more and more web sites will allow you to chat directly to customer service people either through chat or video. Want to chat from your phone directly to the company? No problem. Skype them? No problem. Scott Jordan at Scottevest, allows the customer to watch what is going on in his company live on the web every day!
- Insourcing is In. More and more American companies who outsourced their customer service will bring that function back home either by hiring a domestic company or bringing it in house. The “we can outsource this customer service thing” has hurt companies like Dell and Capital One. This year, look for more of the technology assisted customer service jobs to be transferred back to the US. Companies realize how important it is to their business. Just ask any car dealer the profitability of new car sales to their car maintenance business.
- That’s Tight. Companies you do business with will want to know everything about you. Tighter relationship with customers will continue as economy remains poor. Companies can’t afford to lose profitable current customers. This goes way beyond frequent flyer programs. Accenture working with Proctor and Gamble has a new technology that tries to predict consumer preferences using optimization engines. This year, companies will continue to track everything about you to make that your relationship as personal as it gets.
- Fire Them. In 2007, Sprint famously fired 1,000 customers that were clogging up their customer service lines and costing the company loads of money. Not every customer you have is profitable. Look for more companies this year to fire you if you cost them money and recommend you take your business elsewhere.
- Get Small. All startups used to want to appear big. We bought typewriters and later computers and web sites to make ourselves look the part. Now, everyone company, as Chris Brogan says, wants to be human. I call it getting small. Every company wants to seem like the corner store, but have the global pricing power and distribution of Walmart. Furthermore, big business is now consistently targeting your small business since it is the a sector of the economy that is growing. President Obama will continue to emphasis that small business is the core of American business. You have arrived!
What do you see as the trends in customer service for 2010?
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About the Author: Barry Moltz has founded and run small businesses with a great deal of success and failure for more than 15 years. He is the author of three small business books, the latest is “BAM! Delivering Customer Service in a Self-Service World.” Barry is a nationally recognized expert on entrepreneurship who has given hundreds of presentations to audiences ranging from 20 to 20,000.
This is a fantastic article! Here’s what I really liked, and you are 100% correct;
“This is the year that all companies will see service as the only way to keep customers buying from them.”
I’m curious. Why is it that only the online retailers seem to get it?
I am so sick of poor customer service, and it’s almost always at a traditional retail store-with a physical location.
The Franchise King
Barry, I agree with Joel’s comment.
I think number 8 “That’s Tight” will become more important and small business can tap into this by using CRM software to ensure vital information is not left on post it notes, pieces of paper or their memory.
Good article. All of us need to be aware that in today’s economy customer service is THE key marketing tool.
Don’t you think you will get better service at the The Nines hotel next time?! 😉 Haven’t they started with business intelligence work yet? Maybe they should pay a visit at Roger Smith Hotel in NYC?
This just unmasks an important truth that all businesses need to learn; people don’t interact with a company, they interact with another person. Your employees are your company. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that your employees will do a great job just because you’ve been so gracious as to give them a job. They’ll resent you. Give them training to improve their skills. Create incentives to promote excellence. Sure unemployment is high, but the competition for the best employees is still as strong as ever.
Penny Feigel, IAC-EZ
I do agree, customer service is a major factor with any business. I can’t name the times that I’ve dealt with a customer service person that would lie, or say something that made no sense, and left me aggravated to use their services any longer. I certainly don’t expect anyone to be perfect, but you shouldn’t ever be belittled by someone you are paying for a service. We all know it, if a company makes you feel bad when you contact them, you are going to go somewhere else.
Great post! I couldn’t agree more with the way you’ve framed the customer-centric approach to customer service.
We’ve done some hefty analysis on this and I think it’s worth taking a look at your 10 in the context of GetSatisfaction.com
We wrote a 10 Page analysis of the customer service platform used by Zappos and Nike Running… what do you think?
Do you mean that all the time that we’ve been bending over backward to give stellar customer service and loved that business model, that this wan not being done everywhere? It’s something new for 2010?
Pat – You are ahead of your time. 🙂
Great customer service is far easier said than done. Many companies talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. Management must put customer service in the forefront of the company’s core story, make it a top priority for all employees and find practical ways to implement it throughout the company.
Great customer service means empowering employees to solve problems and recognizing employee efforts. It means open communication with customers, consumers and employees. How many companies actually do this?
Yes, there are stellar examples of great customer service, but the overwhelming majority of businesses can’t seem to make the leap.
You’ve struck a chord, Barry!! I have to echo Robert Brady. Don’t lose sight of your people. Manufacturer’s spend against brand, sellers have to spend against people that represent that brand in the store or online environment.
A lot of companies could take a lesson from Zingerman’s – they are truly the kings of Customer Service…they even wrote a book about it. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1401301436
Great comments for 2010 or for any other year. One I would like to mention is the business killer who answers the phone at some small companies. In this economic environment it is amazing that this guy or gal is allowed to answer the phone in a manner that offends customers and prospects.
As the economy recovers in 2010, more companies will have a higher competitive edge and customer service and retention will continue to improve in the long term.
Now would be the perfect time to analyze your company’s progress and focus on how you can create more value and always exceed customer’s expectations.
Interesting article especially the thing about “insourcing”…have to agree with you.
starting a customer community or a self help portal is another great way to improve customer satisfaction. Customers can not only find answers to frequently asked questions but also ask questions that are not present to the community or the company directly.
Companies willing to listen to their customers can start customer communities for free on sites like http://bit.ly/4G2nGH
Linda C Smith
The points in this post are right on target. I can remember when automation in the phone system was considered a step forward until people began to feel dehumanized because they couldn’t get an actual person to talk to when they called with a concern or question. Words like “transparency” and “authenticity” have floated around the past couple of years and I think these words now need to be meshed with “customer service.” Let’s make 2010 a year of actual caring about our business relationships.
Martin- The GM of The Nines actually emailed me and they want to know how they can improve!
I think that Mr. Moltz meant “sight” instead of “site” in at the end of his first point… maybe smallbiztrends.com should get a better editor.
We fixed it. Thanks for pointing that out, Carolynn.
Ugh you are correct- thanks for finding the Typo!
This is the real score!
Wuhoo! Ive been searching the whole net to get a perfect idea to start with for my strategic meeting especially in customer service and I’m always receiving the same line of explanation, but you’re blog is simply superb. This should be written down and be in bookshelves as soon as possible.
Surely be waiting for your next article 🙂
yes that’s a very good article
I wonder why I never come upon before
call center monitoring
Great post. Quality customer services is vital for every business for entire branding process of the organization as customers who get quick response and have 24×7 support facility will show high loyalty and satisfaction towards company.
Thanks for this valuable post
This was such an informative post! Indeed, we must consider that with the current situation of our economy, each company must give their best to provide us great customer service. And as customers, we must let go of the “customer is always right” quote because it will only make things worse in the fields of business. We must be more patient and understanding if things are going wrong with the company you’re into. And if we apply all these tips, not only the companies will be successful but we will be successful as well.