Is Great Customer Service Enough Now?

December 9, 2013

This post was originally posted in August 2012. Since that time I have seen the idea customer experience improvement consistently increase in popularity. That is a good thing, and hopefully, our discussions here at CTS have had some small impact. In that context, however, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this post. Customer experience and customer service are among the most important disciplines in any organization, but they are not all that matters.

Obviously, we focus almost exclusively on the topics of customer service and the customer experience here at Customers That Stick. We believe that a great customer experience and superior follow up are some of the key differentiators between a healthy organization poised for long term success and an unhealthy enterprise bleeding out its potential future.

Such lofty beliefs in the power of great customer service beg a simple question: is great customer service enough?

The answer is just as simple:

No, it’s not.

When I refer to great customer service (which we will use in in broadest sense to include the larger customer experience), I am not comparing it to incredible customer service or amazing customer service. I am not asking is great enough because it is not a strong enough superlative, as if great doesn’t cut it but incredible does. I am asking is great customer service, in and of itself, enough to make an enterprise successful?

And again, the answer is no. Customer service is not the only component of a successful organization.

  • You need sales and marketing to effectively generate customers.
  • You need operations and distribution to make sure products are delivered to market.
  • You need accounting and finance to effectively manage cash flow and financial risk.
  • And you need legal and IT to give you a reason to drink after work. 🙂

You see, customer service will not save you if you buy your raw goods 30% higher than your competition or you turn 25% fewer services in a day. Pan Am airlines was known for its great customer service; yet, the company (and its TV show) no longer exist.

Other factors mattered, and great customer service was not enough.

A company needs a lot of things besides great service to succeed.

Thanks for Nothing

I can hear it now. Thanks, Adam, for making me read 300 words of the patently obvious.

Yet, I wrote this post because the above does not seem to be that obvious. A lot of the customer service advice I read seems divorced from the realities above.

Customer service does not exist in a vacuum. Customer issues must be handled with an understanding of potential liability. Employee happiness must be encouraged within an ever-constricting HR environment.

A business is the sum of its parts, and a great business breaks down silos and synergizes its many functions to work as a cohesive whole — or at least works towards that goal.

But What About Great Customer Service?

Without great customer service, you cannot have a great business. I truly believe that.

In a great business, the customer permeates every department and is considered in any decision which might affect their experience.

In a great business, the customer is the king and customer service is more than just the initiative of the month.

And that is as it should be, for outside of monopolies and oligopolies, great customer service is no longer optional; it is a competitive necessity.

However, despite how important great customer service is to a successful enterprise, it does not stand alone. Great customer service will not save a business that is not being run effectively and profitably, that is not adapting to its environment and improving its efficiency.

So, my advice is as follows: read this blog regularly and send your customers thank you notes. But make sure you call your accountant once in awhile.

Have you seen businesses with great customer service fail?

9 thoughts on “Is Great Customer Service Enough Now?”

  1. Adam, your post reminded me of the sad tale of Borders Books. I found this quote in an old BusinessWeek article:

    “When Borders declared bankruptcy in February, more than 200 of its 400 outlets were still “highly profitable,” says its final chief executive officer, Mike Edwards.”

    They had many stores that did well, but they were ultimately undone by cashflow problems that made it impossible to pay their suppliers.

  2. I believe we all need a system where great customer service is part of the culture of the organization, and all employees follow the system. We need great marketing and a way to generate new leads and customers, as part of the system. On the other hand, I don’t think that I have ever seen businesses with great customer service fail.

    1. Agreed Jens! We need both systems to provide great service to existing customers and to generate new ones.

      If you have not seen businesses with great customer service fail, then you are very lucky. Perhaps it has to do with the differing economic environments in our countries, and I think that would be an interesting discussion. The U.S. is littered with companies, particularly small businesses, that provided great service but failed anyways. Restaurants with bad, expensive leases. Independent bookstores that did not adapt to consolidation and technological changes. And don’t even get me started on the independent coffee shops.

      Great service is my mission — and still, I am one to say that by itself, it is not enough.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Adam,

    Thank you for your article. Your words, “Without great customer service, you cannot have a great business.” are right on. As is your excellent advice “…send your customers thank you notes. But make sure you call your accountant once in awhile.” Delivering amazing customer service is so much easier when you hire for attitude and train for skill. Businesses need to do many things right to prosper. Treating customers like guests in your home gets you one huge step ahead of the competition, and makes your customers smile and come back for more.

    1. Kirt,

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I’m with you 100%. Working in the CX/CS space, we can get so focused on the benefits of great service that we can often forget to keep that service in the context of a profitable business model. So for purposes of this post, let’s say this… treat customers like guests in your home and make sure to pay the power bill too! 🙂

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