It is the most fundamental of questions. Like many concepts, customer service seems to be in the eye of the beholder, a Rorschach test for how one views business and, to some degree, life.
Is customer service a mere business function, subject to the tight strictures of return on investment? Or is customer service an expression of human decency, something that transcends the mere confines of profit? Perhaps customer service is of some middle place.
To celebrate the official launch of Customers That Stick®, I thought we could attempt to answer this most basic of questions.
To do so, we went to 19 great minds from small business, customer service and marketing to get a diverse set of opinions about what customer service is, what it means, and how it affects us all.
Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, a speaker and the author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem. In addition to Guy’s Blog, Dr. Winch also writes the popular Squeaky Wheel Blog on Psychologytoday.com.
“Customer Service is about creating a relationship of trust and loyalty with customers that transcends the interaction of the moment. Ironically, such bonds are best forged not when things go right but when things go wrong. Therefore complaint management becomes the premier opportunity to prove our care, responsiveness, and trustworthiness to customers.
Using complaining psychology allows us to turn crises into opportunities, to demonstrate we have the customer’s back, and by doing so to make them more loyal than they had been before a problem arose.”
Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is a speaker and best selling author who works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He is the author of Moments of Magic, The Loyal Customer and the bestselling The Cult of the Customer and The Amazement Revolution.
“Customer service is not a department. It is a philosophy that includes every person and aspect of the best and brightest companies.”
“Every organization has customer service. The question is, “Is it good or is it bad?”
“Customer loyalty is not about a life-time. It is about the next time – every time!”
Erica Allison is the owner of Allison Development Group and a PR & Marketing Strategist who uses a combination of market research and analysis, social media applications, and traditional media approaches. Her goal is simple: help clients develop their ideas, develop their messages and ultimately, develop their business.
“Customer Service means NOT reading from a script, but instead reading the customer. It means knowing when to pay attention and when to give space. It means following through on what you say you’ll do and following up when you don’t.
It’s an all or nothing approach to the customer where you tune in and adjust your settings based on them and not you.
Really good customer service is an art, not a science and it should be a goal for not just the business, but every person in it.
What many overlook is that good customer service is the front line team for your PR program; when it fails, there goes your positive sentiment and relations with your customers. Investing in Customer Service is like having a supplemental insurance policy for your Public Relations program. It’s wise to make the best investment possible, don’t you think?”
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, has inspired and taught thousands of employees for over 20 years to deliver platinum quality customer service. She decries scripts and heralds personalized service at no extra expense. View footage of her on her super customer experience website.
“Customer service creates opportunities of mutual benefit. It is always adaptable to diverse customers and conditions. It brings new vistas into view for the companies who give and customers who receive it.”
“Customer service never denigrates or blames or denies the truth. It represents the heart of a brand in the hearts of its customers.”
“Customers spark innovation through their demands. Embrace your innovators.”
“Customers are gold. Mine for it.”
“Customers keep your company alive. Feed your blood.”
“Customers pay for your performance. Give your best show.”
“Super customer service is about making simply great choices. Choose wisely.”
Vernessa Taylor, Technology Consultant and Internet Coach, works with both online and offline business owners. She writes about small business systems such as online project management and Customer Referral Systems: Automation is Your Secret Key.
“What is customer service? At the root of customer service is the old-fashioned notion of “serving.” I think that many companies, big and small, fail at delivering remarkable customer service because they have not built a foundation upon serving. The “something” that happens inside you when you are on the receiving end of great customer service is the same “something” that should drive our own efforts.
Some companies have placed such a premium upon customer service that they create lifetime loyalty. That’s the essence of customer service — they keep coming back irrespective of price, venue, or even convenience. For a small business, the level of customer service can be the bottom-line differentiator. Additionally, offering strong guarantees and reasonable refund policies engender customer loyalty.”
When I asked many of these great people to come up with their thoughts on the topic What Is Customer Service, I sent a few idea starters to help the process along. Bill Dorman and Richard Shapiro did something really creative and used the framework to create their answers. The part I sent is in black and their completions are in blue.
“Customer service creates loyal customers.
Customer service is always a success indicator.
Customer service brings goodwill and word of mouth advertising.
Customer service is timeless.
Customer service means taking care of the little things first; doing what you said you would do; do it on time; and say please and thank you.
Customer service should never be taken for granted.
Customer service represents a culture; a direct reflection on ownership/management.”
Richard Shapiro is the Founder and President of The Center For Client Retention, which provides research, training and consulting services to Fortune 500 corporations on how to improve the customer experience. He just released The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business. Richard also has a customer service blog.
“Customer service creates an opportunity to create a new relationship with a “person” and covert them into a loyal “customer.”
Customer service is always an important component of the loyalty journey, but it must be coupled with a strategy of building or maintaining a stronger customer relationships.
Customer service brings two people together to have a meaningful dialogue.
Customer service is all about helping people find what they need or want, even if your establishment does not stock those goods or provide that specific service.
Customer service means delivering a memorable experience; otherwise it was just a robotic transaction.
Customer service should never be delivered in a vacuum; companies need to obtain comprehensive customer feedback to regularly determine what works and what doesn’t work from a customer perspective to continually improve the customer experience.
Customer service represents the face of company, where first impressions are created and lasting impressions will either result in repeat patrons or just a one-time transaction. Customer service professionals need to extend customer appreciation and employers need to appreciate their associates. It’s a two way street!“
Extreme John is an entrepreneur, social media author, and CEO/Founder of Extreme Tan and Smoothies, Inc, Insane Limos, Inc, and Extreme Spray Tan, Inc. Learn more about Extreme John at his small business and marketing blog. Also, get great advice from his eBook How To Succeed With Social Media.
“Customer service is stupid. Not the concept, but the term. “Passion for customer satisfaction” seems more fitting. Because without it, your business will flounder and fail. Having passion, true passion for your customers and their complete overall satisfaction and happiness is where success is found. How hard would it be to be passionate about needing a paycheck, or a meal or clothes for your children? I would imagine that passion would flow from you in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.
Find that passion for customer satisfaction, harness it and do it better than anyone around you, because your customers demand it and you owe it to them!”
Debbie Szumylo is an Experience Marketing Design Specialist for Deluxe Corporation with 16 years of experience and loyalty expertise, event planning, project management and big picture planning expertise with a strong and versatile communications background.
“Customer service is the act of providing your customer with something they need, want or value. It’s the sum of the experience of doing business with you: before, during and after a purchase.”
Laura Click is founder and CEO of Blue Kite Marketing, a strategic marketing and social media consulting company based in Nashville, Tenn. Laura is focused on helping service-based businesses because she loves helping them create memorable and extraordinary experiences for their clients.
“Delivering outstanding customer service means creating memorable and extraordinary experiences for customers. It goes beyond having a friendly face at the reception desk answering the phone – customer service should be woven into your entire business and emphasized with every employee.
The companies that get it right are the ones who think about how to delight and surprise their customers with every interaction.”
I originally asked Michelle Quillin to participate in the roundup and when I got her response I just had to include the double entry. Here is the back story: “So, a funny thing…as soon as I finished writing my customer service paragraph for your blog post, Scott walked into my office to take a break. I told him what I was doing and asked him if I could run it by him. He stopped me and said, “Let me tell you what I think customer service is without by being influenced by what you say.” So I typed as he wrote. The results are below.“
Michelle and Scott Quillin run New England Multimedia, a true multimedia company focused on strategic web, social media, and video to help companies get their message out.
MICHELLE: “We have a strong desire to be servant leaders, that is, to allow serving others to lead us in our business, rather than leading with our own needs being our compass. There’s a big difference between a leader who serves and a servant who leads. How can we serve our customers with the servant-leadership model? By putting our customers’ interests first — not our own.
By putting our customer’s needs first — not our own. By treating our customer the way we would want to be treated in the same situation they’re in. It takes conscious, deliberate practice to put ourselves in our customer’s shoes, to see things through their eyes, to understand their perspective. When a business owner is a servant-leader, the customer has a completely different experience. He knows he is the priority.”
SCOTT: “Customer service at the end of the day is really just about sacrifice and empathy. Sacrifice requires being willing to put your own needs aside — whether they’re work-related, personal, or whatever — and really listen to what somebody else needs. And what somebody else needs is often not what they’re saying. The ability to empathize with one’s situation and put yourself in their shoes — even at your own expense — will insure that they walk away knowing that you were attentive, sensitive to their needs, and empathetic towards their situation/project.
At the end of the day, good customer service isn’t something that we ‘do.’ It’s not a hat we put on when the phone rings, and it’s not a mask we wear. Good customer service will always result in the customer feeling like you’re giving them as much time as they need. That’s the outcome of the greatest customer service experience.”
Micah Solomon, a customer service and marketing strategist, speaker and author of the forthcoming book, High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service. Find Micah at www.micahsolomon.com or his blog, College of The Customer.
“Customer service is like making love. It takes only a minute—or two—to get the general concept, but you can gainfully invest a lifetime in mastering the details. (And you’ll never get the full picture if you only practice when you’re by yourself.)
Mastering the fine points of customer service is a never-ending challenge in part because customer expectations and desires change all the time. In fact, they’re different now from the last time you spoke with your customer.”
Shonali Burke is an accredited, award-winning communication consultant and sought-after speaker based in the Washington, D.C., metro area with a national reach and international network. Her blog, Waxing Unlyrical, looks at public relations, communication strategy, and social media.
“Great customer service makes me feel as if, even though I may be one of several hundred, or thousand, or millions of customers of a particular company, I’m still unique enough for the company to pay attention to me and my needs. That means things like – in addition to having a great product/service – replying to me promptly; fixing my problems (if I have them), answering my questions honestly and every now and then, thanking me – especially when I don’t expect it – for being a customer.
When a company provides this kind of customer service to me, I’m a customer for life, and an ardent evangelist to boot. It’s rare that I stick with a product that might be very good if I’ve had a bad customer service experience.”
Sean McGinnis is a digital strategist who ensures digital tactics are aligned with a compelling strategy that drives business results for clients. Sean is VP Sales & Marketing for http://dotcolaw.co, Principal at 312digital and can be found on his blog.
“If every senior executive in every company tested their customer service weekly, we’d all have nothing to complain about.
The very last thing every customer will remember about your company is the service they received.
Poor service can kill drag down the finest products.
Great service can overcome mediocre product design.”
Kaarina Dillabough is a former Olympic coach and business consultant, coach and strategist. Her high-voltage energy, passion, expertise and experience inspire those she works with to reach beyond their grasp, to attain great things in business and in life. She can be found on her blog Decide2Do.
“For me, customer service is all about creating an environment, experience, culture and ethos that says, in actions and in words: “I’m here to solve your problem, enhance your experience and/or reduce your pain points, to the best of my ability, to meet or exceed your expectation. I care.”
It’s about seeing the situation through the customer’s eyes, never being defensive or judgmental, listening effectively and engaging with the customer in a non-intrusive, friendly way.
It’s never about “push-selling”. Pouncing on the customer, delivering stock boring statements, ignoring the customer or showing indifference are NOT customer service.
Going “above and beyond”, doing the little extras, getting to truly know the customer, smiling, showing passion and caring and always exercising best judgment: that’s what customer service is all about.”
Ken Mueller is the owner of Inkling Media, a social media, marketing and communications consultancy based in Lancaster, PA. Inkling Media offers a personal, hands-on approach that gives you the education and tools necessary to create and manage a successful Internet marketing program.
“Customer service is….everything. Everything we do online and offline is about the customer. Our businesses exist, first and foremost, to create products and services for the customer, and the better we do this, the more successful we’ll be. From a social media perspective, most businesses try to approach it from a marketing mindset. But this is incorrect and sets them up for failure.
Social media is not merely another channel for spewing out advertising or marketing messages. Because it is social and bidirectional, businesses are better served if they approach social media from a customer service mindset, seeking to meet the needs and desires of the customers before trying to sell.”
Jeff Toister is passionate about helping companies improve customer service. He is the President of Toister Performance Solutions, Inc., a company that helps its clients increase customer loyalty, referrals, and profitability through outstanding service.
“Customer service is a relationship. Like any great relationship, the best customer service relationships are based on trust, mutual respect, and common interests. They’re genuine and real. Perhaps most importantly, both parties want the other to succeed. Companies that embrace this philosophy truly care about their customers’ happiness, and it shows in the service they provide. Their customers in turn want these companies to be successful and reward them with continued business and referrals.”
Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communication firm. She is the author of the PR and marketing blog Spin Sucks, the founder the professional development site for PR and marketing pros, Spin Sucks Pro, and co-author of the forthcoming Marketing In the Round.
“Customer service, by definition, is helping the customer get what they need from a business. But the face of customer service has changed dramatically in the past three or four years. Now companies need to be concerned with serving their customers on the offline and online platforms most convenient for them, not the business.
It used to be, if you needed to talk to a company, you called or wrote a letter. Then you added the capability to email or live chat. Now there are so many platforms customers use to communicate with the companies they do business with, social media is no longer a nice-to-have. If your customers are using Twitter, for instance, you’d better be there and monitoring the conversation.”
A huge thank you to the above contributors for their excellent contributions! Please feel to share your thoughts on the essence of customer service in the comments below.
By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.