What is the one thing that every single entrepreneur says “distinguishes” his or her company from all the others? That’s right: it’s consistent, high-quality customer service. Yep, every single client for whom we write a business plan claims to have the world’s greatest customer service. This got us to thinking that if great customer service is really that important, what exactly is it? It also occurred to us that it probably isn’t great customer service that distinguishes one competitor from another; it is more than likely poor customer service determines whether or not a customer will buy from you or from someone else.
Fundamentally, great customer service boils down to helping customers solve their problems quickly and easily. Here are a few obvious ways you can do this:
- Making it easy to buy – How many times have you been to a brick-and-mortar or online store and you simply cannot find what you are looking for? You know it’s there, somewhere, but you just don’t know where. Some might call that poor merchandising, but to us that is poor customer service. Sometimes it can get even worse when the sales attendant takes you on an epic journey up and down every aisle because he/she doesn’t have a clue either. Carefully placed, easy-to-read signs and labels tell your customers that you care about them, respect their time, and appreciate their business.
- Product & Service knowledge – Another common time waster – both yours and your customers – is not having important information easily at hand. According to blogger Shari Waters, “Knowledge is power and for retailers, product knowledge can mean more sales… If a customer isn’t fully committed to completing a sale, the difference may simply be the presence (or lack) of confidence a salesperson has towards the product. Becoming educated in the product and its uses will help cement that confidence.”
- Honesty, integrity, and responsiveness – No company will last very long without each of these qualities. These qualities start at the top of the organization and work their way down through every layer and every department to every person on the team. By the way, you don’t have to tell your customers, other stakeholders, or even employees that your company has these qualities. Everyone already knows that you do or do not.
- Listening – So much has been written about how important it is to listen. And yes, it is one of the keys to the customer service puzzle. How can you possibly hope to give your customers what they need if you don’t listen to them? In the words of the late Steven Covey, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”
- Product & Service Support – We’ve left this one to the end because it is probably the most important and probably the most obvious. According to the Customer Service Training Center, In the Pursuit of Wow, author Tom Peters talks about two things that companies known for outstanding service do better than anyone else – they step out and they stand out. Delivering WOW service is a commitment to do whatever it takes to serve the customer, and that commitment must be imprinted on the hearts and minds of every single employee. Only then can any organization stand apart from their competition.
We would share with you a few questions and answers that came out of an interview that Geoff Colvin did with Paul English, the Co-founder, President and Chief Technical Officer of Kayak Software Corporation (NASDAQ: KYAK), the very cool online travel site. The title of the interview is, “Kayak Takes on the Big Dogs.” The interview appeared in the October 6, 2012 issue of Fortune Magazine.
Here is a brief excerpt:
Colvin: When you say most of the people are on the tech side, does that mean you don’t have separate customer support people? English: Yeah, our product support is actually done by myself and the engineers. I know that sounds ludicrous because we have millions of people coming to the website every day, and in Boston, which is the largest office we have, where all the engineers are, we only have 100 people. But there’s some magic there.
Colvin: So if a customer calls up with some kind of issue, it’s going to be a tech person giving an answer. English: It’s often me. You may have heard about the infamous red phone.
Colvin: The red phone with the loud ring. English: With a loud ring, yeah, because we sit in an open area. No offices. I want to make sure that when a customer is having an issue with our product, it’s visible to the entire team. As to how 100 engineers can support millions of people a day, it’s a bit of a tautology. From day one I made the programmers do the support, and that means when a customer calls and yells at us because we’ve screwed something up on the site, by the second or third time we get that criticism, the programmer is tired of answering the same question. So they stop what they’re doing, they fix the code, and we don’t get that question anymore. It’s a very, very fast cycle. When customers find problems, we try to fix them instantly.
That sounds like pretty sensational customer service to us. By the way, the subtitle of the interview is, “Founder Paul English battles the likes of Expedia and Priceline by recruiting great talent and making the customer king.” So, for all of our clients who brag about how great their customer service is, we will believe you as long as you are hanging with Paul English.