BigCommerce’s Mitchell Harper. Photo: NIC WALKER
Customer service is an area of business that has always fascinated me. Just by being honest, genuine and empathetic towards clients, you can very quickly turn a two minute phone call into the highlight of their day.
It seems I’m in the minority when I continue to tell clients, partners, the press and our people that I truly see customer service as a profit centre, not a cost centre. Here’s why.
What do you think? Tell us about your best – and worst – customer service experience at the bottom of the article.
Technically customer service is a cost centre. But the absolute best companies invest and even over invest in customer service.
Here are some of the companies that provide exceptional customer service:
It’s no coincidence these are also some of the most profitable companies in the world. One particular example of stellar customer service comes to mind that really cemented in my head that investing in customer service can be unbelievably profitable.
Back in 2011 I signed up for an American Express credit card. Everything went fine, I filled in the form, got approved and received my card in the mail. A few weeks later I decided to cancel the card because I found a better deal, but had already paid the $395 annual fee.
So I called the American Express customer service line, got put through to someone in billing and asked to cancel. After being asked if there was anything they could do to make me reconsider (I politely said no), the woman on the other end of the phone proceeded to cancel my card. Things went smoothly and I was ready to end the call when she said:
“I noticed you’ve paid our $395 annual fee. Let me go ahead and make sure that gets refunded to you in the next few days.”
I hadn’t expected a refund on the annual fee nor did I ask for it, but she went ahead and asked me if I wanted it refunded (of course I said yes) and it was deposited into my account 48 hours later.
How many people do you think I’ve told about this experience? So far I can count about eight. Like their competitors, Amex could have outsourced its customer service to a remote location with a primary focus on reducing call time and increasing calls taken per rep per hour, but they didn’t. Instead, each of its customer service reps are trained extremely well and put the customer experience above everything else, including revenue.
Is this true about your business?
Do you take every opportunity to go over and above to meet the needs of your customers or do you fight tooth and nail to stop every refund request? Are your customers likely to tell eight people that you’re an amazing company, or that you stink?
These days it’s easy to outsource absolutely everything with the false belief that saving money will allow you to grow your business faster and increase your margins. But the intangible element here is word of mouth. What do your customers say to their friends, colleagues and family not just about your products but about your customer service and support?
If you’re not sure, then why not ask them by sending a survey via email to your customers using a tool like SurveyMonkey? You can always improve if the survey response isn’t what you’d hoped.
In 2010 our customer satisfaction score was 82 per cent, which meant 82 out of every 100 clients rated our support good, very good or excellent. This was OK, but I always believed we could improve to consistently achieve well above 90 per cent.
Fast forward to today and our score is 96 per cent and climbing. I tell you this not to brag, but to show proof that if you’re dedicated to improving your score you’ll find a way.
Here are a few things we did to improve our rating:
- Listen more than you talk. You can do this with surveys, by getting a group of customers together in person or by including a way for them to give you feedback with every order you ship.
- Set three, six, 12 and 24 month customer satisfaction goals. Let’s say your score is currently 63 per cent and you want to get it to 85 per cent. It might sound like a huge jump, but what if you set achievable goals for the next 24 months and work diligently towards them? You might aim for 65 per cent within three months, 70 per cent within six months and work your way up, constantly improving as you go.
- Have a “buck stops with me” attitude about customer service. When a customer isn’t happy, go out of your way to personally contact them and right your wrong. This is something that you should continue to do even as your business grows. Zappos built a billion dollar business using this simple concept.
- Model other successful businesses. Think of the businesses you buy from regularly. Which of them impress you consistently with their customer service? What do they do differently to others? Copy them and take their ideas into your business. There’s no point reinventing the wheel if you can avoid it.
- Surprise every customer. What would happen if, for every order you shipped, you included a handwritten note that thanked the customer for their order and included your name, photo and phone number? You know what would happen, so why not do it? Your word of mouth will go through the roof because no one else does it. And it’s so simple.
- Care. It sounds so basic, but why do so few business owners care about customer service? If you have a deep respect for your customers and are sincere in your approach, you will build an amazingly loyal group of customers who will not only buy everything you sell and tell everyone they know about you, they will also come to your defence publicly when you do stuff up (which you will, it’s inevitable).
In the end, investing a dollar in customer service is the same as investing a dollar in marketing. The goal of marketing is to drive targeted leads to your business who then turn into customers and give you money in exchange for your product. By investing in customer service, you can turn a one-time purchaser into a life long customer who brings seven others with them. Now that’s the best approach to marketing I can think of, bar none.
Mitchell Harper is the co-founder of e-commerce software provider Bigcommerce