I got into a conversation with some entrepreneurs about how to balance profit vs. customer service. Great topic!
Gartner says it best (and they have data to back it up):
“Strong brands aren’t merely better at acquiring customers; they are better at keeping them and motivating them to tell others. This is why improving customer experience isn’t just the right thing to do for your customers; it is also the right thing to do for your organization and its stakeholders.”
The Buy/Own/Advocate framework from Gartner
But how do we improve customer experience both effectively and affordably. We’re playing the long game here. How do we win?
Here are some key strategies:
- Create positive emotions
- Be proactive
- Remove obstacles
- Encourage conversation
- Ask people why they left
Let’s unpack these.
1. Create positive emotions
I’m reading “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman and he makes the point that we remember emotional moments, both good and bad. So the way an interaction makes us feel is crucial. This is why BMW makes their cars so fun to drive and why Apple asks iPhone developers to “surprise” and “delight” their users.
You have the chance to create a positive emotion…or a negative one. Your customer will remember either.
Yes you can—and should—achieve this through your product, but it’s absolutely vital in personal interactions with your customers. It’s not actually about delight, however. Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman, and Nicholas Toman present evidence in the Harvard Business Review that:
“First, delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty; [instead] reducing their effort — the work they must do to get their problem solved — does. Second, acting deliberately on this insight can help improve customer service, reduce customer service costs, and decrease customer churn.”
Making it easy for me to solve my problem delivers a burst of positive emotion that I’ll remember whenever I think of your company.
The opposite is also true:
I signed up to have AT&T U-Verse Internet installed and they changed the date on me. I spent three days on the phone trying to fix it and they hung up on me at least once. Finally I found a guy in the loyalty department who asked, “What if I can get you your original date back?” Then he did.
Why did that take three days?
AT&T made it incredibly difficult for me to solve my issue. Even worse, no one I spoke with sounded at all interested in identifying the source of the problem and fixing it before it happened to the next customer.
They simply didn’t care.
2. Be proactive
Here’s an email I received from Warby Parker:
“We’re sure you’ve been watching your order’s progress closely. We have too, and we noticed your glasses haven’t arrived yet. We can’t apologize enough for the delay.
We’ll continue to monitor the tracking information closely, and if your glasses haven’t arrived by April 29th we’ll get started on an expedited replacement order, just in case. In the meantime, I’ve also gone ahead and refunded you $30 from your order, as an apology for the delay.”
Wow. First of all, I didn’t even realize there was a problem. I was looking forward to my new glasses, but I hadn’t really thought about when they were supposed to arrive.
But now I like Warby Parker even more than I did before! Not only did they proactively contact me when something went wrong, but they immediately made it up to me AND they told me the backup plan. So I knew it was going to work out no matter what.
I’ve remembered this moment for almost a year. Now I’m writing about it so it’s as if they spent $30 for referral marketing. Last weekend I was about to buy a new pair of glasses at another store and then I remembered that I should check out Warby Parker first. So mission accomplished.
“When it comes to service, companies create loyal customers primarily by helping them solve their problems quickly and easily.”
The Harvard Business Review study suggests that the proactive email and backup plan would have been enough, without adding in the refund.
Your customers will be pleasantly surprised that the issue is being handled without their intervention. They’ll continue to buy from you, plus you get the added benefit of them saying nice things.
If you wait until people are frustrated then it’s probably going to be more expensive to fix, plus you’ll have trouble preventing them from complaining about you to their friends, colleagues, and often social media.
What’s that worth to your business in the long run?
3. Remove Obstacles
Here’s a more subtle example. I submitted feedback to the support teams for two different products I use. Here are the answers I got back:
I’m not just talking about the free month, which of course I appreciate (but may not be necessary). I’m talking about the fact that the second one is asking me to re-submit a request that I’ve already taken the time to submit once. Why are they asking me to do that again? And if I don’t take the extra time does that mean that they won’t listen to my request?
“I really appreciate the effort of writing your feedback for us. I’ll make sure it reaches the right department.”
The first guy just says he’ll get it to the right department for me. Thank you!
Reading that second note still makes me feel a burst of frustration that I’m reminded of every day when I use their product. Ouch.
Months later I can’t really remember the specific suggestions that I made, but I still feel warm about the first company and cold about the second. The emotion sticks with me.
4. Encourage conversation
Your customers are a goldmine of information. Talk to them as often as you can. Ask them about their experience with your product and your company.
My mom and her husband have a time share in Mexico where they spend about four weeks a year. There’s a full kitchen, but the pots and pans aren’t great.
They cook a bunch—and they usually go with a group of friends who all eat together—so they’re always lugging suitcases full of pots, pans, Crock-Pots, and cooking utensils down to Mexico. This has been going on for a few seasons.
Finally this year the resort offered to store the pots and pans until their next visit. My mom is super excited! This makes her life so much easier.
How did management figure this out? Talking to customers. And enough of them were complaining about the same thing. Otherwise the time share folks would never have known this was going on. In their minds they were providing a great kitchen—but customer behavior suggested otherwise!
You can automate conversations with your customers and then step in for anyone who replies. This way the customer feels like they’ve been talking to a human the entire time and it saves you some work.
“Please take a second to leave us your feedback so we can continue to improve. I will personally read each and every response. Don’t hold back, we want to know what you really think.
How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague on a scale of 1 to 10?”
I received an automated email yesterday asking me how likely I would be to recommend a product I use, so that they could calculate their net promoter score. I gave them a 5 out of 10 and was presented with a text box to explain why. I did, and later received an email from someone on their product team. We had a nice conversation. But that initial email wasn’t sent by a human. It’s only my reply that caused a human to appear.
5. Ask people why they left
This is really a subset of “encourage conversation,” but it’s so important that it deserves its own section.
Want to know another goldmine of info? People who were customers and then stopped using your product or service. Ask them why.
“We buy from a company because it delivers quality products, great value, or a compelling brand. We leave one, more often than not, because it fails to deliver on customer service.”
The trick is to make your inquiry non-threatening. If I’m done with your company then I don’t want you to try to re-sell me. So I’m not interested in hearing from your sales team or your CEO or from anyone who sounds like they’re going to try to change my mind.
But I will talk to someone on the product team who’s just asking for info. Don’t have a person like that on your team? Simply invent one!
Again we’re talking about an automated email to your ex-customers asking about their experience and what you could have done better. Most people won’t answer, but you’ll learn a lot from the ones who do.
Awesome Customer Service
In summary, remember that we’re playing the long game here. It’s expensive to find new customers so it’s important to keep the ones you already have. They’ll keep buying from you if you focus on delivering a great experience and making it easy for them to solve their problems—plus they’ll recommend you to their friends and colleagues. So even though doing the right thing may cut into your profit on a single transaction, a habit of great service will pay huge dividends over time.