Is Customer Service the New Marketing?

Is Customer Service the New Marketing?

The line between customer service and marketing is becoming blurred, and some companies are even counting customer service as a marketing expense. Although in the past there were definitive marketing and customer service “departments,” it makes sense to acknowledge their relationship and interaction for the overall good of the company. An investment in customer service, and the training to support it, is a profitable investment for a company to make. Funds invested in customer support provide a much larger return. Some companies have really taken this to heart, which even has some asking: Is customer service the new marketing?

Perhaps “new” marketing gives the wrong impression of what’s really happening. While customer service and marketing are both essential aspects of a business and always will be, it could be said that they are becoming more integrated. In fact, sales and other departments are also internalizing customer service and realizing that it must be present in every aspect of business interaction – both internal and external. Customer service has expanded beyond a separate department or a call center, and more and more companies are allocating the funds needed to make it part of their culture.

An outstanding example of this is Zappos.com, recognized as a customer service role model. It leads the pack in demonstrating that customer service is not a burden or just another expense, but an opportunity to expand marketing efforts through an amazing customer experience. By providing this level of customer service, they are hoping for two outcomes. First is the loyalty of the customers themselves. Because of the outstanding customer service they receive, they will return again and again, translating that loyalty into more business. And, beyond customer loyalty comes evangelism. Zappos.com hopes to compel customers to evangelize the company, spreading great stories about its customer service. When they make a promise, they keep it – and that keeps customers coming back as well as sharing word-of-mouth marketing. In this way, the commitment to customer service is a direct boost to its marketing efforts.

Another company that uses customer service as a major marketing strategy is Ace Hardware. It has found a way to thrive in spite of the fact that it is not only competing with other local hardware stores, but also larger stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot and others. Ace is smart and has figured out how to survive in the era of big box stores. It isn’t by outspending the competition on advertising, or promising the lowest prices. They aim to provide amazing service – the best in the business. And it works! The company is not just surviving, it’s thriving, by delivering high-level customer service.

The companies mentioned here that strive to provide amazing service receive in return a valuable reward – customer loyalty. The customers keep coming back, and what’s more, they tell others about their experiences. Customer service as a marketing strategy makes sense, so promise and deliver an exceptional experience. It’s one of the best investments you can make.

Shep Hyken is a customer experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession. Shep works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more articles on customer service and business go to http://www.hyken.com.

Using Games to Create a Better Customer Experience

Using Games to Create a Better Customer Experience

A growing trend that I’ve been writing about recently is “gamification,” defined by Wikipedia as “the use of game-thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts in order to engage users.”  Companies are using games to enhance the customer experience and engage with their customers, as well as their employees. It is a winning strategy for businesses – providing customers with entertainment in a fun, competitive way builds the company’s image and level of interaction with its customers. Some of these games are in the form of downloadable apps, taking advantage of the popularity of games for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

One of my favorite examples of gamification is the online arcade at the Home Shopping Network’s website (www.HSN.com) that attracts tens of thousands of users each day. Badgeville offers games that motivate and inspire employees to reach a higher level of performance. Games are a great way for businesses to increase customer interaction and provide a better working experience for employees.

Gamification is not just for large corporations. Chris Ressa of DLC Management, a commercial real estate management company based in New York, manages a fantasy football league for his customers. This unique plan for engaging customers through a game is interesting on many levels. Consider the following:

  1. The fantasy football league does more than connect Chris with his customers; it encourages them to interact with each other. It offers a sense of community. People tend to enjoy the company of others, especially if there is a common interest. The game offers a shared interest and connects those who participate. As they check in regularly to follow their players and teams, they are forming a bond, and Chris is the connecting factor.
  2. The game expands and strengthens the business relationship to something more. Chris can keep in touch with his clients on a regular basis without having to talk about business. It is personal and fun, and it moves the focus from deal-making to building a friendly relationship. But, when the time comes to focus on business, where do you think they will turn?
  3. Ongoing contact makes it easier to attain customer loyalty, which in Chris’s business, means lease renewals. Loyalty is not generally gained by one single transaction with a company – it starts with the first interaction, but has to grow from there. Contact between the business dealings makes Chris’s job easier. He doesn’t have to check in a month or two before a lease expires, he already has established a method of ongoing, frequent contact.
  1. Chris is having fun, too.  If you can add fun to your work, why wouldn’t you? You – and your customers – will be happier, and your business will benefit.

As you can see from the way Chris applied the concept, you can personalize the way you connect with your customers through games or other fun activities. There are countless ways – online and offline – to create a better experience for customers and employees through fun interaction.

Shep Hyken is a customer experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession. Shep works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more articles on customer service and business go to http://www.hyken.com.

Five Levels of Service: Making It to the Top

A recent project of mine involved rating and comparing companies based on their level of customer service. I began with a basic rating scale of 1-5 (with one being bad and five excellent), but then I decided to get a bit more creative. I came up with descriptive names for the levels of service.

Five Levels of Service

  1. Unacceptable – This may be a kind term for some of the more terrible examples of customer service, but it encompasses any service that is unacceptable for any reason.
  2. Basic – Minimum standards and commodity.
  3. Good – This category contains what customers would call “satisfactory” service.
  4. World Class – Taking a big jump from satisfactory, in the eyes of the customer your company is superior to others in the industry.
  5. Trademark – At the top of the game. You set the benchmarks for the industry.

You can use this rating system to perform a self-assessment of your business and your personal standing. Consider the following questions and honestly evaluate your situation. If you do not deal with outside customers, think about how you serve your internal customer.

  1. What level of service does your company provide for your customers or clients? What level of service do you personally provide?
  2. In terms of the descriptive levels of service, how would you describe yourself?
  3. Where do other companies in your industry fall in the levels of customer service?
  4. What about companies outside your industry? Assign them to the levels of service.
  5. Consider the companies that you have assigned to the “World Class” and “Trademark” levels (inside and outside your industry). What qualities do they have that you could emulate?
  6. If you are not at the “Trademark” level (and very few are), what steps can you take to move closer to the top? What would you have to do to get all the way there?

Use these questions as a springboard for discussion and goal setting. Remember the following points:

The quest for great service never ends. Even after reaching the “Trademark” level, it is an ongoing process you should always be striving to improve.

The basic tenet of customer service lies in common sense. Though some take a scientific approach with measurements, testing, etc., it boils down to people taking care of people.

Never stop reaching, no matter how high you rate in the “Five Levels of Service.” Continuous training and coaching is needed in the journey to “Trademark” service and beyond.

And one final thought …

“Great service is not the end – the final answer. It is a process that is ongoing, ever changing and is always being adapted to meet the needs of the current situation.”

– Shep Hyken

Six Strategies to Compete In Business

This article started out to be about how the little guy company can compete with a big company.  Specifically, in a recent interview I was asked how a small local business can use customer service to compete when a large national competitor, known for aggressive low pricing, comes to town.  As I wrote out the answer, I realized that the business strategies used by a small company competing against a big one are actually sound strategies for a company of any size.  By the way, customer service is important, but in this situation, there is much more to consider.

A “Big Box” store, such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco, Sam’s Club, etc. comes to town.  Local businesses get nervous. How can they compete with the “everyday low prices?”  How will they hold on to their customers?  How will they attract new customers?  After all, they don’t have the advertising budget, the inventory, the buying power, etc. While there is some reality to all of the concerns that a local or small business might have, they are really just excuses.  Plenty of local and small businesses flourish, long after one of these larger stores move into their territory.

Now here is the reality of the situation.  It doesn’t matter if it is a major chain store, a big-box store, a discount store, etc.  And it doesn’t matter if it is a small or local business.  It doesn’t matter what type of business or industry.  Any type of business that moves into your area, large or small, will pose many of the same competitive threats.

So, what can you do?

1. Decomoditize your business.  A business gets caught in the commodity trap when they sell the same goods and services as their competitor, and other than price, the customer doesn’t see a compelling reason to do business with one company over the other.  This is where customer service becomes the strategy of choice.  A company can distance themselves from the competition with customer service that provides an obviously better overall customer experience.

2. Sell something that the competition doesn’t.  There is a small hardware store just down the street from a Home Depot.  They are always busy.  The reason is because they figured out what they can sell that Home Depot doesn’t.  And, the Home Depot store will actually refer business to them when they don’t stock the item a customer needs.

3. Find out what you do best and let the customer know. Why should someone do business with you instead of the competition?   Outside of the customer service you hope you are known for and the different goods and services that you might sell, is there one thing that really separates you from your competition?

4. Be active in your community.  Be visible.  For example, some of my Ace Hardware clients allow kids raising money for charity, sports teams, etc. to sell their candy bars, cookies, etc. outside of their store on Saturdays, endearing themselves to their community.  By the way, this doesn’t have to be a local community.  The company’s market defines the scope of the community, which can be local, national – even international.

5. Build an army of evangelists.  Use your happy customers to help promote your business.  Be actively engaged with them through social media, mail and any other form of communication that is appropriate.

6. Have a loyalty program.  Consider a formal loyalty program that gives incentives to do more business with you. (Like the airlines, hotels and restaurants do.)  Or, just deliver amazing customer service that makes the customer feel so special that he/she wouldn’t consider doing business with anyone else.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert,  professional  speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken
(Copyright ©MMXII, Shep Hyken)