Cassandra Brighter· Author
It is not unusual for businesses to misunderstand, undervalue or completely dismiss the power of customer service. Many merchants rely completely on the systems and funnels they’ve built into their site, and consider customer service an additional (expensive) cost that they grudgingly take on. In their eyes, the objective might be to keep bad reviews to a minimum, or to avoid scrutiny by the state’s attorney general. What a missed opportunity! Bare minimum compliance. Grudging compliance.
You’re Hosting a Party!
In today’s disrupted, competitive retail landscape, it pays to think of the experience you’re providing your customers as a PARTY. It’s an experience. Let’s put aside the pragmatic transaction – “I stock or distribute an item you need/want, you have the payment I seek.” Instead, let’s consider the consumer’s mindset, emotional and social needs.
For example, a bar serves alcoholic beverages. But very few humans go to a bar for that purpose. They go to socialize, to find attractive people with whom to flirt, to have a leisurely post-work experience, to unwind, to feel welcome, to connect with community. (As I write this, I hear “Nooorm!” from the regulars at Cheers. If you’re a Millennial, you might have to look that up.)
Similarly, every retail establishment satisfies a social/emotional need. Starbucks provides a little liquid pep talk before work, a little treat or luxury in your morning. McDonald’s provides a rapid escape from feeling hungry, which may translate to emotional satisfaction and an escape from feeling grumpy. (“I’m loving it,” expressing the satisfaction of easy, quick fulfillment of a basic need.)
How can companies fail to meet these basic social and emotional needs? And how can they make them richer, more meaningful, augmented?
Customer Service To The Rescue
In recent weeks I’ve had several experiences that brought this to the front of my mind. I have no emotional connection to McDonald’s – I am not “loving it.” I enjoy the quick relief from hunger, but nothing else. This is most evident at the drive-through window. Nothing makes this more evident than the number of times the window worker is handing me my brown bag of food while looking away from me, already distracted with some other task or conversation. “Go away now, I’m done with you. You don’t matter.” As a counterpoint, there’s In-N-Out. If you’re lucky enough to live near one of the franchises of this chain, I’m sure you can relate to the difference. Going into an In-n-Out franchise makes me feel legitimately HAPPY. I truly AM “loving it” as I await my order.
Last time I was at a franchise, I mentioned to a really busy shift manager the iced tea was out. She didn’t brush me off. She didn’t even delegate. “I’ll get it,” she said – and she walked over to a full pitcher of iced tea, sitting on the sidelines ready to get off the bench – and she briskly replaced the empty machine. She then turned to me, “Can I help you with anything else?” I wanted to hug her. “No, I’m all set,” I said. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced an In-n-Out employee disengaging from their interaction with me while they were still assisting me. They always say “thank you” and “my pleasure,” and “have a good one” as I drive away. I feel seen, respected and cared for. I feel wholly human.
I don’t know the secret sauce in the training of In-n-Out employees – but it shows, and it counts. Every other fast-food chain is, in my mind’s real estate, just another purveyor of burgers and fries. But In-n-Out is my friend. I’m a fan.
“Satisfying experiences are seldom shared. Delightful experiences are seldom kept to oneself. Many of them get reshared, and some go viral.” Joseph Michelli
When my children were younger, we’d always head to Lake Casitas Water Park a few times each summer. The experience included a lazy river with those big, inflatable donuts, renting a boat and maybe fishing, and even camping if we chose to spend more than a day. Having recently returned to California, I took my now teenage kid on a trip down nostalgia lane, to Casitas Waterpark. A grumpy teenager in a glassed booth told us the price. Only after he took the money, he announced that the lazy river was full. I asked about the boats – all sold out. I then asked for my money back – sorry, no refunds. Irate now, I asked to find someone to complain to. He nonchalantly handed me a paper form to mail out.
Everything the employee did was compliant to policy, and everything he said was accurate. And yet this was a catastrophic failure in customer service. At the heart of it, he did not see nor understand the social & emotional needs of the customer, and he wasn’t trained to cater to these.
At Ikea this weekend, exhausted from getting lost in their maze toward an exit, I sought rescue from an employee. He told me where to find the items I needed, and then informed me that one item would have to be submitted at checkout, and they’d have to retrieve it from the back. However – and this is the important part – he saw the look of exasperation in my face. I hadn’t vocalized, but he was attuned to it. “I know you’re probably eager to get out of here,” he said with a tinge of humor. “You’re almost there. See? That’s the counter right there. And it’s a short wait,” he told me. This made all the difference. I rallied, I regained the joy of shopping. I was on board again. I could do this.
I might be over-dramatizing these incidents a bit, for effect. Though I am hoping that you get the idea.
“Genuineness requires listening through both verbal and nonverbal channels.” – Joseph Michelli
In brick-and-mortar business, merchants can hear about the customer experience simply through conversation. Online businesses don’t have that luxury. They can, however, get the same information – and more – through customer satisfaction surveys. Bizrate Insights delivers just that. Bizrate Insights customer surveys are available at no cost, and they include industry benchmarking to measure your customer journey and website’s performance against your competitors. They provide the nonverbal channels of customer feedback that empower merchants to outperform the competition.
Feedback is only useful if it’s actionable
Collecting feedback becomes a breeze through Bizrate Insights. Once this feedback is in the merchant’s hands, it needs to be turned into action. Management can request a list of improvements to the customer experience, and management can train (or retrain) customer service staff to address the discovered gaps in strategic high-touch points.
Poorly-trained, badly compensated customer service representatives can confirm a customer’s worst fears about your brand. Empathetic, well-trained, focused customer service representatives can create loyalty, can create a lasting impression, can even be trained to execute amazing upsells that greatly increase the bottomline.
Customer service is not a necessary evil. It can be one of the most powerful differentiators between you and the competition. It can be your secret weapon. Just look at In-n-Out.