Customer Service in the Service of Genuine Differentiation
There’s something coming into focus in the typically fuzzy-illogical world of customer service. How do I know? Well, for starters, in the year I’ve been writing you, typically 10 to 20 folks have responded with comments to this weekly epistle. EXCEPT when it’s been about poor or just plain weird customer service. Then, the phone lines and email in-box and LinkedIn comments light up and queue up. Après poor customer service, le déluge.
Tales arrive of both good examples and the horror shows we’ve been led to expect. My most recent example: Hosting a party and ordering all the goods from my go-to on-line grocery source (and heretofore poster child for what I believe constitutes a Passion Brand), FreshDirect, only to find a piece of chewed chewing gum (true story) as I poured the salted almonds into a bowl. When I contacted the company it offered a ‘total refund’ of the $11.99 – and asked that I return the bag with the gum. DNA testing of the malcontent or sloppy staff member? Proof that I wasn’t trying to scam some almonds? I’ll never know, but eeck.
Exhibit B: The raw joy from a colleague over the moon with a response from B&H Photo, apologizing for a product that fell short, replacing it and crediting the entire cost.
Exhibit C: The recent announced downsizing of Macy’s staff and Walmart’s locations, because of customers’ movement to on-line. There’s also the suggestion that Macy’s at least is more valuable for its Herald Square real estate than its marquis retail location. If there is no real customer service (not just the righting of wrong, but pure service in-store), why bother going there? The algorithm can probably do a better job.
And yet, here’s the ‘something’s coming into focus’ part.
Exhibit D: Ford’s press release announcing a $100 million initiative to invest in customer service as a differentiator. That’s what I’m beginning to believe is happening. All the product features and benefits and all the Brand personality messaging being to migrate into “okay, available and cheap” land. And the real differentiator (are you listening airlines?, hear me now, banks?, how about now, department stores?) become how human beings deal with other human beings.