By Matt Pigott - September 18th, 2016

Just because you can't see something, doesn't mean it isn't there.

To please? To wow? Why delivering good baseline customer service is the real winner


Giving great customer service is all about going that bit further to please, to pleasantly surprise. However, it’s worth remembering that most customers don’t necessarily want to be wowed and amazed, but are simply looking for a good base-level experience, one in which their immediate needs are satisfied, without any bells and whistles.

Anybody who has spent more than an hour with a cavorting clown knows how irksome his effusive shenanigans can become. With that in mind, brands should be wary of being too street, too cool, too needy, too eager to please when it comes to delivering good customer service. There’s sweet, and there’s sickly sweet. There’s useful and engaging, then there’s obsequious and sycophantic. Knowing where to draw the line is a powerful skill in delivering an appropriate level of service.

As simple as 1, 2, 3...

Being caring without being overbearing means having clear customer insight, built up from a base of clear and accurate customer data. What modern brands with their eye on delivering exemplary customer service are focused on these days are three core things:

            1. The human touch

            2. Network neutrality

            3. A level of automation that provides a seamless experience

Of course, there are other factors to consider, but these are the ones at the top of most forward-thinking marketing executives’ minds today.

Finding the answers is better than making them up

In a digitally intensifying world, the human touch is, as highlighted in the Southwest Airlines example, something that needs to be spotted and acted upon rather than orchestrated. It’s not impossible to orchestrate human stories, but usually, these will end up feeling like two-dimensional representations of reality, rather than the three-dimensional real experiences that resonate with and inspire the wider public. In other words, it’s far better to look for the real thing. The mantra seek and ye shall find applies.

Network neutrality is the process of desiloing departments and presenting to the customer a unified face. Because these things are intangible, the best way to describe it is the difference between a visibly segmented brick wall and the same wall skimmed over with a cream-smooth plaster. A network neutral company will ensure that any one person in a company can deal with a customer, in the same way, based upon the profile overview they have in front of them.

Why, from a customer perspective, flat and smooth is the best new business model

Similar to a flat hierarchy with a shared decision-making process, every person in the organisation takes ownership of the customer service task. In this sort of environment, rather than assigned tasks, anyone should be able to pick up the flow and deal with the customer issue. While this might sound idealistic to traditional companies mired in legacy systems, more nimble, entrepreneurial companies are using technology to facilitate a higher level of customer service by giving all employees ownership of brand-consumer relationships. Why is it important for brands to modernize in this way? Because attackers are everywhere, and this is one of their most powerful marketing strategies.

The customer is boss

Fintechs are threatening the banks. Bitcoin systems threaten the money markets. Uber has pummelled certain elements of the transport system. Airbnb is a thorn in the side of the hotel market. Nimble, new, entrepreneurial companies have taken the triangular, hierarchical, geometric business model and flattened and democratized it. And guess what, it’s working. The boss isn’t the number one guy anymore. The customer is. The customer is the boss. And the customer is the ultimate, sole source of revenue.

Lest we forget Amazon’s herculean achievements. Masters of exemplary customer service and not a human face in sight, this once spotty little upstart now accounts for sixty percent of online retail growth.  It also accounts for 25 percent of each and every dollar of growth in US retail, including physical stores. And this concludes the three points listed above – a level of automation that provides a seamless experience. Amazon has this down to a fine art.

Revenge of the disruptors. Big brands beware!

Business stubbornness and resistance to the inevitable change hands whip-snapping startups killer advantages on a plate. But the new entrepreneurial mindset puts the customer at the centre of everything. Customer-centricity is seen as the key to profit and is one of the main reasons tech businesses get such high valuations. But customer-centricity is an ideal, not a solid thing. Customer service is an intangible that doesn’t figure in most traditional models that focus on profit and loss. Which is a mistake. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that: ‘intangible assets make up approximately 80% of corporate market value.’ What this suggests is that aspects of business that are difficult to quantify with rigid metrics (though more and more companies are arguably trying to find ways to achieve this) such as customer service, are becoming increasingly important, not only to customers, but to investors looking at overall fiscal value. And this is something that valuations of unicorn companies, often as much as forty times revenue reflect. In the new hyper-connected, intensively networked culture in which we live, intangibles such as customer service matter.

Invisible? Intangible? Doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

The magnetic North turns a compass needle. The air is made up of oxygen, nitrogen, argon, carbon dioxide and water vapour. Even thought it can’t be seen, if it wasn’t there, we’d soon know about it. Invisible things have material effects, and therefore value, which is why better tools must be created to quantify and qualify their existence.

In the same way, customer service, good or bad, has material outcomes. Finding better ways of isolating and measuring the force of these things is shifting higher and higher up the agenda, and is one of the main reasons brands must endeavor to measure outcomes partly based on what they are doing right (or wrong) in the arena of intangibles.

Find new metrics. Sharpen your edge.

Looking at sales figures alone doesn’t give a clear snapshot of customer satisfaction. It’s a decent metric, but needs to be combined with getting customer feedback, making comparisons with the competition and pinpointing any weaknesses in service: Do long queues in-store or clunky checkout systems online lead to excessive ‘basket abandonment’, for example? How many customer complaints have there been in the last three, six and twelve month periods? Are complaints trending up or down? How is negative press being managed? How much social listening is being acted upon to turn a south trending general opinion upwards? In the world of the invisible, in the world of perfecting customer service, this is where art and science must meet and conspire. The best brands know this and strive to get a handle on both, and to fuse them in an ongoing happy marriage of convenience. Intangible though service is, without getting it right, every business, whether online or offline, face-to-face, or face-to-screen, is doomed to struggle.

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