December 11, 2012

What’s new about serving customers (and what’s not)

Smart business owners and their service reps realize the landscape in which customers operate has shifted - and that profoundly redefines what good (and bad) customer service means.

Social media has empowered customers: Respect and work with that power, not against it. Specifically, they expect that your company will make itself easy to contact and will speedily respond to their comments at a high and thoughtful level. Which isn't to say that this feedback has to occur in a public forum. If you strategically make the people at your company easy to reach round the clock, you can by and large avoid public outbursts on social media airwaves.

Customers expect companies to share their burdens: The companies that are thriving today realize that what reasonably could be considered a customer responsibility is now a great opportunity to take something on themselves. This is why your bank tells you when your mortgage payment is due and your pharmacy reminds you that it's time to refill your prescription. Amazon even notifies you when you already purchased a particular title for your Kindle two years ago, and refuses to let you accidentally pay for it again. These best practices should be in every company's ballpark if you want loyal customers.

Your customers demand their right to serve themselves: Self-service, formerly the sketchy domain of snacks and cigarettes, is now an absolutely central right. Customers are talking online about your brand at all hours of the day; and so they require round-the-clock convenience, a level of autonomy in how their experience is constructed, and the ability to apply intimate knowledge of their own problems to the task that no service rep can ever match. Royal Caribbean, for example, augments its human concierges with interactive kiosks on every deck of their new cruise ship Allure of the Seas. These kiosks answer two crucial and oft-asked questions: "What activities are happening now?" and "How the heck do I get back to my room?"

Get the full story at Harvard Business Review