Customer Service Was Appreciated Now Expected

It wasn’t that long ago that you would go to a store, dine at a restaurant, do business with a vendor or call a customer support center and notice how good the customer service was. A great service experience stood out. It was noticed. It was a differentiator.

I started my speaking business in the 1980s. I know, I look much younger than I actually am, but it really was that long ago. Back then, the rock star company that was known for customer service was IBM. They recognized that if they created enough value beyond the actual product, that price would seem less important. That brings me to Lou Sterns, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Marketing at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

I had the chance to attend a weekend marketing program at Kellogg with Professor Stern. He shared a case study that I’ve often thought about and even referenced in my articles and videos. Professor Stern was hired to consult with IBM when they were selling computers. As they were becoming more affordable—yet still quite expensive by today’s standards—and more popular, the goal was to make price irrelevant, or at least less relevant. He listed 20 reasons why a customer would choose to buy an IBM computer. On the list were words like quality, reliability, fast response, quick repairs, capability and of course there was price. As customers were surveyed, they were asked to rank these 20 words based on how important they were to the decision of buying an IBM computer.

The short story is that price didn’t make it into the top ten. It was actually near the bottom of the list. That’s how you know that your customer service and experience is appreciated—when your customer feels the price is not nearly as important.

Let’s jump to today’s competitive business world. Customer service and CX are almost always in front of mind. People may still appreciate a good service experience, but it must be so good that it is noticed. That’s because the bar has been raised. Yesterday’s IBM has been replaced today by companies like Amazon, Apple, Nordstrom and other brands recognized for a stellar customer experience. As I often say, those brands set the bar higher for everyone. They create an expectation that when a customer goes into any other type of business, they will receive that same great service. Customer service is no longer a “nice-to-have-it” luxury. It’s an “expected-to-have-it” resource. When a customer gets it, they appreciate it. They show their appreciation by coming back.

So, how do you meet today’s standards? There are two ways you can start.

First, create a service experience that is consistently and predictably above average. By being just a little bit above average—all the time—customers will say, “They are amazing!” By the way, it’s the “all the time” part that’s hard.

Second, if you want to create a better service experience, look at your favorite companies to do business with. What do you like about them? More importantly, what do you love about them? Can you bring whatever that is to your own business? I bet you can. Figure that out, and you’re on your way to a better customer service experience.