Customer ServiceHow do we make customers for a lifetime who either purchase from us or become strong advocates for us? When a company adopts a policy to truly embrace its customers and care about them enough to develop an excellent customer experience for each customer, that is when the customers can feel so strongly about a company that they will not only tell their friends about the company but will even go as far as to defend them when other customers give a bad review.

First, let us define customer experience management. According to Gartner, customer experience management is “the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.”

The goal of developing consumer advocates is not something that a company can achieve overnight; it is a long process with detailed planning and extensive employee training. It is not just about developing a customer service policy but instilling it as part of the entire company culture. If you look at companies like Zappos and American Express, which are famous for quality customer care, it is a part of the core beliefs, a part of their corporate culture, and customer service is made a priority for all employees at all levels and at departments in the company. When a company makes the commitment to deliver excellent customer experience, it means a complete commitment. A complete commitment means that the customer service is delivered to each customer in each phase of the customer lifecycle and from all employees with which they come in contact.

Corporate Persona

One of the policies put in place by companies to ensure delivering an excellent customer experience is that of defining a corporate persona. This is a fiction person whom the company makes up and then defines all of the traits that this person has. A male or a female is chosen and then personality traits are outlined, including what his or her likes or dislikes are, what types of statements they would say and very specific details. This persona is used to ensure continuity because each employee is trained to respond to customers as if they were that corporate persona. This way, each customer receives the same type and same level of service consistently time after time and year after year. Zappos’ corporate persona is a young girl who loves shoes. It is a pretty simple persona that each employee adopts as his or her own. If a customer calls customer service and wants to chat about shoes, since the corporate persona would love to do that, so do the employees manning the phone lines; and that is exactly what they will do 24 hours a day, any time you call, if you feel like testing that out.

Customer Service Training

Every department and every level of employee from the CEO right down to each employee on the payroll, regardless of position, must receive the same customer service training. Customer service must be instilled as the first priority with each employee among all other goals. This means that employees who are motivated by sales, bill collecting, or any other goal are not sufficiently motivated to deliver that excellent customer service experience. The policy in place first and foremost must have customer satisfaction as a goal rather than a commission on a sale or payment on a bill.

Employee empowerment is one of the best things that a company can do to ensure the delivery of customer service from every employee. Each employee should be empowered to spend a certain dollar limit amount to satisfy a customer without the need to elevate a complaint or problem situation to a supervisor or manager. For example, take the Ritz Carlton hotel chain, they are known worldwide for their high level of customer service. They have this policy in place and each employee, including desk clerks, cleaning service, room service, or bell hop, are all empowered to spend up to $2,000 per guest per incident without needing to consult a manager. The company completes two objectives with this policy. They show their staff that they are trusted and they ensure customer satisfaction. Whether it is a customer complaint, a customer’s personal problem, or a special occasion, each customer who stays in their hotels will be beyond satisfied. The result is not only that the Ritz Carlton is known for their extremely high level of customer service, but that customer reviews are filled with stories of customers who are beyond satisfied.

Voice of Customer

Listen to the voice of your customer. Find out what they want first hand. Conduct surveys, questionnaires, or ask them in whatever way possible. Discovering what customers think, what they want, and what they expect from your company is an important step in developing both the corporate persona and the customer service training manuals. It is important to deliver on their expectations from your company. Each company is unique and; therefore, each company’s customer base is unique and they expect different things from different companies. Getting to the bottom of meeting customer expectations for your company is key to delivering what they want beyond being satisfied.

The Customer Lifecycle

The customer lifecycle has changed. In the past, the customer lifecycle was always thought of as the end goal being a sale. The sale had become known in the sales world as “the close” because it was thought of as the end. Instead, the customer lifecycle is a cyclical engagement that should not end but should be a continual circle leading to greater customer satisfaction and, ultimately, customer advocacy. Many companies have recently started to develop new policies based on this principle because they recognize that customer retention of existing customers actually costs less than new customer acquisition. The value of retaining customers is also higher because they can gain knowledge and insight from those customers as well as turn them into customer advocates. The recent policy changes of the cell phone carrier companies reflect this principle; they used to only give special offers and discounts to new customers, while existing customers paid full price and were not offered any new perks. Now, the new plans include the same perks, if not better offers than those given to new customer signups.

How Can Your Company Start on the Path from Customer Service to Customer Advocacy?

In conclusion, there are several takeaways that you can apply to your own company. Changing the corporate culture and the customer service policy is not something that just happens overnight in a company. The customer service experience is important for every company, no matter the size; not every company is as large as Zappos, The Ritz Carlton, or American Express. However, even small companies need to take time to put the proper training and protocols in place, a new corporate culture takes time to develop.

Conclusion

  • Develop your own corporate persona. Be detailed and make sure that he or she puts customers first.

  • Begin customer service training for everyone in your company from the top, down. Make customer service a top priority for all employees.

  • Empower your employees to do what is necessary to deliver beyond excellent customer service.

  • Always treat customers the same whether they have made a purchase with your company, have never made a purchase, or if they are longtime customers. Often, companies make the mistake of thinking that the purchase is the end of the customer lifecycle, but customer retention is the job of customer service.

  • One of the important takeaways that is often difficult to execute is the understanding that not all candidates are right for your company. If all employees are not willing to put customer service first, they are not right for your company.

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