The customer service (r)evolutionWhen it comes to looking after customers, some businesses are sadly stuck back in the last glacial period. Take a look at our simple guide to the three stages of customer service evolution and how to identify them. Does your company need a little evolutionary push?

1. Neanderthal

Thankfully there are not too many businesses left which provide this level of ‘service’. Neanderthals are simply not in touch with the modern world and can’t understand what on earth all the fuss is about.

Like their hominid namesakes, they’re not as stupid as they appear. It’s just that they’ve been left behind the evolutionary tide, and they don’t even realise that times have moved on without them.

Neanderthal companies are the ones that do things like delete Facebook posts from unhappy customers; the concept of transparency tyranny has completely passed them by. The thing is, Homo neanderthalensis didn’t become extinct because of anything stupid they did. They became extinct because they kept doing the same things they had always done: they failed to adapt. The same will happen to Neanderthal companies if they don’t take steps to evolve.

2. The Missing Link

Most companies fall into this category. They pay lip service to the importance of caring for their customers, but the reality falls short. After all, how many companies can you think of who openly say that they couldn’t care less about what their customers think? Even Ryanair has given up on that approach.

Missing Link companies are your ordinary, everyday businesses. Customer satisfaction surveys show that people are less happy than ever with the customer service they receive – that’s thanks to the Missing Links. Missing Links are not proactive; instead they’re all about damage control. They run around oiling the squeaky wheels. They believe that their customers are moderately satisfied. What they don’t realise is that it’s only because most of them can’t be bothered to muster the level of effort it would take to get a problem rectified.

3. Alpha Business

Alpha Businesses are few and far between, but they do exist. You’ve probably heard about companies that deliver pizzas to mountaintops during snowstorms or visit sick children in hospital. But what’s funny about being a highly-evolved business is that you don’t need to constantly be providing shockingly excellent customer service. While going above and beyond is certainly the right thing to do on occasion, it’s simply not sustainable for an SME on a day-to-day basis.

If you’ve evolved to the point where you’ve got this customer service thing all figured out, there are a number of things your customers know they can expect from you. Day in, day out, your regulars know they can rely on you for:

  • Consistency. If you sell tangible goods, your delivery service is fast and reliable and your returns policy is clear. If you’re a service provider, your service is finely tuned and always runs smoothly. Except when it doesn’t. When things go wrong – which they inevitably will at some stage – you don’t let it ruin your workday. Instead, it’s an opportunity to show off your skills.
  • Responsibility. When an issue comes up, you take responsibility and get it sorted. Your customer service staff never try to blame a problem on the customer (even when it clearly was the customer’s fault). You know that you catch more flies with honey. Save the vinegar for the after-work drinks with your colleagues.
  • Availability. OK, 24/7 customer service isn’t an option for most SMEs. But if you’re an Alpha Business, you’re active on social media. You swiftly respond to tweets and Facebook comments, and it’s never hard to get an email response from you. Your answers are always clear and friendly, and of course you offer some sort of live chat (like the hybrid kind, that mixes email with chat).

Where does your SME fit in? If you’re in the Missing Link category, it’s probably time to take some steps to move up to the next level. In customer service, just like in life, it’s about going up – or going down.

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