Allen Harris: Customer satisfaction

The author says that “good” customer service has not been a meaningful differentiator since the 1950s. Nowadays, it’s all about connecting with your clients.

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I’m confident that your customer service is satisfactory, or you wouldn’t even be in business. However, many business owners overestimate the relative strength of their customer service and ignore the value of a customer connection.

When I talk to business owners about what makes them stand out, and what makes their customers come back to buy more, invariably, outstanding customer service is on top of the list. Every business owner I talk to apparently provides the best customer service out there. The reality is that they don’t.

And social distancing has made it challenging to “wow!” customers by traditional means.

Last Christmas, I was on the Peleton Exercise Bike website, and its chatbot popped up. I was shopping for a relative, and by confirming their email address, Peleton was able to tell me her sizes and verify that she had not yet purchased the selections I had made for her. Then I received her presents the next day, delivered in artful gift boxes wrapped in ribbons and bows.

Recently, I dropped my iPad and broke the screen. I brought it to a company in Pittsfield that claims its customer service is why people go to it and not its larger competitors. Two weeks later, the company told me it finally was ready to start fixing it. However, first, it needed my Apple ID and password.

As if! I contacted Apple directly, and since my iPad was still under warranty, I paid a few more bucks and received an upgrade just a few days later.

Belmond Trains used data tools to determine my shopping preferences and then digitally advertised its Orient Express experience on my computer screen. When I inquired through its website, I received an immediate reply, and it gave me all the information required to decide. Also, it instantly qualified me to finance the trip.

Maybe your clients trust you. Perhaps they even like you. But, not many companies can connect with you on a level of having your relative’s information.

Perhaps fewer can convert two-week waiting periods and security threats to a rapid, safe solution. And it’s a rare business that can not only surprise us with a product we didn’t even know existed, but also make it affordable.

Most businesses do their jobs well. Beyond doing our jobs, we do some nice things that connect us with our clients. But, doing something nice is a lot different than providing next-level customer service.

“Good” customer service has not been a meaningful differentiator since the 1950s. It’s a de minimus to even be in business. Nowadays, it’s all about connecting with your clients. If you are trying to compete for market share by offering candy, sending birthday cards, or remembering someone’s name, then you’re going to lose out to your best-in-class competitors.

There is a much higher level of data and digital that most of us must ascend to. The specifics of how to do that for your company is beyond a 900-word column — but do it! Beyond that, think differently.

In 1998, armed with my Frommer’s Travel Guide, I visited Paris. I had not contemplated the stereotypical perception of Americans by the French — rude, entitled, belligerent. What I learned from Frommer’s is that trying meant everything.

Frommer’s advice was to learn some key phrases in French, something to the gist of, “I am sorry, but I am a tourist, and my French is very poor. Do you happen to speak English?”

The idea was to avoid being the typical American who expected every Parisian to speak English (even though most seemed to). The French wanted to see you try to speak their language, because it is respectful.

Some people are becoming less obsessive over their health as the pandemic endures. However, those same people still want to see you put in the effort of protecting them as a sign of respect.

It’s a Catch-22. Your client may feel that your efforts to keep them safe are excessive, or they may think that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are impotent. Either way, if you don’t put in the effort, your client could see it as disrespectful.

Sometimes customer service is better described as customer connection. The connection can also be helpful when it comes to a business development standpoint. Many people, younger generations in particular, reward companies that share their values and take a firm stand.

By aligning your brand with their values, your patrons will feel like you are on the same side. That connection with your customer feels more critical than ever. Many businesses won’t take a stand on an issue because they think it will alienate customers. Perhaps. But, if it’s genuine, you’ll close new customers and gain a larger wallet share from current clients. Don’t be afraid to tell the community how you feel.

COVID-19 has caused business leaders to rethink many aspects of their companies. Similarly, the pandemic has forced many of your clients to do business with different companies in new and better ways. As returning and potential customers determine whether your business will survive the pandemic, it’s also time to rethink your version of good customer service in order to forge and maintain long-lasting relationships.

Allen Harris is the owner of Berkshire Money Management in Dalton. He can be reached at aharris@berkshiremm.com.


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