A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens has been inspiring change for well more than a century. It was written by Dickens to inspire social change, but also in hopes to change the direction of Dickens’ waning career. Lessons from the holiday classic can be applied to almost any topic, in this case, customer service:
1. Your Customer Service Past Cannot Be Changed.
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard…”
A brand or organization’s customer service past cannot be changed, no matter how some wish it could. The ghost of customer service past haunts many organizations. A chain heavy with disappointing customer service experiences drags on the organization not only in the customer’s memory, but through online reviews, social media and even media attention depending on severity and/or virality.
According to Microsoft’s 2015 Global State of Multichannel Customer Service, 97% say that customer service is very important or somewhat important in their choice of, or loyalty to, a brand, and 62% say that they’ve stopped doing business with a brand due to a poor customer service experience.
Any person within an organization, at any time, can add a link to the chain, so all employees must be empowered as positive customer service and customer experience representatives, and shown the same value as the customers they serve. (Which marks another departure from Ebenezer Scrooge’s methods in A Christmas Carol.)
Notes Virgin founder Richard Branson, “to achieve consistently terrific customer service, you must hire wonderful people who believe in your company’s goals, habitually do better than the norm and who will love their jobs; make sure that their ideas and opinions are heard and respected; then give them the freedom to help and solve problems for your customers. Rather than providing rules or scripts, you should ask them to treat the customer as they themselves would like to be treated—surely the highest standard.”
2. There is No Time Like the Customer Service Present.
“He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”
There’s no better time than at year’s end to take a step back to make a step forward. That customer feedback you’ve been meaning to analyze and initiate action on? Now’s the time. Get together with front line customer service staff to compile the top disappointments or requests that could improve customer service and the customer experience and begin action items for as many as you can. Share all of your customer feedback analysis with the entire organization.
Ask employees what could be done to improve the customer experience, from policies and personnel, to products and pricing. Go undercover as a customer to request service or information and ask the same question across multiple service channels. Did you receive consistently satisfying service and responses wherever, whenever and with whomever you engaged?
The way the organization and every individual engages customers today and in the future, even if the past proved disappointing, can change the customer experience which is defined by analyst Paul Greenberg as “how a customer feels about a company over time” and by analyst Bruce Temkin as “the perception that customers have of their interactions with an organization.”
Gather, analyze and share the information and the picture presented by the ghosts of customer service past and present to justify and get support for future change.
3. Customer Service Future: A Change, the Same or All Just a Dream?
“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
In the latter pages of A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge a looming and lonely demise if he is unable to change his ways and care for people as much as he does his purse strings.
Many organizations have met a similar fate by not embracing change. According to the American Enterprise Institute, 88% of the companies in the Fortune 500 in 1955 are no longer there. Customer service has not been the demise of most, but Richard Branson, quoted above, credits service for his airline’s survival. “When we started Virgin Atlantic thirty years ago we had one 747 and we were competing with airlines that had an average of 300 planes each. Every single one of those airlines have gone bankrupt because they didn’t have customer service. They had might, but they didn’t have customer service. Customer service is everything in the end.”
Gartner Research notes that by 2016, 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience (compared to just 36% in 2010), and customer service represents a great part of that customer experience. Learn from the past, act in the present, and change your customer service and customer experience future for the better.
“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”