Who Cares About “Outstanding Customer Service Experience?”

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Sometimes, I think we get customer service wrong. We try to create outstanding experiences. We survey people about the experience and how it can be improved. We sell the value of our outstanding customer service.

Frankly, to me, the very best customer service experience is to have no customer service experience at all! Not having the need to engage customer service, in the first place, makes me more satisfied with the product or service I’ve bought than the most sophisticated customer service process in the world.

Let me explain myself. To put in a customer service request, whether through the web or by phone, means that something has gone wrong. Somehow I’ve had a problem and the product or service I’m using isn’t fulfilling my expectations. It may be my fault, I may be doing things wrong, but still I need help.

I’ll pause for a moment, I think the reason I’m on this rampage is that last week, I spent hours trying to resolve a problem with a piece of software. It ended up being a very simple fix, but I had spent time on the vendor’s web site searching their “knowledge base,” called the support center–agreed to a $99 fee, got into all sorts of queues, described my problem to all sorts of people, and when I got to the final person, re-described my problem a final time, it took us a few minutes to solve. Along the way, everyone was very polite, each person was “managing” me as effectively as they could. There were the appropriate sympathetic responses, “We understand your frustration…..” In the end, it was a software setting in our configuration that was changed.

Capping all this off, this morning in my email, I get the survey, “Please tell us about your customer service experience, we want to make sure we serve you well……” I patiently—OK impatiently—completed the survey. Yes everyone did their “job.” My problem was managed. Was I happy? Absolutely not. It should have never happened in the first place! It was a problem with the software set up, but should never had occurred. Then the inconvenience I went through–not being able to find the answer at the knowledge base, talking to person after person after person. Paying for support for what ended up being an installation issue–supposedly qualifying for free support. But I don’t have the time to chase that down and try to get a refund of my $99.

The problem with the survey is this company was looking at the wrong thing. They wanted to measure whether everyone in the line did their jobs correctly and handled me well. They didn’t pay any attention to my effort or my time. So we had a complete disconnect. Everyone I talked to executed well. But it took me too much time, too many transfers, too many polite and soothing conversations. In the end I’m angry–even though my problem has been solved.

Let me give another example, a few months ago I bought a new car. (No this isn’t a car salesman story). He had done a great job, we were closing the deal, and he added this comment: “And if you have any problem, you always have me to help you.” My response was, “I’m sorry. You are a great guy, I’m happy with the deal, you’ve been a good salesperson. But I never want to see or talk to you again. If I have a problem that causes me to need to call you, it will be a huge issue–I’m more likely to go to the Owner of the dealership.”

So I think we sometimes get customer service experience wrong. We design the great processes, we train everyone to do their part, we look at optimizing our processes to solve customers’ problem. We make sure we train our people to say the right things, to always ask, “Is there anything else,” and so forth. We focus on “delighting” the customer. But what we forget is the customer effort.

We need to think about customer service in a different way.

First, we need to think about developing our products and services that require no customer service. That sounds like an impossible task–things break, customers need help. But so much of customer service has nothing to do with things breaking. Much has to do with the customer has the wrong expectations, they can’t get the information they need the way they want, as quickly as they want. We need to first focus on customer effort, then focus on delighting customers with minimal effort.

My friends, Matt Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi have written a great book on this, The Effortless Experience, Conquering The New Battleground For Customer Loyalty. It will change the way you think about customer service and customer service experiences.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Great point, Dave. Most customers would vote for no customer service, if by “service” you mean fixing an issue.

    However, I could make the same point about sales. Why not makes products so compelling that customers simply want to buy them. No sales rep required!

    Of course, very few companies have accomplished either. Perhaps Apple is the best example of no sales required, yet they still staff their stores with reps.

    And Amazon.com is the best at no service required, but their service is excellent when it’s needed (online, mostly).

    Sales and service must evolve beyond the basics, and focus on activities that add real value to the customer. Sales can’t be just about booking orders, and service not just about solving problems. Otherwise, these jobs will eventually disappear.

  2. Bob: major retailers have built strategies on the same idea for customer self-service. Home Depot and others come to mind. Clear packaging, large graphics, “explanatory text” and other self-service conveniences were developed so customers can examine an item and make a purchase decision without much, if any, human intervention from store employees (or charitable assistance from other customers in the store).

    All of these self-service items are great ideas, and they sort of help customers – until you forget your glasses, don’t understand the instructions, or have additional questions that simply aren’t answered on the packaging. On that front, retailers have thin backup – they haven’t quite figured out how to execute and add value when customers stray off the self-service “happy path.”

    Dave to your point about surveys: “Did you find the what you were looking for?” – “Yes!” [After 30 minutes of squinting at tiny type on a package]. “Was the staff friendly and helpful?” “Yes.” [when I could eventually someone]. Few ask, “will you return here for your next purchase?” “Not if I’m in a hurry.”

    And while I’m at it, I can say the same for customer “self-check out” – which really remains quasi-assisted by store employees. Still a misnomer, self-check out is a technology and process debacle-in-process, and much in need of work.

  3. Great discussion Bob and Andy. It’s so easy for us to lose sight of things, whether it’s why we sell, customer service, customer experience or other things. It becomes about what we do not why we are doing it and what we want to achieve.

    We have to remember why, otherwise our activities becoming meaningless.

  4. Hi Dave-

    Bob and Andrew give great examples in Amazon and Home Depot. I’ve purchased through Amazon for years and have never once had to call them. The idea of “no customer service” for me sounds great because of my personality type.

    I think you and I share a similar personality in that we are direct and appreciate efficiency without needing to follow up with the company in question. However, there is a demographic of people who are “socializers” and want that personal connection after the sale/interaction. If you sit within a contact centre you will hear (incoming calls) and see (live chat) this first hand.

    I don’t think the idea of “no customer service” is for everyone.

    Great post!

    Michel.

  5. Whether eliminating service or sales, what we’re really saying is get rid of those expensive people! This is a scary thought for those in retail, call centers or any business that has a lot of reps doing basic jobs that can be automated.

    If you look at leading retailers that are not being Amazon’d they are integrating digital into their overall approach to *serve* the customer.

    Is B2B a safe haven for sales people? No, because selling is steadily moving to inside sales and then e-commerce. Cheaper people followed by no people.

    I agree with Michel that “no customer service” is not for everyone. And I think it’s a mistake to only look at cutting costs, because people create an emotional bond that technology can never replace.

    I say the future for people is serving customers, not just servicing problems or closing deals.

  6. Michel: Thanks for the comment. To some degree, I’m overstating the “no customer service” for impact. In reality, I think the notion of effortless customer service is more appropriate—yet very seldom part of our customer service experience design.

    People want their problems solved. They want them solved quickly, with minimal effort. Most would probably trade effortlessness with a long, circuitous, but pleasant customer experience.

    Thanks for helping me better articulate the issues.

  7. Great post Dave. Everyone is right in that the product/service with least friction (that includes none) for the customer in the sales, shopping, and servicing processes wins. Customers get it that somebody cared enough to make it easy.

    Dave it goes to your point that it’s all about the design. When the design of the entire experience resonates as a feeling that somebody cared, we have success lift-off. Easier to see than it is to do. Thanks !

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