The results are in: More than 90 percent of unhappy customers refuse to ever do business again with companies that have provided bad experiences, Steve Curtin reveals in his new book, Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. Keeping customers satisfied is crucial to any good business, but what is the key to turning a satisfied customer into a true company advocate and promoter of the brand? Associate Editor Maria Minsker caught up with Curtin, the owner of a customer service consulting firm, to discuss how to turn a happy customer into a delighted one.
CRM: Let's talk first about what companies are doing wrong. What mistakes do you see companies making?
Curtin: A striking observation I had is that while employees consistently execute job functions for which they're paid, they inconsistently demonstrate customer service behaviors for which there's little or no additional compensation or cost to their employers. Managers need to acknowledge that employees are not only responsible for job function, meaning daily duties, but they're also responsible for job essence. This involves creating a delighted customer, or what Bain & Co. calls promoters: people who are less price-sensitive, have higher repurchase rates, are responsible for 80 percent to 90 percent of the positive word of mouth. When managers offer feedback (and not every manager offers feedback), it almost always pertains to job function, and neglects that job essence. If managers are paying attention to job function, then that tends to be what employees focus on as well, and consumers suffer.
CRM: Have consumers and consumer expectations changed in recent years? What kinds of trends are you noticing?
Curtin: Customers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and that's largely because of social media. They're finding out more about what's out there, they're learning about products and services, and they're researching other consumers' experiences with brands. That sets the bar for their expectations prior to their experience with the brand. For example, if my expectations were set very high after reading a Yelp review, and then those expectations were not met, even if the experience was good, I might give it a lower rating based on my lofty expectations.
CRM: In your book, you introduce seven ways to improve customer service and make it extraordinary. Can you take us through these steps and explain why they're so important?
Curtin: These are not in any particular order, but the first of the seven is to express a genuine interest. On the basic level, this means remembering and using the customer's name to show her that you're paying attention. The second is to offer sincere and specific compliments; to lay the groundwork for this, pay attention to detail and look for opportunities to say something positive. The other suggestions are to share unique knowledge to captivate customers with tidbits of insider information; convey authentic enthusiasm; use humor when appropriate to dispel tension and spark rapport; provide pleasant surprises; and, finally, deliver service heroics—go above and beyond to help customers, even when the company is at fault.
CRM: Which of the seven would you consider to be most important?
Curtin: It's no accident that the first one is to express genuine interest, because that's something that you can do during every single customer service encounter. And it's also no accident that the seventh exceptional service behavior listed is delivering service heroics, because it's going to be more the exception than the rule. Service heroics play a role when there's a problem, which is hopefully a rare situation. The others are really situational—and they all have something in common. They will make a positive, lasting impression on your customer, which is crucial, especially if you want to create a promoter.
CRM: Can you give an example of one or more of these seven tips being put to use?
Curtin: Definitely—one example is Dazbog, a local coffee retailer here in Denver. Recently I went through their drive-thru and ordered an espresso macchiato. When I pulled up to the window, I expected to have just another routine transaction. Instead, and this was refreshing, the barista hands me my espresso macchiato and he says: "Did you know that macchiato is an Italian word meaning marked or stained? Your espresso is stained with a teaspoon of milk." So by making a choice to share unique knowledge with me (which is one of the service behaviors I highlight in the book), the barista made a positive lasting impression on me, and now I'm sharing this experience with you. They've made me a promoter.