As I introduce and outline in my book Flip the Funnel, I believe customer service will become not "a" strategic differentiator, but "the" strategic differentiator — the one that ultimately presents sustainable competitive advantages to companies operating in an otherwise commoditized world.
Think about it for a moment: The "four Ps" of traditional marketing — Product, Price, Place, and Promotion — are today, for the most part, completely commoditized. With rare exceptions — such as the iPhone, Priceline.com, the Kindle's WhisperNet and WhisperSync technologies, or Queensland Tourism's "The Greatest Job in the World" — success achieved by standing out from the crowd is, more than ever, an exception rather than a norm.
Then there's customer service. The notion that we buy — or will buy — from companies that appreciate and acknowledge us, engage us on a consistent basis in meaningful dialogue on our terms, reward and recognize us with an overall superior customer experience and ultimately, connect us with one another in ways that present limitless possibilities of collaboration, conversation and valuable outcomes.To be clear, a key variable that will help us choose — and champion — a company will be the extent to which they commit themselves to the communities they serve, the surroundings in which they operate and the environment on the whole. However, this is not your grandfather's customer service.
In fact, it's not even your father's customer service. Hell, it's not even yours (at least not entirely). Customer service — or, more to the point, servicing customers — is as much a shared experience nowadays as it is a one-to-one process. The traditional value proposition of CRM was inherently flawed at worst and unscalable at best. With technology-powered feedback systems, real-time response or word-of-mouth channels and ultimately socially connected networks of promoters, detractors and influencers, Voice of the Customer has the potential to be an efficient and effective one-two punch that is very much an alive, evolving, learning and adapting organism.
I've come up with 10 new rules of customer service. No doubt you'll be able to add to these yourselves (in fact, I'd welcome the suggestions and recommendations - please email me at email@example.com), but for now I hope I'm able to get the process started with these 10:
- Customer service doesn't stop at 5pm on a Friday - If you're using Twitter or any other social media platform to deliver customer service, you need to play by your customer's "office hours", not yours.
- From "everything" to "everyone" communicates — "Target Lady" is the face of the Cheap Chique discount retailer, not the models that adorn the walls of Times Square.
- All customers are equal (some more than others) — This is about customer segmentation based on tenure, loyalty, value and status, but it's also about influence; when last did you Google your customer or ask them if they had a blog?
- Customer service is not only about solving problems - Just ask the folks at Ritz Carlton, Five Guys Burgers + Fries or Singapore Airlines.
- Customer service lives "in the now" — Real-time problem resolution (a Twitter best practice, if you will) is what it takes to avoid becoming the target of a customer crusade.
- Customer service can be a revenue generator — Just ask Amazon.com's Prime, Best Buy's Geek Squad or the Apple Store's Genius bars.
- Customer service lives in the public domain — As United Airlines found out the hard way when they took 6 months to eventually deny Dave Carroll his claim to get his guitar repaired. Customers will always defer or default to the "private" domain, but after a while, they'll take their umbrage to the masses and make their problem yours.
- Customer service is an ongoing commitment — Marketing is not a campaign; it's a commitment. The same can be said for customer service and customer experience. If lifetime value of the customer is something we crave and covet, the only way to achieve this by a consistent, long-term investment (and in the process, reconciling this with our short-term outlook and pressures to "deliver ROI — or else!")
- Customer service can be proactive & anticipatory — Voice of the Customer efforts like My Starbucks Idea are a modern day spin on the analog Suggestion Box. The Flipped Funnel philosophy begins with the customer purchase, as opposed to ending with it. In other words, the process is a journey, not a destination and because of this, contingency and scenario planning are part and parcel of the new service-led, customer-centric value proposition.
- Customer service is alive — Mistakes will always happen, but as long as they only happen once, they'll most likely become learning opportunities. There's no playbook or script when it comes to working with a customer as a life partner. Empowering employees to be independent thinkers and proactive problem solvers shouldn't seem like scaling Mount Everest; nor should it be thought of as only a high-end or premium-priced option or alternative. A simple way to get smarter over time is by closing the loop, acting on suggestions/recommendations and most importantly, communicating this to the entire organization.
This approach is one part Back to the Future and one part a glimpse of how brands become more relevant in an increasingly digital, connected, and social world. It's a combination that marries the best of technology with the best of humanity in a time where we are conceivably ushering in a post-marketing era — one governed by what I call "nonmedia" or powered by human-to-human or peer-to-peer.
And the good news is that every company in every industry is capable of flipping the funnel — right now.
All it takes is a customer.
About the Author
Joseph Jaffe (firstname.lastname@example.org; @jaffejuice on Twitter) is chief interruptor at Powered, a dedicated social media agency. The author of Flip the Funnel: How to Use Existing Customers to Gain New Ones (www.flipthefunnelnow.com), Jaffe's blog, audio, and video posts can be found at www.jaffejuice.com.
[Editors' Note: CRM magazine conducted an exclusive one-on-one interview with Jaffe in its May 2010 special issue on customer empowerment.]
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