This month I want to challenge you to think differently about customer service. In an article that I read recently called “A Guide To Mastering The Customer Brand Experience” by Mark Di Somma, the author advises that we shouldn’t even think of the term “customer service” as being about something that is valuable to customers. In fact, customer service is worth next to nothing, according to the article. The reasons are simple. We live in a service-focused age, and the people who buy from you know they’re customers. So the term “customer service” does not describe anything customers don’t expect and it certainly doesn’t envelope anything of particular value to them.
Secondly, and more importantly, customer service is actually the means to the real goal: sustained and profitable customer relationships. Please note that distinction. Customer service is how brands deliver customer experiences. It is the process and the framework whereby a brand looks to engage with prospects and buyers. It’s how a proudly distinctive and likeable brand forges relationships with customers through actions that mirror its core values and set it apart from its competitors. And it’s those experiences that count. Not the process itself.
You’d think we’d all agree on that. You’d think everyone could see that experiences are everything these days given how similar products are, and that developing and delivering unique experiences is the logical basis for preference. Yet so often, too often, distinctiveness and experiences are the last things that customers get. And I suspect that’s because, for many brands, what customers do get continues to be organized as a numbers game internally, oriented around technical and operational capability.
There’s nothing wrong with numbers of course. They make the process efficient. They allow things to be measured. But while customer relationships based on best practice metrics might be technically correct, they’re often devoid of personality. And because everybody’s serving by the book rather than from the heart, what customers are really getting is efficient variations on the same tedium. That doesn’t make for a likeable or memorable brand. In fact, cut out the brand name, and they could be dealing with anybody. Sound familiar? Too often technology vendors tout features or functions instead of their brand.
This is why that matters. Products for the most part come with a money-back guarantee. People don’t. If a product is wrong, it can usually go back. But if you get it wrong with customers, or not even very right, chances are they won’t. That doesn’t necessarily mean that customers have received bad service. It simply means that the encounter was not enough to distinguish the experience from others, to excite them and therefore to secure their continued loyalty. The process can be right technically. It can tick all the boxes in terms of what had to happen. It can achieve all the digits. And yet it won’t necessarily lead to the vital and elusive outcome.
Enduring relationships with a brand pivot these days on customer encounters that really do need to be experienced to be believed. They are astonishing – at a human level, not a metrics level. Forming and sustaining relationships with people is not about world-class customer service or carrier-level or benchmarks or any of the other abstract qualities that are freely bandied about. Because, when you think about it, customers do not go around congratulating themselves on having received a best-practice anything. That’s an internal measure. And it’s not about percentages of good either for the same reason. Again, people don’t make buying decisions based on 85% satisfaction, or any other number, which is another internal metric. They are loyal to a brand because they really liked what happened. Loyalty is not a percentage decision, it’s a personal decision made by each customer one action at a time.
When their expectations are exceeded, they respond enthusiastically and in marked contrast to how they greet generic customer service: the prevalent, boring and forgettable catch-all that too many brands expect their customers to settle for.
If any of this sounds like a beat-up on process and the operations teams, it’s not. Processes and systems provide order and structure – and both consistency and the ability to deliver what you undertook to deliver are mandatory for brands in every sector today. Without the right customer processes, there would be chaos. Without the left-brained attention to detail that logistics, supply chain, ops and frontline people deliver, there would be no brand because there would be nothing for customers to depend on. Without someone paying attention to legal obligations, the court system would be clogged with commercial litigation.
But, at the same time, you can’t allow the tail to wag the dog. In the traditional marketing environment, brands allowed process and promise to develop separately. Today your marketing plan and your operational plan must be much more closely aligned because your target audience see themselves as having relationships with who they think you are, not how you choose to see and organize yourselves.
Here’s what I mean: If customers are going to form strong, habit-forming relationships with you, what you say, what you offer and what you do needs to align. If your brand and your processes are not on the same page, chances are you are foreshortening your customer experience. And ironically, that will probably kill the very relationship operational people are tasked with servicing. That may make you more efficient – but there’s a good chance it will in time shutter your brand. Your customers should not report to your processes, because your processes are not their business. They’re part of your business. Here are 7 ways I suggest to look to fix that.
- What did you say as a brand that you would do? Are you as good as your word?
- What can you afford to deliver and what can you afford not to deliver? In other words, are you cultivating relationships with your customers that are financially viable? If you can’t afford your cost per serve, change your model and reshape the promise. There’s no point in efficiently losing money or inefficiently losing customers!
- Does everyone in your organization know who your most valuable customers are, and what they expect to receive? How loyal are your people to the people who are loyal to you? Are customer’s people or a funding source?
- Does the service you offer your customers make sense emotionally to them as well as logistically? Is it in keeping with their understanding of your core values?
- How do you know you’re doing right by your customers – what have you been asking them? Not about whether they’re “satisfied” but whether they actually “like” what they receive.
- Who manages the overall development of relationships (in other words how you expect your brand to interact and engage with customers into the future) on an ongoing basis? Anyone?
- When was the last time you updated your infrastructure to make the relationship better for your customers as opposed to just making it more efficient for you? Did your update result in a tangible experience upgrade as well as cost savings? – Because that’s the Holy Grail.
We can all learn a thing or two by asking these questions and applying the answers to our business. A business is actually a living thing that needs to be nurtured to grow. While things in the mortgage industry may be challenging, a good brand can equal a growing, profitable company.
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