Our State of Service research reveals that we need to stop thinking of service as a cost centre, and build it into the ultimate customer experience tool.

I once heard a wonderful story about online shoe retailer Zappos. First, some necessary background to the tale: Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh trained his customer service team to simply ignore average call handling time, and to take as long as they needed to understand customers’ needs and resolve their issues. It was revolutionary at the time, and sales figures proved its effectiveness.

So what was the story?

Digital Marketing Specialist Don Power had heard about people calling Zappos customer service with ridiculous requests – including ordering them pizza. He’d also heard that Zappos customer service would deliver.

So he tweeted at them. And they delivered.

It’s debatable whether this is a customer service or marketing exercise – those pizzas would have paid off immensely by the time Power tweeted about and shared his experience everywhere, but either way, it’s a great tale of a brand embracing an opportunity to connect with its customers in a new way.

All businesses don’t boast customer service models that allow staff to indulge the needs of customers. And, admittedly, it’s a rare customer who will tweet a shoe retailer for a pizza.

But, regardless of what opportunities do come a service team’s way, today’s technology means customers will contact us how they want to, when they want to and for whatever they want to. If we want to build and maintain personal relationships between customers and our brands, we need to be able to respond in kind.

While customers are empowered by technology, so are service teams – technology means we can get to know customers just as effectively as if they did call for a chat, and far more efficiently. Used well, this technology sees the customer service team cease to be a cost centre and instead become a driver of loyalty, advocacy and revenue.

Customer experience is everyone’s responsibility


The second annual Salesforce State of Service Report shows very clearly the evolution of customer service from cost centre to customer experience driver: 68% of service teams lead customer experience initiatives.

In the past, customer experience would begin when a customer walked into a store and met a salesperson. In today’s retail environment, customers don’t all walk in, few ‘meet’ a salesperson, and customer experience begins long before a purchase. These days we research and purchase online, and often the first human contact we have with a business is when we require customer service – once they hit a problem.

While initiatives across a company should ensure that the company is a central part of those ‘before contact’ moments, customer service has had to evolve into a driver of relationships, an essential representation of brand promise rather than a reactive cost centre.

Invest in creating deeper relationships


In the past 18 months, 70% of customer service teams have focused on creating deeper customer relationships.

We live in a world where we actually have plenty of contacts but fewer proper relationships than we ever have had. Conversations are quick. We are time poor. Those relationships we do have, aside from the precious few we really invest in, have become quite shallow.

Businesses have to take the initiative and invest in getting to know their customers. If the customers aren’t coming to them, they have to find a way to get to know those customers.

The ideal sales, service and marketing system must offer a 360-degree, single customer view. Why? Because every customer wants to feel special. A business that knows its customers is a business that makes them feel special, whether the customers recognise it or not.

I can’t help but go to Uber as an example. Uber has always offered the sort of customer experience that makes other businesses scramble to catch up, but recently it has taken further leaps forward. It no longer asks where you are, because it simply knows. It also knows the places you are likely to want to go, judging from your past behaviour as well as by using predictive intelligence. And the options it offers you differ depending on where you are. If I’m in Sydney city it will suggest my home address as one of the options, but if I’m in Singapore it will suggest the hotel where I usually stay. It even knows which card (my personal card or corporate) I’m likely to want to pay with, depending on my location.

The only way to do this well is with technology. High performing businesses of all sizes use predictive intelligence to appear to know their customers very well. It is cost effective, increases agent productivity and decreases the cost of service, all the while offering customers a personalised experience. Best of all, it’s relatively effortless for the business.

Paul Baptist is Director of Solution Engineering at Salesforce – a role he describes as ‘jack of all trades, master of some’. He’s multilingual – proficient in geek – handy with a hammer, and tweets at @paulbaptist. Read more by Paul here.

The full State of Service report offers insights into the best service right now, and what all organisations need to do to remain relevant to customers in the future. Download it here.