By Kathryn Casna

Invest in great sales and marketing, and you can sell just about anything to anyone at least once. Invest in great customer service, however, and you’ll not only sell to the same customers over and over again, but you’ll also create raving fans of your brand who can’t wait to market and sell for you.

According to Fred Reichheld, even a small percent increase in customer retention results in an impressive increase in a company’s profits. When looked at in this light, the importance of customer service can’t be overstated; in fact, many top companies allocate more funding to service than to marketing. Prioritizing your budget this way essentially banks on the idea that great customer service is the best marketing a company can do. These companies prefer to spend the majority of their marketing budget on relationship building instead of reputation management.

The difference between reputation management and relationship building is the difference between teaching people what to think of your brand and showing customers who you are, then letting them tell the world for you. Most companies do some amount of both, but those who focus on relationship building consistently rank top of industry for customer service.

Examples of bad customer service are all around. They include companies that shuffle customers from agent to agent without solving the problem businesses who make it next to impossible to get a representative on the phone and those who promise the world, then disappear after they receive payment. The good news, however, is that there are plenty of examples of good customer service, too.

As with everything, these examples should be examined in context. The reality is that some industries deliver better service than others. Supermarket and fast food chains, retailers, media streaming, and parcel delivery services consistently rank “Good” or “Excellent” on Temkin’s Experience Ratings, while TV/internet service providers, health plans, and airlines rarely make it past “Okay,” and often hover at “Poor” or “Very Poor.”

Why the difference? For many industries, it’s about the market. Most people live within just a few miles of several grocery and retail stores, while there are far fewer choices when it comes to communications and health care providers. Competition pushes companies to exceed customer expectations in order to woo consumers away from other brands, while market dominators can generally set lower service standards. The latter creates an opportunity for disruptors to enter the market and carve out success with better customer service, driven by increased consumer dependence on social media and public review systems.

Which companies excel at building long-term relationships with happy customers? Here are four examples of high-quality customer service, with takeaways for companies looking to up their own game.

What does nearly every list of top-ranking customer service examples have in common? Amazon is at or near the top. The worldwide ecommerce giant has spent most of its existence working toward dominating the market with low prices, easy availability of goods and services, and nearly flawless customer service. More often than not, it’s been at the expense of being profitable.

How do they do it? They put the customer first. While this cliché is mentioned in nearly every customer service manual, Amazon actually does it. Its return policy was created with customers in mind: If a package gets lost in the mail, Amazon sends a replacement. If a customer has an issue, they have a dedicated help page and multiple ways to reach customer support.

CEO Jeff Bezos leads the customer-first mindset, attending annual call-center training sessions alongside thousands of Amazon managers. “We’re not competitor obsessed, we’re customer obsessed,” says Bezos. “We start with what the customer needs and we work backwards.”

Takeaways:

●  Great customer service should start at the top and permeate every level of your company.

●  Make customers ecstatic, even if it means being patient with profits.

●   Serve customers in the way they want to be served, not the way that’s convenient for the company.

“You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” This popular Steve Jobs quote helps enamor avid Apple fans to its cofounder.

If that sounds like something Amazon’s Jeff Bezos might say, you’re right. Both industry giants begin with the customer and build everything else around them, but these two companies have different ways of doing that. While Bezos advocates setting up systems around customers’ wants and desires, Apple has made employees the focus of its service.

Go into an Apple store, and you’ll normally see a horde of Apple fans talking all things Apple, from the latest iOS update to the pros and cons of wireless headphones — and that’s just the people who work there. The company has made a point of hiring its ideal customers, so a trip to the Genius Bar feels more like a chat among friends than visiting with a customer service agent.

Do customers love Apple’s innovative, intuitive product design? Yes. But a majority of consumers say customer service is the true test of how much a company values them.

Takeaways:

●  Great service is about people first and your product or service second.

●   Hire your customers.

Savvy business owners know that great customer service is also about finding what your customers love, then delivering it in ways that make their products a staple of their everyday lives. David Ek, CEO of music streaming leader Spotify, did exactly that when he noticed how many people were pirating music online.
People just want to have access to all of the world’s music,” Ek listened and responded by creating a technology-based service that made streaming music an honest business. Spotify makes it easier to listen to music legally than it is to download it illegally. Furthermore, its business model is to learn a user’s preferences and provide the additional service of curating and customizing playlists and radio stations. Spotify went so far as to make interacting with customer service fun: Customers who tweet questions to the company are rewarded with individual playlists tailored to answer their questions.

Takeaways:

●  Use technology in innovative ways to give customers what they want, how they want it.

●   Reward customers with fun, personalized customer service.

Most Americans have never heard of Captain Train. Before being purchased by Trainline Europe for $189 million, Captain Train was a bit like a very small, French Expedia, only used for buying cheap train tickets. Unlike many customer service leaders, Captain Train was not an industry behemoth, but an underdog to market-dominating Voyages-sncf.com.

Although many consumers will stop doing business with a company due to poor service, France’s train ticketing industry was not known for great customer service. Here, Captain Train CEO Jean-Daniel Guyot saw an opportunity. The brand made customer service an “obsession” and pledged to answer, as well as solve, all customer queries within two hours. This could have been just a marketing tactic meant to position Captain Train as an alternative to its competition, but the company actually fulfilled that promise, making them a superhero in their industry.

Takeaways:

●  You don’t have to be a huge company or a well-known brand to make customers happy.

●  Great customer service is about actions, not words.

●  To deliver impeccable customer service, commit completely to it.

While every company has its own strategy, these examples of good customer service all have one thing in common: It’s part of who they are. Amazon is committed to having a customer-centric culture that includes everyone from the CEO to the call-center employees. For Apple, hiring fans of the brand ensures customer service is helmed by people who truly care about the company, the products, and the customers. Spotify injects fun into the customer experience while keeping customer service personalized. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Captain Train proves that small companies can commit to excellent customer service just as well as larger businesses.

These companies prove that great customer service isn’t something a company tacks on to normal business operations. Great customer service is modus operandi. And it’s something every company can do.

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