Customer Service Begins Before You Have A Customer
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If you want to know where a business is today, look at their sales. But if you want to know where a business will be tomorrow, look at their customer service.
Typically whenever you read about the importance of customer service in a business, it’s in relation to organizations selling software. Moreover, the software product or service concerned is usually deployed in the cloud, making the measurement of customer experience somewhat easier.
Online software interfaces can be tied to a bunch of measurement analytics algorithms at the back-end, which makes getting real-time input on the frequency of use, interactions, feature reach, etc. pretty easy. In those kinds of businesses, there’s often an overlap of Customer Experience with User Experience (inevitably abbreviated to “CX” and “UX” apparently for no other reason than to keep outsiders at bay).
The importance of customer service should be clear to any kind of sales situation. But what about businesses without an online customer interaction component to their product or service? What about if you’re selling pizza, making vacuum cleaners, or printing limited-edition t-shirts? And while we’re on the subject: when exactly did we start talking about “customer experience” instead of “customer service”? Aren’t we talking about the same thing?
Customer Service vs. Customer Experience: What’s The Difference?
Before we dig down into the weeds, it’s probably a good idea to first define what we mean by “customer experience”, as well as how it differs to “customer service”.
Customer service is generally considered to be reactionary. It comes into play after the customer has interacted with the business at some point, usually for a particular reason. Examples of customer service could be:
- To find out more about a product prior to purchase – information on size, color, price, delivery options, whatever.
- During the purchase phase, perhaps to request a quote or change the order quantity.
- An interaction occurring after the purchase has been made. To arrange a return because the size isn’t right, the product arrived damaged, or maybe the customer has simply changed their mind.
Customer experience, in contrast, is defined in a much broader sense. Sure, it includes the reactionary processes involved in customer service. But it goes further to include everything influencing the buyer journey across, as well as within, the organization. As a result, customer experience can be thought of in both reactive as well as proactive terms.
Customer experience refers to all touchpoints a customer may have with a business including – but not exclusive to – the traditional interpretation of customer service. Customer experience includes elements of branding and marketing, for example. It may be an influencing factor in product management decisions, R&D priorities, and even the content and tone-of-voice used for the company’s social media efforts.
Customer Experience Touches Every Business Department
The influence of customer experience touches virtually every department in the business. It’s how and where customers are exposed to your brand and your products. It’s how your website looks and works, or how friendly and knowledgeable your in-store staff are. It’s how your distribution partners deal with retailers. It’s how your product or service is delivered to your customers, how they use it, and how any after-sales issues are handled. As with branding, customer experience is demonstrable and tangible evidence of an organization’s core values, aims, and goals.
Because of this, customer experience teams should be part of the Marketing department rather than, say, under Support. Now more than ever, with ever-wider customer choice and more effective competition, customer experience is an integral and crucial driving factor for sales. It should be treated as such.
As I mentioned, for those businesses selling online software tools controlling and managing each stage of the customer journey is a little easier than for manufacturers, or sellers of ‘physical’ products. If you’re selling widgets via distributors you’re a couple of stages removed from where the action happens. While you’re probably (hopefully?) getting feedback on how to improve things, there’s a delay before the intel gets to you.
A key infrastructure component lies in the development and active management of the feedback process itself. Nominating people who represent key stages in the buying journey process to implement and report back on current customer expectations vs. experience. The second initiative is having direct or indirect teams proactively reaching out to people fitting particular customer segments. Speaking with users to understand use case and fit-for-purpose expectations, as well as to unearth key influences that may drive current and future purchase behavior.
Great Customer Service Is A Part Of Any Great Business
Customer service should be considered a strategic business tenet, worthy of attention at the executive level in much the same way as any marketing or sales strategy. If suitably defined and executed, an effective customer service position not only delivers increased perceived business and product value. It helps increase customer retention and provides marketing opportunities in terms of testimonials and brand advocacy. It helps product management and R&D create fit-for-purpose products and services, and prioritizes development roadmaps. It can even boost staff morale, as a clear and tangible demonstration of business ethos.
Service with a smile? Now, more than ever.