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Customer service is only as strong as the weakest link

Customer service weak links can doom otherwise exceptional efforts to serve customers and other stakeholders. Identifying and remediating the weakest customer service links in your company can pay substantial dividends now and down the road. Companies unwilling or unable to examine potential weak links likely will discover the hard way that competitors have identified them—and will use the findings to their benefit.

You can spend a million bucks to develop a sweeping customer service-enhancement program, but if the person answering the phone, email or online chat inquiry is a jerk, you’ve wasted your money.

In this case, “jerk” includes those who are unable or unwilling to help. Incompetence, insolence and inflexibility are common signs. Lack of resolution empowerment may drive much of it. After all, empowerment motivates people to find solutions. In contrast, companies that force their customer service reps to parrot a narrow-minded corporate philosophy will burn out their people.

Then, there are companies that reward customer service people for how fast they can get people off a call, chat line or other encounter—or penalize reps who don’t move fast enough.

What’s the primary common culprit in all this customer disservice? Bottom-line buffoonery. Inadequate hiring, training and retention expenditures lead to letting loose on a company’s front line customer service reps who don’t understand or care about desired outcomes.

While helpful to a degree, endless customer service surveys to identify needed improvement areas come up short if there isn’t a spending commitment to make it happen. In some cases, surveys are less about meaningful improvement, and more about finding additional ways to cut budgets. That’s great if it goes hand in hand with improving customer service, but isn’t the norm. What’s the secret sauce?

Costco customer service crushes it
As I wrote recently,

Costco’s legendary customer service policies and employee retention work so well in part because of the firm’s refusal to put shareholders first, customers and employees second—as is commonplace in commerce today. And surprise, their service-centric approach has resulted in their ranking as the second-largest global retailer.”

In the 20 years I’ve shopped at Costco, I’ve encountered consistently happy and helpful people at all levels of the organization, from the executive offices to the store workforce. I do not ever recall a pricing mistake on my receipt. And, they go way above and beyond stated policies to satisfy the customer. Instead of justifying what they can’t or won’t do, Costco’s people are invested in an outrageously awesome outcome!

Then, there’s Amazon
I don’t like the stories I hear about employee treatment, but I believe their core customer service is stellar. A Salesforce blogpost entitled, 7 Customer Service Lessons from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezosdetails some of the talk behind the walk: Don’t Just Listen to Your Customers, Understand Them…Everyone has to be able to work in a call center… Serve the Needs of the Customer…We’re not competitor obsessed, we’re customer obsessed. We start with what the customer needs and we work backwards…The Empty Chair: The Most Important Person in the Room…Focusing on the customer makes a company more resilient…Never Settle for 99%…We’re not satisfied until it’s 100%.…Respect Today’s Customer…If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000…Strive to Create a Customer-Centric Company…If we can arrange things in such a way that our interests are aligned with our customers, then in the long term that will work out really well for customers and it will work out really well for Amazon…Don’t Be Afraid to Apologize…We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.”

Not surprisingly, these two companies have oodles of happy customers and gazillions in revenue.

Why is this so difficult for the bottom-line obsessed to understand?


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