In this era of fake news and fast communication, company reputation is more vulnerable than ever to one negative headline or storyline. Strong customer service ratings over a substantial period of time can limit the damage, showing a pattern of competence and caring that supersedes isolated hits to a reputation. Building and maintaining a positive customer service image is one critical key to business success in the 2020s.
You can spend a million bucks on marketing, but if the person answering the phone is a jerk, you’ve wasted your money. Good customer service—and consequently effective marketing and reputation management—are built in the trenches, not in fancy slogans or self-aggrandizing marketing claims.
As we start the new decade, think about the companies you frequent most often and why. In most cases, a consistent commitment to customer service is a primary criterion for selecting and staying with a particular company.
Contributor Chris Porteous writes in Entrepreneur Magazine, “With the rise of online shopping and social media platforms, the importance of a company going above and beyond to treat the consumer well has skyrocketed. In 2019, 86 percent of buyers were willing to pay more if they receive great customer experience, and 73 percent say a positive customer experience impacts their buying decisions.”
Of course, there are exceptions. Some companies have a corner on the market—or most of it. Consumers flying to destinations with limited or no commercial airliner competition pretty much have to go with the designated carrier. Likewise, Internet choices sometimes pigeonhole consumers into one provider.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Consumers faced with limited or no choices with companies not offering stellar customer service will do business grudgingly with a company they don’t like—but are constantly looking for a new option. Once one becomes available, they typically make a change quickly.
On the other hand, customer service-obsessed companies cause consumers to stick around even when new options become available—or there’s a negative report.
The difference is loyalty. More than ever, loyalty to a particular company will depend on its unwavering commitment to provide top-notch customer service versus fancy slogans or marketing campaigns.
Think about some of the most highly rated companies today, and where they put their “marketing dollars.” For example, Costco has no formal advertising/marketing department—and last time I checked, there wasn’t a catchy slogan.
When inputting the Google search term, “Chewy slogan” for the pet company, here’s what comes up first: “Our Promise We’re always here for our customers. We have everything you need for your pet at amazing prices, every day.” This is a clear statement of the company’s customer service commitment and how it runs the business.
Then, there’s United Airlines. Google “United Airlines slogan” and up top are the words, “United’s now-infamous slogan, ‘Fly the friendly skies,’ is being revamped on social media following the company’s latest public relations nightmare.” This referred to viral social media accounts of a passenger who was beaten and removed from a flight in 2017.
Contrast that to the primary search result for Southwest Airlines’ slogan: “Low fares. Nothing to hide. That’s Transfarency.” Like Chewy, Southwest makes a straightforward customer service commitment that it honors. Trip Advisor gives Southwest 4 ½ out of 5 circles based on its 42,044 reviews.
United’s words appear at odds with its actions and its reviews. This lines up with its 48,632 Trip Advisor reviews with 3 out of 5 circles.
Catchy, clever marketing is increasingly being supplanted by honest, tell-it-like-it-is campaigns where customer service actions and commitments align with the words on the page. In this “fake news” environment, that’s a big breath of fresh air.
Do you have customer service snafus or stellar experiences to share? If so, feel free to comment on this post or email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Lusky is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience.