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‘Survival of the Nicest: Customer Service as a Business Growth (and Survival) Engine’

Micah Solomon’s headline above and column on Forbes.com really hits the nail on the head about customer service being everything to a company’s wellbeing.

In the article, he notes, “Customer service is the essential growth engine for any company finding its footing in the entrepreneurial world. You don’t have the luxury today of building a business as it was done in the Mad Men era, when you could hire a Don Draper-level marketing genius who could use mass marketing messages to make almost any product or service sell. All you had to do was write your ad agency a check.”

The article continues, “Today’s breed of customers make buying decisions based on their own customer experiences and the experiences of the people they listen to, online and off. They aren’t moved by the kind of marketing slogans that held sway in the past. So the best investment you can possibly make is to apply your time, effort, and focus where they matter most and go the farthest: towards improving your customer service and the experience customers have with your company. If you do that, you can then sit back and watch as the satisfied and delighted customers you’ve created grow your business—its reputation and its bottom line—for you.”

This is the Costco model. Given how successfully they’ve done it, you’d think everyone would follow their lead. Corporate America would be much better off if they did.

Solomon further emphasizes that if customer service is lacking, customers will view the company as offering a commodity that is “interchangeable with the competition,” jeopardizing company survival.

He then offers suggestions for optimizing customer service delivery:

  • “Use the ‘plus-one’ approach to deliver wow customer service every day.” Essentially, this is giving the customer more than they request.
  • “Plan for them to be upset.” Basically, be ready for things to go wrong, and have a plan to address them as part of “service recovery.”
  • “Aim to build a company where there’s a ‘default of yes’.” Fundamentally, this means employees are motivated to say “yes” to customers as a policy.

To help make this happen, Solomon recommends hiring/training “customer-friendly attributes,” then leveraging that to create “positive peer pressure.”

Of course, to develop a customer-friendly culture, companies need to provide top-notch customer service to their employees as well as the outside world. Connecting these dots will be part of the evolving customer service environment.

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Customer service, especially a perceived lack of it, can impact a company’s reputation—and profitability—in no time flat. In part, this is why customer service really is a company’s “everything” at this point in time. Marketing campaigns unsupported by stable or stellar customer service are proving a waste of time and money—as consumers see through marketing promises that don’t seem to match up to customer service performance. Great customer service is a company’s best marketing. When customer service goes south, so do company reputations, reviews, stock prices, employee satisfaction, and revenues.

Mark Lusky

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