2015: The Year of Customer Service (photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/127848866@N04/)

2015: The Year of Customer Service (photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/)

Happy new year from the entire team at ReputationManagement.com! We’re excited about what 2015 has in store, and when we sat down to think about the important reputation management topics, issues, and trends we want to share with you this year, one thing really stood out: customer service.

Yes, reviews are important to your reputation. So is social media, your behavior, networking, and so much more. But for a business, so often, a great reputation simply boils down to delivering excellent customer service. Why? It’s simple: customer service has a ripple effect into all of the above, and bottom line, if you can’t make customers happy, your reputation is bound to suffer.

We’re in a time when customers have the ability to be more choosy than ever before. They can read reviews, find ratings, and learn about your business long before they ever visit you and without you even knowing. And they can share more than ever before as well: on social media, through review websites, and as always, through word of mouth channels. That’s why it’s more important now than ever before to make sure you’re delivering on your company’s most important promise: a happy customer.

That’s why we’re marking 2015 as the Year of Customer Service. We want to talk about businesses making 2015 the year of taking a more customer-centric approach to marketing, service, and operations, and learning how this approach is good not just for the customer, but for the business as well. In our exploration of this topic, we’ll be interviewing customer service experts, people who have spent years studying how to make customers happy — and make it work for your bottom line.

Our first interview in this series is with Shep Hyken. He’s a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and a customer service expert specializing in customer loyalty and experience. In our interview, we asked him how businesses can make a change toward a positive customer experience and build customer loyalty this year. Read on, and see why he says customer service is everyone’s business, how businesses are using customer service as effective marketing, and learn how you can keep the excitement of delivering on your brand’s promises going all year long — and beyond.

Everyone is Responsible for Customer Service

“Customer service is not a department, it’s a philosophy,” says Hyken. “Everyone needs to create a positive experience.”

That means everyone — and we really mean everyone — in your organization is responsible for making customers happy, even those who don’t directly work with customers. Hyken points out that even in departments that don’t talk to customers, there is typically a serious impact if they don’t do their job with service in mind.

Hyken shares airline baggage handlers as an example. While a baggage handler may never greet or see a passenger, they’re still a part of the customer experience. Why? Even though customers don’t typically interact with them, they will notice and be frustrated or disappointed if their baggage is missing, damaged, or late — and that falls on the handler. Though there’s no direct contact, a baggage handler’s job is still very essential to a positive customer experience. The same could be said for a chef at a restaurant or housekeeping staff at a hotel.

When everyone does their job well and serves the customer as expected (or better), it becomes part of a positive, predictable customer experience that consumers enjoy and come to rely on, and often, they place a high value on a predictably positive experience. When they know they can expect good service every time, customers don’t bother shopping around, and they may even be motivated to pay more because they’ve come to expect a transaction that’s well managed and hassle free. That’s when loyalty takes over, says Hyken — and that’s why it’s so important that everyone, from the ticketing agent to the baggage handler, is responsible for making customers happy.

As a business owner, it’s important to impress upon every person working in your organization that everyone is in customer service, even those working behind the scenes. Encourage them to consider their impact if they don’t do their job properly and with the customer in mind.

Give Customers The Resources They Need to Help Themselves

Consider this: if everyone is involved in the customer experience, does that include the customer? Quite possibly. More and more, customers are willing to take care of their own problems, making themselves a part of your customer service team. Are you giving them the resources they need to help themselves?

Hyken explains that customers are increasingly embracing the trend of self service because they want to have their problems taken care of quickly and efficiently, whether that means following traditional customer service routes, or simply solving issues on their own. They’re finding that often, self service can save them time and effort, and in some cases, it’s even more effective than more traditional customer service methods like phone support.

For example, Hyken recently bought a German manufactured ping pong table. The assembly instructions were in German, and although there were lots of pictures to help, he still struggled to put it together. He tried to get help over the phone, but their American phone lines were only open during business hours (when he was working, not putting together ping pong tables). Looking for a solution, he typed the model number of the ping pong table into Google and found an excellent self service solution: a YouTube video produced by the manufacturer explaining how to assemble the table.

The video was exactly what he needed, and even better than the service he might have gotten over the phone, because with the video, he was able to take as long as he needed, pausing and playing back the video until he had the table together as designed. An agent on the phone might not be able to devote so much time to helping him with assembly, but the video was there for him to use as much as necessary. It was perfect, he says, as if they were standing over his shoulder telling him what to do — without actually having to offer assistance at all.

The self service option he discovered saved him time and hassle, and delivered better customer service than the alternative of speaking with an agent on the phone. And with the ability to serve any number of customers at once for free, this is an efficent, cost effective solution for the manufacturer as well.

The positive resources of self service aren’t limited to how to videos, either. Hyken points to airlines again: consider how booking flights used to require a phone call, possibly long wait times, and waiting in line to check in at the airport. Now, passengers can take advantage of self service, booking their flights online without waiting on hold, and even checking in online. If you’re flying without bags, you might not need to interact with an airline employee until you’re greeted on the plane. This saves airline resources and when done well, reduces the hassle passengers need to go through.

The same is true at the grocery store, Hyken points out. Customers with a limited number of items can breeze through payment with self checkout lanes. Although it may make the customer feel almost like an employee, it does typically reduce the amount of time it takes to get through the checkout line and can make it easier to do business with the store.

Good self service solutions will meet your customers needs in a way that is effective and efficient — both for you and the customer. “Self service doesn’t mean you’re not customer focused,” says Hyken, “provided that the solution meets the customer’s needs.”

Hyken points to online resources as the most effective self service solutions. Instructional videos, a frequently asked questions section, and website information can all be used to your customer’s advantage.

He stresses that businesses should also consider question and answer forums where customers can get help not just from your business, but from other customers as well. He points to Apple’s support community as a good example of a peer help forum that’s working well for the customer. In Apple’s community, you’ll often find customer evangelists jumping on with solutions to problems that others are experiencing.

Delivering a Positive Customer Experience on Social Media

Another great way to help customers online: social media. Hyken points out that the world of business is training customers to jump on Twitter to voice a complaint. We’ve certainly seen this happen quite often lately with high profile Twitter complaints ranging from lost luggage and trouble with cable accounts. And while social media is a good place to intercept customer complaints, that’s not all it’s good for: Hyken reinforces that ultimately, social media accounts should serve the customer experience, whether that’s responding to complaints or offering a fast help response.

While Hyken points out how surprising it is that many companies do not yet have a social media presence, those who do should absolutely respond and react quickly if someone makes a complaint. But that’s not enough: he encourages businesses to view any complaint on Twitter as an opportunity to turn a rant into a rave.

How can you accomplish the feat of turning things around? Get in contact with the customer quickly, encouraging them to DM information and handle the complaint privately. You may need to move to the phone, but ultimately, you’ll need to make sure they’re satisfied. When it’s all said and done, be sure to thank the customer publicly — and hopefully, the customer will come back and thank you as well.

Beyond complaints, social media can be used as a quick response customer service channel. Hyken shares an experience he had with American Airlines: While on a delayed flight, circling an airport waiting to land, he realized that he was going to miss his connecting flight. And having heard previously that American Airlines often does a good job if you DM them, he used the in-flight WiFi to get in contact and ask for help. They responded within a minute, and within 10 minutes, he was rebooked and ready to continue on his next flight without a hiccup.

Remarkably, Hyken’s situation was handled better over Twitter than perhaps any other customer service channel. Rather than waiting to make a phone call or ask a desk employee for help, he was able to get rebooked before he even landed. The only other way it could have been handled better is if the airline independently realized he’d be late for his flight and rebooked and notified him without having to be asked.

Other social media resources, like YouTube, are a great tool to share solutions and positive content with customers, adding to the customer experience. By putting positive content out there, like instructional assembly videos, great ways to use a product, and other value added resources, you’re not selling, says Hyken. You’re helping. That’s why it’s a good idea to put good, nonpromotional, but helpful, content out there.

Hyken points to Ace Hardware as a company that’s doing an especially good job delivering positive content on social media as part of their customer experience. Ace Hardware has videos on YouTube that offer customers help with everything from laying floor tile to choosing LED light bulbs. And while you can buy tile and grout anywhere, says Hyken, you’re more likely to do so from a company that’s providing value to you.

Using social media to offer help and resources that exceed other customer service channels can be highly effective, but Hyken stresses that the customer has to be educated about it. Be sure that you’re promoting your positive communication channels. Make sure that customers know they can reach out for help via Twitter, or find helpful videos on YouTube. Market your solutions as you would your products and services, and encourage customers to use them as part of their experience.

Sales and Marketing via Customer Service

Deliver a positive customer experience, and customers will come back — sometimes, even if you’re more expensive than competitors. That’s why building brand loyalty with good customer service is a great sales and marketing tool, says Hyken. In fact, he says that “customer service is the new marketing.”

Why? Building a customer focused culture means you’re sending every customer out the door happy, ready to recommend you to family and friends, and of course, come back to you time and time again.

“Be so good that people walk out the door and talk about you,” says Hyken.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. To illustrate this point, Hyken shares a quote from former Morton’s Steakhouse CEO Tom Baldwin: “Customer service is mistakes handled well.” That doesn’t mean every guest receives a blemish free experience. Morton’s employees are human, and mistakes can happen, after all: an order might be mixed up, or a guest might have to ask twice for a refill on water. But even if there’s a problem, Morton’s makes it a point to be sure that everyone walks out happy — no matter what.

This approach of excellent customer service at any cost works well for Morton’s. They don’t do major broadcast advertising, only a blog, social media, and guests delivering the message for them. But despite taking a laid back approach to advertising, Morton’s places marketing at the forefront of their organization. The key difference is that their marketing most often takes the form of a positive customer experience. At Morton’s, the marketing department is every employee, even if they’re not directly interacting with the customer. That means the employees preparing food to perfection for guests to enjoy and rave about are just as essential to the customer experience — and marketing success — as the host, waiter, and manager.

Hyken encourages businesses to make brand promises, and then let the customer experience that promise. Be dependable, and consistently provide your customers with an experience that they’ve come to expect and enjoy. And of course, if you make a promise in marketing and advertising, your actions and service should back it up.

Businesses can point out their commitment to customer service first and foremost by delivering on their brand promises, but also putting that same promise right out in front of the customer. For example, a Yelp sign that asks for recommendations — and service that shows your business is committed to making sure you leave a good recommendation on Yelp.

A Positive Customer Experience Culture

Of course, it’s easy to go into customer service improvement with the best of intentions, only to have them fizzle out later. To keep the excitement alive, Hyken says it’s essential to create a customer focused culture. In everything you do, you should consider what the value is to the customer. Because clearly, if you’re a customer centric organization, and there’s no value to the customer, you have to question why you’re doing it at all.

The best way to make customer experience an ongoing commitment is to clearly and continually articulate what your brand promise is, says Hyken. You should share it not just with customers, but with everyone in your organization. Make sure that every employee understands that ultimately, their job is to serve the customer.

Many leading companies have developed a mantra or credo to tell both employees and customers what should be expected. Hyken highlights Ace, “The Helpful Hardware Place,” and the Ritz Carlton Hotel’s “We’re ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

Communication with employees is essential, as is customer service training that will teach them how to deliver a positive customer experience that fulfills your brand promise. But Hyken cautions that customer service training should not be restricted simply to onboarding, never to be reinforced again. Rather, customer service training should be an ongoing experience, required once a month or quarter to ensure that all employees are supporting a good customer experience.

“It’s not something you did, it’s something you do,” says Hyken of customer service training.

Ultimately, delivering a positive customer experience means working together to ensure every customer leaves happy and ready to sing your praises. How can you develop a culture of customer experience? Let’s review:

  • Make customer service everyone’s business: From the front desk to the warehouse, everyone should understand that their ultimate task is making the customer happy.
  • Help customers help themselves: Self service doesn’t mean you’re avoiding customer service. Quite the contrary. By giving customers the ability to solve their own problems easily and effectively, you’re delivering a higher caliber of service.
  • Make social media a part of the customer experience: Actively monitor social media channels and quickly respond to and resolve problems. Then, take it a step further by offering help and useful resources to your customers on social media.
  • Let customer service sell for you: Develop a positive brand promise and then deliver on it, making customers so happy they’ll return again and again — and send others your way, too.
  • Develop a culture of customer experience: Don’t let customer service training be something you do once and never again. Continually remind employees that customer service is a priority, and give them the tools and education they need to deliver on it.

A big thank you to customer service expert Shep Hyken for a great interview and wonderful advice. You can learn more about Shep’s speaking presentations and sign up for his monthly newsletter on http://www.hyken.com/. You can also follow him on Twitter @Hyken.