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5 Trends That Can Define Your Customer Service Reputation

President Of TrainSmart, Inc.

In a recent study,* business executives were asked to rate the quality of their customer service. 80% of the executives rated their companies with superior customer service. When their customers were asked the same question, the gap in the response was breathtaking. The customers said only 8% of the companies offered superior customer service.

A 72 point difference is nontrivial. Obviously, something very fundamental is amiss. The most obvious answer is the criteria business executives use to define customer service is not aligned with consumer’s perceptions. This is significant because 76% of consumers believe that customer service is a “true test” of how much a brand values them.

For companies that believe the adage, “customer is always right,” these five trends should not be ignored.

1. #CustomerServiceFail

It’s one of the most popular hashtags on Twitter. #CustomerServiceFail’s popularity has migrated to Instagram and Facebook as well. Everyday consumers take to social media platforms to expose, commiserate and to shame businesses for doing their customers wrong. Sometimes it feels like a return to colonial America where “sinners” were punished in public, often being forced to sit or stand in very uncomfortable devices while bystanders jeered and threw garbage at them. While an estimated 25% of all consumers go to social networking sites to complain about poor customer service, approximately 80% of those complaints are ignored.

The Opportunity: If your company receives a #customerservicefail post on any social media platform, engage with the consumer rather than just ignoring it. Word-of-mouth about bad customer service reaches more than twice as many ears as praise for good customer service.**

2. Dialing For Dollars aka Reinventing Loyalty Programs

Loyalty programs are nothing new. For fifty years, starting in the 1930’s, consumers would shop at certain grocery and department stores in order to collect S&H Green stamps that they could later redeem for gift items.

When the airlines introduced their frequent flyer programs in the 1980’s, it totally changed how Americans travel. Before these loyalty programs, a traveler would call their travel agent and request a flight based on the most convenient time. The airline that flew at the most convenient time earned their business.

Frequent Flyer Programs changed that. Instead, travelers started looking almost exclusively at the flight schedule for the airline with their favorite rewards program. Instead of flying at the most desirable time for their schedule, consumers adjusted to the airlines timetable—often flexing as much as three hours just to earn those coveted frequent flyer points.

Today, loyalty programs can still play a significant role in a business’s reputation for superior customer service. In the  Zogby/247WallSt 2015 Customer Hall of Fame/Shame, Marriott Hotels ranked number four in the Hall of Fame. The company’s strong loyalty program was cited as one of the key factors for their high ranking.

In addition to earning a spot in the Customer Service Hall of Fame, for the second year in a row, Marriott was rated the number one best hotel rewards program by U.S. News&World Report.

In 2014, Marriott ran a pilot program on social media where people who share tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts earned extra points in a program called PointsPlus. Instead of seeing tweets with the hashtag #customerservicefail, Marriott was able to buy positive comments by awarding points. There was some backlash to the program, and it ended after a few months.

A word of caution, for a brand to reap the benefits from a loyalty program it needs to offer more than a transactional benefit. The consumer needs to have an emotional connection to the brand. When that occurs, and a mistake happens, consumers are more likely to be forgiving.

The average U.S household participate in nearly 22 loyalty programs – these can range from airline frequent flyer programs to the punch card at their neighborhood coffee shop. However, most people are either not interested in the majority of them or have forgotten about their membership because most household only actively participate in about nine of these programs.

The Opportunity: Create a loyalty program that is fresh and meaningful to today’s consumer. On average loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase **

3. Exceeding Expectations

A couple of years ago, I was staying at a hotel for my nephew’s wedding. After attending a brunch on Saturday, I went back to my hotel room only to discover that the maid service had not been there. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. I decided to take a nap. At 4:30, when I was deep asleep, the maid service was ready to clean my room. Needless to say, I was less than happy.

On my way out to the wedding that evening, I stopped by the front desk and shared what happened with the manager who surprised me by saying, “I’d like to give you 15,000 reward points for your inconvenience.”

WOW! On a scale of things that can go wrong in a hotel room, this was rather minor, and the compensation was definitely more than generous.

Was the manager concerned that I would tweet out a #customerservicefail? I have no idea, but his actions said, “We value your business.”

Over the past year, I’ve experienced several other instances where companies exceeded my expectations and in turn strengthened the loyalty I have to their brand. A few months ago, my Fitbit died on a Friday afternoon around 4 p.m. The time is significant because that particular week I was participating in one of Fitbit’s Workweek Hustle challenges, and I was in a good position to win it. First I called customer service to see if there was a way to restart the Fitbit. After the customer service rep had determined that my device was indeed dead, I shared that it was crummy timing because of the challenge. He checked to see if my device was still under warranty; it was not. “But,” he said, “I’m going to replace it for free under one condition. The next time you are in a challenge, you need to win it.” I gave him my word and last week I delivered on it.

A couple of weeks after the Fitbit incident, my dog destroyed his bark collar. I called customer service to order some replacement parts and explained that I loved their product, and the problem was my mistake. After chatting for a little bit, the PetSafe® customer service rep replicated my Fitbit experience and sent a new product free of charge even though the bark collar, like the Fitbit was out of warranty.

The Opportunity: There is something very compelling when a customer service rep goes above and beyond company policy to let a customer know their business is appreciated. It leaves the customer feeling very good. According to McKinsey, 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.

4. The Power of One

In the days before consumers could publicly humiliate companies with a blog, Facebook post, or a tweet that goes viral, one customer’s dissatisfaction was just that: one dissatisfied customer. While they may have ranted at the customer service rep and pledged to tell all their friends and said they’d never do business with them again, it was like sticks and stones. The words could not possibly put a dent into company’s reputation or bottom line.

Canadian musician, Dave Carroll changed all that in 2009 when he posted a video to YouTube called “United Breaks Guitars.” At the time that he posted the video, Carroll had been trying for over a year to negotiate with United to pay for a $3500 guitar that was damaged by the airline’s baggage handlers. As the story goes, Carroll was getting off one plane in Chicago O’Hare to make a connection to Omaha. Carroll says as he was getting off the plane he heard another passenger say that the baggage handlers were throwing guitars on the tarmac. When Carroll recovered his guitar in Omaha, it was damaged.

Carroll didn’t call United until he returned home. When he tried to submit a damage claim, United told him he had exceeded the eligible time for submitting such a request. At the time, damage claims had to be submitted within 24 hours of the flight.

There were no exceptions. No negotiations. Carroll created a video and uploaded it to YouTube. It went viral. That first day, over 150 thousand people watched the video. More important, United Airlines called Carroll to figure out what they had to do to get him to remove it. They offered to reimburse him. He declined, and eventually United donated the money to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Carroll did not take the video down.

Carroll was interested in something more expansive that money. He wanted United to change their policy. They did. Since 2009, over 15 million people have viewed the video.

For United, it’s a constant sore that will not heal. That’s the Power of One.

In 2011, Bank of America customer Kristen Christian was incensed when she learned the bank was going to start charging her $5 a month to use her debit card. She created a Facebook page called Bank Transfer Day. The purpose of the page was to encourage people to withdraw funds from big banks and start doing business with community banks and credit unions. The page quickly gained over 50,000 likes and caught the eye of Main Street media.

Five days prior to the planned Bank Transfer Day Bank of America announced, based on consumer feedback, it was not going to implement the debit card fee.

The Opportunity: Think of policies as guidelines, not as permanent markers. If you know you are going to implement a new policy that your customers are not going to like, do your homework, evaluate the risk of costumer backlash and be very smart and transparent in introducing the new policy. 91% of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again. **

5. Timely Response

Several months ago I purchased a product on Amazon from a third party retailer that came without directions. With the lack of instructions, I had a couple of questions. The company didn’t have a website and didn’t provide a way to send a question via email. I finally found a phone number and left my question on voicemail. Seven days later, the customer service representative returned my call.

By the time he called, I had figured out what to do. A couple of people have seen me using this item and have asked about it. I discourage the purchase saying the customer support is nonexistent.

On her blog Writing.Matters, Leslie O’Flahavan, shared an email exchange she experienced with Clinique. She wrote the company because she was disappointed with her new eyeliner.

That same day she received an automated email sharing that the company had received her email, and they wanted her to know they were experiencing heavier than normal email volume and that they would get back to her as soon as possible.

Ten days later, Clinique responded and basically told Ms. O’Flahavan that she probably had not used the product properly.

“I am sorry to learn of your disappointing experience with our “Quickliner For Eyes” in Smoky Brown. Please be assured that all of our product formulas are extensively researched and evaluated prior to approval for manufacture. Part of this testing is devoted to determining the packaging that will best protect the specific formulation during shipment and while in use. The “Quickliner For Eyes” is an air-sensitive product, and will dry out quickly if exposed to the air for long periods of time.

Clinique goes on to say “Nevertheless, we regret to hear of your experience. Since your satisfaction is important to us, I am happy to send you a complimentary replacement “Quickliner For Eyes” in Smoky Brown. Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.”

Consumers are not fooled when companies say they are experiencing a heavier than normal volume of calls or emails. That’s code for we are understaffed. It does not win the hearts of most consumers. Does it really takes 4-6 weeks to send one itsy bitsy eyeliner pencil? Why not give her a coupon that she could redeem at her local department store?

Consumers have even less patience when they contact a company via a social media platform. Edison Research’s study found that two-thirds of consumers expected a response the same day and 30% expected a response in thirty minutes or less.

Other studies found that when consumers contact a company via Facebook, they expect a response within 24 hours but if they tweet something out, they expect the company to respond within two hours. In another survey Lithium, a social software provider, found that 53 percent of consumers demand that a brand respond to their tweet within an hour and if they have a complaint (#customerservicefail) they expect a response in less than an hour.

The Opportunity: Rise to the challenge. Meet the customers’ expectations and then exceed them. Whether you want to engage with consumers in social media, you really don’t have a choice. That is where they are showing up. One of the truisms of business is that if you want to succeed, you need to go where the customer is.”

*Lee Resources

**White House Office of Consumer Affairs