One of the best panel sessions I attended at this year’s SXSW Interactive was Customer Service is the New Marketing. This panel featured speakers from shoe retailer Zappos, photo site Flickr, online calendar service 30 Boxes and Satisfaction.
The moderator, Thor Muller, has posted a recap of his presentation on his blog.
Zappos is Customer Service
The power house of customer service on this panel was Zappos. I was blown away at how dedicated they are in caring for the customer.
They made a conscious decision to spend money on the customer experience instead of marketing. The resulting word of mouth marketing has significantly grown their business. Zappos’ Tony Hsieh went through several things they do to provide a superb customer experience:
- Toll free number available 24/7
- Free overnight shipping both ways: for your order and returns
- 365 day return policy
- Fast, accurate fulfillment
- Friendly, helpful “above and beyond” service
- Will occasionally direct customers to competitor if Zappos can’t help them.
- Call center employees don’t have set scripts, they are instructed to customize the interaction with the customer and think for themselves. Call reps should talk on the phone like they would with their neighbor.
- Call center doesn’t have “call times” or sales-based performance goals. This allows the call reps to focus on the customer and not some impersonal number goal.
- Zappos started by only selling drop-shipped products. As they ramped up internal inventory, they saw they could only give the best customer service on products they directly sent the customer. It reached the point where they chose to focus on the customer and gave up 25% of their revenue (all from drop ship) to focus on only products they inventoried.
- Every employee, irregardless of position, goes through a four-week training, including phone time, to help them best fit the culture and know how to serve customers.
It is OK to apologize
You can admit mistakes. The very act of doing so will help generate trust with your customers.
Several panelists reminded us that it is OK to admit fault, and say “I’m sorry.” By making that statement, you’ll often lessen tension with the customer.
Handing Support Issues
You don’t have to fix everything. Some things are outside your control. If you explain the situation to the customer, odds are they will understand and may even help you fix the issue.
Flickr’s Heather Champ has a sticker on her keyboard that reads: “soft, pleasing tone of voice.” This reminder helps her stay calm when customers get irate. You need to have guidelines that you can’t let people cross. When they do, “don’t fall for the bait” and feed their anger by responding in kind. Remember: “soft, pleasing tone of voice.”
If you fix bugs in your software or process quickly, they won’t build up and affect more people.
Zappos’ Hsieh said that retail companies can compete at three main things: selection, price, or service. At most, you’ll get two of the three. You have to decide which ones you want to focus on. Zappos has chosen selection and service. By so doing they knowingly lose many price-centric customers (and that is OK!).
When your company decides how it will focus your efforts, remember, you can’t be everything to everyone. In order to provide a memorable and loyalty building customer experience, you can’t neglect the “service” part of the equation.