Customer service in the digital age – what changes?

During an exchange on Twitter earlier this year with some folks who were attending #scrmsummit we chatted about customer service and about how costs are a real focus for most customer service activity. Thus, rather than focusing on excellent customer service, most organisations focus on the cheapest and most efficient form of customer service.

But it seems to me the starting point must always be understanding what value customer service delivers to your business.

For most businesses customer service – during the purchase decision making process, during purchase, and afterwards – is critical.

Then the question that a business must answer is: how important is customer service to driving sales, and how important is it to drive repeat business? But it is also necessary to understand what form that customer service ought to take to delight customers.

Based on my experiences as a customer in the ‘real’ world many organisations see me as a bother or an annoyance that gets in the way of something more important. It certainly makes switching to an online shopping context rather easy. Mostly there’s no special customer service person with whom I have a relationship. That lack of a relationship makes switching to another supplier very easy. Especially when the main differentiator is service.

However, a personal relationship is not necessarily fundamental to excellent customer service.

There are a few notable example of this.

Sharon, at the local general store, has built up a great relationship with us. We often choose to shop with her rather than at a larger store in town, even though her prices are slightly higher. Because of the relationship we have (and that relationship might just be in my head, I might actually be just another annoying customer, but she never lets me know that). I often choose to shop there rather than buy something online or at another store.

Net-a-Porter is a great example of how to do online customer service. I have never spoken to them, I just order products online. But if there is a problem with fit the return process is so smooth and easy – usually the replacement item is in my hands within 48 hours of sending the return. No questions asked. This makes me happy.

Another example is the guys who just painted my house (for those on the Sydney north shore KMK Painters = highly recommended). They did a fantastic job. Not because they painted the house (although they did that well). It was the little things like turning up when they said they would, cleaning up really well afterwards, patting my dog when she came sniffing around, and helping me to carry stuff from my car. Those little extras were not part of their core mission – painting the house – but these little extras made them stand out from the last lot of painters. It means they’re top of mind for any more jobs.

Three quite different models of customer service. Each good. Each satisfying in their own way. Each earning and retaining my repeat custom. It seems to me that customer in the digital age does not differ much from customer service in any preceding age.

Some thinkers who have interesting ideas about customer service in the digital age include: