Thursday, May 31, 2018

Customer Service: Do You Know Who Your Competitors Are?

Some years ago, I read a customer service article that resonated with me so much that I carry the concept with me as one of my core service truths. In fact, it has turned into the first question I ask in the initial meeting I hold with a new team, as it helps begin to establish our customer service strategy. That question is: Do you know who your competitors are? 

Initially, I get some puzzled looks and questions such as “Do you mean our corporate competition, or are we talking about competition for our roles?” We explore the question further, and I explain that I am referring to the companies that we’re competing with as far as how our customers view the service we provide. By customers, we are referring to everyone we serve…co-workers, vendors, and external customers. We’ll brainstorm for a bit, until someone asks “who do YOU think our competition is?” 

The answer according to that article is: Everyone that our customers interact with in their daily lives is our competition for their service, because those interactions set service expectations. The bank that offers them an intuitive interface for online and mobile banking, the free 2 day shipping with Amazon Prime, the instantaneous access to movies via whatever media streaming service they choose…they are all our competitors when it comes to how our customers perceive the service we provide. We’re even competing with the legends of customer service, Amazon and Zappos! They are influencing how customers are measuring us. That measurement may not be overtly acknowledged, but rest assured that it is happening. A bit overwhelming to think about at first, isn’t it? 

This isn’t to say that you have to try to mirror the service strategies of these or any other organizations. A meaningful service platform should evolve organically from a number of factors, including your culture, your leadership team, your customers, and your individual contributors. What you can do, however, is compare your service delivery methods to any organization that “gets it”, and ask yourself what improvements can be made. For example, put yourself in the customer’s shoes and ask yourself:

  • How easy are we to work with? 
  • Are we providing the communication channels that our customers need?  
  • Do we empower our team members to proactively serve our customers?  
  • Do we “walk the talk” as leaders and as team members? 

Do we proactively seek feedback on a continual basis, and do we take action on that feedback in a visible and collaborative way?
Be careful not to assume that you know the answers. Call your service desk via the customer hotline…how quickly can you reach a live person? Visit your website and test how easy it is to find a real phone number or email address. Do you provide customers with a just-in-time satisfaction survey so they can provide immediate feedback on their experience, and are you actively engaged in open dialog on how to improve? If you have access to customer reviews or feedback from past surveys, what are they saying about their interactions with you? As Jeff Bezos once said “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make important aspects of the customer experience a little bit better.” Are you being a good host?

You may not be competing with Ritz-Carlton and Disney from a business perspective, but viewing them as such from a service perspective, can help drive awareness and alignment to your customers’ needs. Make that one of your core truths, and you’ll be well on your way to legendary customer service.

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