Back in the early days of HR Bartender, I wrote a post about how Customer Service is the New Marketing. And I still believe it. The way an organization interacts with its current, potential and past customers is critical. The businesses I’ve worked for in the past had huge competitive sets; meaning customers had lots of selection. A key differentiator was our customer service.
But what I have noticed since I wrote that initial post, is customer service is starting to take on a tiered approach. What I’m seeing are three tiers in customer service and here’s how they take shape:
The first level and most transactional is what I’d call plain old customer service. A company offers a product/service and customer needs that product/service. Transaction happens. Money changes hands. No major snafus occur.
The next level is customer engagement. BTW – I believe this level is being driven by the popularity of social media. Customers can follow and interact with their favorite companies. Companies can engage. It’s not about buying the product or service…at least not right away. It’s about building a relationship and loyalty so when a customer is ready to buy, they will immediately purchase from the company they’ve been engaged with all that time.
The third level is customer intimacy. This is the term used by CEOs in the IBM study I shared with you a few weeks ago. It’s a place where companies are close enough to their customers that they can begin to anticipate a customer need and respond accordingly.
Obviously, these levels of customer interaction are predicated upon each other. No one is going to engage with a company that can’t get basic customer service right. And no one is going to share with a company their needs if they’re not engaged with them. This is your standard Maslow’s hierarchy-type pyramid with customer service on the bottom and customer intimacy at the top.
From a business perspective, lots of companies get customer service right. But few get engagement and even less will recognize the value of customer intimacy. Obviously, companies who do focus on building greater relationships with their customers will see the return in the forms of profitability and market share (as long as they do it right).
Here’s the real question: Who will own the responsibility for developing the customer service strategy in your company? What I’ve traditionally seen is marketing shares with people what the customer wants, then operations hires for it and human resources trains employees. Yes, we’ve all heard the statement that customer service is everyone’s responsibility. And I agree, everyone needs to participate. But really, who will own it, communicate it and drive the plan?
It seems to me the only way this will work is if there is a clear strategy and standards where the customer is concerned. Along with having people at every level support the strategy. And a definite department who will be held accountable.