My first boss (and my most memorable) used to say, “Achieving success is easy. The hard part is sustaining it.” Businesses can sometimes become complacent about their success. When things go consistently well for an extended time, it’s easy to develop a false sense of security, to assume that things are running smoothly because we’ve “mastered” a system and that the current growth momentum will just continue.
Unfortunately, though, the drive to excel goes hand-in-hand with the perceived need to improve. When companies become successful at a larger level, they can sometimes forget about the smaller things that helped achieve that success.
I’m rather leery of weak strategies and thin advertising programs (naturally, as a marketer myself). I’m also a big stickler for customer service, though – not just as a marketer, but as a customer. Customer service, sadly, tends to be one of those “little details” that slip in the face of wide business success. In fact, however, it’s one of the most important aspects of maintaining success once it’s achieved.
Here’s an illustration. A company in New York – a large organization serving major brands throughout the U.S. – recently informed me that they couldn’t deliver the service I needed by the date we’d originally agreed upon. After hours of emailing, calling, and otherwise searching for someone to help resolve the situation, I finally heard from a customer service representative. The rep offered me two options:
1) I could wait for them to get a hold of my unresponsive account manager (with no guaranteed time frame for a reply), or:
2) I could pay an additional fee for another professional to pick up my project – with a 20% discount for the service that they’d failed to deliver on time in the first place.
Mediocre customer service experiences can work like loose pebbles before an avalanche. If customers are happy, they’ll likely refer a product or service to friends and family – but if they’re not happy, they will share their dissatisfaction, with anyone who will listen. It only takes one less-than-satisfactory experience for a customer to desert your brand. And if the encounter is particularly negative, that one lost customer can turn into several.
So how can successful businesses avoid becoming indifferent and keep the edge on a top-notch customer service policy?
- Be user-friendly. When your customers need answers, they should be able to contact you quickly and easily. Delays, errors, and redirects will only drive frustrated clients to take their business elsewhere.
- Personalize the experience. Make sure customers can speak with a real, sympathetic person to resolve their problems, and make sure your employees are empowered and motivated to fix those problems.
- Take responsibility. Your brand is only as good as the reputation behind it. When problems arise, admit your mistakes, and respond promptly and courteously to your customers.
When it comes to customer service, “good enough” is not enough. Successful organizations understand that no matter how well things are running, there is always room to improve their business model.