Well OK, customer service isn’t dead, but it’s been trumped. Great customer service is now the starting point, not the end game. Like everything in business, customer service has morphed over time as consumer demands have changed, and as competitors have raised the bar.
Every business interaction has an element of customer service. Companies exist to solve a problem for people or make their lives better. That’s why we all work so hard all day – trying to do something different or better than the competition. So you’d think that companies would have excellent customer service. Some do, some don’t but great companies today are taking customer service to a whole new place.
Some companies put the customer front-and-center. They strive to be “customer centric organizations. One of the key strategies to become customer centric is to empower your employees. But the future is not just with employee empowerment, it’s with customer empowerment. With their new tools of influence, it’s important to give your customers access to not just be listened to, but to be heard.
The basics of customer service have been around forever. Give me service with a smile. If I call your company, answer the phone and help me. If there is something wrong with the product I purchased, make it right. Hire people who actually like your customers.
Next we entered the “experience economy” first described in an article published in 1998 by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, titled “The Experience Economy.” Companies rushed to add a unique experience to their product or service so that they could increase their prices.
Then we entered the age of “customer engagement” with the advent of social media. Ready or not, companies had to start to listen to their customers in this very public place. You had two choices – respond or stick your head in the sand. Smart companies now use social media to keep a pulse on what’s going on out there with their customers – and engage with them.
Now, companies have the opportunity to take it to one more level – Customer Empowerment. The best companies continue to thrive by using a basic and underutilized tool – listening to their customers. Customer Empowerment combines listening with customer engagement, to put your service on steroids. Customer empowerment is not just listening to and responding to your customers, but about taking it one step further.
Customer empowerment can mean different things. Sometimes Customer Empowerment is truly about listening and adapting based on the feedback, sometimes it’s about giving your customer more control over their experience.
Moving from customer service to customer empowerment can have a big impact on your brand. Big companies are set up to deal with angry customers. It used to be that you could get someone on the phone and complain, and hopefully they would make it right. The future of customer service isn’t making the problem go away – small brand impact.
Today, it’s not simply about listening to the customer and addressing their concern. It’s about actually hearing and dialoging with the customer. And today, the dialogue doesn’t typically happen privately on the phone, it may happen in a very public forum where everyone can watch. The combination of dialogue and the power of their influence potential create an opportunity to have a big impact on the brand, rather than little or no influence. It looks something like this: