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The customer service industry was created by mistake.

It’s been effectively outsourced by many companies (intent only on cost containment) for the past decades, and since the advent of the consumer internet has often been woefully ill-suited to meeting customer needs. 

This is for a number of reasons: 

  • New channels of communication that companies have been slow to adapt to.
  • These new channels bringing the challenge of a single customer view.
  • This single customer view bringing the challenge of data centralisation.
  • New devices and consumption habits (the smartphone) making older web assets somewhat redundant.

But, in 2013, most companies woke up and smelled the coffee. The coffee of customer service as something that needs tackling precisely because when it’s done well it can be integral to customer satisfaction and often augments the product you sell. 

There are many flag bearers for customer service, not least Amazon and its ‘don’t make me think’ philosophy, where seamless customer experience takes away reliance on call centres and improves conversion. 

Aside from the web giants making a virtue of customer experience, which brands have made recent commitments to customer service?

Let’s take a look at a few of them. Thanks here to Steven Van Belleghem, as I found these examples from this slideshare of his.

Self-service

The majority of customers now expects a self-service solution and actively prefers it in many sectors. Smartphone usage is high enough that mobile solutions will now significantly increase the efficiency of any customer service operation.

As self-service is mostly digital, it is easier for companies to keep records of customer interaction.

Anytime fitness

24 hour service is of course a USP for Anytime fitness, as the name of the company suggests. The brand’s sites have ’24 hr’ featuring in their title tags, to avoid any confusion.

You might think that 24hr access isn’t really an example of customer service, because it’s essentially the product, but I’d disagree.

And even if that doesn’t satisfy you, Anytime fitness also produces instructional videos to take the personal trainer out of the equation. These videos can be accessed in the gyms or on the Anytime site. They’re also accessibly to non-gym goers for a fee, opening up another potential revenue stream.

All of this stems from the company’s commitment to convenience and culture. Check out the wonderful membership page.

Rabobank

Rabobank give us one of the examples that shows customer satisfaction and company efficiency often meet at the confluence of self-service. 

Rabobank has been encouraging customers to submit documentation online when applying for a mortgage. Adding documentation to a customer file over a period of time allows the bank more time to look at each piece of information, and the customer can better manage submission of an application. 

80% of applications now use this system, showing customer preference for self-service. 

Crowd-service or P2P

Van Belleghem cites AirBnB’s customer satisfaction being much higher than with classic hotel chains like Hilton as an indicator of the power of crowd service. The idea is that with P2P products in particular, the customer service is often provided by, in this case, the property owner, who is more invested in the product.

Of course, this means it can be harder to ensure consistency of experience, but nevertheless the culture is ripe for providing good service.

One study by McKinsey estimates the cost of self-service as almost 10 times cheaper than so-called ‘personal service’, with crowd service thought to be the cheapest of the three.

Giffgaff

Giffgaff famously doesn’t run call centres. There’s a cost gone to start. Of course, some customers ask for a phone number on various support forums, but the stats for customer service response are great.

Answers on support forums are given by customers, much like the well-oiled model at Sky, where customer service champions are rewarded with free stuff, product prototyping and often occasional meeting with the Sky team.

Check out this thread to see how vocal the community is when one customer expressed dismay at the service.

Barclaycard Ring

Barclaycard Ring is a similar concept but the crowd sourcing here is often on a larger scale, taking customer feedback on what the service should do next, from small details to big picture stuff like rewards programs and charity work.

The service is a year and a half old and has increased customer retention by 25%. Barclaycard estimates a return so far of $10m.

 

Add your suggestions for other companies that 'get' customer service, below.

Ben Davis

Published 18 December, 2013 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (3)

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

You always come to work with more than the required number of pieces of flair.

over 2 years ago

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Martin Wright, Managing Director at Customer Journey Consultancy Ltd

Any service that is easy, consistently high quality (i.e. it works), relevant to customer needs and reflects the brand values is going to be a winner for customers and the company.

The proof is high adoption and low demand for additional customer support (requests for help FROM ANY SOURCE).

Crowd Service and Customer Support Forums can easily become cheaper versions of 'outsourced customer service'.

The key is the culture behind the initiative; if a company is appropriately balancing internal interests (lower costs and higher sales) with customer interests (services and products that are easier to use, provide better value, are more relevant and distinct).

A culture which pushes the balance falls too far toward company interests will quickly be sniffed out and end up on the wrong side of blogs like this one.

over 2 years ago

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Shep Hyken

One of the things I like about this article is that the companies used as role models for the concepts listed here aren’t your typical customer service rock stars. The other thing I like about this article is the lessons we can learn from these companies.

over 2 years ago

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