When The Recession is Over, Where Will Your Customers Be?

 In Career Tips

Three Modes of Service Delivery in Uncertain Times

There’s no doubt about it, customer service is taking a serious dive in this recession. I know you’ve experienced this personally. Declining sales, fear in the workplace, and cuts in service spending are running headlong into customer expectation…and the results are often not pretty. As a recent article in Business Week puts it, “Managers are trying to pull off …a perilous high wire act. Just as companies are dealing with plummeting sales and sinking employee morale, skittish customers want more attention, better quality and greater value for their money. Those same customers are also acutely aware that their patronage is of growing importance to companies as others decrease their spending. As customers, our expectation is that anyone in the market who has money to spend should be treated like royalty.”

Taking the broad axe to service has long-term consequences— from a diminishment of hard-earned brand equity to an erosion of market share; hardly an effective strategy during times like these. And while cuts in overhead are inevitable as sales decline, smart business leaders understand the importance of maintaining customer relationships­­— especially in tough times.

Here’s where the application of savvy, traditional marketing principals comes in. Many companies are adjusting service spending by focusing their attention on “best customers,” and effectively using segmentation and “tiering” to provide these best customers with additional or exceptional levels of service. Recently I wrote a piece for one of my clients, CPGjobs, about the importance of including unexpected service delivery in the marketing mix. Since then, I have been personally surprised and delighted by the proactive levels of service I have received from several companies with which I do regular business.

As I think about my own recent experiences, I realize that each illustrates the use of solid marketing principals (like the 80/20 rule), and the ways in which technology and the human touch can be used to retain best customers through hard times.  My own experience illustrates three “service behaviors” that illustrate my point, and I think they deserve mention here:

1) Acknowledge Mistakes, Reward Loyalty – Shopbop
Founded in 2000, Shopbop is an upscale Internet shopping site for women’s fashion clothing and accessories. Amazon.com acquired the company in 2006. I have been a regular Shopbop customer for about three years and have dropped a bundle at their online store (I hope my husband doesn’t read this)! Recently, I sent an email to their customer service department about the availability of a particular item and was surprised when I did not receive a response within 24 hours as I usually do. Within a week, I received an email from the Shopbop service team apologizing for their lack of communication. They had a glitch in their email system. They apologized AND they sent me a redemption code for 30% off anything I wanted to purchase in their store. Did I shop (and spend more than I would have otherwise)? Hell yes. These people have me for life.

2) Become the Family Pharmacist – US Bank
I work a lot with overseas developers on my various web-marketing projects and therefore have to send numerous wire transfers overseas to pay my team. On a recent visit to  US Bank, I sat down to fill out my transfer information when the Associate noticed that my current banking package was about to come up for renewal and that I was going to owe a $95 annual service few within a few weeks. She also noticed that I qualified for an upgrade to a Platinum account. Upgrading to Platinum would place me in an extended service tier with no annual fees. I jumped on this immediately; if there’s anything I hate it’s paying someone to do business with me. The associate made the change to my accounts right away AND she emailed me personally to let me know that my wire transfer went through flawlessly. Remember the pharmacist at the corner drugstore who knew your family’s medical history and always remembered your name? These people have always remembered my name and now they’ve done something I value even more— they’ve saved me money.
Watch out Chase.

3) Use Technology in the Service of Service – Sephora
Sephora is a multi-channel retailer of beauty and personal care products, If you have been living under a rock and don’t know this company (or you are a man), they carry a humungous range of products— from upscale skin care, to perfumes, to their own house brand of makeup and beauty tools. They’re like the ACE Hardware of beauty and I LOVE them. Of course, Sephora runs the ubiquitous “club card” program that offers you discounts based on purchase volume. They also give you cool little samples when you make a purchase in their stores or online (just simply smart). But Sephora does something else that’s really cool. They put their technology in the service of the customer AND their marketing strategy. When you buy something from Sephora you will receive an email from them asking you to rate the exact products you just purchased (even if you purchased the products in one of their stores). But here’s something even cooler. The email contains images of the products you purchased (just to remind you) and an offer of more free stuff. Sephora is using their smart database to maintain post-purchase relationships with their customers, improve the shopping experience of all customers AND create extraordinary brand loyalty in the process.

It may seem counterintuitive, but now may be the best time for your sales and marketing teams to get together and review your customer service policies.

Are you simply delivering the minimum service levels possible? Can you identify your best customers? Do your pricing and service strategies recognize their importance to your company?  Are you putting technology in service of your customers? When was the last time your customers were truly surprised by something you did…something they never even asked for? How honest are you with your customers? And finally, can you identify some low-cost ways to let your customer’s know that they are truly valued?

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