Not Your Father’s (or Mother’s) Customer Service

Old fashioned customer service

Customer Service is no longer a department; it’s become a marketing tool.

The manager of the repair department at a large security camera manufacturer opened the next box to work on that day. Within the box, he found a competitor’s camera returned for repair.

Without hesitation, the employee fixed the camera, enclosed a current catalog in the box along with a note stating that he repaired the camera for free, even though it was not of their manufacture.

In doing so, he hopes the customer will think of his company, when they need to buy more cameras. At some companies, this employee may have risked some type of disciplinary action, but not at Pelco.

Pelco, a California based manufacturer of security camera systems, has developed a customer service brand image of their company. They treat their customers like gold and vice versa. Once a fledgling sheet metal company, Pelco has become the #1 security camera manufacturer in the US and #2 in the world.

A big part of their success is because of their customer service strategy. And the employee in question, he received the outstanding customer service award for that year.

While ordering a sandwich at Panera Bread recently, I had forgotten to request a substitution of mustard for horseradish. I hate horseradish. I picked up my sandwich and before I reached my table I had realized my mistake.

I walked back to the sandwich maker and asked for a replacement. With a smile and without hesitation, the sandwich maker said “Oh, no problem!” She stopped what she was doing, and made me a new sandwich. If there was ever a situation befitting of the platitude, it’s not what you do, but how you do it, this was it!

Customer Service is no longer a department; it’s become a marketing tool. To some, customer service has become a way of branding one’s company. If your company views customer service as a department or function, I am sorry to say that there is not much you alone can do about it, unless you’re the boss.

It’s like listening to music on cassette tapes in today’s digital world. It just ain’t happening. You need significant time and capital investments from your management-top management that is. A customer service strategy requires commitment from the top in order to work. Strategy? Yes, a strategy that encompasses a consistent message (Brand) throughout the organization so the customer feels the same way about your company in every interaction with your brand.

When someone calls Pelco, they get a real live person on the telephone, not a recording. Why? For one, Pelco employs about 10 full time receptionists, but most importantly because customer service begins with the first contact with the customer.

That sounds like a lot of work. You bet! Creating a customer service strategy and the resulting branding of your customer service is a life’s work. According to authors Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart, in their book, Branded Customer Service, “The New Competitive Edge”, there are four customer service strategies; Customer Service as a Cost, Customer Service as a Necessity, Customer Service as a Competitive Advantage, and Customer Service as an Essential Living Expression of the Brand.

The point highlighted by Barlow and Stewart in their analysis of these strategies and more specifically, the last and most developed of the strategies, is that customer service is seen as a vital aspect of the organization. Wow! That’s a salesperson’s nirvana. The flip side of that point makes it sad to think that every organization does NOT see customer service as vital.

In today’s hypercompetitive global economy, we are all striving for differentiation. Making customer service a vital focus in your organization can transform a forgotten department or role into a competitive advantage. It gives your employees ownership of a goal they can all achieve and all benefit from its accomplishment. Just ask Pelco and Panera Bread.

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© John F. Dowling

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