Jay Lipe shares his keys to delivering world-class customer service, namely: “The Three Pillars of Service Cool”.
Every so often, I’m hired by a company to develop a marketing plan for its business. Yet after conducting my initial assessment, I discover that the company’s lack of a marketing plan isn’t the problem. The real problem is the company’s poor service.
For these companies, spending any money at all on marketing is like pouring fine wine down a sinkhole; a complete waste. If your company’s service stinks, fix that first. Then, worry about promoting your company.
The Three Pillars of Service Cool
Without great service, your company is doomed from the start. But what exactly constitutes great service? There are three basic elements; my Pillars of Service Cool. They are: Timeliness, Follow through and Integrity.
In today’s “I want it now” society, timeliness can be your company’s trump card. Yet, too many companies don’t seem to respect their customers’ time. Witness:
In a recent study by Jupiter Research, 33 percent of all Internet companies surveyed took three days or longer to get back to customers that had e-mailed for help.
A study by Portland Research Group found that the average consumer must call a company 2.3 times before having their issue resolved.
What is a golf swing without follow-through? Accumulated energy without an outlet. A beginning without an end. Effort without results. The same is true of a company’s marketing. “You can have a terrible logo and pathetic signage, but if you are known for your incredible commitment and follow-through, you will be successful” says Jim Logan, marketing consultant and popular blogger at www.jslogan.com.
“Reverse the formula and you’ll fail every time.” With diligent follow through, your company will demonstrate its commitment, beyond a shadow of a doubt. From this, you can expect to reap repeat purchases, positive word-of-mouth, and referrals; the trifecta of successful marketing.
Today’s buyers are a distrustful bunch. Is it any wonder? Just look at the ethical lapses seen in today’s market:
In 2005, Sony Pictures Entertainment quoted the praise of a nonexistent film critic to promote several of its films. For A Knight’s Tale, The Patriot, and several other films, plaudits were attributed to David Manning, a supposed film critic at The Ridgeview Press. But at the time of the reviews, The Ridgeview Press, a weekly in Connecticut, did not even have a film critic on staff. Sony was ordered to pay $1.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit.
McDonald’s and the FBI once revealed that an employee of Simon Marketing, one of McDonalds’ marketing agencies, had distributed winning game pieces for the “Monopoly” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” promotions to a network of accomplices. The accomplices then claimed prizes ranging from $100,000 to $1 million.
Abercrombie & Fitch, a favorite clothing brand among teenagers, launched a T-shirt line featuring such alcohol-related slogans as “Don’t Bother, I’m Not Drunk Yet,” “Bad Girls Chug, Good Girls Drink Quickly,” and “Candy Is Dandy, But Liquor Is Quicker.” The T-shirt line was quickly withdrawn from the market when complaints from the media and advocacy groups surfaced.
Marketers for these companies all showed an alarming lapse in ethics. To avoid blunders like these, I recommend holding your marketers to a higher ethical standard; that’s why I’ve created the Lipe Code of Marketing Ethics:
The Lipe Code of Marketing Ethics
- We will always be clear and truthful in our marketing communications.
- We will never intentionally deceive or mislead our customers. If we do, we’ll apologize—immediately.
- We will fully disclose, in the large print, all pricing information.
- We will always respect the privacy of our customers.
- We will always give buyers the ability to opt-out; quickly honoring their desire to do so.
– We will stand behind our products if they fail to deliver on their promises.
– We will listen to our customers’ needs and concerns, and make every effort to incorporate their input.
– We will not use strong-arm tactics to get people to buy.
– We will always document claims, testimonials and comparative statements.
– We will always accept responsibility for the consequences of our actions.
Don’t let years of creating your company identity be wiped out in an instant by an ethical lapse. Circulate this Code of Marketing Ethics to all your marketers, and then hold them accountable for sticking to it.
The Top 7 Customer Service Mistakes
Before learning how a company can offer world class service, it might be helpful to point out the most common service problems in business today. Fix these and your company’s reputation may well be the only marketing program you need:
7. Not adequately training your staff – Financial services call centers in the US that enjoy the highest customer satisfaction levels, routinely invest 180 hours of initial training and seven hours of ongoing training every year into each agent. Does your company take its service training this serious?
6. Trying to win an argument with a customer – Arguing with a customer is bad business. You may win the argument, but you’ll probably lose the customer. Instead, show empathy. Tell the buyer you understand how they feel and that together you’re going to find a solution to their problem.
5. Over relying on voicemail – Customers who take the time to contact your company want to know there’s a face behind your company. Work hard to get customers talking to your company’s humans, not its technology.
4. Spending too much time with chronic complainers – Some people will never be happy with your service. If you’ve received at least three complaints from the same customer, it’s time to get rid of them, and focus on those you can help.
3. Taking criticism personally – Most callers don’t want to attack you personally. Although they may be lashing out at you, they’re really most frustrated by the problem they face. Take their attention off you and place it squarely back on the problem.
4. Not acting like you care – 68 percent of buyer defections take place because customers feel they’ve been treated poorly. Most customers don’t expect an immediate resolution to their problem, but they do expect your concern. Routinely use terms like “sorry to keep you waiting” and “thanks for contacting us today.”
5. Not delivering what you promise – Because some buyers are continually misled by companies, they’re understandably distrustful. For world class service, deliver exactly what you promise. If it’s “I’ll call you by tomorrow with the answer” or “I’ll put that in the mail today,” do it.
Concierge marketing: How to turn information into a marketing tool At the root of it, a concierge marketer—much like the hotel concierge who dispenses invaluable information about restaurants and local happenings—tries to simplify a buyer’s life by providing helpful information. The first step in being a successful concierge marketer is to provide passive marketing tools which are printed or online informational products. Using any of these, buyers can quickly get answers to their nagging questions:
- Tip sheets
- White papers
- Buying guides
One of my favorite buyer involvement tools is Amazon.com’s “Wish List” program. Using this tool at the Amazon site, I can develop my own “Wish List” of books, and then email it to members of my family. That way, my family knows what to get me for Christmas without having to ask, I get the Christmas presents I want, and Amazon gets the sales. Everybody wins.
Next steps for concierge marketers To become a concierge marketer, first identify the most common information voids your buyers face. Ask yourself these questions:
- At which stage in the buying cycle are our buyers confused?
- What information do they lack?
- What customer questions does our service staff repeatedly field?
Then, design tools to address the highest priority ones. If for example, your buyers are confused about which elements of your service are outsourced and which are performed in-house, you could develop a PowerPoint slide that covers this topic in greater detail.
In closing, Milton Hershey once said that quality was the best kind of advertising in the world. For your company identity to be successful, the service provided must be of the highest quality possible. Focus on delivering world-class service first, then, and only then consider marketing it.
About the Author
Jay Lipe is Sr. Lecturer – Marketing at Carlson School of Management.