Customer Service and Marketing

Customer service in corporate America is exceptional. Just ask any executive about his or her company, and you’ll see what I mean. Then ask anyone you know to share a recent bad experience, and it’s instantly at the tip of his or her lips.

“Outstanding customer service” is the easiest claim you can make about your organization, whether it’s true or not. That doesn’t make it right, but it can provide a marketer’s dream. The claim works particularly well with people with whom you’ve never done business. The only way they can know for sure is to commission your company, deal with your people, purchase your product, and experience your service.

A recent post of 10 inspirational, creative and impactful examples of customer service rekindled our fascination with this subject. Not to mention CRN’s recent naming of a new director of client services who is bringing some refreshing ideas to the role. From a marketing perspective, outstanding customer service has to be more than just a process. It has to transcend mere conscious competency to the point where you don’t even think about it and just do it. It has to permeate the organization. It’s one thing to set up internal systems and then train the people on your front lines; it’s another to embed customer service into your culture. It’s a dangerous thing to hop on the service bandwagon and cross your fingers.

Exemplary customer service does not occur magically just because it appears on a list of core values. Some would suggest it can’t even be taught or acquired, although it certainly can be enhanced, embellished, celebrated, championed, and tweaked. Exemplary customer service is instinctive, so much so that people who “get it” can be triggered in a nanosecond. It kicks in for these people even when they are not at work because it’s part of their DNA. These are the same people who easily bristle in frustration when it is absent.

If you really do have “it,” what a great asset. It is not the ultimate measure of business success, but it sure helps. No company is perfect, but like a rubber band wrapped around a pole, a great customer service organization always snaps back to its core. Great customer service equates to people who are more inclined to work with you. If you don’t have it and say you do, eventually that will catch up with you and likely require a different set of marketing skills.

An example of visible quality service is the hardware store person who answers your query by literally walking you to the product, rather than pointing in the direction of Aisle 43 and saying “over there.” A little thing – but it makes and leaves an impression.

Then consider a visible form of questionable service that occurred recently when we asked one of our media reps for an MP3 file of a show segment that featured our company. While he did reply by emailing us the name of the person we could contact for the file, he could have delivered quality service and walked down the hall and just gotten it for us.

Perceptions about customer service can often be traced directly to marketing, so it is necessary to take it seriously. It’s funny how service and marketing both play off the emotions of the recipient. While everyone recalls classic commercials and marketing slogans, people also speak passionately about their best and worst customer service experiences.  And they are remembered and recalled years later, to the great fortune or detriment of their providers.

There’s no replacement for great customer service and no excuse for bad customer service. And never have there been more outlets for consumers to share their stories at both extremes. J.D. Power, which studies the topic extensively, compiled this list of brands that deliver outstanding customer service. Hats off to companies that strive to please the customer as second nature rather than as an orchestrated attempt to create a new marketing sound bite.