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Chuck Dennis
Customer Retention Strategist
Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Your Customer Service is More Important than Your Product

While businesses strive to create the "next big thing," customers are more impressed with the service they receive, than the products they purchase.  This article illustrates how successful businesses provide service that outlives the lifetime of products that are sold.

Written Jun 14, 2008, read 8953 times since then.
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I know, I know; businesses are in love with their products.  Especially new technology.  The new product development people squeal with delight when they create something new and exciting, and they scurry over to executive row, where the honchos are sufficiently dazzled.  The marketing folks are chomping at the bit to tell the world about this great new thing.  And the sales people can not wait to call their top accounts to offer them a new kind of widget.  New products are the lifeblood of commerce, right?

Not so fast.  A recent customer service survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Verint Systems indicated that 88% of consumers prefer dealing with a company with strong customer service than one with the hottest, most innovative product offerings. Only 12% preferred dealing with a company with a hot, innovative product.

Another study from Michaelson & Associates reported that 69% of customers that leave one business for another do so because of real or perceived poor service.  The quality of product is a distant second, at 13%. 

These simple facts speak volumes about the significance of customer service.  To your customers, service is more important than product.  Think about that, and really let it sink in.

It used to be that organizations viewed their customer service or customer support as an expense; it was part of the cost of doing business.  These days, as service and support have become key differentiators in business, it is easy to spot the organizations that have not evolved past the idea of service as an expense.  They’re the ones who treat customer interactions like a job or a competition, rather than as an opportunity.  They read from scripts.  They quote company policy.  They may hear the customer talking, but they are not listening to him.

Because of ongoing technology development, demographic shifts in customer bases, enhanced commercial awareness, and expanded capabilities, there is no room for mediocrity in business anymore.  A quality product or service, and dependable turnaround and delivery are no longer cause for celebration; they are now simply the baseline for doing business.  The average consumer can get what he needs through any number of channels.  Why should he choose you over all the other choices?

Customers will choose to do business with you because you provide a better all-around customer experience.  Here are five things you do to provide that better experience:

• Your initial greeting, whether in person, on the phone, on email or chat, is always prompt, genuinely pleasant and sincere.  Smiles are not a big expense, and they go a long way in business.  You use that positive first impression as a springboard to developing a real dialogue with your customer


• Doing business with you is a smooth process.  You have well-thought-out options for customers to contact you, to consult or place an order, for delivering what was ordered, and for invoicing & receiving payment. 

Yes, this sounds nice and easy, summed up in one paragraph.  But you know the challenges of establishing processes, tweaking them, training people, managing the execution of the processes.  And you know how important that is to your customers.  If creating smooth business processes was easy, then everyone would have them.  But no, it is businesses like yours that get it, that are the exceptions that prove this rule.

• You’ve established trust.  While this is not easy to do in your first interaction with a customer, you realize that the building of trust begins with that first contact, and grows exponentially with each subsequent positive experience.  Real trust is built like a building, from the ground up, with a strong foundation. 

• You are friendly to every customer with whom you interact, but your level of friendliness is appropriate for each customer’s mood.  You understand that there are few things more annoying than an overzealous and peppy salesperson or service rep when the customer is tired or in a bad mood or even just quiet and reserved.  Conversely, you know that an upbeat, chatty customer who is met with indifference, or rudeness, will most likely be seeking a more enthusiastic environment for their next bit of business.  You appreciate that the customer is a guest in your “house,” and you must be a gracious host.

• You are attentive, without being annoying.  You know customers have varied and individual styles.  Some like to lurk in the background, quietly scoping things out on their own.  Others trot right in, seeking assistance.  You understand that the lurkers need to know that you know they are there, but that you will not pursue them and badger them with offers and suggestions.  You know that a courteous greeting and an offer to help if needed allows the customer to determine the extent of his interaction with you, and that makes for a comfortable experience for all types of customers and prospects.

This is why your business is successful.  You understand that the service you provide will remain in the customer’s mind long after the product he’s purchased has run its course.  Repeat business is born out of relationships, not flavor-of-the-month products.

Learn more about the author, Chuck Dennis.

Comment on this article

  • Energetic Speaking Coach for Entrepreneurs & NPOs 
Bellevue, Washington 
Pamela Ziemann
    Posted by Pamela Ziemann, Bellevue, Washington | Jun 16, 2008

    Thanks for the statistics Chuck. Seems a lot of people are still using old sales techniques, we all really need to bump it up a notch or two (or three) to keep up with today's savvy clients. I feel a lot of care even in the way you write... it all comes through doesn't it?

    More of this kind of work, I like it! -Pamela

  • Customer Retention Strategist 
Cambridge, Massachusetts 
Chuck Dennis
    Posted by Chuck Dennis, Cambridge, Massachusetts | Jun 16, 2008

    Thank you for the kind words, Pamela!

    • Chuck
  • Real Estate Broker Mentor 
Hartford, Connecticut 
Fran Rokicki
    Posted by Fran Rokicki, Hartford, Connecticut | Jun 16, 2008

    Chuck,

    I find that people need the care and contact. More so, then in years past. I believe more face to face contact makes them feel like you make time for them and value them along with their business.

  • Social Media Training For Small Business 
Phoenix, Arizona 
Steve MacDonald
    Posted by Steve MacDonald, Phoenix, Arizona | Jun 16, 2008

    Chuck,

    I think that you have really pointed out a secret ingredient for most companies. Your third point about trust is vitally important. Brands have been associated with trustmarks. In the end, our customers have to trust in the constant delivery against expectations. You can work hard for years on building trust, but it only takes one bad experience to erode all that hard work.

    I believe that products and services attract most customers, but customer service is absolutely what keeps them satisfied and loyal over time.

    Thanks for the insights.

    Steve

  • President, Parallax Consulting, Inc. 
Clinton, Washington 
Don Johnston
    Posted by Don Johnston, Clinton, Washington | Jun 16, 2008

    Hi Chuck,

    I think your observations and comments are right on! As a customer and consultant in the area of customer service I don't think there are more important attributes in a sales rep. than establishing trust and rapport and realizing that each of us has a different style that needs to be recognized and attended to. The trick is to "get the right person on the bus and in the right seat" (as Jim Collins of Good to Great would say) as that sales rep. not an easy task. I have found that there are some really good tools (profiles) out there to take some of the guess work out of the initial hire and to use with coaching the current staff. Take care ...

    Don

  • Creative Project Manager & Social Networking Strategist 
Kirkland, Washington 
Julian Michael
    Posted by Julian Michael, Kirkland, Washington | Jun 17, 2008

    Great points! I'm actually at a convention discussing this VERY topic right now!!

  • Trainer and Coach 
Foxboro, Massachusetts 
Jen Vondenbrink
    Posted by Jen Vondenbrink, Foxboro, Massachusetts | Jun 17, 2008

    Hi Chuck. Great article. I can remember really great sales reps I've dealt with over the years and that made all the difference. The relationship is key.

    This goes for the service industry as well. I have a great acupuncturist who makes sure she is not only providing the treatment, but really gets to know you...and follows up. Yesterday I had some questions and she spent an additional 30 minutes with me. I know she is busy, but to take the time and speak directly to my needs made me a client for life. I can't stop talking about her.

    A great book on old fashion yet highly effective customer service is Jack Mitchell's, Hug Your Customer. I've met Jack and been to his store and all he says is true. It is a great read.

    Jen

  • B2B Midmarket Sales Prospecting Expert 
Portsmouth, New Hampshire 
Lori Richardson
    Posted by Lori Richardson, Portsmouth, New Hampshire | Jun 19, 2008

    Chuck, I liked your article because it reminds us of a very important point - even with a commoditized product or common service, we are the ones who can make a difference by treating our customers well.

    I did a session on prospecting yesterday and one of my attendees mentioned that with a "non-sexy" product he really doesn't have a lot to say to prospective customers that is new or different. I am going to refer him to your article. Kudos. -- Lori

  • technology advisor 
Providence, Rhode Island 
Jim Van
    Posted by Jim Van, Providence, Rhode Island | Jun 21, 2008

    Sick minds think alike;)
    I was at a conference last month where I felt like I was the only one thinking 'customer' and thinking like a customer as I evaluated products and services. It floors me how so few people get it.

    As usual, you hit the nail right on the head, Chuck! --Jim Van, Logicomm, Inc.

  • Promotional Item Marketing  
Binghamton, New York 
Stacy  Blackwell
    Posted by Stacy Blackwell, Binghamton, New York | Sep 17, 2008

    We are all customers at one point, so it is hard to believe that there are people/businesses out there that can't have good customer service. Cell phone companies and electric companies seem to have terrible customer service because they are so big they just don't care. They know they have a product or service that will keep customers coming back so it doesn't matter how they are treated. It is just rotten. CSR's are very under paid and there is a high turn over in that field as well.

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