Customer Service Champs

I finally got up to reading the BusinessWeek 2010 listing of customer service champs. LLBean (retailer), USAA (financial services & insurance), Apple (cool gadgets), Four Seasons (hotels) & Publix (retailer) share the spoils at the top of the table. 

Some snippets that caught my fancy amongst the leading customer service champs are :

  • Four Seasons Hotel – to beat the recession blues, Four Seasons got human resource managers to take on additional responsibility of manning spa desk. Both roles are about keeping customers happy – one is internal while the other is external.
  • Lexus – not only allows its customers to book service schedule online, but also allows them to pick the service representative they trust. 
  • Jaguar – is at #16 position. Apparently the exemplary customer service (especially during the sales cycle) remains the same even after the Tata take over.
  • American Express – New training programs rolled out in 2009 switched from 70% technical know-how to 70% soft-skills teaching to help agents better relate to customers.
  • Dell – is braving its way through social media (has had its share of customer ranting on Dell customer blogs)  & making the best of getting closer to customers. From a social media perspective, this is working as per plan – Dell is creating & sponsoring a platform for its customers to vent.
  • Southwest – has a “senior manager of proactive customer service”!
I read this good post on Peter Bregman’s How We Work HBP blog that made a lot of sense to me on multiple dimensions. 
Some of my take aways :
  • More often than not, the secret to customer loyalty lies in the little wows that you can generate across the customers’ experience of your product or service. 
  • The web of little wows across the experience life cycle involves contribution from across your workforce – thus making it harder to implement. And harder to copy & replicate too – thus a sustainable competitive advantage. 
  • A CIO I recently met was explaining about how his IT service help desk is the entry point for new IT graduates into his organization. Questioned on how he attracts top quality graduates into a help desk role, he answered that he looks at candidates for what they could be in the future – technical architects, business analysts, etc. – rather than just their fit into the help desk role. This potential based perspective also governs the way these candidates are treated & groomed at their first job. Sounds quite similar at Four Seasons too – potential to grow, potential to move to another resort, etc. 
  • Great way to build trust – create an opportunity to fulfill a commitment, even when one doesn’t naturally exist, and then fulfil it. This can so effectively be used across the experiential lifestyles of a customer. And when not practiced consistently, could just as easily build mistrust too. 
Nice article. 

Customer perspective during the downturn

The Think Customers 1to1 Blog is carrying a nice post by Brent Leary – So YOU Want to Improve MY Customer Experience?

During the downturn in economy (and always ..but especially so now), all businesses ought to be thinking about what works for their customers. 
  • How have the macroeconomic factors affected our customers business & life?
  • Should we be offering a different value proposition to customers now?
  • What is it that we can do for our customers that no one else will possibly do? 
  • Everyone’s expenditure has come down …so has our customers’. How can we ensure that whatever little they spend is spent on our products / services?
  • Is there a way we can make our customers feel special ..w/o spending too much?
All valid questions even during normal times. But businesses do have extra time now might as well think about customers!

Custommerce – Customer Centric Initiative in India

UPDATE (as on 6th Nov 2008)

The folks from custommerce mailed me soon after this blog posting. They have indicated that ways of engaging a wider community for this movement has been discussed in the Kovalam conclave. And they will have some concrete steps soon. 


custommerce – Strategies for a Customer-Driven Economy
Vision: A customer experience driven globally competitive Indian economy. 
The above mentioned vision statement has prompted me to check on this initiative a couple of times earlier. On trying the join custommerce call for action, a response seem to have emanated from the sales desk of Servion. Though custommerce is termed as a movement, no answers are forthcoming about how I can be a part of the same. 
To be fair, I did receive a notification about their latest conclave in Kovalam. Presentations from the conclave are also available at their site. The presentation Customer Centricity: Challenges in Getting Top Management Buy-in is an interesting topic & on target. 
Still trying to figure how best to contribute to the movement though.