The sexy side of customer service

By Beth Caron

Using the words “customer service” and “sexy” in the same sentence? As we say here in Minnesota, “You betcha.” Let me explain…

Whatever you call it—personalized service, people-to-people experience, making an emotional connection—delivering a great customer experience is a huge trend in service and retail businesses for 2015, and for good reason: Customer satisfaction is a primary factor in the health of a company’s bottom line. The Gallup Organization makes that point in an article about how top performing companies engage their customers.

“Simply put, consumers will give more money to the businesses they feel emotionally connected to, and they will continue to ignore, or even oppose, those that provide them no value. …In short, when customers believe they are getting more out of a business, they give more to it.”

But what is customer satisfaction? Can it be measured? And what’s so sexy about customer satisfaction?

I recently spent several hours looking for answers to those questions. What I found is that, yes, customer satisfaction can be measured and it can be improved. As for the definition of customer satisfaction—well, as they sometimes say on Facebook, “it’s complicated.”

Customer experience can be measured

In a Harvard Business Review article, researcher Peter Kriss reported that his company, Medallia, analyzed revenue data and repeat customer information from two $2 billion companies—one transaction based, the other subscription based.

What Kriss found is that customers with good experiences in past transactions spend 140% more than customers who had a poor experience with that company. Members who had a poor experience with the subscription services company were only 43% likely to be a member a year later, while those with good experience had a 74% chance. Customers with a good experience were likely to stick with the company for at least six years.

I took away three lessons from this article:

  1. Make customer satisfaction a company-wide mission and the #1 goal of every employee.
  2. Businesses have to invest in better experiences. You’ll get a higher return on your investment hiring 60 people at $50,000 a year than spending $3 million on a Super Bowl ad.
  3. Deliver a great experience. It’s worth the extra investment. (We certainly see this with Great Clips customers. When stylists are welcoming, inquisitive, and attentive and deliver a great haircut—all things that define a great experience at a Great Clips salon—the customer leaves feeling cared for. That customer is then more likely to return.)

What makes for a good customer experience?

Okay, I buy into the value of investing in a good customer experience. But what constitutes a good experience? The answers are a little squishy. Here are some starting points:

Good service should be proactive or preemptive. If you know that a customer who calls about X question is very likely to call back with Y question, then make sure you answer both questions on that first call. Anticipate the who, what, where, when and why questions—and answer them before they are asked.

The convenience factor has always been big in customer service but, according to Forrester’s Top Trends for Customer Service in 2015, anticipating and fulfilling customer needs before they arise is increasingly important, especially as more people are using interconnected devices and more are turning to the internet for solutions. That’s what we believe we are doing with Great Clips Online Check-In—anticipating our customers’ needs and giving them an easy, consistent way to fill that need.

What’s the secret sexy ingredient?

Okay, so what could possibly be sexy about customer service? Well, according to the research organization McKinsey and Company, it’s consistency.

“It may not seem sexy, but consistency is the secret ingredient to making customers happy. However, it’s difficult to get right and requires top-leadership attention,” the authors wrote. “Lack of consistency is a definite buzz kill.”

(Context note: There are several definitions of the word “sexy.” I’m going to assume that McKinsey is referring to this one: exciting, interesting, appealing, intriguing.)

I’m cautious about pushing consistency above all else—requiring word-for-word uniformity sometimes results in robotic responses that kill human-to-human interaction. But this article advocates something different. A company needs to be aware of common complaints and potential issues, and answer them consistently regardless of whether the interaction is in-store or through a call center, website or social media. 

My favorite observation is this: “Customer experience becomes sexy when it’s everyone’s job—a common mission that’s part of the company culture. Organizations that work in silos and do not share customer feedback are missing the big picture of customer experience.”

Key takeaways from this article:

  1. Anticipate what the customer wants and what could be problems.
  2. Share customer feedback—good and bad—with every employee. It provides a common language and goal.
  3. When you are consistent, your customers learn to trust you. When they trust you, they give you their business.

What’s the sexiest part of your customer service? C’mon. You can tell us!

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