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Why customer service is so important in a digital world

The digital world can help to make a business' reputation, so it's important to get customer service right, just as it was before the technology boom.
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Harry Selfridge might have coined the phrase “The customer is always right” when he revolutionised shopping with the launch of the eponymous department store in 1909, but the importance of delivering great customer service is just as prominent today in this digital world.

Just a simple internet search of the term “customer service awards” reveals a myriad of events dedicated to recognising this fundamental business approach. In the UK, this includes the Institute of Customer Service Customer Satisfaction Awards and across the pond the Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service.

If anything, more than a century later, the evolution of technology has enabled customers to easily express both their appreciation or anger at the level of customer service they receive. In a heart-warming story, Sainsbury’s renamed their tiger bread (known as Dutch crunch in the US) ‘giraffe bread’ after a three-year-old sent a letter to the supermarket chain to indicate that the product’s appearance resembles a giraffe’s spots.

And when customer service author and speaker jokingly tweeted Morton’s Steakhouse chain asking for an airport food delivery. To his surprise, one of the chain’s staff drove 23 miles to the airport and greeted him with a full meal.

On the other hand, when things go bad, disgruntled customers can make sure the whole world knows about their disappointment, which can cause not just reputational damage but also financial woes.

When Dave Caroll’s guitar was badly handled on a United Airlines flight, he wrote the “United Breaks Guitars” song which quickly went viral and now has over 17 million views on YouTube, showcasing the power of the digital world.

The recent scandal involving the violent disembarkation of a United Airlines passenger falls in that category too, starting another digital world viral response of suggestions under the hashtag #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos. Moreover, it cut close to $1.5bn from the company’s share value the following morning – now that got the CEO’s attention.

What does customer service bring to businesses?

The evolution of technology has also expanded the competitive market to global offerings, whether brands are product or service-focused, and across B2C and B2B. Offering good customer service is a necessity and offering great customer service can help you stand out in the market.

Nurturing such a culture in your company can foster a sense of community and common goals among employees, just look at a company like shoe etailer Zappos that puts customer service and happiness above all else.

At the same time, it can transform customers into repeat customers and brand advocates empowered by the digital world to amplify word-of-mouth.

Treating customer service as a brand asset, just like you would the careful use of your logo, strapline, selling proposition or style, is a key factor that adds value to your brand identity.

This requires not only fostering good service within the company, but also careful monitoring and optimisation to maintain these high standards as your business grows.

When successfully implemented, it can become a unique selling proposition and be the gift that keeps on giving as you establish a reputation for putting customers first.

How can marketers approach it as a USP

Customer service is not something you just keep saying until consumers believe you, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. You need to demonstrate customer service and you need to seek recognition of it.

It can be as simple as sending an email requesting a customer to review their recent purchase and highlighting reviews and testimonials as much as possible. There’s a bit of risk with the possibility of unfavourable reviews, but if you believe in your products and you approach mishaps with fantastic customer service that is visible for everyone to see, it shouldn’t be a concern.

Third party recognition can also come from awards like the ICS awards previously mentioned. It’s one of the ways that brands can highlight their dedication to customer service even in an ever more complex marketing technology landscape.

For example, leading email service providers can stand out from the crowd by highlighting the service (and people) element rather than solely focusing on what the technology and digital world can do.

Knowing that there are knowledgeable practitioners at the end of a phone or web chat to help brands start a new automation campaign, map out a new welcome programme, or improve personalisation and relevance, for example, is a critical part of the relationship.

With growing confidence brands will explore the capabilities of your system, and progress to deliver better service to their customers.

Whether a new startup, emerging brand or established player, in a digital era of global competition and empowered customers, companies that don’t offer excellent service might survive for a while, but they won’t stand out or pass the test of time. Start fostering a company culture around it (if you don’t already) and identify the recognition you need to make it true in the eyes of your customers.

Anca Staples is content executive at Adestra

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As the champion of UK enterprise for 20 years, Real Business is the most-read SME website dedicated to high-growth businesses and entrepreneurs. Through daily news, unique insight and invaluable guides we are an essential resource for thriving businesses.

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