Customer Service. A Relationship Strategy.

There is no other element of your brand strategy that will have as much impact on people’s perception of your brand as your attention to customer service. Having an relationship-centric Customer Service Strategy—preparing for the human experience you share with everyone—is where the companies that understand relationships will far exceed those who think success in their business is based only on good products at a fair price.

Customer Service is not about simply moving a product from your hands into your customers’. It’s not about bending to a person’s every whim in some misguided belief that they are “always right.” It’s certainly not about rigourously maximizing the value out of every person.

Customer Service is about being actively responsible for the experience your brand promises. It’s a human connection that moves the experience from a transaction to a relationship. Customer Service—the way you make people feel within the brand experience—is the last great differentiator.

Strong brands define their version of customer service well beyond kind and helpful. They have a service culture that is integral to their strategy.

The attitude and language chosen; the speed and customization offered; the luxury or automation desired—there are plenty of choices made by leaders. There is no right or wrong, just traits and tactics that must be consistent with the brand. However, there are three factors to Customer Service that are non-negotiable, and these are at the root of your strategy.

1. Acknowledgement: When someone decides that they want to be your customer, they need to be confident that you are aware of their desire. No one should ever feel unwelcome or ignored.

An empty reception desk; an unresponsive email system; a locked door; distracted staff; faded signs; broken instructions; quiet social media; …these are all indications that you simply don’t care about the customer standing right in front of you, ready to engage. Every customer must feel that you are interested in their business, and you believe the relationship is important.  How are you ensuring every customer knows that they are welcome and valued?

2. Communicate: It is your responsibility to guide your customers through the experience you’ve promised, anticipating their needs to their advantage and in your favour. Prepare your customers for their own success all along the journey.

Clear signs are helpful. Smart staff who understand the whole process and the customer mindset are critical. Milestone markers, easy options and ‘goal-post’ reminders reinforce to everyone that you are paying attention, and you care about the outcome. Systems that move their experience forward—not just the transaction or data collection—are the secret. How are you sharing your expectations and recommendations of the brand experience?

3. Respect: All relationships are built on respect for each other. A customer must always feel they are trusted, safe, and that their side of the value equation is important.

Neither the routine and familiarity of your efforts, nor the excuse of a broken system, diminishes your commitment to an experience. Safety isn’t an option, nor should it be treated with anything less than diligence. Respect for rules, respect for details your customers are willing to share, and respect for your commitment to value is vital. How are you demonstrating respect for the relationship you share with your customers?

A great product is important—no amount of pleasant customer service is going to make up poor value—but it’s the relationship that is front and centre with an amazing brand experience.

These three elements are so vital to customer service—acknowledge your customers, communicate with your customers, respect your customers—that it almost seems silly to need to mention them. But we can trace most customer service issues back to a breakdown in one of these roots. It’s not enough that you intend to be kind and helpful; customer service must be rooted in a strategy that supports your brand.

With customer service, the relationship is the brand experience.

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6 responses to “Customer Service. A Relationship Strategy.

  1. Hi Stephen,

    This is a great post because it puts a very different perspective on customer service. Although not all companies understand the concept of customer service as a strategy, it’s certainly something that some companies have taken to the next level.

    For me, it all starts at the top and is deeply ingrained in the culture. Take Zappos for example. They publish an unedited book every year from all of their employees and their customer service representatives are trained and then offered money to leave! Who does that?!?!?

    Stephen, thanks again for sharing this! I am a huge advocate of customer service as a strategy and appreciate your perspective.

    • Stephen Abbott

      Hi Geoff,

      Thanks for the comments. I’ll admit I am often saddened by the minimal attention to customer service from many organizations. There is little effort given to taking the lead in the relationship, even from companies who state “great customer service” as a key differentiation. Too often, a great service employee is more of an accidental hire (lucky) than a result of purposeful training (strategy).

      Shameless plug: “Beyond May I Help You” workshop is designed to address this very thing.

  2. Pingback: Customer Service. Strategy or culture? | Stephen Abbott – Brand Strategist

  3. Pingback: Customer Service. A Relationship Strategy. « fred zimny's designing design thinking driven operations

  4. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as
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    • Stephen Abbott

      You’re welcome to quote me with credit and source. Thank you. I’ve looked at the site attached to your profile, though, and not sure we share the same interest. Curious.

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