Some believe we are seeing the emergence of the greatest consumer movement in history. I agree. Studies suggest that the vast majority of consumers now use search engines and sites such as the http://www.consumerist.com/ to review the comments of other customers before making brand or product decisions. And bad customer experiences – even if they are one in many thousands of interactions from an internal perspective – end up on blogs, twitter, YouTube and sometimes even the morning news. (This is not just a business-to-consumer phenomenon; the trend towards providing and searching out customer feedback, albeit with somewhat better etiquette as a rule, is similar in B2B environments.)
All of this is just fine with Zappos.com, the online shoe retailer that’s getting oodles of positive press for their great customer service. Sales have grown from $1.6 million in 2000 to about $1 billion in 2008. In an interview with Success magazine (Success, November 2008), CEO Tony Hsieh, referring to their “customer loyalty team” (the 24×7 call center), says, “Most call centers have this concept of average handling time, which is all about how many customers a day each agent can talk to – and the more the better. But that ends up translating into, ‘how quickly can we get the customer off the phone?’ which we don’t think is great customer service.” On company culture, Hsieh says every person – accountants, lawyers, everybody – goes through the same training that call center representatives get. “If we want our brand to be about customer service, then customer service needs to be the whole company, not just a department.”
Some business execs believe these kinds of customer-first strategies apply only to… well, entrepreneurial startups like Zappos.com. But tell that to USAA, FedEx or even American Express (who is putting the customer experience at the center of their strategy). The call center can and should be a powerful loyalizing tool – these are not new principles. They are being “rediscovered” by companies in virtually every sector who know they’ve got to get service right. For those in call center management who really “get it” this is a powerful window of opportunity to make a difference.
Originally published in the ICMI Membership Blog.