Thursday, September 24, 2009

Delivering Great Customer Service Online

The key to delivering great customer service is by 'surprising and delighting'. How can an online company with online margins surprise & delight?
When the tsunami hit SE Asia, American Express put on extra shifts and called around all their Cardmembers they knew were in the area to make sure they were safe, you'll never see that on an advert.
As a matter of course, Amex cardmembers would call in complaining about a hotel charge on their bill. Generally, the issue was between the hotel and the customer, but Amex would often step in and take the hit. The concept is known as ‘surprise and delight’ and is a great example of how to engender customer loyalty and word of mouth through superior service. There are countless similar examples from other companies such as Nordstrom, and Southwest Airlines.
So how does an online company replicate this customer service and get such brand loyalty? If you strip down the most popular online services, you soon realise that Facebook, Twitter, Spotify and the like don’t have brand loyalty, they are simply a utility and when a better service comes from elsewhere their customers will soon switch.
Clearly there is no way these services can scale human-to-human customer service given their massive user bases and wafer thin margins, so what can they do to build that customer loyalty? Apple and Dopplr both offer a scalable solution. They translate the concept of surprising and delighting online. Marco from Dopplr talked about digital delighters at the Travolution Conference earlier this year, and he is on the money. Digital delighters are effectively little interactions between the brand and the customer that were unexpected and pleased the customer. They needn’t amount to a whole heap of use, but they become a talking point and cause the customer's relationship with the brand to deepen. A good example is the end of year

travel summary that Dopplr provide. Ultimately it isn’t that different to that old Amex Gold Card wheeze where customers were sent a year end statement in the style of a country club account. Provide some talkable statistics and package the data up nicely and bingo. With Apple, their delighter is the superior user experience they deliver through every inter-action with the brand, from the packaging to the device interface. It is all about taking the interaction from the rational to the emotional.

Marketing these ‘delighters’ is no easy thing either. There is no point hitting them hard (as product features or customer service promises) as then every customer will expect them as standard. This would be expensive to implement and in reality customers won’t be pleased without the element of surprise. Instead, you just have to rely on advocates to spread the word for you.
Another great example of an online brand managing fantastic customer service is Now by all accounts they deliver superb servicing, but it is the little extras that create the ‘talkability’. From their website:
When you book, our staff will ask what kind of a read you like to take on holiday and the style of music that just has to be on your ipod or hotel entertainment system. Tell us your taste for these essential “arts of travel” and we will send you a selection before you depart, ensuring that the high quality of your experience runs through your headphones and every page.
& again "Mountains of emails, no food in the fridge, you can’t get back into your favourite TV series because you have missed episodes… The first day back after a holiday is often a pretty depressing one.To counter that, our “Back to Reality” service should help. Delivered to your doorstep in a nice shiny envelope, it is our antidote to that nasty first day back feeling. Our kit includes a DVD movie of your choice (selected before you leave) and a copy of The Week to re-introduce you to the real world. So sit back, flop in front of a film and catch up with world events at your own pace.
So what should a fledgling web business do to build a superior customer service organisation?
Covet every single customer in the early days. Sod automation, you won’t have enough customers to make it necessary, do it manually to start with and that way you can deliver fantastic customer service and learn how the thing should best be automated later on. If that means you as the founder answering customer’s calls and emails then so be it.
And when it comes to the build, leave some budget aside to deliver a couple of little digital delighters. It doesn’t have to be expensive or technically complicated, just something unexpected and pleasing.

Other great articles on this topic:

1 comment:

Dee Edwards said...

It's Marko not Marco, he is Finnish not Italian...:-)