Great And Real Customer Service

Customer service has been on my mind recently. Funny, because I do not currently have any customers. I’ve been reading (listening to an audiobook, but it sounds funny if I say “listening to”) the Zappos: Delivering Happiness book. Last night I spoke with Alex Toul on Twitter who has just written a post entitled The Secret Sauce behind Zappos Word Of Mouth, and it fired me up to write my own post.

Buddy McNutty appreciates friendly customer service I am not going to focus too much on Zappos in this post. In summary, customer service is at the heart of Zappos, which was fully their intention from the start. They decided to take any money that they would have spent in marketing and, instead, invest that money into delivering great customer service. A wise investment, since even good customer service is more sticky than a great marketing campaign. Although, Zappos goes far beyond being “good”, or even “great” with their customer service. If you call them up (the number is at the top of their website) 24/7 they’ll take the opportunity to try and leave you with a “wow” feeling – even if you do not buy anything! If they cannot help you, they’ll recommend someone who can, whether it means finding a pizza delivery company in your area, or sending you to a competitor. They used this model to grow to a billion dollars in revenue in a few years and 75% of customers come back for more.

So that’s Zappos. Now onto Groupon, or rather, their clients.

This morning I read an article, Forty Percent of Groupon Merchants Say Never Again, which looks at the research done at Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University. They surveyed many businesses that had used Groupon for promotion and found that 40% of them would not use Groupon again. The results from this new form of marketing were not as Groupon’s less happy clients had hoped. Some of them had lost money, and gained no long-term impact. Customers came, used the cheap vouchers, and never returned. Many did not even leave a tip, because they “only brought the voucher” with them. Cheapskates.

Personally, I think this shows that 40% of companies that use Groupon are not good at planning their marketing campaigns. More importantly, it shows that their customer service is not quite as good as it could be. What better advertising than having customers in your store actually using your service? The fact that nearly all of them never returned should be a red flag that you’re not giving them a reason to return. Sure, it might actually be that the cost of your service is too high. Maybe you should address that, too. Most people do strongly consider cost, but generally find a way to afford the things they really want. They decided they did not want the service you were selling.

Is delivering good customer service really so simple? No, there is always a cost. About 8 years ago I single-handedly developed a shareware video editor. I was young and naïve. I really wanted to give top customer service, and I think that’s ultimately why I stopped developing it. I was spending so much time dealing with customers, that my time for other things dried up. The moral of this story is that it takes more than one person to run a business if they care about customer service. The cost of good customer service is in person-hours, and in well trained or simply passionate representatives of your company. One person only has so many hours they can give. My venture was partially a hobby and I did not have the sales volume or market potential to justify expanding, so I wrapped it up. I got a call from a happy customer only a year ago, who said he was still using it and he’d told all his friends to buy my software due to me being so helpful, so it was all worth it.

It is always a great feeling to see companies going the extra mile to do the right thing for their customer. Many startups know it’s a factor of success in the current way ripples of social media reward good customer service. I see different forms of this. Some companies just go through the motions and do not really, at their core, care what the customer thinks. They are happy as long as the sale goes through and the customer does not tweet negativity. The flip-side to this is from companies like Zappos, who employ based on these factors. If a candidate does not have great customer service and a passion for happy customers at their core then they are unlikely to get a job at Zappos, I would think.

A recent example of great customer service that I felt deserved a mention is LeanPub. You should check them out. Recently, I received an email from the co-founder, Peter Armstrong, after I had had a problem downloading a book from their site. He wrote “We love our customers (both readers and authors) at Leanpub” and, even from our brief encounter, I had the sense that he really meant it.

No matter how brief the interaction, or what is said, a customer will usually feel in their gut if you really care about them or not. You can fake it in the short-term, but it’s hard to fake it in the long-term.