We share an office with another company that’s part of an older regime of industries. (To be fair, most industries can claim seniority on digital services.) Their visitors have a habit of strolling through our partition of the office every now and then. As it’s an open floor plan, most of these visitors have no idea they’ve drifted from one company to the next. So from time to time, they’ll meander over to chit chat with the New Haircut crew.
Today, we were paid a visit by one of their vendors (Tony) who trolls around about once a month. He has the same routine, probably since our co-company’s doors opened in 1985. Picture the scene… Tony pulls up in his sedan, finishes smoking outside the front entrance, flicks his cig in a nearby bush and enters. He roams from desk to desk, asking “Howyadoin? How’s everything? How’s <name of his company> treatin’ ya?” Some people make small talk until he leaves, others tell him they’re too busy to talk. So as you can imagine, when he lands at the foot of my desk or those of my team, he’s typically met with blank stares. We remove our headphones (which he neglected to notice), smile and say, “Hi, Tony. We’re not part of that company, sorry.” Blank stare returned by Tony. An amazing social exchange.
What’s Wrong with Tony?
Tony is a dinosaur whose tactics are as stale as his morning coffee breath. But what does it say about the company he works for? Assumedly, that this is an acceptable form of sales and customer service inside their 4 walls. And then what happens if the feedback from a customer is “Your company is hosing us, Tony.”? Does anything change? Not likely. But that’s not what Tony came here for today or the past 300 visits. He came because he’s paid to show his face, not solve problems. He’s in front of you to remind you that he and his company exist. Nothing more.
If you buy something today, great. Tomorrow’s OK too. If you never buy again, one less stop for Tony to make, until he’s out of stops, out of a job and time to finally have an excuse to retire and hang out with his wife.
Today’s business world is exponentially skewed from the trenches in which Tony earned his stripes. Today’s customer wants to know what’s happening with their account, their project, their money, right now. And they either want to manage this braintrust themselves, online, or want you to tell them in whatever manner they’ve provisioned you to communicate with them – email, IM, text, phone, Twitter, all of the above. In-person? Maybe on special occasions, but I hope you scheduled something with me in advance. Not many today are fans of the unannounced pop-in.
Remember that customers today have more options to replace you than ever before. And should you screw them, not only will your boss likely know before you do, but if you’re at a large enough company the social world could be abuzz; ready to lynch you and your employer for any wrongdoing.
Today’s Definition of Customer Service
We’ve heard myriad stories about the exceptional levels of customer service at companies like Zappos and Rackspace. Yes, the stories are played at this point, but it doesn’t mean they’re not still eye-opening.
Both companies entered into markets with plenty of pre-existing competition. An eCommerce company selling shoes? C’mon. How many of those existed pre-Zappos? Dozens upon dozens that never amounted to anything more than a lifestyle business, at best. Then BOOM! Tony Hsieh and Zappos appear, and focus squarely on the customer. 9 years later, they’re acquired by Amazon for nearly $1B.
Rackspace is still one of pricier options in the IaaS space, but continues to tear it up because they’re, firstly, in the business of pleasing their customers. An easier-said-than-done feat, considering an outage at Rackspace means the money machine is on pause for customers whose businesses are operating on their farms of servers. Yes, they have a good infrastructure and attractive cloud services, but so do lots of other guys. Reality check: they pulled away when they marketed and packaged their fanatical support offering.
So what does it boil down to?
Talk to your clients, where and how they want. Ask what’s important to them and then take action. When they least expect it, go above and beyond to delight them. Ho hum customer service is passe. Exceptional is today’s expected. And whatever you do, don’t send in Tony.