customer servicemarketingSmall Business

Customer Service – Expense or Investment?

Seth Godin wrote a great post about his terrible experience with Verizon during his current move. To those unfamiliar with Seth Godin, he is a bestselling author of many business and marketing books, including Meatball Sundae, The Purple Cow, and most recently, The Dip. Apparantly (to no surprise), Verizon’s customer service sucks. I find that this is not just the case with Verizon (or other large phone companies) but also with many large companies, especially banks.

Why is it that these companies have such large marketing budgets yet seem to cut corners and try to make the expense of servicing their exisiting customers so small? It is apparant that many of these companies are viewing the cost of servicing these customers as an expense – not as an investment.

If they did not view these cost as expenses, why would they farm my call out to someone in India who speaks broken English, can not understand my request, and does not have any authority to do anything about it when they do? The fact is that many of these large companies are viewing the cost of customer service as an expense and are trying to reduce it to fatten the bottom line. What ends up happening is that customers do not get the exceptional service that they deserve, and quite often go elsewhere?

An example of this is banking. I do the majority of all of my banking at Clover Community Bank. It is a small local bank that can do 95% of the stuff that a big national bank can and offers fantastic customer service. The tellers and managers actually know who you are when you go into the bank. You are not just another person that needs to be serviced. They seem to get it. They are making an investment in my customer service experience – and are a big reason I am so loyal to them. Why would I go elsewhere?

If you own a small business, how do you treat customer service? Investment or expense? Do you invest enough in your employees to make sure that they are providing spectacular service? This can obviously relate to the wages that you are paying them, but also the training and the tools they use to service your customers.

If you have a plumbing business, how do you customers get in touch with you? What happens during “off” hours? I know several times I have needed plumbers in the past, and been unable to get a machine to leave me a message. I even got a hateful sounding woman one time that told me I would have to call back because he wasn’t there. Why is he spending money in the Yellow Pages if he has no acceptable means to receive the calls when they come in.

I recall an upholstery shop nearby that I attempted to call for days on end – no one answered and there was no machine. This was odd considering their advertisements were all over the place advertising the phone number. While an answering machine may not be the optimum device to use to achieve spectacular service, it would have been a major improvement for this company.

My point is that from a small business perspective, there are often many little and inexpensive things that we can do to dramatically increase the level of service our customers receive. Let me know your thoughts or examples of how small businesses may be improved.