You’ve heard the old saying: Catch a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.
But did you ever think the message here might be applicable to social customer care? Catching versus teaching — service versus experience. Brands with the highest customer satisfaction ratings don’t just “deal with” their customers, they engage with them, making customer service an experience. But don’t take my word for it.
According to this recent article by Stephen F. DeAngelis, “by 2016, 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36% four years ago.” That shift is having huge effects on every aspect of business, from sales to marketing, to (drumroll, please)… customer service. As Carlton A. Doty puts it, “your brand is defined by the interactions that people have with it.”
The importance of customer experience is only going to increase in the coming years. Brands have got to stop thinking about customer service as a service, and start to focus on developing real relationships with their customers by creating moments that foster customer engagement. This isn’t about being a “cool” brand — although that never hurts — it’s about aligning with the long-term evolution of business success, from selling resources to selling experiences.
A (very) short history of the experience economy
The fact that brands are beginning to realize the importance of customer experience is no surprise, because it follows general trends in business that have been developing over decades. The concept of the experience economy was popularized in the eponymous book published in 1998 by Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore. In it the authors describe the experience economy — which we’re currently seeing an embrace of — as the next stage of development for the economy, following the agrarian economy, the industrial economy, and most recently, the service economy.
The agrarian economy: The original economy was based exclusively on resources. Food, cattle, coal — these natural resources were bought and sold according to market prices. The product was basically the same and virtually no service was included.
The industrial economy: Based on the development and utilization of resources. Companies take natural resources and develop them into products. Think about how Henry Ford took steel and created the Model T. The company’s success was based on moving from resource to product. But the service still wasn’t there. Ford famously said that customers could choose any car color they wanted, as long as it was black.
The service economy: Once most brands are able to offer products of similar quality, what differentiates them is the services they offer. Consumers are now willing to pay for great services — like the ability to choose your car’s color — even more than great products, since the quality of the products won’t change much from brand to brand.
The experience economy: Services only take you so far. The next step comes when consumers start looking for real experience, not products. They are willing to spend their money on real interactions that make memories. All experiences in this economy share similar qualities: Learning, sensory stimulation and personalization.
Starbucks is a great example of a company that has taken advantage of the experience economy. Think about it, when you’re standing in line waiting to order your tall pumpkin-caramel latte, you see that little display with coffee beans in different stages of roast, which teaches you something about what you’re about to drink. You can touch the beans, pick them up and smell them, even taste them (go ahead, we won’t tell!). That’s sensory experience. Then, when you order your coffee, the barista asks your name and writes it on the cup. That’s personalization. It all adds up to the Starbucks experience.
Now and in the future, companies that offer genuine experiences will soar above the competition.
What does this have to do with social customer care?
If customers are now demanding experiences on the purchasing side, you can bet they want customer service to be a real experience as well, and a positive one. Customers want to deal with real people, and most of all, they want real results. Part of that involves a shift in availability. Brands need to make themselves available on the channels where their customers congregate. (Think social media).
There also has to be a shift in the way that care agents deal with customers. When that Starbucks barista calls your name — even if they say it wrong — there’s a human connection. They know you’re a name, not a number. That’s just it. Brands need to start putting the customer at the heart of their business, and customer service is the most frequent point of contact after the initial purchase.
The moral? Keep it real
Customers want real experience, from the shop to the help desk, and they’re willing to pay for it. So give your customers the customer care they want.
Keep it real: Treat your customers like people. Use first names. Know who you’re dealing with. Ask about their last experience with your brand. Don’t hit the reset button on them the moment they hang up or log off. You wouldn’t treat a friend that way, would you? Customers may not always be your friends, but they are always people.
Keep it simple: If you make it difficult for customers to get in touch with you, they’re not going to keep trying to do so. Be available across multiple channels, and when you’re not available, let them know when you will be. Always keep customers informed about how long they should expect to await a response.
Keep it quick: As much as your customers appreciate your engagement, they aren’t about to put aside their plans to spend the day chatting to your customer service agents — or waiting for them to respond. Great customer service has to be available on the social channels your customers use, and it has to be responsive. Waiting on hold is no longer an option.
As customer experience becomes the norm, fabled customer service stories — like this one about the stuffed giraffe at The Ritz-Carlton — will no longer be exceptions. And when that happens, brands that still consider customer service a service they deign to provide will be about as relevant as a black Model T Ford.