Customer Service: Where Brands are Made or Destroyed

[blockquote cite=”Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos“]We take most of the money that we could have spent on paid advertising and instead put it back into the customer experience. Then we let the customers be our marketing.[/blockquote] What do you think about when you hear TimeWarner? What about Zappos?

Even though you might never have used their products, and even if the company never told you directly, you probably already have an opinion about how they treat their customers. That’s because people tell stories about their interactions with these businesses and, whether they want it to or not, it’s become part of their brand. Your company probably goes to great lengths to make sure that its website and all other marketing materials tell a certain story, but what about the story other people—namely, your customers—tell about you?

Customer Service Stories Get Shared… A Lot

The way customers are treated by your support team has much more of an impact on how they think about your company than your slogan, your website, your logo, or anything else you traditionally associate with a brand. When someone asks one of your customers, “What do you think of this company?” she will think about the last time she talked to your team, the tone of the person on the other end of the phone, the speed of response to an email, and the amount of empathy the person had for her issue. If she feels ignored, insulted, or frustrated, that’s going to stick around for a long time, and it could very easily cost you business.

Science has proven that we’re biased to remember the negative stuff in life more than the positive stuff (thanks a lot, brain). Studies have shown it takes 12 positive experiences to erase the memory of one bad experience. How many customers do you think will give you 12 second chances?

There’s a network effect to bad customer service, too. We’re more prone to sharing bad news than good news. (Seriously, why are we such Debbie Downers?) A survey from Zendesk revealed that a staggering 95% of people share bad customer service stories, compared with 87% who shared good stories.  Additionally, the bad customer service stories reach, on average, twice as many people as the good ones.

All these bad stories and reviews swirling around will eventually make their way in front of a prospective customer. About 6 in 10 people do research online during the buying process, and a big part of that is seeing what other people say about a business. Over 1 million people view tweets about customer service each week, and 80% of them are negative in nature. You can’t keep bad service a secret.

Great Customer Service Sells Itself. Literally.

Did you know that Zappos sells cosmetics, handbags, and swimwear? Maybe not, but you probably know they offer free shipping both ways and great selection. Whatever it is, you probably heard it from someone who has shopped on Zappos, and that’s exactly what they want to happen. Zappos believes that by providing the best possible experience, customers will share their story with others, leave positive reviews online, and ultimately drive more traffic and sales. It’s a strategy that’s paid off for them, culminating with their acquisition by Amazon for over $1 billion 5 years ago.

Why did Amazon buy Zappos? Why not just leverage their economies of scale to beat Zappos on price or selection? Amazon bought Zappos for their culture and their loyal customer base. Great customer service is one of the most defensible aspects of a business. Products can be ripped off and marketing can be copied, but it’s impossible to replicate a loyal customer base. Zappos’ brand is built on customer service, and that pride in service let them flourish as an independent company and ultimately, to a successful exit to an industry leader.

So, how is your service team affecting your brand? Are customers waiting too long for responses? Are their problems going unresolved? What would your customers say about the way you treat them?



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