Today, more than ever, customer service matters.
Technology is starting to replace many conventional human interactions, but is that a good thing? We all know robot customer service reps fall short, and not meeting your customers' expectations has a damaging and lasting impact on your brand. As customer service standards continue to dip, delivering outstanding customer care is a truly fantastic way to differentiate your company from the rest of the herd.
Here are nine points to consider if you want your company to be customer-obsessed:
1. Does your company have clearly defined core values?
If yes, is customer focus, service or obsession one of them? Because it needs to be. If you don't have established values, define them and make sure the aforementioned is one of them.
At Zappos, we developed our core values using feedback from all of our teammates. Once the core values were set, we began incorporating them into every aspect of Zappos; from hiring and onboarding to tough business decisions and customer interactions. Our values have become the core of what makes Zappos, Zappos.
2. How do you define "customer"? Hint: It shouldn't be just the folks who pay you.
If you expect to have a genuine customer-obsessed culture, think of your employees, vendors, shareholders and candidates as customers and treat them accordingly. A true customer service mindset isn't something that gets turned on when talking to a paying customer. It's an evergreen approach to all your interactions.
The Zappos Recruiting Team is always thinking of ways to WOW new candidates while they're still in the hiring process. A creative application that shows our fun culture and is the opposite of boring? Check. Pimped out conference rooms to set the stage for a genuine conversation rather than an interrogation? Check. A full tour of the campus? Check. Having the candidate's favorite drink ready for them when the interview starts? Definitely, check.
3. Are you hiring people who care about customer service?
You have to hire people who have the same customer service philosophy as you do. Screening for culture and values alignment is as essential as screening for technical skills.
Early on at Zappos, we recognized the need for two distinctly different interviews. The first is to assess the candidate's technical capabilities, making sure he or she can do the work the position requires. The second is to determine a candidate's cultural alignment. We have specially trained recruiters who conduct cultural alignment interviews, and if they sense a red flag (e.g., a candidate doesn't care about customer service the way we do), we will not move forward with the said candidate.
4. Do you have onboarding programs that emphasize customer service?
Yes, HR paperwork needs to get done, but if customer obsession is your goal, put your money where your mouth is. Create a program where every new hire - regardless of level, position or department - learns about customer service and has the chance to practice it. There's no better way to show your employees that customer service is more than just a role or a department; it should be a company-wide focus.
For extra credit, consider having all of your employees pitch in to support your customer service team during peak moments of the year. Our busiest time at Zappos is the holiday season; during that period, all employees take customer service calls - myself included.
5. Do you have more customer service rules and policies than common sense?
Shit happens, and c'est la vie. There's no way to predict every customer scenario your employees may deal with, and even if you could, writing them painstakingly out as 500-page policies and procedures playbook is kind of crazy. That only forces your employees into situations where they may come off as scripted or disingenuous.
Even after four weeks of onboarding and training, focusing the entire time on how to make that personal, emotional connection we're so known for, our Customer Loyalty Team still follows just one general rule: Always do what's right for the customer.
6. Is the employee closest to the customer making the best decisions on the customer's behalf?
"Empowerment" may seem like a buzzword, but you need to let your employees make the final call for the customer's sake. Don't force your customer service representatives to jump through multiple hoops before they can get approval to give their customers what they need. Give your employees the power to make executive decisions and watch your customers smile.
7. Do you celebrate customer service stories?
When your customers experience your customer obsession, they'll talk about it, tweet about it and blog about it. Share that feedback with all of your employees and celebrate the happiness that they were a part of delivering. Set up programs where peers can recognize one another for providing superb customer service. It not only builds engagement but reaffirms your focus on delivering customer satisfaction.
One of the most popular peer-to-peer programs at Zappos is the coworker bonus. Each month, every employee can gift $50 to any employee on the company's dime. The criteria? Your coworker went above and beyond for you.
8. Do you give your customers what they want before they know what they want?
If you're truly focused on your customers and listen to them, you'll be able to accurately guess what they'll want next. These sage words were given by Jeff Bezos just after Amazon acquired Zappos. It's not your customer's job to tell you what they need - it's your job to predict those needs. You should think long-term and continually innovate, recognizing that some of your new ideas may take five years or more to come to fruition. Don't quit on something promising just because of shortsighted pressure.
Back when Zappos was still in its infancy, a lot of people said, "No way will people buy shoes online without even trying them on." In fact, some of our customers expressed that concern. So, we listened to our customers and came up with a solution: We would allow customers to order the same shoe in multiple sizes to try them on in the comfort of their homes, with free shipping and free returns. It's an offering we state loud and clear to this day.
9. Are you living your customer obsession in every aspect of your business?
Being focused on customer service requires dedication. You should spread it around to everyone in your company. Set clear expectations for new hires surrounding it, trust your employees to deliver it, celebrate it and innovate on your customer's behalf to nail it. Customer Service: It should always be capitalized. It's that important.
All Zapponians know that delivering excellent customer service is what's at the heart of our organization. In fact, it's the Zappos company purpose: "To live and deliver 'WOW!'"