A long, long time ago I wrote a piece about the “this” I refer to in the title of this article I wrote back in 2003 which may not seem all that long ago but in the digitized, mobilized world we now live in, it is light years away from 2014.
Back then “this” certainly played a large role in a consumer’s ultimate buying decision but surely price and product were inherently more important. For the most part marketers didn’t really pay much attention to “this” for the simple reason it didn’t really affect what they were doing creating their plans and strategies.
The reason it didn’t affect them was consumers had very little avenues in which to use “this” to their advantage and benefit.
As to what “this” is, here’s the opening lines of the aforementioned piece entitled Can Anyone Here Help Me?:
“We are here on earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I don’t know.” – W.H. Auden
Customer service. The dictionary defines the word customer as “a person who buys goods or services, especially on a regular basis.” The word service, as used in this context, is defined “as an act of assistance or benefit to another or others.”
My father — God rest his soul, worked for 35 years in the supermarket business. The last position he held up until his retirement was that of District Supervisor — which in those days was a very powerful one in that he had a group of stores where he controlled nearly everything but price. In fact, just about everyone in my family at one point or another in their life worked in a supermarket. Three of my brothers, my sister and myself all met their future and current spouses in, where else? … a supermarket.
My father would always preach to us that price was not necessarily the driving factor behind which particular supermarket a consumer would patronize. While he did admit price certainly played a role, he constantly preached that the two things people looked for was a clean store and good (customer) service. He swore by this: If you provide a clean location, are nice to people and treat them right, they won’t mind paying a little more for their groceries.
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At Your Service
Ok, so now you know what “this” is — what could ultimately be more important than price and product as it relates to the ultimate purchase decision by a consumer: customer service.
That bold prediction is not mine, however. It comes from consulting firm Walker, who in their report “Customers 2020″ said that by 2020, customer satisfaction, more than price and product, will be the key brand differentiator.
For the record I do not necessarily agree with their stance that this could be the key brand differentiator by 2020 for I think price and product will always play a role — a key role. But I do believe customer satisfaction, customer service and the entire customer experience will be on equal par in terms of importance, and will do so a lot sooner than the year 2020.
In fact I could argue it has equal footing with price and product right now.
The number of avenues that are available now as opposed to back in 2003, when consumers essentially had the choice between email or the telephone or God forbid, a handwritten correspondence as a means to communicate with a given brand.
Today of course the possibilities are virtually endless. Consumers have a veritable plethora of avenues at their disposal when it comes to voicing their opinion and seeking some level of customer service.
If a given brand doesn’t know that by now, well, let’s just say they probably never will.
CRM to the Rescue?
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools and platforms are nothing new of course. They have been around in way, shape or form for many years now.
However, according to an infographic released by financesonline.com, more companies, big and small, are investing in Customer Management Relationship (CRM) for better customer service.
In the infographic, which can be seen in its entirety below, the team at financesonline.com lay out three reasons how CRM can improve customer satisfaction.
1. Customer reps have access to smart alerts and information sharing to resolve issues fast
2. Customers have 24/4 help desk options: IM, phone, email, social media, knowledge base
3. Customer reps can personalize answers by getting insights from customer data
They also cite the growing popularity for CRMs with the reasons for this including competitive advantage and increase in sales overall across the organization.
Experience the Difference
It cannot be overstated just how vital and paramount customer service is to the overall customer experience. How can it be given the customer-centric world we now live in?
Chances are you’ve seen and/or read about the numbers above and if you haven’t, where’ve you been? The consumer is in charge boys and girls and all the marketers out there.
They’re driving the bus. We work for them.
I am surely no prognosticator nor psychic and I surely do not know what the future will bring but back in 2003 I wrote the following which is pretty much as true today as it was then.
“Remember the definition for customer? A buyer of goods or services on a regular basis. The operative words being regular basis. What most companies seem to have lost sight of is that their ultimate success or failure is based on the repeat customers, not the ones who try their product, service, etc., once and move on.”
US of A Not So A-Ok When It Comes To Service
One final piece from the infographic I want to share, which by the way is entitled Top 10 Countries With the Best Customer Service, is the fact that United States of America is not faring very well when it comes to customer service and compared with other nations.
In fact it’s not even in the top 10 and barely even makes the top 15.
According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), there was a four-point slide in the index among American consumers, going from 76.6 in the last quarter of 2013 to 76.2 in the first quarter of 2014.
Pretty insignificant slide, right?
It represents the largest in twenty years since the index has been monitoring American consumers.
Customer service image source: peppersandrogersgroup.com