Customer Service Is Not Enough. Customers Need to Be Surprised

Retail companies such as Amazon, Zappos, Bonobos, and Apple, as well as service businesses such as Virgin Atlantic (or Virgin America,) Disney theme parks, or USAA (insurance) have long been raising the bar for customer service excellence. Customers have come to expect it, or perhaps even take it for granted. In most industries there is simply too much competition; too many choices for customers to accept anything less than a great experience when dealing with a company. When is the last time a friend bragged to you, “I just ordered from company X and everything came right on time and just as described!” Or, “The waiter at that restaurant was totally fine!” Just meeting expectations doesn’t get anyone talking about your brand. Dramatically exceeding expectations gets customers spreading word of mouth about your brand…and so does dramatically disappointing customers.

Don’t Just Be Great. Be Memorable.

The truly memorable experiences are when brands surprise you with their service. When I placed an order with Zappos at 11 PM and got my order at 10 AM the next day (back when overnight shipping was standard for everyone,) that was surprising. And I told people. Even though overnight shipping is no longer automatic, Zappos still surprises customers with free upgrades to overnight. When I had dinner at a nice restaurant and the valet had my car waiting for me by the time I got out the front door because the host had radioed ahead to tell him that I was on my way out, that was surprising. And I told people about that, too. (It was Flagler Steakhouse in Palm Beach, to give them credit.) Those experiences stick with you and that is what branding is all about. At my previous company, I created a proprietary system that took digital photographs of each order as it was packed for shipping and additionally recorded the name of the person who packed it. This served multiple purposes. It allowed us to verify the contents of each shipment in the event that a customer claimed there was a mistake with the shipment. It recorded how many shipments were packed by each member of our shipping staff so that we could track various efficiency metrics. But the main reason I built it was so that we could surprise our customers with something they had never seen before from other retailers and provide a memorable customer service experience tied to our brand. When customers received an email informing them that their package had shipped, they didn’t just get a tracking number. They got a personalized email telling them who packed their shipment as well as a picture showing their items in a box ready to be sealed and shipped. And our customers wrote about how surprised they were to receive the photograph in their email. Not just to us, but posted it on other sites as well, resulting in great word of mouth marketing.

Once You Raise the Bar, You’re Left Holding it There.

One important point worth noting is that if your brand becomes known for customer service excellence, it is critical to uphold that level of service because any failure to meet the standards you have set for yourself have the opposite effect…the customer feels even more let down than normal because their expectations were so high. Ironically, I contacted Zappos customer service more recently when I happened to forget to pack a pair of dress shoes for an out of town event. I called them on a Thursday evening and asked if there was any way they could get me a pair of shoes to my hotel by Saturday.  I wouldn’t expect an average company to accommodate this request. But that’s why I didn’t call another company. I called Zappos, because I expected them to say, sure, we can either get them out tonight to arrive tomorrow (Friday,) or even send them out Friday and pay the extra for Saturday delivery. Instead, the rep quite curtly said there was nothing they could do. I hung up the phone in a haze of disappointment and disbelief, turned to my wife and said, “Zappos just told me they couldn’t help me.” And that stuck with me, too. The bar continues to be raised higher and higher. Soon Amazon will have a distribution network that will be one business day (or less) away from nearly the entire US population. Products and even many services often become commodities, making service the differentiator. So what experience can your business provide  that would surprise your customers? [button size=”extra-large” color=”mystic-red” url=”www.getonlinewithme.com/contact”]Help Surprise My Customers[/button]

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