September 1, 2008
by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
A company that wants to gain and holds market share must realize that making the sale is only the beginning of its long-term relationship with its customers. The key to customer retention is making sure that they are satisfied with the purchase after the sale. In fact, Verizon Wireless places so much importance on customer service that it made it the centerpiece of its advertising strategy. We’ve all seen the commercials where the technician asks, “Can you hear me now?” or when a crowd of support people appears behind each customer. They are great reminders of the company’s ability and willingness to support its customers.
The significance of customer service was recently driven home in my household. The Saturday before we left for summer vacation, we attended a family reunion held at a local golf course. As the day’s festivities wound down in the late afternoon, the course manager asked for the owner of a particular license plate – mine – to contact him. It turns out that someone played off the wrong tee and sent a golf ball through the driver’s side window of my minivan. My husband and I went to the car, took a look at the shattered glass, and wondered how we would drive this car 500 miles the next morning. I called my insurance agent and got the national support staff. They contacted a glass replacement service who told me that no one was available to replace the glass until Monday. They also couldn’t answer my questions as to whether my insurance would cover a rental for the week. At that point, I asked for my local agent and was told they could not contact her because it was against their policy. As steam began to blow out of my ears, I reminded the national rep that I was a good, long-time customer. I was unwilling to postpone my vacation and also unwilling to risk paying a week’s rental on a minivan with no feedback from my insurance company. My husband chuckled as he heard me say, “This level of service is unacceptable. I need you to get creative and solve my problem.” To give the national guy credit, he tried. He contacted an agent in another time zone to ask about the rental question, but received no guidance. Finally – likely in a bid not to have to talk to me again – he contacted the local agent who, in turn, called me. Within 10 minutes, she had contacted a local glass provider who was willing to work late to make sure we had the window replaced and could leave for vacation on time. Problem solved.
While this is by no means an industry example, there are some important lessons to be learned here. First, customer service can make or break a relationship. When you make your customers’ problems your own, you become their partner as well as their provider. Second, how well you respond during a time of crisis defines how a customer views your company. If a producer or manufacturer can’t help its customer during an emergency, it is likely to lose the customer. Finally, personal relationships matter. If you know your customers and their needs, you’re more likely to be able to anticipate and resolve their problems.
One last thought: as the wireless communications folks know, people talk. When you offer outstanding customer service, your “circle of friends” is likely to expand.