Outstanding Customer Service is the Best Marketing

What is the single most important marketing tactic you can implement?

Many businesses feel they cannot identify what marketing yields the most improvement in business. They invest money in better technology, product development, print advertisements, outdoor ads, coupon marketing, social marketing, Google Ads, and more. Yet they are overlooking the most fundamental marketing tactic. One which they can integrate into every aspect of the brand and which yields the highest results. I’m speaking of customer service. Superior customer experiences are the absolute best marketing. This is marketing you cannot buy from any ad vendor or source. It comes from applied values, long-term goals, singular focus on the significance of the consumer to the brand and the importance of that customer’s interactions with every aspect of your business. 

We are in the age of the individual. Consumers buy by experience.

The most important asset your company has is your customer’s experience. If your personnel make your customers feel valued you will have a loyal customer. However, if you break that experience, you will lose your customer.

When service is lauded, customers recommend your business over others. Recommendations are the most powerful form of marketing. However, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, our collective and individual faith in organizations is declining. Over the last year, trust has crashed in the United States. Fewer individuals trust “people like me” preferring credentialed individuals. This means your business needs to work even harder to create and sustain trust among your existing and potential customers. Edelman’s results indicate that consumers expect businesses to take the lead to create trust and credibility.

Edleman Trust Barometer 2018 Organization Trust


Edelman Businesses CEOs expected to rebuild trust

Local businesses can out-perform national businesses through truly exceptional service. 

Everyone can share anything. Anytime. Anywhere. Today’s always-connected, always-on world allows us to be in the know about any current event, breaking news, or friend’s activity. It’s no secret that consumers share what they like, photograph your store, your employees and post that to their social media channels. The worst and the best experiences are frequently called out and extolled.

What are your customers saying about your brand?

Take for example this Charleston area resident’s experience with Ticketmaster:

Or consider this outstanding experience a customer had on Southwest Air:

You can spend all the advertising dollars in the world, but you cannot buy this kind of marketing.

Experiences make or break your brand in consumers’ minds.

During the Future of Social online conference sponsored by HootSuite, Cody Crnkovich, Head of Platform Partners and Strategy, Adobe Experience Cloud, discussed experience makers and experience breakers. These are the experiences we have which cause us to stick with a brand or leave it.

Crnkovich said,

“Your customers can leave you at any moment, at any time for whatever reason they choose. So you’ve constantly gotta be delighting them, you’ve constantly gotta be surprising them and making them excited about your brand. That’s critical. If you don’t do that, you’re dead, you’re a dinosaur, you’re gonna go away.”

It’s up to us to build trust with our customers. Without trust, and given bad experiences, we will all go out of business. Therefore, we must build-in signals of value to our customers. Whether that’s assuring them of their control and privacy of their data or delivering exceptional interactions at every level across all channels, we must deliver in our brand promise.

We have one chance to get things right. So, how do we do that?

Our customers expect us to “just make it work” no matter their level of interaction with us. Crnkovich went on on to explain that our customers expect that we will:

  • Know and respect them
  • Speak with them in one voice — (a unified message across all platforms)
  • Make technology transparent
  • Delight me at every turn.

If your brand authentically provides these experiences, your brand will thrive. Customers will refer others to you. You’ll gain new business.

Examples of exceptional customer experiences

Charleston resident Joan Perry said, “I think Publix is amazing. Their employees are always friendly and helpful.” I must agree with Joan. When I’ve been in Publix I’ve noticed that every employee makes eye contact, even if they are only walking the aisle in which I happen to be shopping. They always inquire as to whether or not I’m finding what I need. When in Publix recently, I felt I was in the way of a staff member returning carts to the storage area in the store’s vestibule and apologized for being in the way. The employee replied, “No, absolutely not. You come first. We’re here to serve you.” I was impressed.

Marilyn Wilson Markel, Manager of The Spice & Tea Exchange® Charleston has a staff of which she is justifiably proud. She said, “Customer service is the cornerstone of my business…everyone is keenly aware our customer is the number one priority.” In the shop, customers are welcome to browse. Store employees are oriented to be sensitive to which guests need assistance, which simply wish to browse and which may welcome guided introductions to the products. Marilyn encourages employees to learn about the shop’s products by taking them home and using them. Product education is a critical component of staff development. She recognizes, “If my employees are having a good experience at work that experience automatically extends to our customers.”

Barrelli Barber is a men’s salon offering an array of grooming services like haircuts, shaves, beard and mustache trims. Jennifer Dyer Buddin lauds their service, “They worked with me for weeks to basically provide exposure therapy to my three year old so he’d enjoy getting his hair cut. Everything is so top notch from the services to the waiting area.” When a service enterprise takes that much time to create a customer, knowing how intensive the up-front time invested is, they are focused on the long-game.

What happens with customer service is outstanding?

People are more than happy to share stories of brands which go-beyond expectations. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are great sources of voluntary accolades (as well as brand bashing for horrible experiences.) Testimonials like the ones here were crowd-sourced via social media. The testimonials for Charleston businesses with phenomenal service are perfect examples of how people make recommendations. These stories are a microcosm of how personalized, individual interactions build preference and trust.

Steps to take to create a business brand which is recognized for noteworthy service:

  1. Have high quality services and products.
  2. Establish ethical company values and ensure values are communicated at every touchpoint.
  3. Make business decisions which reflect company values.
  4. Be transparent when the company or individuals in the company fail to live up to established values, or make bad decisions, or have difficulties.
  5. Value employees as critical members of the team.
  6. Provide ongoing staff and employee development with the goal of heightening and improving customer service skills and abilities as well as product knowledge.
  7. Empower every employee at every level to act in real time to satisfy the customer in alignment with the established company values.
  8. Give consumers and customers a voice; a way to provide feedback and listen to and act on this feedback.
  9. Protect customer data and communicate clearly and transparently how that is done.
  10. Be sensitive to customer needs, catering to them individually.
  11. Develop benchmarks to indicate success in each of these areas and consistently and constantly evaluate success.

If you put in the time to accomplish each of steps, you will have a brand which becomes recognized and lauded among your customers. You’ll experience increased loyalty, greater recommendations and lower staff turnover. These investments in your brand require diligence and focus:  They are not cheap, but when made, generate brand loyalty, recommendations and preference which are invaluable, and which cannot be purchased.

Blue Sky Thinking and Innovation

blue-sky thinking: noun .  1. creative ideas that are not limited by current thinking or beliefs[1]

At the beginning of the great housing apocalypse I suggested to several home builder clients that they offer an opportunity for people to experience life in one the builder’s homes by allowing potential buyers to spend a night in a model home. I called it “sleep with a model.” When I suggested this — to a person —every one of the home builders said, “We can’t do this.” or “Our insurance will allow it.” and even “They’ll tear up the house!”

I also recommended to a Realtor client that she develop an alliance with home renovations contractors so she could provide buyers with immediate access to trusted vendors. I also advocated to the same client that she arrange value loss insurance, soothing buyers’ greatest fears: losing money. Such innovations would distinguish the Realtor’s brand in the crowded market and set her apart for the customer-focused benefits she could provide.

In both situations, there was extreme resistance and objections about why these things could not be done. Not one person stopped to consider how these things could be done.

Innovation is rare

True innovation comes along very rarely. And in (almost) every instance, real innovation is met with extreme resistance. Everyone thinks of all the reasons why something cannot be done. Given the amount of resistance when it comes to innovation, you would think that innovation is against the natural order.

Companies that prosper are those which give power to customers, — providing consumers with their most desired choices and options. Think things that make it easy on the customer. And therefore help you gain more business.

Technology related firms generally make the greatest leaps these days providing people the innovations they want to smooth daily life.

Taco Bell New App

In recent news, innovation is coming from the food and beverage sector. USA Today reports,

“Taco Bell will unveil an advanced mobile app that lets folks order and pay on their smartphones and then walk or drive in and pick up their food.”

The new app is being spotlighted by taking the entire Taco Bell website dark October 28, 2014. How much resistance do you think was heard around the office when this was proposed? You can imagine the conversations: “What if they pay and we don’t get their order?” “How will we deal with incorrect orders?” And on and on. But clearly somebody overcame those issues and designed the new smartphone app.

Also reported by USA Today, another sacred cow, the wait line at Outback, is being conquered by new tech with the launch of their mobile app allowing diners to see real-time estimated waiting times and to add their names to the wait list.

“It’s more important than rolling out a new steak,” says John Schaufelberger, chief marketing officer, in a phone interview.

Nurturing blue sky thinking

Innovation comes from blue sky thinking. Unhindered, unfettered consideration of ground-breaking options which lead to new procedures, new products and ease of use.

When was the last time you did some of your own blue sky thinking? Did you censor yourself? OR did you just let the ideas flow? Is your culture one of encouraging innovation? Do you listen to employees who have ideas of how to streamline production? In a classic model, U.S. auto producers changed production lines in the 1970s to complete with Japanese automakers, with a great many of their ideas arising from those who actually worked on production lines.

Censoring your creativity and wild ideas will keep you exactly where you are. Want to grow? Want to be talked about? Be different.

Blue sky thinking cultivation:

  1. Talk to your customers. Ask them what is their most difficult issue or problem. Ask them what they most need. Then figure out how to do it.
  2. Keep a notebook. Whether digital, or hand-written, capture arcane ideas or transient thoughts. This is why writers and engineers keep notebooks at their bedside so they awaken from dreams to record their nocturnal imaginings.
  3. Observe. Watch people. Watch your customers. Note how they actually do things, not how you’d like them to do things.
  4. Have a blue sky session. Include everyone. Customers. Owners. Stakeholders. Don’t censor. Record. Process later.
  5. Examine common problems. Apple’s iPad evolved from a desire to provide portable, lightweight, powerful devices with multiple capacities. The tablet computer they created revolutionized the market and created a new category.

How have you created innovation in your firm? Tell us how you’ve encouraged blue sky thinking and innovation.

[1] blue-sky thinking. Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/blue-sky thinking (accessed: October 28, 2014).