Guest blog post by Phil Simon, author of “The New Small”. Phil is a recognized technology expert, he consults with companies on how to optimize their use of technology. His contributions have been featured on The Globe and Mail, the American Express Open Forum, ComputerWorld, ZDNet, abcnews.com, forbes.com, The New York Times, ReadWriteWeb, and many other sites.
Customer Service: Learning from Amazon
Back in the mid-1990s, customer service was very different than it is today. I should know because I was there. You see, I used to work in customer service for a large consumer products company. Angry folks called 1-800 numbers, told friend, and wrote letters. If the mid-1990s seem like a much simpler time, you're right. You could build a call center and hire people to read letters.
Well, that time isn't returning anytime soon. Welcome to 2011. Those simple days seem quaint in comparison to the bevy of tools at customers' disposal today. Today, in additional to old standbys, customers can share their grievances on myriad forums: Facebook; Yelp; Blogs; Phone; Email; Twitter; and many other emerging websites and platforms.
This begs the question: Where should small businesses be monitoring conversations about their companies?
The answer: Everywhere.
Consider Twitter http://www.Twitter.com, for example. Now, no one is claiming that Twitter ought to be the primary means for a company to deal with its customers for a bunch of reasons. First, not everyone is on Twitter. Second, that aside for a moment, a direct message of no more than 140 characters is probably too restrictive to resolve an even moderately complex customer issue. Finally, it’s so easy to retweet that companies would (probably justifiably) fear making certain responses public–at least so easily.
On the other hand, why not have that club in the bag? Use it when needed. This would be like my rarely-used three iron on the golf course. I don’t use it often, but when I need it, I’m sure glad that I have it. (Yes, I am an avid--if relatively poor--golfer.)
Effective Customer Service: A Matter of Priorities, Not Technology
I don’t buy into the notion that small businesses cannot provide state-of-the-art customer service. That's bunk. It all begins with small businesses recognizing the cardinal importance of customer service. That is, it is a matter of priorities and will. There’s no business or technology limitation to being able to take care of the people who take care of you.
Once you've done that. Get serious. Consider sites like FiveAnHour (http://www.FiveAnHour.com) that provide an inexpensive means for companies to outsource parts of their customer service. Use Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts). Follow mentions of your company on Twitter.
On one of my favorite episodes of the Charlie Rose Show (www.charlierose.com), features Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos who talked about the company’s relentless focus on the customer from day one. During the dot-com boom, many Amazon detractors derided it as a “cute little company.” Experts believed that, once heavyweights like Wal-Mart embraced e-commerce, they would crush the Amazons of the world. Bezos laughs now about the “Amazon.toast” (http://www.internet-story.com/amazon.htm) references from the mid-1990s.
Who's laughing now?
Reports of Amazon’s demise were premature. Today, to say that the company merely pleases its customers is a vast understatement. Companies of all sizes can learn a great deal from Amazon.
Look, when a company of any size makes a customer service error, the aggrieved customer is going to tell people about it. Lots of people. No company can control everything that its customers say or do after that point. This is a far cry, though, from claiming that businesses are helpless against constant streams of negative feedback via tweets, emails, blog posts, discussion boards, and the like. Embrace technology.
What say you?
To learn how embracing technology can help your business, read my book. The first 50 to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org will get a copy of The New Small, which will showcase a handful of small businesses and how they are harnessing the power of emerging technology for their business.
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