News We Noted: Getting Back to the Basics with Customer Service

The following is a post from Kristen Poillon, Manager of Sales Operations for TIG Global.

As the economy has waned over the past year, many businesses are seeing a distinct shift in the needs and desires of their customers. With consumer spending in such lull, small businesses and mega-corporations alike are beginning to see an overall shift in values that is affecting bottom lines. Yahoo financial columnist Jim Citrin observed:

“As difficult as the current economic predicament is (and how much harder it may still become), it provides the opportunity to reset our values and make necessary but long-ignored changes in our lives and work. The era of unchecked consumerism and financial excess had the insidious effect of devaluing everything. Why save money when you could borrow to get whatever you wanted? Why hang on to clothes and appliances when you could just go to the store and buy new ones? Why make structural improvements to your business operations or deepen customer relationships when you could push more stuff to get the growth that Wall Street demanded? In one fell swoop, these attitudes have ground to a halt. They’ve been replaced by millions of healthier conversations in conference rooms and around kitchen tables about how to save, conserve, and prioritize.”

New Trends in the New Year
So how should companies adjust to meet consumers’ needs? Industry experts, such as Barry Moltz, are predicting that we will see businesses begin to hone in on customer service and client retention more than ever before in 2010, declaring it the ‘only truly sustainable competitive advantage’ in a down economy. For hotels, guests are looking for more personal touches and experiences that can’t be achieved by a massive, outsourced call center or a scripted greeting upon check-in. Rather, hotels and destinations alike will need to be much more proactive by developing bolstered social media strategies and providing unexpected service touches.

Mr. Moltz predicts the following service trends for the year ahead:

1. We Try Harder: With the economy still struggling to recover and unemployment at record highs, all “customer facing employees” actually will try harder this year to attract, satisfy and keep their customers.  Job prospects remain slim in 2010 and every employee wants to keep any job they have. This year, effort from everyone will be in plain site.

2. It’s Not Your Product: Zappos’ tag line is “Powered by Customer Service”. With the company being sold to Amazon for almost a billion dollars, there is no denying that customer service can build companies. Zappos proved that it can make money selling shoes over the internet by offering free shipping both ways. Amazon and Zappos are companies that really just don’t sell products, but a customer service channel to sell any product. All things being equal, I buy from Zappos and Amazon because I know I can count on them. This is the year that all companies will see service as the only way to keep customers buying from them.

3. It’s All About You. Technology has allowed companies to personalize my visit when I go to buy from their web site. When I visit Amazon’s site, they welcome me back by name and suggest things I might want to buy based on what I bought in the past. This is the type of personalization I come to expect when I go to any face to face retail establishment. When I check into a hotel, I want them to greet me by name if I have been there before or I am a member of their frequent buyer program. With the immediacy and personalization of this fast paced internet world, great customer service is only what the customer says it is at a particular point in time. The difficulty is raised because this standard varies from person to person. This year, more companies will customize your shopping or service experience either online or in person because that is what you want.

4. Online Service Gets a Face Lift. Forget the lag time of email or waiting for a call back. This year, more and more web sites will allow you to chat directly to customer service people either through chat or video. Want to chat from your phone directly to the company? No problem. Skype them? No problem.  Scott Jordan at Scottevest, allows the customer to watch what is going on in his company live on the web every day!

At TIG Global, we have collectively agreed on two additional predictions for 2010:

Back to Basics
This idea of customer centric service is not a new concept, just one that may need to be revisited. Companies such as luxury hotelier Ritz Carlton have always considered the customer to be king, and have reaped the rewards and loyalty for doing so. Their guest service is based around the motto “Ladies and Gentleman Serving Ladies and Gentleman” as well as the credo, “The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.” And to be sure of this credo is fulfilled; employees are afforded up to $2,000 to instantly resolve a customer dispute without supervision.

Enticing Loyalty
According to recent Forrester research conducted by travel analyst Henry H. Harteveldt, only 36 percent of business travelers said they were brand loyal this year, compared with 42 percent two years ago. The New York Times recently noted in an industry article that this shift has resulted in a surge of creative new loyalty plans to attract and retain customers that include bundled perks such as no-fee Internet connections, free breakfasts, late checkout and paid parking. These are signs of the times, and we will look to see them develop (and likely remain intact) as the economy rebounds. Stay tuned for more updates on these advancements in the future.

What service touches have you used to impress your guests and visitors? Have your efforts proven successful? Leave us a comment to let us know your thoughts on personalized service.

Interested in ramping up your customer outreach? TIG Global offers a full suite of interactive marketing, web design and social media services to get you noticed. Click here to learn more, or give us a call at 301-842-4700.

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