First Came Customer Service, Then Customer Experience – What’s Next?

In the 1950s, “Customer Service” was not even a thing. It was part of the fabric of the way everyone did business, but no one talked or wrote about it. It meant a hardware or grocery store clerk carrying your bag of purchases to your car. It meant the milkman delivering dairy products right to your door. It meant receiving a hand-written ‘thank you’ note from the local family department store for your purchase of a poodle skirt for the big dance.

Sometime after this, service changed and got a little fuzzy, as we focused on other priorities – we paid attention to civil rights, and international conflicts, and equal treatment at work and at home. Businesses just tried to survive, and as the more traditional fabric frayed, service became more hurried and less personal.

Customer Service came roaring back in the 1980s and 1990s, and with it came CRM – Customer Relationship Management. Paper clienteling journals (records of customers’ purchases, preferences, and personal information) started moving online. Trends were tracked. Segmentation was employed and exploited. It was all about “surprising and delighting”, and both the companies and the customers benefited, for a time. It should be noted, however, that this was a milestone in the journey of the loss of privacy.

Over time, it became harder and harder to surprise and delight… companies calculated that this cost more than they had planned for. Customers realized their standards and expectations had increased, and they became jaded and disillusioned, as companies were unable to support these expectations. Fortunately, along came the Customer Experience, and ‘wow’ was reintroduced. In this new era, it was no longer enough to provide complimentary wrapping for that special jewelry purchase, or to know that your best customer’s dog’s name was Fluffy Magoo. Providing a great customer experience meant that the complimentary wrapping paper had Fluffy’s photo imprinted on it. It meant that whether the customer shopped in-store, on their laptop, or from their smartphone, Fluffy’s Wishlist was accessible. It meant that a purchase from this Wishlist would result in a 5% donation to the local animal shelter, by the company. The stakes were ever higher, and new ways to reach and impact the customer were both innovative and thrilling, and again, costly. It is human nature to tire of the same. It is human nature to want something new. We wonder what is better, what is different, and what is next.

So while the Customer Experience is still going strong, there will inevitably be a ‘next’, and companies will want to be there to welcome the future customer. What is this ‘next’?

To set the scene, let’s talk about Social Influencers. In the mid-1980s, the Social Influencers in my high school were two young women – let’s call them Annie and June, whom could not have been more different from each other, but were equally revered and observed for their style sense and conduct. Annie was from a wealthy family, and was known for her blond hair that always looked perfect from visits to a real salon (most of us went to the mall SuperCuts to take our chances), and for having every color (14!) of Izod Lacoste (now known as Lacoste) alligator polo shirt that she had acquired from a larger city (our small town only carried two colors at the local Bon-Ton). She was preppy, and managed to pull off the “pink and green” color scheme that was so popular, without looking tacky. She was always smiling, never swore, had a million friends (today’s “squad”), and was liked by all her teachers. She was the Taylor Swift of her day, and what I would call an “Active” influencer. June, on the other hand, wore the same pair of faded Levi’s every day (but fit her as Brooke’s Calvins did), had frizzy, unruly hair, rarely wore makeup, and had a stance that reminded one of James Dean (June Dean?). She was super-smart, a bit aloof, and a little unpredictable. I think people, including her teachers, were a bit afraid of her. She was uber-cool without even trying. She was the Nasty Gal Sophia Amoruso of her day. She was a “passive” influencer, as she never talked about herself, her clothes, or her friends.

I admired them both, and still wear Levi’s at the age of 51 (have both old and faded, and new and darkly crisp). And, I own both a white, and a lime green Izod shirt folded neatly in my closet, which served me well this summer. Annie and June, all these years later, you still have influence.

Why are Social Influencers important, and what do they have to do with the next wave which follows Customer Service and Customer Experience?

This next wave is what I call Consumer Fusion. Why ‘Consumer’, and not ‘Customer’? Customer implies a purchase, an exchange of money for goods or services. Consumer is broader – you can consume something (a free play in Central Park, a sunset at the Cape May beach), without expressly paying for it, and without realizing in some cases, what brand or company or institution you have to thank for the consumption. You need (or want) the brand entity, and the brand entity needs and wants you. The symbiosis, especially if recognized and measured, will lead to a deeper understanding of the cause and effect of actions, both large and small, on the health and profits and perception of the brand or company. Entities whom can capitalize on this fusion appropriately will benefit.

There would be a “Fusion Score” – the number resulting from the measurement of the symbiotic relationship between a customer (Consumer) and a brand – in a sense the “health perception” of the relationship. Did the brand host an open-air concert for teenagers, and three days later, see an uptick in sales? Did a pop artist performing at that concert wear that same brand’s one-shoulder glitter sweater, and gain another 100,000 Twitter followers? Their Fusion Score goes up 3 points. Does this artist one week later, while wearing the same glitter sweater, tip poorly at the hottest restaurant in Hollywood, because she had a bad-tasting salmon dish (and Tweet about it)? Their joint Fusion Score goes down, because although the restaurant is to blame for the lousy fish dish, the pop artist blamed the waitstaff, when it was the kitchen’s fault, resulting in the artist seeming petty. Their Fusion Score just dropped 8 points, and so did the Fusion Score for the artist with the sweater brand.

You may be thinking… what does this have to do with me, or the average person? We are not pop stars, or makeup bloggers with a million followers… why should I care? Well, just as Annie and June, ordinary young women from a small town, can be influencers (even 35 years later), so can you. And, it is important to realize that you can be active or passive, and still be an influencer. You can be an extrovert, or an introvert. You can shop wholly and invisibly online, or be very visible at your local malls and boutiques, in person. You can be a party animal or a poetry-reading participant.

Companies and entities still need to care about their brand perception with everyone, not just with the Taylors and Sophias. You matter. You have the power to shape what those brands invest in, create their products from, give their charitable contributions to, and pay their employees. You vote with your feet, your wallet, and your voice. The brand can shape your image, your perceptions, and your well-being, and in turn you do the same for it. Fusion. The future… not just FOR the customer, but WITH the consumer.

Isn’t That What Customer Service is All About?

Last week I went to a local pharmacy to have a prescription filled. As I approached the prescription counter I noticed a sign beside the cash register that said, ” Let’s Talk.” Considering it an invitation I said in a friendly, cheery voice, ” OK let’s talk.” and proceeded to say ” How are you today?” The woman waiting on me was not amused. She looked at me in frigid, non-responsive silence and finally said cooly, ” Can I help you?”

It didn’t take a degree in nuclear physics to figure out that she was totally ignoring my humble attempt to be friendly so I too immediately responded to her icy tone with one of my own. I gave her the information regarding my prescription and was told curtly that I was at the wrong counter. I was at the “PRESCRIPTION OUT” counter when I should be at the

” PRESCRIPTION IN ” counter. How silly of me to make such a mistake. Maybe that’s why she was so unfriendly to me. I had committed a huge unforgivable sin in Pharmacy Land.

As I approached the proper counter I once again saw the sign, ” Let’s Talk.” and decided to give the place a second chance. I looked at the lady waiting on me and said once again in an upbeat and friendly tone, ” The other woman who waited on me wasn’t really in the mood to talk so I came down here. So “Let’s talk.”

Again stone cold, icy silence followed by ” Can I help you?” If you can’t beat them, join them so I too became cool, abrupt, assertive and said, ” Mike Moore/ Doctor Quinn/ asthma medication/ repeat required please. She checked the computer and found that I did have 4 repeats left. I told her that I would be in at 10:00 a.m. the next day to pick it up and I left. I know I shouldn’t have responded in kind but I was ticked off at the way a paying customer was being treated.

I wanted to hand the woman my card and tell her that I spoke to companies and organizations on customer relations and would be more that happy to conduct a seminar for their employees on the topic. But I didn’t.

I’m not saying that dealing with the public is easy. It isn’t. In fact it can be very stressful but you can neutralize the stress with a simple smile and a bit of humor. All these people needed to do when I responded to their invitation to talk was smile and say in a friendly tone, “OK. Let’s talk. What can I do for you?”

Simple, easy, effective and it leaves your customer wanting to return to do business with you. Isn’t that what customer service is all about?

Customer Service Is More Than Just Being Nice To People

Many organizations tackle to the issue of customer service by exhorting their employees to speak with a smile. Be polite. Never lose your cool. But isn’t that a little like closing the barn door after the horses have gotten out? Good customer service should be about a good customer experience with your product. This begins with the relationship your company cultivates with a customer.

This relationship will be tested by the entire process of the buyer seller relationship.

1. The images and promises of the marketing campaign

People begin to form opinions of your company and products from the messages they receive before they even purchase your product. Often, they receive these images before they have even thought of buying. Will your images match the experience?

2. The ease of ordering/purchasing the product

Once someone has decided to purchase your products or services, how easy do you make it for them to do so. Is there someone to answer the phones or will they get a voice mail message? Actually, many companies lose sales in this way. Some people, who want to act now, will simply hang up and go on to the next company that will answer their call. Also, many leads are not followed up A message is left but no one gets back. When the buyer does reach you, are your systems in place to make the purchasing process as simple as possible? Buyers want to feel that they’ve made the right decision in choosing your product. By creating an easy process for ordering, you help them feel confident in their decision.

3. How well does the product live up to the expectations of the marketing?

Your customer now has your product in his possession. Will it live up to any hype used in the marketing campaign? Or will there be a letdown when the actual product does not match the expectations? Marketing is a powerful force. It will create expectations that must be fulfilled by the product. When it doesn’t, it can create customer satisfaction problems. Make sure your product matches expectations.

4. How well will the product live up to the expectations of the customer?

In addition to the marketing message, a customer usually forms his own expectations based on past experiences with similar products, observations and conversations with others. Will this add to the experience or create a letdown? Product must match expectations or exceed them. Anything less will create a potential customer service problem.

5. When something goes wrong, how is it fixed?

Do you acknowledge that problems can happen? Have you decided how to satisfy customers? Have you looked at the financial ramifications of your solutions? Better yet, look at the product itself. If you find many customers with similar products, perhaps it is most appropriate to address weaknesses in the product itself.

6. What are the procedures?

Even with the best of products, problems can occur. It’s best to address these issues beforehand. Decide what processes will be used to satisfy your customers. Think about replacement – and its cost, discounts, etc. If you are going to replace a product, how quickly can you get it to someone? As a replacement, it must take precedence over new orders. Customers will tell more people when they’ve had a bad experience then when they’ve had a good experience. Solving customer problems not only affects that specific customer but many other people as well.

7. Can your organization be easily reached or is the process frustration to most?

Everyone has frustrating stories to tell about voice prompts that go nowhere. They don’t cover your problem and they continually loop back into the system without a way to speak to a live operator. Make it easy for people to speak with someone. Test your systems thoroughly. Automation can be a great help and a cost saver for organizations but it must be used judiciously.

8. Can the customer service rep actually help?

Customer services reps must be empowered to solve problems. They must be able to do more than empathize and smile. Nothing is more frustration than a nice customer service rep that is unable to resolve your problem. Give your staff the appropriate information and training. Let them have responsibility and accountability for their actions. Employees tend to rise to the level that is expected of them.

Good customer service requires an ongoing examination of methods. The questions discussed above will start the thought process necessary to truly deliver world class service.