[Originally published in Forbes.com. The author, Micah Solomon, is an author, consultant, influencer, keynote speaker, and trainer in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, and hospitality. (Here are three ways to reach Micah: email, chat, web).
Great customer service has the potential to build customer engagement and loyalty by providing your business with a way to make an emotional connection with its customers. By accomplishing this, your company goes a long way toward rendering itself irreplaceable–a business for which any substitute is just that: an imitation, an also-ran.
Please don’t misunderstand me; there are many other elements of the customer experience that you need to get right to survive in today’s marketplace: Speed (avoiding the Cliff of Dissatisfaction, where today’s time-pressed customers dump you out of impatience), selection (if you don’t have what a customer wants, when they want it, you don’t really have a business, do you?), location and facilities (for terrestrial businesses), proper pricing, and so much more.
Yet the odds are high that none of these factors is going to make your company truly indispensable in the eyes of its customers. There will always be another company that manages to be fast enough or have sufficient selection or a good-enough location to make it suitable as an alternative for “your” customers. Only an emotional connection has the power to make the competition fade from consideration.
So, where do you find the opportunities to make this connection?
The most likely way is through your people: through superior personnel you’ve selected from your prospect pool for empathy and the other essential traits (more on this in my discussion of customer service hiring).
Once hired, these employees need to be trained in the emotional side of customer service–which is quite a different thing from the transactional, technical side. This training should teach important principles and techniques such as the BUBL Method for determining when service is called for and when it will be perceived to be an intrusion (see my discussion of the BUBL Method here).
Employees should also receive frequent inspiration and reinforcement over the course of their time at your company so that they grow, rather than burn out, in their role over time.
Your odds of making an emotional connection, even with properly hired, trained, and inspired employees, aren’t 100%. To improve your percentage here, I suggest you focus, companywide, on three particular factors that, in combination with having the right people on the job, give you the best likelihood of making an indelible connection:
• Personal recognition and remembrance. ”The number one reason guests cite for wanting to return” is recognition, says New York-based legend of hospitality Danny Meyer. What is recognition? It means being seen, literally and figuratively: being acknowledged, welcomed, and appreciated. For repeat customers, recognition should include acknowledging that the customer was missed, that her return fills a gap that was there in her absence, and that you’re attentive to her needs based on your prior knowledge of her wishes and expectations as a customer. (More on this in my discussion with Danny Meyer here.)
• Anticipatory customer service: serving the unexpressed needs and wishes of your customers. One of the fundamental ways to make a connection with customers is through what I call “anticipatory customer service”: taking care of wishes and needs that customers haven’t even–or haven’t yet–voiced. Anticipatory customer service is an essential practice to promote companywide, due to its potential cement your company’s relationship with its customers.
• An aura of reassurance. An emphatic impression of reassurance–the inkling that you’d stand in front of a truck, if need be–is important in insurance and other potentially high-stakes industries). In other industries, a feeling of reassurance can be something more mundane, i.e., the way Zappos and Nordstrom make themselves indispensable to customers not only via product selection and speed of service, but because customers know these companies will have their back in the case of a needed return.
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Micah Solomon is an author, consultant, influencer, thought leader, keynote speaker, trainer, and subject matter expert (SME) in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, hospitality, innovation. (email, chat, web).