Wow Customers with Anticipatory Service

Courtesy of InFocus

I was totally floored by a blog post by Jackie Huba of Church of the Customer.

In her post, Huba recounted how Nordstrom - a beacon of premium customer service in the US - upped the ante by replacing her worn-out loyalty card with a new one sent to her home without any prompting. All it took was for Huba to remark that her card was old and presto! A new card was delivered.

(Incidentally, Nordstrom's service motto is simply...

Rule #1: Use your good judgement in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

How cool is that!)

While stories of heroic PR stunts may hog the headlines, it is the unspoken proactive acts of heartfelt service which truly wins brand fans. These little actions can do a lot more in delighting customers than birthday promotions, one-for-one specials, fire sales, or any other "member's only" specials that are offered to like 100,000 others.

The challenge however is this. How can one gear one's enterprise to be as forward looking as Nordstrom, Zappos or other service savants?

Let me propose some ideas to start with.

First, consider making customer centricity the main focus of your organisation. Give it such primacy that everything else becomes a pale second. Don't just draw a reverse organisational chart with the customer at the top - eat, live and breathe it!

Next, empower and equip your frontline officers to do whatever it takes to make customers happy. Train them to walk the talk and talk the walk. Where possible, allow your staff to experience what its like to be customers of your products and services themselves so that they can better empathize with the needs of your guests.

Provide staff with a budget that they can spend (without the need to seek approval) to rectify service issues, erring on the side of generosity. A legendary example is Ritz Carlton's $2,000 discretionary budget for service recovery.

Enlist the help of your customers in identifying service opportunities. Instead of providing feedback forms that list down what they feel about your service, ask them what they dislike about you. Your goal here is to seive out all the pain points and find ways to eliminate them as far as legally possible.

Do also think about investing in a Social CRM system to capture customer profiles, behaviours, transactions, preferences and other data. The more accurate your CRM system is, the better you're able to serve your customers in the exact way in which they want. Make it a priority to update this regularly and refer to it whenever (or wherever) you interact with a customer. Incorporate it into your daily workflow.

Having said that, do also make it as simple and painfree as possible for staff to provide premium proactive service. Don't create policies and systems that require them to jump through a thousand bureaucratic hoops. While automation can help, it is important not to let machines dehumanise the entire process.

Train staff to be emotionally and socially savvy. Teach them to be sensitive to customer needs, wants and desires. Improve their ability to listen to their customers, predict what's needed before being asked, and look out for the body language of their guests. Workshops covering disciplines like consumer psychology or behavioural economics may come in useful.

Make it a point for management to model the right behaviours themselves. Nothing beats seeing one's boss zealously serving a customer while demonstrating how things are done at the front line. In the same breath, nothing can be more off-putting than a boss who commands you to do certain things that he or she wouldn't touch with a 10-metre pole.

Finally, build a corporate culture that obsesses over customers. Here, staff bonding and communication platforms like corporate events, get togethers, town halls, newsletters, intranet blogs, and posters are key. Give great prominence to service heroes and champions, but always emphasise the contribution of the team over individuals.

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