In his 2009 New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Book Crush It!, Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk has a chapter titled, "The Best Marketing Strategy Ever."
The entire chapter is boiled down to one word: Care.
Actually care about your customer.
It seems like common sense, right?
Then why do so many companies outsource or push off their most important asset (Customers) to low-wage employees or overseas call centers?
I recently went through the experience (again) as a frustrated customer in need of fast service related to a core part of my business. And reflecting on the process reminded me of four key points you must heed to keep your own customers happy - and loyal - over the long-term.
1. A Real-Time World Requires Real-Time Customer Service
In my case as a customer, the problem had to do with website hosting. Since it was for my main business website, I wanted (and needed) instant, real-time response from my vendor.
In a world where customers are "always on" with the Internet, social media and handheld devices, you no longer have the luxury of a 24 hour response time to Customer Service calls.
The more critical your product (such as live website hosting) is for your customer, the more responsive and available you need to be.
2. Stop Using Scripts and Forms on Human Beings
Nothing drives me more batty than listening to a phone center rep read a scripted series of comments about how important I am to their company, how they value my loyalty, etc.
In every instance, the person on the other end of the line doesn't know me, and I don't know that person. Nobody from the company has ever actually talked to me 1-on-1 and asked me for my opinion on things, or sent me surprise gifts or coupons telling me how special and valuable I am, etc. (Again, you can't fake actually caring about your customers.)
Whether your company is large or small, you should treat your customers like human beings. Ditch the scripts. Trust your customer sales reps to apply the right amount of empathy, emotional connection and personality needed to resolve an issue.
Also, systems and scripts don't work so well when applied to angry, emotional, upset human beings who happen to be your paying customers.
3. Customers Have a Far Bigger Voice Than Ever Before
While I was waiting for this hosting provider to get back to me yet again to try and solve the issue - which had happened several times over the past 10 days - I decided I'd had enough. I posted on Twitter and LinkedIn a brief note about my ongoing issues and asked my social media connections for advice on a new hosting company to look into.
Not only did I receive a flood of replies and suggestions from the community in mere minutes, but I even had sales reps from hosting companies reaching out and contacting me directly as well.
I noticed one company's name kept getting suggested over and over again by people I knew, liked and trusted. So I investigated that one first, liked what I saw and signed up immediately.
All within about 15 minutes.
4. Want More Loyal Customers? Over-Communicate and Over-Deliver
I recently ran into another issue with my online business - this time my website's membership software was acting up.
This was a huge issue, since I make my living running an online training program.
The membership software company's customer service rep not only responded in real-time to try and solve my technical issues, but he followed up (without me asking) multiple times, sometimes days later, to see how things were going, just to make sure I didn't have any new issues, etc.
He even asked me about my business and listened as I told him all about it.
In short, he cared.
Like Gary Vaynerchuk noted in Crush It!, oftentimes the best approach to marketing - and customer service - is often the simplest one.