Take a moment and think about the two or three very best companies in the world at customer service - the ones that are cited over and over again by speakers and authors as being truly unique. These are the companies where customer service is so engrained in the culture, that when social media burst onto the scene they immediately seized the opportunity to show the world their competitive advantage rather than fearing what could happen if customer service were practiced in public.
Chances are that your list includes Zappos, the online shoe retailer owned by Amazon that has ingrained customer service deep into its culture.
"Right from day one, we were told that customer service is absolutely the focus on the company," says Jeffrey Lewis, Customer Loyalty Team Manager at Zappos. "We want to do everything we can to make the customer experience is as fantastic as we can."
All employees are taught the 10 Zappos Core Values, the first of which is "Deliver WOW Through Service".
Lewis says that he recruits exclusively internally for social customer care roles, because he knows he is selecting from a pool which includes the best-of-the-best.
"We're just looking for people who are really good at customer service and are really good with bonding with customers," he explains. "We can always train them on how to how to type more effectively or be better with their grammar and that kind of thing. But if there is already that innate sense of wanting to engage with customers, that's really what we search for when we're looking for people to join our social media customer service team."
Customer Service agents are given a lot of leeway to ensure customer happiness, and unlike at other companies, they aren't held to Handling Time restrictions. In fact, one agent famously held a 10-hour, 43-minute customer service call with a customer last year. So how do they do it?
Lewis listed two things that make Zappos customer service unique:
- "The idea that we can build a lasting relationship that goes both ways with customers on every single contact or every engagement we have with customers."
- "At Zappos, all the way from the top down, everyone's really supportive, whether it's giving a coupon to a customer who maybe had a less-than-stellar experience or going out of their way to even direct customers to our competitors' websites in the event that we don't have what they're looking for."
Yes, you read that right. If Zappos doesn't carry a particular style, or is out of a certain color or size, or even if their prices are higher than a competitor's, customer service agents are encouraged to do what's best for the customer - which may include directing them to another site.
Lewis explains the logic behind this unique approach: "If we give a customer a really awesome customer experience and they end up telling five or 10 of their friends about it - be that on social media or just in real life - that ends up coming back to us," he says. "Not only that, but we've actually seen that when we provide a customer with a really great experience over the phone or elsewhere that they actually end up shopping with us more frequently and they end up spending more money with us on average." As with most companies that were already great at customer service before social media, the transition to social as a new channel was fairly straightforward. After all, Zappos now gets to do what it does best in a public setting, so even non-customers can experience it.
Lewis notes that social media is playing a larger role in customer service overall:
"In this new landscape of social media, customer service is becoming really, really important and it's starting to make and break companies," he says. "I'd like to see that trend continue."
Lewis joined me for Episode 48 of the Focus on Customer Service podcast.
Here are some of the key moments in the episode and where to find them:
1:14 A bit about Jeff's background and how he landed at Zappos
2:04 What happens on the first day of work at Zappos
3:15 Why customer service is so important to the success of a shoe retailer
5:47 What makes the Zappos customer experience unique
10:31 How Zappos measures the impact of customer service on the bottom line
12:00 Jeff shares some particularly memorable customer interactions
15:50 Jeff's advice to other companies trying to emulate Zappos
19:41 How a Zappos customer service leader experiences customer service at other companies