Flavors of Customer Service
“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby
Talking as a Service
I never liked the term customer service. It’s become a buzzword that describes any type of customer communication. I’m all for the concept, and companies like Zappos are an inspiration to anyone looking to build a customer-driven community. One of the major points in customer service today is that you don’t always get your way. If you called Zappos and asked for a pair of shoes to be sent to your house free of charge, they’d probably politely refuse.
Customer service is more than saying yes at all costs, it’s about building a sustainable positive relationship with customers (or clients) over the long run. If by giving away free stuff today, you’re jeopardizing your chances of being around tomorrow, it’s not really customer service. What good will a defunct company be to a customer? Issuing a refund is very different than marking down the cost of a web application’s development by $10,000.
Everyone in business wants to be friendly if it means a discount. The phrase “please be flexible” is a euphemism for “make it a bargain”. We’ve found this to be true just as much for national brands as local businesses.
Room to Breath
The problem with customer service that relies on financials is that it makes cornering yourself incredibly easy. When you don’t have much breathing room to start, it’s harder to solve problems down the road.
A relationship that has the excuse “I already did you a favor by cutting costs” isn’t benefiting anyone in the long run. It will always be overshadowed by the initial deal. It’s funny how fast a client will forget that it was a one time deal, especially when they come to you with an identical project (budget and all) for round two.
I think that financial benefits are something that have to be earned. Obviously, if cutting a project estimate by 5% is the difference between closing a deal and losing, that’s a different story. It’s just as important to let a client sit with their uncomfortableness. Being told no is an asset, and it builds mutual respect. Cutting costs substantially to build a relationship might work occasionally, but it’s helping the client’s business at the expense of your own. Again, if you’re not around in a few months, who’s benefiting then? Learn to adapt instead of settling.
Do More, Not For Less
Offering something for free or at a low cost is easy. It makes us feel like we are doing something to strengthen the relationship between ourselves and the client. Financial customer service is the fastest way to offer something undeniably valuable. At least, that’s the case at first.
Instead, why not offer more in terms of execution, attention to detail, and quality assurance? We’ve worked on a lot of projects where step one was “fix what the last guy did”. There’s a huge demand for people who know their stuff and can execute it efficiently. It’s the type of customer service that doesn’t depend on the economy.
Give the type of customer service that won’t be mistaken for a coupon. You’ll end up with a better business in the long run.