Occasionally I read an article about how a company has decided to rethink things with a bigger focus on customer service. And while I applaud these efforts, a concentration on customer service is not a box to be checked or some static goal that can be marked “complete.” Customer service is the very DNA of a customer-centric culture.
For years, when I was Chief Marketing Officer at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, attention to our guests was the undeniable brand. It still is.
In the hotel industry, it takes only a chequebook to be competitive. The great differentiator, however – the factor that sets one competitor above another – is how the customer is treated. Animating your brand with the tenets of world-class service starts with the CEO and permeates throughout the organization. Anticipating customers’ needs and delivering on them must always take priority. These tenets are non-negotiables; they simply must not be stripped down or cut out during the budget process.
Along with being non-negotiable, customer service should be nonproprietary inside the organization’s walls. In other words, accountability for outstanding service doesn’t belong to any one person or department but rather to every employee, associate and department. Now, allow me to make the distinction here: the word “nonproprietary” applies to customer service across all departments – they all share in delivering. But when the discussion shifts to trends across an entire industry, by all means strive to make your company’s customer service proprietary. Own it. Stand out from competitors in how your organization delivers. By the way, when a brand gets this right, it allows pricing power because we know that from the customers’ perspective the cost of switching to a competitor just spiked higher.
There are three things to keep in mind about customer service and branding:
1. Customer service is one of the few things over which organizations have complete control.
2. Providing better customer service than your competition raises the switching costs.
3. The way to win in any market is to make customer service the foundation of your brand.
During my tenure at The Ritz-Carlton, a major airline’s flight attendant group approached us. They were interested in raising their level of service – commendable for sure. When asked if their CEO knew they were meeting with us, their response was no. In fact, no other department within the airline was present or had plans to follow this group’s service-improvement journey. The fact is they would have failed because their organization didn’t consider it a priority. Customer service–fueled brand identity should begin at the top and spread to every department like – well, like planes dispatched from hub cities to span the continent. It seems like kind of an automatic metaphor, one would think.
So, kudos to those executives who recognise that their business needs to improve, but the company’s future would be better served if its execs realised that customer service isn’t exactly something to be picked up and focused on now and again – it needs to be pervasive, consistent and ever-present for it to work.