Updated: Jul 5
What happened to the customer is always right? Have we accepted that customer service is a thing of the past?
Generally speaking, the larger a company the more dysfunctional its customer service. Customer service is like playing the shell game? Under shell one is... our website Q&A. Under shell two... our automated phone system. Under shell three... ten minutes on hold listening to elevator music before being inexplicably disconnected.
If you're lucky enough to speak with a customer service agent, they are often trained to stick with the corporate script. Empathy, understanding, and practicality are not part of that script. Service centers are packed with workers who are unempowered, mistreated, and under compensated. They're thrown to the wolves by corporate big-shots who have better things to do. Just like manufacturing, customer service has been replaced by automation.
Most large companies have seperate phone lines for sales and support. The sales line connects immediately, and the support line not so much? "We are experiencing unusually high call volumes at this time. Your call is very important to us. Please continue to hold"
I will now get down from my soap box and move on to the customer experience for small to medium sized B2B companies. Does your company subscribe to the "we typically respond within 24-48 hours" philosophy? Is 24 to 48 hours the standard for good customer support response times?
I have worked for companies that have provided exceptional customer service and others that didn't. It's not that businesses aspire to treat customers poorly, it's just not a priority.
When I'm planning marketing strategies for a new client, I ask them "what are your competitive advantages?" or "what are your strengths in comparison with your competition?" (and weaknesses). Customer service isn't typically at the top of the answer list.
Customer service is an effective company differentiator. Especially if your competition is bad at it.
7 out of 10 U.S. consumers say they’ve spent more money to do business with a company that delivers great service.
When it comes to making a purchase, 64% of people find customer experience more important than price.
68% of B2B customers are lost because of indifference or perceived apathy, not because of mistakes.
I have experience working with B2B companies on both sides of the customer service spectrum. Company X had horrendous support, and Company Y provided exceptional support.
Company X was a small B2B with stagnant sales growth. I was hired to generate new business leads. It didn't take long to realize lead generation wasn't the problem. In their defence, they had limited personnel, about 10 people. But the company culture didn't value their existing customers or even new leads. Although small, they had a strict hierarchical structure and there was little regard empowerment or collaboration.
Management, who also served as technical support, were hesitant to interact with incoming leads or potential customers, and the sales staff (of 2) were not trained to provide technical support.
Incoming calls or emails, other than new orders, were not a priority. It was common for sales reps to take a message for incoming technical support calls, regardless of personnel's availability. Responses took 1, 2, or even 3 days. The problem was not the amount of leads, but the response to them.
78% of customers buy from the business that responds First
Calling a lead back within 5 minutes is 21x more effective than calling after 30 minutes.
The average B2B businesses lead response time is 42 hours.
Company Y averaged 20% sales growth over the previous 8 years. They managed this with a price point that was 10 times higher than the next closest competitor. How is this that possible? 10 times the price?
Company Y served a B2B audience (engineers) which valued support. As Company Y's competitors got bogged down with price wars, they became unsustainable. Some went out of business. Conversely, Company Y held firm to their price point. They were able to overcome price and level the playing field by providing exceptional service and support.
Company Y's culture: None of the sales staff had voicemail. They didn't need it because incoming calls never went unanswered***. Incoming calls were picked up immediately. If all of the sales staff were helping customers, someone in operations, engineering, or purchasing would answer. It wasn't unusual for the company CEO to answer if needed.
If a customer required technical support, engineers would provide it without hesitation or objection, even if it required leaving a meeting. No one was too busy, or too important, to help with sales and support.
To go a step further, incoming calls were not screened. If a caller asked for someone by name they were transferred with no questions asked. Sales staff weren't obligated to play a gatekeeper role.
Digital (email) support were treated the same. Emails response was quick and professional. It was common for emailers to respond with "wow," or "that was fast". They were shocked that someone would respond quickly. They were expecting the standard "we typically respond within 24-48 hours".
Company Y's provided support no matter how big (or small) a company or project was. Smaller companies received the same urgency and respect as larger ones, even if it required personnel resources. Company Y would lose money in some cases, but even that seemed to pay off in time.
Smaller companies are more likely to take time for online reviews, social media, or industry forums. They were also loyal as their companies grew larger.
Price still rules, but it's not the only factor. Convenience, quality, support, and service still have a place in business, and it can be a powerful competitive advantage.
Jon Mullett, Mullett Marketing