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Great Expectations: Redefining Quality Customer Service

Arc Worldwide Art Director Kylie Wendell shares her thoughts on customer service in the social world and how retail brands are getting it right

We all thought brick and mortar retail was going to die... or at least this was the story being hyped everywhere you read. Reputable retail blogs warned of vacant storefronts, headlines announced that Amazon’s drones were taking over the actual world… an apocalypse was imminent.

Despite the catastrophic predictions, brick and mortar retail survived (not without some healthy disruption), and so did we.

What we did lose, though, thanks to the broadening of touchpoints across multiple channels and more experience-driven shopping, was the notion of “good old-fashioned customer service.”

Gone are the days when customer service meant directing a shopper to aisle seven or doling out coupons to every customer in line. The notion of “service” implied a reaction to a customer. But with social media and online shopping, we’ve been granted a culture of instant gratification. People are no longer waiting in line and brands can’t wait to simply react anymore. What customer service has become, is actually better termed customer experience, and it’s the brands who are doing this the best right now that have the advantage.

The most successful brands today offer a consistent, convenient, and transparent presence across all channel interactions, and their customer experience maps back to those principles.

Here’s how brands are getting it right.

It’s about what you do; not what you say.

Reading about a product’s attributes isn’t memorable. Uniting your followers around a cause or event that your product represents is.

Nike released its Zoom Superfly Elite shoes with the hashtag #Breaking2. Instead of telling fans about how the shoes’ super lightweight design and dynamic fit technology are perfect for highly technical sprinters, the brand asked fans to tune in. Eliud Kipchoge, the Usain Bolt of distance running, was going to wear the shoes while attempting to run a marathon in under two hours.

This event generated excitement around the shoes’ release, built a community amongst fans, and proved the shoe worthy of its accolade because it was stress-tested by an expert.

Rely on social media as a chance to share, but more importantly, to LISTEN.

Brands that provide the best moments of surprise and delight have one thing in common—they embrace the spontaneity of social. Social media makes it so easy to actively listen to followers, and to meet their needs in a way that doesn’t break the bank, but is still considered above and beyond.

Glossier recently was in contact with a girl whose family had been evacuated by the Thomas Fire in California. The girl shared a photo of one of Glossier’s products saying how it had helped her and her family members’ skin stay hydrated in the dry air. Glossier kept in contact with the girl, and when her family had moved back into their home, delivered a welcome basket with more of their favorite Glossier products.

Through careful social listening, the brand was able to meet a customer’s real need in real time and create a more lasting connection.

**Be helpful, even when there is no direct profit or complaint. **

This doesn’t have to always be a huge gesture, or relate directly to the product being sold; it just needs to feel authentic. Zappos does this well. The brand’s customer service reps have been known to add little, extra personal items to orders, such as a blanket if they hear a crying baby in the background of a call.

In another customer service story, a man named Michael left his Warby Parker glasses on a train. He happened to be sitting across from a Warby executive at the time, who noticed the abandoned glasses. When Michael returned home, he was greeted with a package containing two new pairs of his misplaced glasses, a copy of On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and a note explaining the situation. When Michael shared this story on Facebook, he stated, “What a remarkable person and company. They have a customer for life.”

When brands recognize that not every interaction is a transaction—that first and foremost, customers are people—they inspire a greater sense of loyalty in those they serve.

Declare your values and take a stand.

This one is trickier to measure, but speaks to the value of transparency. More than ever before, customers want to know they are purchasing from value-driven companies. Armed with the ability to coordinate via social media and the availability of information, consumers have placed an accountability on brands that wasn’t there in the past.

One brand handling this well is Patagonia. Their mission reads: "We’re In business to save our home planet,” and 1 percent of their sales goes to grassroots environmental organizations. Patagonia’s website not only sells product, but is a forum to find opportunities to volunteer and support grassroots environmental organizations near you.

In late 2017, when President Trump signed a proclamation to reduce the protected lands of Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for mining, Patagonia transformed its landing page into a “Take Action Now” opportunity for customers, where they could craft a tweet directly to the Administration to state their defense of public lands.

Following through on what you profess not only builds brand equity, it grows your customers’ affinity for the products and services you offer.

Employees are your strongest ambassadors—empower them.

This brings me back to Glossier—the company has incorporated their customer service team into its marketing department. Branded the G-Team, these employees are actually considered editors, encouraged to create content, answer questions and complaints, and provide recommendations for products and styles. Glossier doesn’t hire people with traditional customer service experience, and instead looks for job applicants with “an approachable personal style” and “a-no-such-thing-as-a-stupid-question-attitude.”

Ritz-Carlton gives every customer-facing employee an allowance of $2,000 per day to immediately solve customer any problems as they arise. Amazon trains its customer service teams to right any wrong—even if it’s only a perceived one—rather than prioritizing profit, providing refunds, gift vouchers, and months of free Prime to keep customers satisfied. To gain a competitive edge in line with its “Expect More. Pay Less.” value proposition, Target increased its return window, arming their team members with policy to appease customers.

This shift from customer service to customer experience has raised the bar for brands. Being on top of all touchpoints in the shopper journey means being able to predict solutions instead of react to situations. It means still building personal connections with followers despite a lack of traditional face time, and embracing concerns and complaints as challenges to improve the brand experience for many instead of just one. All of this has allowed us to hold brands to a higher standard that, in my opinion, sounds more like a godsend then an apocalypse.

January 30, 2019