How Zappos Affects Your Customer Experience

Who is your customer experience competition? Those of you only looking inside your own industry need to take a look around, as your competitors are not who you think they are – especially online. Organizations should be asking this question: Which companies have the best practices in customer focus across all industries?

I recently exchanged Facebook messages with Deb Robison, a smart marketing and social media gal. She wanted to share a customer service story with me and get my take on it.  Here is her story:

I got a new computer recently and needed to order some accessories. Around this same time, I needed some shoes and books. I placed orders with Zappos, Amazon, Apple, and a designer’s shop, Jonathan Adler. Of course, the three big guys sent me order acknowledgment and tracking info all through the process. I got an order notification from (ordered a laptop sleeve) Jonathan Adler, then nothing, so a few days after I placed the order, I sent an email asking if my order had shipped. Later the next day I got an email from a customer service rep explaining that they did receive my order and that “my colleague is trying to find your bag at one of their stores.” Once it ships, I would get a shipping notification. That was two days ago. And, I noticed they have already charged my credit card.

So my question is this – are my customer service expectations skewed because I have dealt with some big companies that have solid customer service and shipping systems in place? (Note: Zappos had the best and most prompt services of the three big companies, of course.) Jonathan Adler is a smaller brand, but a high-end one and kind of trendy right now, so is it fair for me to set the same expectations on them?

My expectations have clearly been shaped by the immediacy which other retailers respond & deliver. Is that fair? As customers, we never had this kind of relationship before. We used to get out the catalog, fill out the form, put a check in the envelope and wait.

Yes, Deb, customer expectations are absolutely set based on our experiences with companies such as Zappos and Amazon. In fact, every interaction we have with a company sets our expectation for the next interaction, whether with that business or with another completely different organization. Additionally, the online experiences that customers have with companies, whether on the company website or via social media, are creating a higher degree of visibility. In social media, this becomes even more important as the social customer’s friends and followers are also watching, and sometimes sharing the experience with their network (unfortunately, this is more often the case when the experience has been poor).

Customer Expectations of Service

It is important to understand the needs of your customers, as well as their wants and desires. It is also critical to understand what they expect when they contact your company. Typically, customer expectations of service tend to fall into three areas:

– Customers want fast service: They want their problems solved or questions answered quickly. “Help me get back to what I need to do.”

– Customers want friendly service: They want to feel that the company appreciates their business. “Help me know that you care about me.”

– Customers want it to be easy: They want to be able to accomplish the task in the most efficient way possible. “Help make this simple for me.”

The three areas listed above may change in priority based on who your customer is, what kind of relationship they have had with your organization, and, as mentioned by Deb, what types of interactions they have had with your company and with others. Do you know what your customers want from you?

Taking Action

What can you do tomorrow to improve the experience your customers are having with your company?

1. Ask your customers. Really – go ask them! Find out what they expect from you, what you are doing well, and what you need to improve. Your customers will probably be happy to tell you, and they will also be glad you asked.

2. Look in the mirror. When is the last time you or someone from your organization called into your customer service line? Ordered something from your website? Tried to get help via your social media channels? Find out what it feels like to be your customer; I encourage you to look for both areas of improvement as well as your own best practices to share with your organization.

3. Look at the competition – from your customer’s perspective. Understand who is competing with you for the best customer experience, keeping in mind that it may not be anyone within your industry.

A world-class customer experience doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a plan that can be executed across all aspects of your organization. Your customer experience strategy should facilitate consistent treatment of customers, cultivate customer trust, and enable meaningful interactions at all points of customer contact. Most importantly, it should meet and exceed customer expectations. Now you have a customer experience that will ignite passion, inspire brand loyalty, and cement relationships.

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34 Responses

  1. Becky, very well written. We all want exceptional, world-class service that derives from inner passion, prompted by innovative, skill and culture building training.

    In my experience I have found that there is a nonchalant attitude towards ‘Customer Service’ and that the words themselves have almost come to sound like a cliché’. Saying that, you still really have to believe them, live them and then deliver. Not everyone is a ‘peoples person’ however they still end up in Customer Service positions – this seems to be a growing trend.

    Every business is different, there’s no generic, off the shelf formula or magic wand to ‘instill’ this high level of Customer Service. I am a firm believer in that ascertaining the needs of a business is crucial. By having an in depth understanding identifies their current business requirements through a personal observation process that results in a detailed report of strengths, weaknesses, and key improvement areas. Then to customise a Customer Service Excellence Training programme from Front-line employees to Executive Level training. It is so important to develop a very personal training program that will help businesses achieve world-class excellence.

    I also think there are great benefits in learners achieving NQF certification status as well as completing their vocational education and training programmes, this will facilitate the linkage between structured learning and work experience.

    To reap the reward of exceptional Customer Service, customised solutions need to be developed. Training should be of a high energy, intensive practice, fun, motivational, practical yet effective with a positive focus on participant success. If staff are going to be trained we need to offer measurable results and reinforcement tools, one-to-one follow-up programmes and coaching systems to ensure sustained results, which would ultimately link our commitment to the success of companies, their people and their customers.

    It is key to appreciate how customer service efforts impact company profits and to understand that internal customer service is just as important as external customer service. We need to prioritise and focus on the top expectations of customers, apply “personality knowledge” to communicate more effectively with customers and develop a personalised strategy for improving listening skills. While education and cultural differences are obvious we still need to choose vocabulary that is calming and persuasive and be able to refer to a recovery system for turning angry customers into happy repeat customers thus making us World Class in the service we offer!

    Having “Welcome to Excellence” training at the heart of your business will make it stand head and shoulders above the competition, attract high quality staff and improve staff retention and reduce a large number of escalations. In conjunction with that, ‘speaking’ a common service language will exceed customer expectations and encourage repeat business, increase business through word of mouth recommendations and ultimately reduce costs.

    After being in the training and Customer Service industry for about 20 years I can only agree with your post. I have since launched my own company here in Cape Town called The Client Service Factory. Here we ‘manufacture service excellence’ in a way that suits the client, the line of business, the Customer Service representatives themselves as well as the one paying our salaries, the Customer. I have specialised in Call Centre, Healthcare, Hospitality and Education and it is within these fields that I truly feel Customer Service is of the essence. It’s the difference between a returning customer and one that will go elsewhere. It’s the difference between referring a friend or colleague and ‘trashing’ the place to as many people as one can find. The former result is the one we want to avoid as it breeds ‘unhappy people’ and closes businesses, which equates to high unemployment figures.

    I am very excited to see the transition our country is currently in. After being overseas for about 10 years and now returning home I have seen a huge difference in attitude and approach. It has been quite refreshing to say the least. Saying that there is still so much to do to get ‘us’ economically aligned on an International scale. I refer particularly to Call Centre’s across our region. While the ‘computer’ says ‘NO’, the way we communicate this should be very different. I have no doubt that now that the Government is focusing a lot more on ‘training’ i.e. NQF’s and Learnerships that we will get there. Like I said at the outset, we really have to believe it, live it and then deliver it.

    By; Dave Sherwood-Adcock

  2. Becky, this is a terrific post. Thanks for writing it. Every point you make is excellent. Companies do need to realize that the individual customer’s expectations are constantly being determined by all of their experiences with every company that they do business with and even those they hear about via word-of-mouth. To me, your point about customers wanting to know that they are doing business with a company that appreciates and cares about their business it critical for repeat purchases. Richard Shapiro, The Center For Client Retention

  3. Like you approach except of your reference to “who is your customer experience competition?” Customer experiences take place within customers and the battle is for mindshare not marketshare. I highly recommend an approach where energy and effort is spent on learning to meaningfully engage customers rather than trying to one up competitors or copying so called best practices.

    John I. Todor, Ph.D. Mindshift Innovation

  4. Particularly enjoyed the “look in the mirror” advice – all customer delivery aspects need to be considered from the client standpoint. Not always easy to do given economic constraints but nevertheless that will make the difference between bad, indifferent and good service

  5. I agree completely here. At my company, Journyx, we attempt to make customer satisfaction a top priority. We have competitors, of course, but we try to make our experience as fresh and seamless as possible. One such way we have gone about doing this is instituting our “Success First Program” (viewable here: http://www.journyx.com/features/successfirst) wherein we assign team members to walk our customers through our product and make sure it is filling their needs. Ultimately, what the consumer wants is value. If you can make the customer feel good about what they bought, whether that be through visibility into your shipping operations or providing a framework for maximizing delivery potential, then you will be able to overcome the competition.

  6. I don’t know why but I am always amazed when I hear stories like this. How any business doesn’t “get” the importance of the customer experience is amazing to me. Having said that, I think some small business owners just need some help figuring out how to use best practices in the way they interact with their customers.

    Great article!

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  9. Thanks for writing this great article, Becky. You’d think that this would be common sense information but as many of us have seen time and time again, it’s not. As verygoodservice stated above, I thought the “look in the mirror” concept was a particularly helpful piece of advice. I don’t think that enough companies take the time to truly employ this tactic, and they should.

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  11. Hi Becky,

    For some reason the big guys (the big companies) can bully their way and get away with treating their customers badly.

    Maybe its their brand or its their quality reputation. I don’t know.

    But if given the choice with all things equal, customers will always gravitate to companies that provide a better customer service experience.

    Thanks for sharing this story.

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