I read the most disturbing article recently about one of the major airlines deciding to focus on Customer Service as it was costing the airline over $1oo million each year in complaints and refunds to disgruntled customers. It was particularly sad as it looked from the outside that the motive for Customer Service was loss of money (cost savings) rather than happy, fulfilled customers.

The more I thought about this article, the more it dawned on me that businesses view Customer Service from the wrong angle. Saving costs and linkage to customer service is a very short term strategy and one almost certain to fail. As you reduce the costs associated with the customer to a level where the successes get smaller and smaller what happens next? Focus will move from Customer Service to something else and back comes the cost.

Is Customer Service activity really just masquerading cost savings? Are companies who pronounce so loudly that they are all for the customer just trying to reduce what they give a customer? Have we all moved so far away from how we should treat each other (customers and neighbours alike) and just reverting to generic policy & procedure type rhetoric?

Then there are the loyalty programs - truly customer centric companies do not need such gimmicks as they know that the customer will not be leaving them or recommending someone else any time soon. Loyalty programs are the 'lock them in' programs that allow for all poor customer experience to be traded off for monetary reward….. it's sad how it has got to this.

My real estate agent has locked me in for life. His brand of service, loyalty and expertise has ensured that I will always use him for moving and buying. Similarly the recruitment agent I use and the car salesman where I buy my cars. All of these individuals have changed companies that they work for but I never worry about the brand on their business card or the Mission Statement that greets me when I meet them in their office. What brings be back is utterly brilliant customer service.

Let me give you a challenge for the next year. I want you to look at your business and your revenue forecasts and have a sales target in each month for 'loyalty'. What I mean by this is that there should be a silent sales person working for your business that is driven by truly great customer service. Get this right and they will outsell any of your current staff - hands down!
I am always amazed that customer service is a differenciator. It's like saying that collecting payment and managing stock levels is a differenciator. Arn't all of these fundamental business processes?

Recently I had an experience that suggests customer service is optional and if you find a company that really provides exceptional service then never leave. 

The experience was with a major utility supplier. I have been a customer with them for many years and really had little to do with them as my billing seemed ok and the service was reliable. Recently, a door to door sales person approached me and asked whether I might like to switch over to their organisation as they could provide a better price than my current provider (about 10% cheaper) and loyalty programs etc. Whilst this sounded great, I thought I would contact my provider (as we have had a long relationship together and I am a firm believer of give everyone an opportunity to save a customer) to see if they were truly interested in my business and could remind me of all the reasons why I have been happy for years. Well, after one hour of unsuccessfully trying to find a contact number to call them I resorted to using their customer service 'drop box'. I am guessing they call it this as it drops off the face of the earth!
Five days later (yes five!) I get an email in my inbox  titled "Response to your Enquiry - Ref ENET-22333TW". In the body of the email, I kid you not it says:
"Thank you for your enquiry. I have passed your information onto our Customer Service team for processing. If you require any further customer service support please do not hesitate to contact us at our website dropbox".

You must be kidding me! Five days to tell me you have passed my request from a Customer Service Rep to another Customer Service Rep and please contact us if you require any more support! Well, yes I do need some more support - answer the question! It is now Day 10 and still no contact ..... wow!

Lets break this issue down a little (as I am sure you have many examples like this as well). I have emailed a company virtually saying "I am about to leave you - would you like the chance to save me". If this was your business at what urgency would you take this request? Imagine one of your customers says, "I am about to go to your competitor but I wanted to let you know so that you could help me stay 'cause I like you". Talk about a clear signal. I bet all of you would be on the phone within the half hour or more probably with them face to face to work through the situation.

Have we got so fat and lazy that even when our customers say "I am going" we think "ok, whatever.... you'll be back because the competition is not much better". How big is the opportunity in our world to be amazing?