How does the customer define “more”?

Spoken | August 9, 2016

RunnerHeidiBlog HS by Heidi Miller, Social Media/Online Community Builder

If you go to any seminar on customer service, ask any expert or read any book on the topic, you’ll get one basic, rather tired message:

Go the extra mile.

Even a Google blogsearch turns up over 24,00 results. And there are some great examples of going the extra mile, to be sure, but I can’t help but wonder, what does that really mean? Who decides what customer expectations are to begin with and what falls into the “extra” category? What if customer expectations are unrealistically high? Or low?

Harvard Business writer Scott Anthony asked this question as part of a 10-part series on customer service. In particular, he addresses the issue of cost-cutting: when a company considers cutting costs for customers, how does it determine what to cut?

In short, when you not only can’t go the extra mile, but the company is going to have to stop at 5,000 feet, how do you decide which 280 feet to cut out?

Instead of starting with the balance book, Scott suggests a customer-focused approach: um… ask the customer. It’s a crazy idea. Listen to what customers really want and need, not just to decide what new products to develop but also what to cut when times get tough:

A far better approach is to develop a deep understanding of how the
customer defines quality
. There might actually be elements where a
company is providing performance that actually overshoots a customer’s
needs — a natural target for cost cutting.

(Emphasis mine.) In the social media sphere, we always suggest listening first. We always recommend monitoring for weeks or even months before making any commitments to any type of active social media participation. The same is true for for any type of customer service–even when it’s making a decision about cutting down on service. If your customers are rave about your phone agents, don’t cut the call center budget. If customers don’t like or use the online chat, ask them why or why not; an inexpensive fix might maximize that usage. Or you might discover that your customers just don’t like that medium, and it can indeed be cut.

In short, if you can’t go the extra mile, don’t take shots in the dark on shortcuts based on the balance sheet. Make it a habit to take the time to ask customers what they want, over and over again. Develop that deep understanding of what the customer needs and wants today. And if you’re not sure? Ask. The shortcut you take just may end up looking to the customer like that cliched extra mile.

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