I have a pretty critical eye for customer service. In doing the kinds of interactions with the community that I strive for, I like to be out and about as much as possible, talking with solution providers on a regular basis and hearing first hand what challenges and concerns are in the market.
As such, I get a lot of opportunity to have a lot of customer service experiences. Airlines, hotels, restaurants, and everything to do with travel means a lot of service people. It also, admittedly, makes me a sucker for loyalty programs.
Loyalty programs are exactly that – programs designed to breed loyalty into their customers, generally through some level of rewards. Common ones most consumers are familiar with are the ideas of airline miles or hotel points, rewarding frequent customers with the promise of free services later. Restaurants often employ programs as well, such as the sandwich shop that promises a 6th sandwich after five have been bought.
At some level, this employs the gamification of the process. By adding some level of reward, customers become focused on the process of doing business with that organization, and some of the reward is the mastery of their program itself. Many frequent flyers, for instance, revel in knowing how to maximize their upgrades to make the experience as positive as possible as frequently as possible.
That familiarity breeds engagement. Customers stay loyal because they feel invested in the organization, with insider knowledge that helps them be better consumers. As such, they are more likely to continue to do business with those companies and less likely to leave – or shop on price.
Engagement programs such as these offer lessons to service providers. While IT organizations don’t think often enough about their customer service aspects, ultimately a good IT organization differentiates itself not only on it’s technical merit, but on it’s level of service. Using systems to identify customers by name, remembering their preferences, and ensuring the attention to detail is perfect matters. Just as a hotel remembers that a customer likes to be on a high floor with a king bed away from the elevator, so too can a service provider remember that a customer leaves their files on the desktop, needs to have the printer down the hall in their configuration as well, and prefers to be called in the afternoon.
Systems can help this engagement, and mature solution providers focus on understanding this. Customer service training is incorporated into their plans in a similar vane as technical training, and those “soft skills” are valued. Communication is key, and consistency makes a positive experience.
Spending time thinking about how the customer experiences your services and how they can be rewarded for their engagements is a differentiator. Rather than a faceless services organization, the experience is personalized and rewarding. This leads to frequent flyers… who recommend you to others.