There are two grocery stores equidistant from my house. I’m a pretty serious cook and I buy a lot of fresh ingredients each week. Both stores carry high-quality produce, meat, and fish. Both are clean and have friendly, helpful staff and good prices. But every week, when it’s time to do the significant shopping for the family, I always end up going to the same one?
For one simple reason: they bring the groceries out to the parking lot and load them into your car for you.
I’ve got three children, and they’re often with me when I’m shopping. To have someone else push the cart means I can hold everyone’s hands. To have someone else put the bags in the back of the car means I can buckle carseats. And, perhaps most importantly, to have someone else return the cart to the store means I don’t have to leave three kids in the car unattended while I run across the parking lot.
I choose this store over the other one without question every single time. I choose it because they’re offering a product that is unique to them and that I’ll never get tired of: outstanding customer service.
This is the only grocery store I’ve ever heard of that does this. It’s truly a standout and it’s made me a loyal and devoted customer.
I’ve just finished reading Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, and this book has really helped me reframe how I see customer service. In the book Tony explains that customer service is the central focus of the Zappos brand. Zappos is, of course, a company that sells shoes online. For Zappos outstanding customer service means:
- Free shipping and free returns. Tony says, “The additional shipping costs are expensive for us, but we really view those costs as a marketing expense.”
- A 365-day return policy.
- Contact information, including a phone number, at the top of every page of the Zappos website with a call center staffed 24/7 by staffers who aren’t pressured to end the calls quickly and don’t have script. About the phone calls Zappos receives Tony says, “You have the customer’s undivided attention for five to ten minutes, and if you get the interaction right, what we’ve found is that the customer remembers the experience for a very long time and tells his or her friends about it.”
- Surprise upgrades to overnight shipping.
The culture at Zappos is to see every interaction with a customer through a branding lens rather than an expense-minimization lens. Allowing call center employees to talk to customers for 10 full minutes, running a warehouse 24/7, allowing customers to try on and return 5 pairs of shoes at once for free – this stuff is expensive.
I know that it’s costly for the grocery store I shop at to pay additional employees to go in and out of the store all day long loading groceries into customer’s cars (and there’s a sign near the exit asking you to please not tip them), but by taking this pretty extraordinary step every busy mom in town is a loyal patron. When you have to go grocery shopping with a fussy toddler at 5:15 pm in December, and it’s dark and pouring rain, which store would you chose?
So my question is, how can online creative businesses make outstanding customer service a defining attribute? Here’s what I’ve come up with:
- Answering emails promptly and with helpful enthusiasm. I woke up Saturday morning to four emails from customers, each one with a question about a pattern they were working on. Before heading out to get my kids haircuts at 9:45 am I sat down and responded to every one of those emails.
- Creating supplemental materials that support our products such as videos and tutorials that demonstrate particular techniques.
- Celebrating how our customers are incorporating our products into their lives. Sharing their joy in making and giving.
- Being honest and generous when things go wrong. We all make mistakes. When they happen, we can make it up to customers by being honest about what went wrong and making things right in a timely and generous manner.
What else? Are there particular creative businesses you patronize again and again because of their outstanding customer service? What does that experience include?
What can we do to create a customer service experience that is truly outstanding?
As Tony so rightly states, “The lifetime value of a customer is a moving target that can increase if we can create more and more positive emotional associations with our brand through every interaction that person has with us.”