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CUSTOMER SERVICE: The Customer Revolution

MattHarringtonAs more customers can now tweet, blog, post, like, rant and rave about every product and service under the sun – power has been given back to the customer.  It’s not a social media revolution organizations are currently looking at and dealing with, but rather a customer revolution.  Social media is just the tool that finally came along and helped provide the customer with some power. This is a customer revolution.

I can’t take much credit for this hypothesis.  It was written a decade ago in what is now a cult classic among marketers, entitled:
The Cluetrain Manifesto (CTM).   The CTM, written by Levin, Locke, Searls, and Weinberger, in summary describes the internet’s impact on how an organization should engage with its marketplace, or customers.  Much like Martin Luther’s 95 theses that brought about a Protestant revolution, CTM offered 95 theses of their own embarking on a decade’s quest to bring about another sort of revolution. (view all 95 theses).  The 95 theses presented are a list of declarations aimed at the misconceptions that corporate leaders were applying to customers at the time.  Even the preamble of the book provides insight: “We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers.  We are human beings – and our reach exceeds our grasp. Deal with it.” BAM! Deal with it.  What a profound statement (written 10 years ago without the recent evolution of social media).  These writers knew that a customer revolution was coming – I would argue we are now in the days of that revolution.

Just recently I read about the revolutionary transformation of the consumer into what is now being called the prosumer.   With the ability to blog, write, video, podcast and produce their own thoughts and beliefs about everything from daily life to bashing an organization, the prosumer is the combination of the words producer and consumer.  Traditionally, the producers of the message for products or services have been the Madison Avenues of the world, large organizations and powerful executives.  With the current technology boom in quality, speed and frequency, the power has fallen to the masses and organizations need to rethink their strategy when interacting with their customers and clients.

At this point there were two approaches I could take with this blog.  I could tell stories about how customers have challenged organizations with their posts and tweets, but that information is out there and I didn’t want to rehash it (although there are some great stories: 1-800-Flowers (The Floral Quarrel) and United Airlines Breaks Guitars YouTube phenomenon). I decided, instead, to offer some quick points of interest and possible ways that you can re-engage the new prosumer and have a more meaningful and lasting relationship.

1 – I know it’s simple but… treat the customer like a person.  How would you like to be treated: with patience, an understanding of your needs, personality and genuine interest.

2 – The most important word in a person’s vocabulary is his or her own name – learn it and use it frequently.

3 – Meet the customers where they are.  If they’re using the social media to connect and talk – meet them there, offer support, don’t encroach on their comments and try to stifle them, and be the best customer service representative you can be. The Public Relations Officer of Ford Motor Car did a great job at this, read: How Ford Motor Company Used Social Media To Extinguish A PR Fire In Less Than 24 Hours or download the audio version from Ron Ploof’s book, Read This First.

4 – Zappo’s customer strategy: In the recent Harvard Business Review’s article on Tony Hsieh, former CEO of Zappos (How I Did It: Zappos’ CEO on Going to Extremes for Customers, HBR July-August 2010 edition), Hsieh offers some specific insights into what has made Zappos (now owned by Amazon) a renowned customer service business.  Zappos’ customer philosophy is to view every one of the thousands of phone calls and e-mails it receives daily as an opportunity to build the very best customer service into their organization’s brand.  The team realized that customer service should permeate the whole company, not just one department, and become a core strategy of the business model. Hseih also offers these contrarian points of view for customer service: don’t measure call times, don’t upsell, and don’t use scripts; view the cost of handling a customer’s call as an investment in marketing not an expense; empower your customer services reps – rarely should they escalate a customer service issue to a supervisor, and celebrate customer service success with the whole company.

5 – Time sensitivity – I am always amazed when I respond quickly to an email a customer has sent us and they’re thrilled that I responded so quickly (usually writing back “Wow, that was quick”).  To me it was a simple, valuable answer I could provide right away; to the customer, it came across as ‘I put them ahead of my other priorities.’ My amazement is that more service people don’t do it.

6 – Give ‘Em the Pickle - Coined after the video series Give ‘Em the Pickle, Bob Farrell presents a humorous, yet often forgotten art of customer service.  Farrell incorporates these fundamental customer service take-aways:


a) Service – make serving others your number one priority
b) Attitude – how you think about the customer is how you will treat them
c) Consistency – set high service standards and live them everyday
d) Teamwork – look for ways to make each other look good

7 – Don’t try to wow the customer – just give them what they want (that’ll be ‘wow’ enough) – In the article Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers, by Dixon, Freeman and Toman (listen to podcast), the authors did a study of more than 75,000 people interacting with contact center representatives and found that “over the top” efforts made little difference in customer satisfaction.  In fact, all customers really want is a simple, quick solution to their problem.

Five loyalty building tactics the article suggests are:
1) Reduce the need for repeat calls by anticipating and dealing with related down-stream issues.
2) Arm service reps to address the emotional side of customer interactions .
3) Minimize the need for customers to switch service channels (if they’re on the web they should be able to stay on the web for a purchase; if they call they should be able to order via the call).
4) Elicit and use feedback from disgruntled or struggling customers.
5) Focus on problem solving, not speed.

Last week Deb discussed the use and need for customer surveying and I would echo her thoughts.  Surveying your customers will provide valuable insight into what your customers truly think of you, your product and your brand.  Knowledge is power and it’s the first step in recommitting and re-engaging your customers where they are.

  • Thanks for the mentions, Matthew. The sooner execs understand that customers now have access to the same powerful communications channels as they do, the sooner companies will change their old-school command and control communications strategies.

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