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The essence of outstanding customer service

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When running my own business and coaching my clients on setting up and managing theirs, I constantly stress the importance of effective and high quality customer service above everything else. This is because in our super-competitive economy where finding an alternative supplier is only a Google search away, the best and most long-lasting way to differentiate yourself from your competitors is by providing unique and outstanding customer service – both before and after the actual purchase takes place. So many companies pride themselves on achieving high levels of customer service but in reality, if you asked their clients, they wouldn’t rate the service as above average.

In this article, I wanted to share my recent experiences with one of the world’s most powerful and innovative companies that, despite its size, influence and huge customer base, still pays very close attention to its individual client needs. A perfect example for other companies and individuals on how to retain customers and transform them into active advocates. That company is Amazon.

I have been dealing with Amazon for a number of years ordering everything from books to toys and in the majority of cases their deliveries arrived on time. This is one of the first tenets of excellent customer service:

1. On-time delivery of a product or service.

But how do they manage to fulfil their delivery promises so promptly? Well, the answer is – Amazon is very good at managing customer expectations. Every time you buy, you receive an email stating the period of time a customer should be expecting their delivery. Note – not a single date – but a period of time, normally a few days. Nice way to pre-empt delays. And yes, in most cases, they deliver on time within the time frame suggested. However, nobody is perfect and there are times when due to logistical challenges, the purchase is delayed. For those instances, they have a special multi-tiered mitigation process.  And here comes a second lesson of great customer service:

2. If a product/service delivery is delayed, provide a structured process for a customer to obtain a refund or to return a product if necessary.

During the mitigation process, the first point of call is the actual seller (that is if you are buying from one of the marketplace suppliers). If the seller refuses to cooperate, a customer can refer the case to the small claims department of Amazon. This process encourages accountability and transparency and makes customers feel re-assured, secure and protected. I have experienced a significant delay when dealing with Amazon recently. I ordered four garden chairs from one of the companies partnered up with Amazon and the chairs didn’t arrive on time. In fact, they were more than a week delayed. I resorted to contacting the seller directly and when they didn’t respond on a number of occasions, I mentioned that if the issue was not resolved, I would be referring it to the Amazon small claims department to investigate. They got back to me promptly offering a 50% discount on the chairs and following up with a delivery company. The chairs were delivered the next day.

Amazon has created a number of ways dissatisfied customers can get in touch. Namely, by phone, email and more recently – by chat straight from their website. I have used this chat twice and it can’t be faulted. Very polite and well-trained customer service agents responding immediately despite the time difference and solving issues there and then. The whole process takes a couple of minutes when you get in touch with Amazon via their chat. On another occasion, I reported a small fault with a product I ordered – the money was refunded immediately no questions asked. Wonderful example of the next lesson in great customer care:

3. Provide open channels for customers to get in touch and make resolution of their issues easy, painless and quick. And they will come back and buy again and again!

There are a lot of issues surrounding Amazon’s growth, tax withholding on online transactions, undercutting competitors but the main truth remains the same: Amazon is a master of outstanding customer care that other businesses can model themselves against.

 

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