Offensive vs. Defensive Customer service

As much as customer service is all the rage, and heralded as the new marketing, it’s still viewed as a cost-center by most online businesses. This I believe, is entirely due to a defensive approach to customer care.

Defensive customer service can be defined as any type of reactive customer servicing such as answering calls, responding to email inquiries, or responding to live chat sessions.

Providing good defensive customer service will never result in a flood of new business for two reasons:

  1. You will only have personal contact with a fraction of your total customers. (those who have questions, problems, etc.) Only this small segment will be impacted by your excellent service. Note the uniqueness of this situation, in a brick-and-mortar world, you do have personal contact with each and every customer.
  2. Good service is an expectation. Yes, some companies like Zappos go above and beyond customer expectations with extraordinarily helpful service, including referring customers to competitors for products they don’t stock. But for the most part, good service is a requirement for doing business.

At it’s very best, good defensive customer service will only prevent you from losing what you already have. It will not, by itself, create hoards of new word of mouth business. Unless… you change the paradigm.

What if you were able to reduce needless, defensive interactions through high-cost touch points (phone, chat, email) and with the time saved, start a offensive customer care plan that will actually add value?

Consider these powerful, yet rarely used tactics:

  • VIP Recognition: Do your top customers know that they’re your top customers? They should. An outgoing phone call to a VIP customer is ten times as valuable as taking an incoming call. Come up with a system in which you regularly recognize these VIPs, and do something special for them.
  • Customer Welcoming: Want to knock their socks off? Give brand new customers a call shortly after they place their order. Thank them for trusting your business and ask for feedback.
  • Give them Feedback on their Feedback: It’s not uncommon for an online business to ask for customer feedback, but rarely do businesses respond to such suggestions. C28 makes it a habit to respond to every single customer suggestion left on their website. The response from customers is utter shock. “You actually read those suggestions?” most say.
  • Customer Apology Program: Mistakes happen. Unfortunately, sincere apologies usually don’t. Learning the art of an effective apology will greatly exceed the expectations of your customers. Imagine getting a call from a manager, who apologizes for a lost shipment, and offers a discount on the order for the inconvenience. This is not expected. This adds value.

Sounds great, but how can you possibly have time to implement the ideas above? Here’s some ideas for reducing the load of defensive customer interactions.

  1. Have a thorough FAQ / Knowledge Base: Every reasonable question should be answered in advance on your site. Ask your customer service team for help with this, they know what type of inquiries occur repetitively.
  2. Answer questions contextually: FAQ pages are good, but few people have the patience to search through your site looking for an answer. By placing answers to common questions within the context of where the question is raised, you’ll prevent countless unnecessary calls and emails. For example, if customers are constantly asking when their shipment will arrive, include an estimated delivery date on the order confirmation page or shipping receipt.
  3. Let customers help each other: Shoes.com brilliantly allows shoppers to ask questions about a specific product that can be answered by someone who owns that product. After all, who really knows a product more, someone who owns it or a customer service rep?

Start small. Over the next month, can you shift 5% of your customer service time from defensive to offensive tactics? 10% the next month, and so on? Give your customers the attention and care they deserve. I guarantee you’ll see a difference.