I facilitate customer experience (CX) focus groups for organizations all around the country. When I ask people to share stories about their most memorable customer experiences, the same names keep coming up. What do these brands know that others don’t? How can marketers tap into customer experience as a part of branding — and how can HR train employees to deliver the desired brand behaviors?
One company I always hear in these focus groups is Zappos. For years, the shoe retailer has been named as one of the most admired companies when it comes to CX — an achievement all the more laudable because the company sells only online and never provides an in-person customer interaction. Its #1 core value is for employees to “Deliver ‘Wow’ through service.” Another company that people name is Amazon, which actually bought Zappos is 2009 and began using the new acquisition’s philosophy to improve its own online shopping experience.
Also on the list: American Express, which has ranked first in customer satisfaction among credit card companies for seven straight years. AmEx has endeared itself to its members by offering exclusive ticket deals and streaming live concerts, and to merchants by creating Small Business Saturday, a day on Thanksgiving weekend to patronize small and local businesses.
One last company worth mentioning is GoDaddy, and I can speak to that one personally.
What distinguishes these companies when it comes to customer experience? In a nutshell:
Customer service as a core value
As I noted with Zappos, these four brands consciously make customer service a foundational pillar of their organization. American Express lists “Customer Commitment” as its first company value, while Amazon’s first “Leadership Principle” is “Customer Obsession.” You have to respect a word like that.
Customer service in practice
It’s easy to say you value customers, but what happens when a mistake or an irate customer puts that claim to the test? Once again, Zappos led the way, making returns free of both cost and hassle. The brand even provides a 2-minute video showing how the process works. Amazon explains the difference between returning a purchase and returning a gift, and offers the option to sell or trade in any item that can’t be returned. American Express clearly shows how it handles disputes, chargebacks, and fraud differently.
Going the extra mile
There’s no limit to a great customer experience. GoDaddy’s small-business page puts a five-star review front and center: “Their customer service goes above and beyond to make sure all my issues are resolved and products are set up properly.” I also like the company’s claim that “There’s no such thing as a dumb question” — a reassuring idea to merchants building their first websites.
As the owner of a agency, lots of service providers and vendors want to be my ” business partner.” As a New Yorker, I scoffed at the pretense until GoDaddy set me straight. During a tech support call about migrating a client’s domain, my Concierge (tech support pro) looked over my account and told me there were lots of ways I could be both saving money and making money. He then spent 30 minutes reviewing my features and made changes that resulted in savings of more than $1,000. Did he lose revenue for the company? Yes, in the short term. Did he build a relationship for life? Yes.
Amazon is famous for virtually inventing the recommendation tool, which suggests products based on customers’ past purchases. Zappos has produced more than 300,000 videos, one for every product, that feature employees sincerely describing what they love about each shoe.
Customer experience is a major differentiator — one of the biggest, in fact. There are any number of reasons why your organization may not have the lowest prices or largest selection, but there’s no reason you can’t commit to and deliver the best customer experience.
Great customer service can be operationalized, starting with a CX promise and then delivering employee training to reinforce the company’s commitment to service.
Consider what metrics and practices you’re using. Are they supporting your CX experience? For example, Zappos’ call center employees are given no time limits for their calls. American Express doesn’t look for call center or financial services experience from applicants, opting instead for experience from cruise lines, retail stores, and restaurants with a passion for customer service and socialization.
HR should recognize employees who demonstrate great service, which may mean enhancing (or even creating) an employee rewards program that embraces the value of service.
How will you know you’ve succeeded? Externally, you’ll see increases in sales, website visits, and return customers. You may also see more positive comments on social networks, as customers share their positive experiences and write good reviews. Internally, you’ll see more engaged employees who are exceeding expectations and passionately living your mission, vision, and values.
If you’re still wondering how crucial the customer experience, consider this: Numerous studies have shown that our happiest memories are tied to experiences, not possessions, so it’s possible that the experience of buying your products or services is more important than the products themselves.
Jody Ordioni is President of Brandemix.
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