Service is an opportunity, not a cost centre

This post was inspired by a blog post about FreshBooks and Zappos called, “Can a Company be too Friendly“. Check out the comments, and let me know what you think by commenting here.

I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the way business executives got lost. For the past 20 years, supposedly smart businesses have looked at customer service as a cost center, not an opportunity.

We’re living in a generation where people are jaded about customer service – they expect the worst. It’s not surprising. Over the last few decades, executives have looked to service as a place they can find fat, cut costs and increase margins. Since it’s hard to track a direct ROI to service – unlike sales – service gets the axe. That may seem okay when you look at financial statements, but it’s not okay if you are a customer in need. It’s wrong and in the coming decades it will change, all thanks to the internet.

The web has changed the power balance. We’ve moved from a time of broadcast where marketers controlled the messages with their advertising budgets. They told us what to think, or at least they thought they did. We’d just turn to the person next to us on the couch and say, “what a load of crap”. We still do, but thanks to the web and services like FaceBook, Twitter and LinkedIn, our couches are a lot bigger. We have networks of people we communicate with all day long. It’s easy for us to share our thoughts quickly with many people, and they in turn can reply – in real time. To me, the internet has digitized word of mouth and it’s making conversations public and shifting power to the people – where it should be. Which brings me back to service.

We have a concept here at FreshBooks we call “4E”. It stands for Execute on Extraordinary Experiences Everyday. It’s not hard to be extraordinary today because people’s expectations are so low, but you have to deliver everyday to maintain the experience your customers expect. And if you don’t, well…you’re going to miss the opportunity.

Every interaction your customers have with your company is an experience. Customer service is perhaps the most important of all these experiences. Why? Because if your customer is calling, they need your help. You need to be there and catch them. If you don’t, they’re going to tell their friends. But if you do, they’re going to tell their friends – that’s the opportunity.

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  • Mark MacLeod

    Great post Mike. You’ve convinced me. Users have many choices and are completely portable. Only a great experience will keep them coming back

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  • Mike McDerment

    @mark: thanks and +1

  • Susan Abbott

    Very true. Financial engineering became the way to the top, instead of creating value for customers.
    Personally, I think the introduction of excessive efficiency metrics in call centres was a milestone on this journey.

    Last time I checked out your company was more than a year ago. Good to see that you have stayed with your mission, added a lot of valuable services, and still have the enthusiasm and energy of the original vision.

    I hope to see you at the upcoming AMA Toronto event.

  • Mike McDerment

    @susan: thanks. I’m speaking at the AMA event – please let sure to say hello – I’ll have my eyes peeled.

  • Justin Thorp

    Great article man. “Execute on Extraordinary Experiences Everyday” definitely has become a mission statement for all the work that I do.

  • C Johnson

    I hope the pendulum swings back towards customer service as you anticipate in your post – it is long overdue, in my opinion.

    However, as a consumer, I have severed my relationship in recent months with two companies – one my telephone service provider and the other a boutique shoe manufacturer – due to their abysmally poor customer service. In both cases, had they provided good customer service in response to the original problems – an online billing glitch and an extended manufacturing delay – I would still be a customer.

  • Josh Richards

    If you look close enough at the financial statements it does show up there. It’s just not always obvious.

    Good companies realize that marketing is best when the entire organization realizes that everything that anyone does is marketing. Customer service is certainly no exception.

    It is measurable. It just takes a tad more effort. A bit more than some are willing to do it seems.

    I was just discussing with a local retail business owner how one upside of the present economic climate will be savvier and more motivated business owners. The end result being some pretty well ran businesses coming together with good marketing systems useful in any economic climate. (Of course, not everyone will make the leap).

    You might enjoy these posts which hit on this from that angle:

  • Roxanne Swift

    Kudos to you. I absolutely dread calling customer service for any large company. I agree that large companies need to provide much better service or perish at the will of social networks!.

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