Major industries such as software and telecom gave up on customer service long ago, and people have stopped expecting it. That’s especially true for younger generations, who may never have experienced great service from an actual human being. Service used to be delivered by people. Now it can be delivered through technology, and consumers can serve themselves (DIY).
But there are models for best-in-class service:
All three models are important. Companies that find the right blend of human, technological and DIY service for their situations will win.
What does best-in-class service for your company require?
Oxfam’s "Behind the Brands" initiative recently persuaded major food manufacturers to disclose their supply chain practices. Target’s "Made to Matter" handpicked brands feature natural, organic and sustainable products in response to consumer demand. We’re even starting to see apps that allow people to scan a QR code and find out a company’s political leanings.
This trend is driven partly by the fact that so much information can be found and shared on the Internet: Watchdogs can easily “out” companies for their practices and mobilize their networks to take action. Such social responsibility issues are of particular concern to Millennials, who by virtue of their numbers are important influencers and consumers. Starbucks and SC Johnson have been producing social responsibility annual reports for years, in response to their constituencies.
What can you do to demonstrate transparency and accountability?
This 80 million-strong group of young people is characterized by confidence, optimism and a collective, civic-minded outlook. Social researchers Strauss and Howe predict that Millennials will revitalize community and public purpose. Many will start their own companies. Expect Millennials to also gravitate toward large institutions and major brands.
Are Millennials important to your company? What can you do to engage them?
Technology allows consumers to evaluate products and buy from traditional, catalogue or online retailers through their laptops, tablets or smart phones. They can take photos in the dressing room and email them to friends for advice. They can browse at a store, compare products and prices online and then buy somewhere else. This means companies will have to differentiate themselves by adding value in other areas besides selection and price. Amazon’s free two-day shipping for Prime customers sets a standard for availability and convenience, for example.
What can you do to make your customers’ shopping experience more satisfying?
Companies once developed products and services largely on their own and used traditional media and advertising to control their marketing messages. Today, companies are engaging consumers more actively in the development process. And companies are no longer solely in charge of the marketing message: With sites such as Angie’s List and Yelp and personal social media networks, consumers can share their opinions – good and bad – on products or services more broadly than ever. The net effect is that companies and consumers now co-create and co-position brands.
What can you do to involve consumers to make your brand more successful?
China is already the second-largest economy in the world, poised to overtake the U.S. by 2020, according to the Economist. Wealthy Chinese have been gobbling up luxury good such as Ferragamo shoes and premier cru wines. And the richest Chinese are leaving the country to get a better education for their children and to escape pollution and overcrowded cities. The United States is their favorite destination. They are taking their fortunes and their expensive spending habits with them.
How can your company build on the importance of Chinese consumers?
All the things we do online – researching and purchasing products and services, engaging on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, participation in loyalty programs – have created a massive trove of “big data” that can be mined and used to serve or exploit consumers, depending on your point of view. Recent innovations in digital wallets will allow people to trade virtual assets of all sorts – currency, loyalty points, airline miles, cell phone minutes – which will open new markets and raise further questions about what companies should be able to know about their customers.
And with the "Internet of things" emerging as a new area for innovation – for example, the ability of your Fitbit to track and report your daily activity on your cell phone – data is exploding. Meanwhile, companies are increasingly facing data breaches, causing growing concerns about the safety of customer data. That undermines consumer confidence.
What can you do to build trusted, loyal relationships with your customers in this changing environment?