What Makes Good Customer Service?

I recently moved to the US and was intrigued to discover whether or not the fabled US customer service ethic was as good as I’d been led to believe.  I’ll confess, my relocation was indeed made a great deal easier by the fact that every organization I dealt with, from schools to mobile phone providers and from utility companies to financial institutions, all treated me as a highly valued customer. While this relies on individuals delivering on the promise, this approach exists because of a genuinely ingrained characteristic of American culture - ‘the customer is king’.

Wikipedia defines customer service as ‘the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase’.  But *good* customer service is so much more than a transactional process; it’s how a customer feels during a transaction.

The earliest form of CRM, of course, was based purely on human interaction. I’m sure we can all remember a favourite shop where a member of staff made a difference.  But was that experience driven by the culture of the organization or was it just a one-off? In the UK my favourite store is John Lewis for no other reason than it has a focus on good honest customer care - "never knowingly undersold" is its strap line. It achieves this by encouraging even the most junior of staff to view their role as just as important as the departmental manager, store manager or a board member.  In essence, every member of staff at John Lewis understands that they are responsible for how customers view their experience at John Lewis and behave accordingly.

Over the last couple of decades, however, technology has increasingly been used to help organizations deliver a customer service experience.  The belief is that technology can make customer interactions faster, more efficient and therefore cheaper for the company providing the service.  But if you’ve ever been stuck in a seemingly endless loop of automated phone options when calling a company, you’ll know that, all too often, technology can be an impediment to customer service if you're not careful.  To my mind, the appropriate use of technology has to be combined with the right level of human interaction to deliver the very best in customer service.  Get that right, and you’ll have a fantastic business.

Take Mimecast, for example.  After just over four years of service with the company, and an international relocation, I remain genuinely passionate about our business. It is that similar passion that drives the individuals that make up Mimecast to deliver on their promise to the best of their ability each and every day. Our global target for customer renewals is extremely high – 98%.  But this is a metric that we exceed year in year out. And the reason for this is that, although we are a SaaS company - a market not known for human-to-human interaction - our business model factors in the importance of conversations between us and our customers and partners from initial engagement through on-boarding to support. We call ourselves Mimecasters and act within an unwritten code of ethics.  There is an internal buzzword inside Mimecast, where we describe ourselves as 'SaaS with a Face'.  And it's a term that resonates with our customers and partners, some of whom have suffered a lack of meaningful human interaction and relationships at other cloud vendors.

Creating this balance between personal and technology interaction to deliver excellent customer service is an on-going challenge, but we believe we’re getting it right.  Last week, this belief was strengthened when we heard we had been named the Microsoft Partner of the Year for Innovative Customer Advocacy.

But we’re not resting on our laurels because we know that the beauty of customer service is that customers will nearly always let you know when you get it wrong!   Images CC Flickr