Guest Post: 3 Big Customer Service Myths You Need to Avoid

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When it comes to establishing truly loyal customers who act as your greatest marketing arm (through word of mouth referrals), you need to be aware of 3 big pitfalls that so called customer service “experts” pass off as good advice.

Fact is, a lot of the advice touted by the industry is nothing but MYTHS, with little to no data to back up the claims made.

Today, I’m going to break down 3 of the biggest customer service myths out there, and show you the research on how to actually amaze your customers and provide the exceptional customer service that all of the best brands are known for.

Let’s begin!

1.) The Myth: Fast service is the best service

The truth: 15 minutes of great service always beats 5 minutes of hellish service.

It’s almost seems like blasphemy for me to tell you to slow down your service and spend more time with customers, but it’s not my opinion: it’s fact.

Now granted, there are situations when speed takes priority (as a webmaster, I know when my hosting goes down, I want my problem solved FAST!), but most of the time, the research shows that people prefer slower, more competent service over rushed and “fast” service.

This information was revealed by multiple studies, but one of my favorites comes from the Gallup group, where researchers looked at bank tellers and what kind of service generated the best customer engagement and loyalty.

Their findings were quite revealing:

Customer perceptions of the tellers’ courtesy and their apparent willingness to help were far more important than speed of service in generating customer engagement.

Speed is one factor, but it is markedly less important than having tellers who can deliver services in a friendly and competent manner.

There are also notable examples that come from legendary entrepreneurs within the customer service space like Derek Sivers of CDBaby, who told his employees to spend more time with customers, in order to ensure that they were truly solving their problems to the best of their capabilities. CDBaby later went on to sell for over $20 million.

Speed does still matter, in fact it was the #2 reason (2010) why customers would abandon a brand… behind incompetent service, that is.

Always be mindful of your customers’ time, but don’t fall into the trap of believing that the fastest service possible is the best service possible.

2.) Myth: “WOWing” customers takes a big budget

The truth: Goodwill doesn’t need to be bought with huge gestures; it really is the thought that counts.

These days, everybody (HBR, Forbes, BusinessWeek) likes to talk about how to “WOW” your customers, because after all, “marketing is dead” and customer service is the new marketing (only a small bit of that is true).

Since that’s the case, all sorts of “customer WOWs” are cited as case studies on how to generate goodwill… and almost all of the ones discussed reference big dollar spending that is often quite reckless and unsustainable!

For instance, everybody loves to talk about Zappos for their (undeniably) great way of winning buyers over with their free upgrades to priority shipping and their superior online customer service (where they would take back any purchase, no questions asked), but fewer people know that Zappos was struggling more so than many people would like to admit before being bought by Amazon.

Here’s the thing though: it doesn’t take big money to great big customer “WOWs”.

In a classic study by psychologist Norbert Schwarz, he found that as little as 10 cents (this was in 1987) was enough to change the outlooks of participants who found the money by surprise.

In a later interview, Schwarz would later sum up this phenomenon as such:

It’s not the value of what you find. It’s that something positive happened to you.

This is the concept of “surprise” reciprocity, which enhances the loyalty building aspect of reciprocity by throwing people off guard with a pleasant surprise. The value lies in the surprise itself, the gift can be quite small and still create an impact.

This concept of a “frugal WOW” has been used by companies like Sweetgreen to great effect. By doing things like leaving small giftcards for people with parking tickets (or for those riding bikes in the rain), Sweetgreen has managed to maintain 300% year over year growth and amaze customers everywhere they go.

All without breaking the bank! :)

3.) Myth: Customer feedback isn’t useful for innovation

Sure, every company tends to listen to their customers to some degree, but I see far too many people quoting Steve Jobs on the fact that “customers don’t know what they want.”

The research says otherwise: In a broad (and scientific) look at customer innovation, MIT’s Eric von Hippel analyzed 1,193 commercially successful innovations across nine industries.

He found that 737 of those (60%) came from customers!

There’s also numerous examples of companies bouncing back from slumps thanks to customer innovation, like 3M:

In the 90′s, 3M’s Medical-Surgical Markets Division was in a big slump, and they needed to make changes fast.

In order to inspire some more creative thinking, they organized a “lead user” (superstar customer) team to help with innovations in addition to their in-house staff.

Fact is, there are just some things that customers can do better than you, and you should be embracing these strengths rather than trying to spur innovation with an iron fist.

Don’t be hesitant to gather feedback from your customers on what can be improved about your products or services. Not every request can be fulfilled (or should be fulfilled), but you could be missing out on some great insights by not polling your buyers.

Your Turn

Now I hand things over to you…

  1. Let me know in the comments what you thought of this research and of my points.
  2. Get more data on your customers from our 75 Customer Service Facts & Statistics e-book (it’s free).

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the comments!

About the Author: Gregory Ciotti is the marketing guy at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software that makes email support a breeze for you and your customers. Get more from Greg on the Help Scout blog.