October 2011 Archives
Customer service and brand loyalty go hand-in-hand. So often, when I experience bad service, I harp on this point. A consumer’s experience can make the difference in where they shop and how much money they spend, but most importantly, how often they come back and how many friends they refer. When employees aren’t treated fairly or don’t receive the training and support they need to be successful in their jobs, it often shows in the way they treat customers. It’s not hard to tell a company’s business structure and gauge how many healthy workplace practices they have in place just from interacting with their employees. Happy employees lead to happy customers, which leads to more happy customers.
I don’t think it is a stretch to say that most people prefer to shop where they are comfortable and know they will receive reliable service. A majority will even pay more for it. Organizations, retailers and brands that create a loyal following have customers who praise them openly and drive business their way, for free. And with such abundant online reviews, blogs and rating sites, customers who are not happy with the services or products they receive have many avenues to share their woes. This goes for employees too. Look at Zappos and REI, just to name a few good examples of organizations that understand the importance of treating employees well and also have a following of fans that rave about their customer service. Treat your employees well and they in turn will treat your customers well. Take care of your employees and they will make your organization’s mission their own.
I have to admit that reading the latest news about Netflix spurred this post. I have been a loyal Netflix customer since the beginning. I remember toting those skinny red envelopes around my neighborhood and receiving quizzical looks as I plopped them into the postbox. I was such a loyal customer that I would try to convince anyone who would listen to join (and try it risk-free for 30 days!). Besides, I was not a fan of Netflix’s competition, and ultimately their dated business model and inability to keep up with current technology, not to mention their lack of customer service made them obsolete anyways (case in point). As an unofficial brand ambassador, I watched as the Netflix craze caught on and began exchanging knowing smiles with strangers that passed by with Netflix envelopes in hand during my morning commute.
What worked for Netflix 10 years ago doesn’t work as well anymore, and leadership has recognized that and is building ways to sustain long-term change. I understand this and can appreciate it, as I think most customers would. However, the expectation of Netflix’s raving fans was not to be hit with a 60 percent price increase out of the blue, which eroded trust and brand loyalty. After being bombarded with negative feedback, Netflix issued an apology with an explanation as an attempt to rebuild and reconnect with customers. That’s a good first step. Then, Netflix decided to abandon plans they had announced to split the company into two, after receiving negative customer feedback. That’s also a step in the right direction, to listen to your fan base, but left me wondering how Netflix could have avoided all of this in the first place. What came to mind was communication. Would it have helped if Netflix asked employees and customers for their input and took that into consideration before changing directions?
Failing to communicate and leaving your customers in the dark can have unintended consequences, much like that of an organizational leader who changes direction without involving employees. Change is hard. People need time to adjust. Communicating change and direction, especially changes that involve money is a big part of customer service. It goes back to your mission – if your followers are not with you, how can they help support the mission? Failing to communicate also hits at the heart of reliability and trust, and once you lose customers’ trust, it’s hard to gain back. The same goes for the employees who you trust with running your day-to-day operations. Including a communication strategy in your overall business plan is essential to sustaining a loyal following, whether it’s your employees or your customers.
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