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Understanding how and why your prospects make a decision can initiate the first purchase. Reinforcing that decision keeps them around. Happier customers stay longer and buy more. The broad term is customer service.

Whether B2B or B2C, investing in customer service yields dividends. Or not. Customer satisfaction is a profit center. Especially if you have a high-consideration product or service.

I took a few minutes and googled “customer service”, and here are some of the definitions I found:

  • Customer service is the process of ensuring customer satisfaction with a product or service. (Investopedia)
  • Getting customer interactions right has never been more important, especially since social media has given unhappy customers a louder voice. (HBR)

Makes sense and I’m going to assume we all agree with the above statements. However, in practice, customer service is an area that can be taken for granted, overlooked, or considered a cost center and treated as such.

Death by a thousand cuts.

Here is a sad story of bizarro customer service actively undermining brand and customer satisfaction while wildly inflating the cost of delivery. I do not believe that lightning struck me, that I am the exception.

I have had a subscription to my hometown newspaper for about 30 years (and my hometown is among the largest on the planet). I decided to become a digital subscriber when the most recent cost of delivery was subtracted from my credit card. I called the same day and was assured that the switch to digital was immediate, that my checking account would be charged for the digital subscription and the home delivery charge would be refunded.

The next day I looked at my online statement and the new charge was there, but not the refund.

  • I went to chat under Contact Us and was assured that everything was fine and that someone from billing would call me that afternoon or the next day to straighten everything out.
  • No one called, so I did. I was told it takes 90 days to get a refund. I asked for a supervisor and was transferred to someone who identified as “an advocate”. They started to argue with me.
  • Next, I got a gentleman who apologized for the runaround and, since this was late on a Friday and the billing department was closed, he would call me back at 10 am Monday morning and we would both speak to billing “and find out what it will take to get your money back right now.”
  • Monday, I waited until early afternoon, called, and asked to be transferred to him. I was told it was not possible, but they asked to help. I explained the situation and they said that someone from billing would call me back that afternoon.

I saw this play.

I completed the email form on their website. The form said it would take 2 – 3 days to get a response. Sure enough, on the 3rd day, I got an email that said it takes 10 – 14 business days to get a refund and that there was no way to make it happen quicker. Included was a GIF of an iron door clanging shut.

On the 15th business day, I called to inquire about my refund. I spoke to a supervisor who told me that the refund had been transferred to my account several days ago, but it would not appear on my online statement, that I should call my bank.

I asked the supervisor if they really believed that answer. On a lark, I called the bank. They asked me if I really believed that answer.

On the 17th business day, I received a paper check in the mail.

Up is down.

Since we started with definitions, let’s go to bizarro, which I believe was first introduced in Superman comics:

The opposite of the real world. Good is evil, a round is square, hello is goodbye. (Urban Dictionary)

Up really should be up.

Many large organizations embrace the moment of customer interaction as a way to burnish their brand, to create happier customers that stay longer and buy more. There are others who do not, and this is one. I do not think it was a conscious choice.

What’s the harm in having a supervisor authorize a clearly justified refund on the spot? Was this worth the expense?

The story above is chaotic and self-destructive. No company would knowingly design such a system. Fixing it begins by viewing customer service through the eyes of profit, not as a cost center.

You my dog.

Iggy Pop’s first recording of note was “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. Actually, it was credited to The Stooges for whom Iggy was a frontman. I bring it up because it creates a useful backdrop.

No, I don’t wanna be your dog. I want the companies I deal with to value, and by value, I mean invest in, my satisfaction as a customer. Few companies engender blind customer loyalty in the face of arrogance, at best, or ineptitude, at worst.

The takeaway from this interaction is that customer service, for this company, is not a priority. It is a cost to be minimized, an annoying afterthought. The notion of customer satisfaction is subservient to some bizarro mix of internal processes and lack of attention. The message being sent to me as a customer is: heel.

When the call ends, these CSRs say, “Thanks for being the best part of the (name of the publication which I am gracefully shielding).” What a bunch of hooey, to use the technical term! It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and everyone one loses.

Disambiguating bizarro.

What does this have to do with selling B2B services and products? Well, more than you might think. At the heart of the B2P mantra are two fundamental truths:

  1. A company’s purpose is to sustainably serve their customers, or in more evocative words, to make the world a better place by solving one customer problem at a time. A high calling! And far more empowering than, say, “maximizing shareholder value.” Just saying. Oh, and that turns out to be far more profitable than the alternative over time. We call this the “Purpose Positioning” of the firm. Lots more to say here. Ask us.
  2. The focus of the company is on their prospects. In B2B, those are the humans who work together and face a shared problem or opportunity that they could solve by bringing in provider’s product or service. But here’s another way B2P thinking makes a difference. Even if they bought that product a decade back, they never stop being prospects… because they are always prospects for new products or more products… or your competitors.

As a result, a call center that actually functions as a center for “customer service” must be grounded on three principles near and dear to a “B2P” mentality:

  1. Embrace the requirements. Once a prospect changes hats and becomes a customer, their needs and requirements evolve. The prospect persona(s) must be reinvestigated and reformed. The center for longevity is no longer the buying center, and the definition of success has morphed. Understand the key deliverables, how your customer measures successful customer service, and thus, how you should (and must) measure your efforts.
  2. Value and invest in the relationship. Here are a few ideas: Share the process and results of persona research across your organization. Organize around definable customer needs, not around the organizational turf. Include customer service in your annual NPS research.
  3. Empower the customer-facing personnel. The moment of interaction is made or break, you burnish your brand or you blow it up. Your choice. Customer-facing personnel should be trained, incented, and empowered to take ownership of the interaction and resolve it right then.

Then, everyone wins.

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