Saturday, November 1, 2008

Customer service gives your new market entry the edge

Seems like I’ve been going on a bit about customer service recently. The other day I called back to a State phoneline to ask why after I had sent a ton of information a month ago, I had just received a letter asking for the same information and this letter had erroneous information about me! When I called, I spoke to an unfriendly and unhelpful representative who told me, “How do we know you are who you say you are?”. At the end of the call I asked if I could highlight my problem and suggestion for improvement with a supervisor. She told me to call my State Representative if I had something to say, she was not interested!

If we go back a few years to the airline crunch, I remember being very loyal to a particular airline and its alliance. Frequent flier miles had netted me a lot of perks more easily than with other airlines. This airline filed for Chapter 11, as did many others, and for the first year plus, I actually bought tickets - eschewing the use of miles - in my personal attempt to help the airline and its employees. After about a year the customer service dived to worse than rock bottom - I would actually say unethical in some of the sudden changes in charges they made after ticket purchase, and regardless of frequent flier status. As a result I quickly used up my 200,000 miles of free tickets and have only used this airline sporadically since.

The trend in the US away from customer service has been exacerbated by concerns over the unstable market. So imagine how great poor customers will feel if you provide an easy to use product or service with excellent follow-up. Customers who are treated like royalty, rewarded for loyalty and helped quickly and effectively with any problems, will notice a very stark difference to the norm. I would suggest your business will very quickly be their partner of choice. The same will be true for any US business seeking to make entrées abroad. Many countries have no customer service tradition, and those previously famous for great customer service are slipping. This crisis is actually a leveler giving you a real chance at large market share.

Be careful though before imagining you customers want what you want them to want! To give great service in a foreign culture, you need to understand what great service is in that culture first.

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