Customer Service–to the Nth Degree

We’ve all heard the stories about Nordstrom taking back snow tires from a valued customer, even though they have never sold snow tires; the great online service provided by Zappos and Amazon, and how exceptional customer service is embedded in the core of Jet Blue.

It’s not easy for a large organization to maintain a uniform level of customer satisfaction across all departments, everyday.  For a smaller, more personal organization, individual personalities can rise to the fore and shine. 

Recently, I experienced a small organization going through the transition from a small, intimate, niche-interest group who started to hold a retreat for its members, to becoming the premier conference in its field.  How did they successfully negotiate the sea change?  And how can you maintain your consumer connection as your business grows? 

Here are some tips:

1) Maintain the personal connection–no matter how big you get.   My first retreat with this organization consisted of 60+ people.  This year it was 800+.   Registration was sold out in less than an hour.  Yet, 2-3 days following registration, the conference organizer realized that I was not on the list and called me to find out what happened.  I felt like the most important person in the world because the organizer noticed my absence, and cared enough to contact me.  You can bet that I will be loyal to this person and her group forever.

2) Cap growth if the customer experience will suffer   It’s heresy to talk about limiting business growth, but sometimes it’s the right decision.  After moving venues, this group had maxed out growth and decided not to take the quantum leap that the organization was ill-equipped to handle.  Instead, the group decided to make smaller changes that were manageable for the group–inviting people in for partial day sessions and expanding the marketplace. 

3. Listen to your constituents  Since the beginning, the survey forms were not only collected, but read in detail for feedback on the event.  When the participants asked for a speaker from Europe, the conference brought the person to the U.S., but had to sacrifice other noted speakers that year.  Participants were so thrilled, that a hike in conference fees was deemed worthwhile to continue bringing international notables and include the best of North American speakers as well.

4. Delegate non-consumer-centric functions  We all get caught up in logistics, because without smooth logistics, our delivery to the customer falls apart.  This event organizer has a full cadre of people who are fully capable and empowered to execute the agreed-on plan.  This frees her to put out fires during the retreat.  We all say that this is what we do, but do we really hire the right people, train them, let them formulate the plan, then give them responsibility and accountability to make decisions in the heat of battle?  The best consumer-centric organizations do, because it works for the company and the customer.

5. Innovate  “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” doesn’t work in the digital world.  Problems are evolving at the same rate as new technology.  Customers who were once satisfied with a 48-hour email return answer policy are now expecting a real-time answer on their mobile device.  This organization experimented with a new registration policy for 3 years before they got it to work smoothly.  If they hadn’t started the innovating process when they did, the conference wouldn’t have  continuted to grow to their chosen size and current prestige.

What lessons would you add to this customer service list?

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