Have You Disarmed Your Customers?

I've followed Chip Bell's books on customer service for many years now. I always love the quick and powerful stories he shares. They provide timely cases for use with my clients.

He recently wrote Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to Do About It. In it he describes just how lethal poor customer service can be in a digital age.

One of his stories is of blogger Heather Armstrong. After receiving what she felt was very poor customer service from Maytag, she wrote a two-word recommendation to her more than 1 million Twitter followers —"Boycott Maytag." The next day she got call from one of the Maytag executives and her problem was solved. But not before the brand took a hit.

I looked up the story after reading it in Bell's book and found there was a healthy debate as to whether or not Armstrong's action was responsible. People came down on both sides of the issue. However, something there was no debate about was that customers have more power than ever.

Bell and his co-author, John Paterson, offer many considerations for disarming your customers and ensuring better service in digital age. Below are 3 questions I found to be particularly useful. If you can't answer yes to these questions, you're doing a poor job of disarming your customers.

  1. Does your self-service channel have a backdoor exit so customers can reach a live person?
  2. Are your processes designed with and for the customer ... not, just for the benefit of the organization?
  3. Is your service recovery done effectively and empathetically enough that it spawns a positive story your customers can't wait to tell? Healing a broken relationship is just as important as fixing the customer's problem.

"If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends." —Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO, Amazon.com

Doug Sundheim is an executive coach & organizational consultant focusing on leadership and strategy execution. His book on smart risk-taking is due out next year. You can find him at clarityconsulting.com and follow him on twitter @DougSundheim.

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  • Lisa Earle McLeod

    Love Wired & Dangerous!  It's a must read for anyone who deals with customers, Bell and Patterson tell you exactly what to do to get  your customers to use  'Word of Mouse" to praise your company not trash it. 

  • Tom Morris

    For a long time, Chip Bell has been my favorite source of wisdom on customer service issues, focusing on Customer Love! The new book he's done with John Patterson should be required reading for everyone in business!

  • Richard Shapiro

    Doug Sundheim's blog on Chip Bell and John Patterson's new and exciting
    book, Wired and Dangerous, highlights one the many important themes of the
    book; that customers have more power and influence over a company's brands than
    ever before. I totally agree if companies cannot answer "yes" to all
    three questions that are outlined...they are making themselves vulnerable to
    their competition. And, especially, those companies that have not learned the
    lesson of Zappos.....making sure your customers can easily reach a live person.
    Corporations need to look at the salary/benefits of a live agent as an
    investment in repeat business, and not a cost to the company. I just received
    Chip and John's book in the mail and can't wait to read it. Richard Shapiro,
    The Center For Client Retention