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Moments of Truth: Your Brands and Customer Service

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What followed was a long, animated, sometimes comically derisive, but educative debate between my two neighbors on customer service and brands. I became almost incidental to the discussion and my mind drifted towards more fertile thoughts - what if "Jack and Jean" could be brought to share this debate with my clients, peers, and other industry associates.

It was an interesting flight for me out of Miami last year. I was stuck between two fairly smart and garrulous neighbors. Certainly not the kind of predicament you would want to be in, especially when you are severely jet-lagged and, to top it all, have a load of business documents to review. Add the pleasure of a center seat, and it makes an explosive cocktail. I made some polite conversation with my fellow passengers, including a stylish "merci beaucoup" before diving into my work.

As I powered up PowerPoint (no pun intended) and the presentation announced itself as "Revolutionary Customer Service", both my neighbors' stares were fixed on my laptop screen. It was a long, comprehensive presentation, and I could sense my neighbors peering intently, but secretively into the material - not without interest. Having finished reviewing the document, I started annotating it. And now, I could uncomfortably sense my neighbors wanting to say something. It's not exactly polite to ignore your co-passenger, and so, I raised my gaze and met Jean's.

"You know, I run customer service for ABC Corporation?" she said. I must have said something like "Oh really!" And on that cue, she went on to tell me about her experiences in the customer service organization of a major brand. It turned out she had made quite a few trips to all globally popular outsourcing destinations as well. She also held fairly sharp views about locations she had seen, the technologies used, trends in customer care such as effort reduction, NPS, etc. And of course, she had to speak about how her customer care organization had 'dramatically changed the perception' of her employer's brand in the marketplace.

Jack, my other neighbor, uncharacteristically quiet (but portraying increasing agitation!) till this point, could now bear it no more. He introduced himself, with a drawl, as an expert analyst in the customer care business (he really was a customer service analyst by profession), and now began relating his experiences, at length. His experiences, in many ways seemed to misalign with that of Jean's. I increasingly got the cringing feeling that this selective rendition wasn't so by chance, but the man had his compelling points. Finally, he ended by saying, "Corporations don't really understand whether customer service contributes to a brand's reputation at all". A pregnant pause followed, but, the fuse, as you would guess, had been lit.

What followed was a long, animated, sometimes comically derisive, but educative debate between my two neighbors on customer service and brands. I became almost incidental to the discussion and my mind drifted towards more fertile thoughts - what if "Jack and Jean" could be brought to share this debate with my clients, peers, and other industry associates.

Think about it - Customer care is a $400 billion (yes, with a 'B') industry globally. Large scale technology deployments, up-sell and cross-sell, behavioral techniques, positive thinking, analytics, speech recognition, outsourcing in exotic locations...the list just goes on and on. And yet, you have corporations with diametrically opposite views and implementations of customer service succeeding in this myriad marketplace.

Like they say, only half of your money spent on customer service and advertising works, but which half? That's the $400 billion question!

Comments

That was an experience for life time. I agree with you sir outsourcing companies are about to become most leading sector in India.

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