For most of the 20th century, Americans enjoyed what I call The Golden Age of Customer Service. Sadly, based on recent research, it appears we’re in the Plastic Age.
In a national customer satisfaction index, the average customer rating was less than 60%. Going six for 10 is pretty good – if you’re playing baseball. But any small business with that batting average is headed for the shower.
So how has such a level of unservice become a 21st-century norm? Because customers have become sensitized to what I call the Plastic Triplets: High volume/low price, impersonal e-business, and almost as impersonal face-to-face service.
For small businesses, the Plastic Triplets create both opportunity and danger. But seizing the former and avoiding the latter requires an understanding of two things:
1. There’s nothing wrong with high volume, but it’s dangerous for small businesses because, by definition, most of us can’t deliver it. And low price is also not inherently bad, but it’s problematic for small firms because we need every precious red cent of gross profit we can squeeze out of a sale. This will be on the test: Low prices pave the way to that dark and dangerous place known as “The Price War.” For small businesses, The Price War is already over and we lost.
2. Nothing that has happened in the past 30 years has changed how humans want to be treated, only how they expect to be treated – even online. They’re still capable of saying “Wow!”
Armed with this understanding, all a small business has to do to prove that it isn’t plastic is rename the Triplets from Plastic to Golden and reverse the order.
Our first Golden Triplet is excellent face-to-face service, which I define as deliver over-the-top, outrageous business love beyond customer expectations, look customers in the eye, say their name often, say “Thank you” a million times, and never, ever say, “No problem.” The first thing you’ll notice about this Triplet is customers will be astonished because remember, humans still want to be treated well, they’ve just stopped expecting it. The next thing you’ll notice is that those pesky customers keep coming back.
The second Golden Triplet is the newest component of small business – online service. Even though you can’t compete straight-up with an Amazon in the online race, there’s good news: you don’t have to win the race as long as you demonstrate that you’re IN the race. That means providing the highest level of technology support you can afford, for example, an easily navigated website, a high-functioning e-commerce component, and email notifications of order progress. And never, ever ask a customer to touch your technology unless there’s something in it for them.
The third Golden Triplet is targeted volume/premium price. Alloying these two into a strategy will produce customers who value your special sauce enough to let you achieve the margins you need to thrive and continue to love them up. Unlike Amazon and Wal-Mart, who must conquer the world, you must maintain a narrow focus on quality customers, not quantity.
Believe it or not, saving money isn’t on top of the wish list of your target customers. They’re much more interested in customization, dependability, technical assistance, and saving time. But don’t just take my word for it.
According to the 2019 American Customer Service Index, in almost every industry, quality played a more important role in satisfying customers than price. By default, failing to develop this triplet means you’ve joined The Price War and you know what I’ve said about that test question.
There is one powerful 21st-century common denominator of the Golden Triplets: Customer relevance trumps competitiveness. In the Age of the Customer, customers make rule-in/rule-out decisions based on your relevance to them, often long before they know if you’re competitive.
This will also be on the test: Relevance is Golden. Plastic – not so much.
Write this on a rock … Focus on the relevance of The Golden Triplets and success will come and play in your backyard.