The Case for using Exceptional Customer Service to improve the bottom line and build a global brand.

“When we started Virgin Atlantic 30years ago, we had one plane competing with airlines that had 300 planes each, every single one of those companies have gone bankrupt - because they didn’t have customer service. They had might, but they didn’t have customer service. Customer service is everything in the end. The way you treat your employees, is the way they’ll treat your customers.” Sir Richard Branson.

Businesses usually invest more into their structures, furnitures, and amenities than they invest in equipping and training their employees to carry out their day-to-day activities efficiently and effectively. But building customer experience by training and improving employees is gradually becoming a priority with smart managers.

Great features and amenities may get you new customers through the door but it’s the quality of the interaction your customers have with your employees that encourages them to come back again and again. Your greatest assets are your employees.

According to Salesforce, the support you give to your customers is known as - customer service. This support helps customers have a simple and pleasant experience with your organisation. Although most businesses in our environs may ignore customer service and focus on the ambience and the day-to-day running of the business; customer service is a critical part of the promise your brand makes to its customers. It is very significant to the success of your business.

Here are some organisations that have used exceptional customer service to build globally renowned brands from nothing.

i. Zappos

Zappos was founded in 1999. In their first year, Zappos made gross sales of $1.6million. Just 10years later, Amazon bought Zappos for $1.2billion. How did Zappos attain this? Three Cs drive Zappos: Culture, Customer Service & Clothing. New employees at Zappos spend over 400hours in core training and new hire training. Their courses range from: effective communication, coaching, overcoming conflict & managing stress to inspiring great teams, leadership Zappos style & cultivating culture.

Zappos uses free-call number, free shipping and returns, 365-day return policy and 24/7 line. Employees do not use a script, and are allowed to be as long as they want on a call. They are also allowed to make on the spot decisions in the best interest of the customer. This exceptional service helped them go from gross sales of $1.6million in 2000 to gross sales of $1billion in 2008. All this growth was mostly because Zappos had a goal to “WOW” customers and establish a personal connection.

ii. SouthWest Airlines

As a low-cost airline started in 1993, SouthWest has grown by building a culture that have fun and treats employees as FAMILY, and offers exceptional customer service to passengers. How many airlines do you know that have a habit of sending birthday and valentine’s day card to their customers? Well you know one now! 2014 was the airline’s 42nd consecutive operating year with profits.

Over the years, SouthWest has built a culture of using “WE” giving a sense of - we are all one, we are all in this together. SouthWest Airlines treats her employees so well that quite a number of people take a pay cut to work for them. Employees earn less but have more flexibility and control over their working hours.

Founder - Herbert Kelleher had been acclaimed ‘the friendly leader’ as he treats employees as internal customers. He also sees himself as a member of the team. With his relaxed leadership style, he ensures he is in constant interaction with his employees. One of his notable quotes “work is important, don’t spoil it with seriousness.” SouthWest has a simple strategy: Happy staff will build happy customers, who will in-turn build profits. And it worked - as they now have operating revenues over $20billion.

iii. Virgin Group

As a business started by renowned entrepreneur - Sir Richard Branson, Virgin is built on the concrete premise of always exceeding customer expectations. The Virgin Group now has over 60 Virgin businesses, serving over 60million customers worldwide. The group of businesses has over $24billion in annual revenue with over 71,000 employees in 35 countries.

How did Richard build this? Virgin ensure that their employees are always happy and engaged. This allows them to grow the business by taking on daily challenges in their stride. Richard believes that managers have to be passionate about delivering exceptional customer service. That is really what sets you apart from your competitors. “Everything in the end comes down to Customer Service.”

Virgin hires only people who have the right attitude. They call it - ‘the virgin attitude.’ Around 1-2% of applicants are hired. Employees are also empowered with the right training and they are also allowed to utilise their imagination and initiative to drive the company forward. Virgin America for instance - has three full-time employees handling complaints on their twitter account.

Some experts estimate that it costs a business around 6-7times the amount it cost to keep an existing customer. A Gartner poll showed that 89% (36% as at 2012) of companies expect customer experience to be the main differentiator between them and their competitors. Focusing on improving your customer service isn’t just smart, it’s right for your bottom-line. Experts say that 86% of customers are willing to pay more for the right customer experience.

Providing exceptional customer service is a critical part of building a successful business and can help set your brand apart from your competitors. Start investing in your greatest asset - human energy (your employees) and give your business the added edge it needs to compete in these critical times.

#customerservice #customerfirst #employeeengagement #employeefirst #richardbranson #zappos #southwestairlines #virginatlantic