Why Customer Service May Be Your Strongest Marketing Tactic

Offering exceptional customer service is one of the most effective ways to get more business. Here's how to excel at it.
November 24, 2014

On most businesses' organizational charts, marketing and customer service are typically two different departments. But lately, some have said that customer service is the new marketing.

Traditional marketing helps make customers aware of your business—you hope to get them “in the door” by encouraging them to pick up the phone and call or to physically walk through your business's front door. But traditional marketing is often expensive because it takes multiple impressions before a customer is even consciously aware of your business.

In the past two years, word of mouth has been recognized more and more for its effectiveness and has become a coveted form of marketing. Recent studies have shown that standard marketing messages are becoming less and less effective; in some cases, customers are flat-out skeptical of your marketing efforts. Conversely, potential customers appear to trust the opinions of their colleagues and friends far more than your best marketing efforts.

If you want more business and new customers, your best bet these days is to deliver amazing customer service to your existing customers. Not only will they return to do business with you again, but they’ll talk to their friends, colleagues and family members about their experience. Customer service, while maybe not the new marketing, has become a critical part of any business’s marketing strategy.

Shining Customer Service Stars

My friend, Tom Baldwin, the former president and CEO of Morton’s The Steakhouse restaurants, shared some interesting information with me about Morton's marketing strategy. While Baldwin was at the helm of the restaurant chain, it didn’t advertise in print publications, on radio or on TV. He proudly claimed that the restaurant’s employees were the best marketing department he could have. When a guest experienced the great food that came out of the kitchen, along with an amazing level of customer service, they would walk out happy, return for another fabulous meal and tell others about the experience.

In my most recent book, Amaze Every Customer Every Time, I use Ace Hardware as a role model throughout the book. I love Ace for several reasons. First of all, most of the stores are individually owned and face intense competition from much larger “big box” stores, such as Home Depot, Lowe’s and others that are five to 10 times their size. These big box stores spend as much as 30 times more in advertising. Yet, somehow, Ace continues to be successful.

The company's secret is simple: It doesn’t compete on price. It doesn’t try to outspend the competition in advertising—it knows it can’t. Some Ace Hardware stores have even chosen to do away with traditional advertising almost completely. Instead, they funnel most of their advertising dollars into local community events to endear themselves to their local communities. Then they amaze their customers with their helpful brand of customer service.

The company's goal is to be the most amazing retail hardware store on the planet. By providing amazing service, it has not only survived against its big box competition, it thrives.

When it comes to customer service, one company whose name pops up over and over is Zappos.com. Its leaders don’t view customer service as a cost but instead as an opportunity to amaze customers to the point that they evangelize the company. It’s the company's value proposition. It's consistent, which means customers can trust that they'll have a great experience every time. It’s actually quite simple: Customers can buy shoes (and other items) from many other places. But at Zappos, it’s not so much about the shoes—it’s really about the promise the company makes and keeps to its customers.

Giving Customers What They Expect

More and more companies, both large and small, promise their customers outstanding customer service—some of them even brag about how good they are and win awards for it. As customers experience this promised level of service, they begin to understand what good service truly looks like, and they start demanding it from all the places where they do business.

Good customer service makes customers want to come back again and again. No clever ad will have as much impact as how you make your customers feel about doing business with you.

It's also important to realize that your customers are going to talk about the service they receive from you—both good and bad. In fact, they'll not only verbally tell their friends and colleagues—they'll broadcast their experiences to the world via Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and other social channels.

So make the promise to deliver an exceptional customer service experience, and then keep that promise. Be so good that your customers not only want to come back but also want to tell their friends, family and colleagues about your business.

Customer service isn’t just a department. It’s a strategy. It’s a philosophy. It’s your most effective marketing strategy.

Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is a customer service expert, hall-of-fame speaker and bestselling author. He works with organizations to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He's also the creator of The Customer Focus, a customer service training program that helps organizations develop a customer service culture and loyalty mindset. For more information, contact him at (314) 692-2200 or www.Hyken.com.

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