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Going beyond ‘Customer Service Week’

Did you survive Customer Service Week?

I say that only half in jest. That week, just concluded, has become a big deal now. It’s a global phenomenon. Businesses all over the world focus on remembering their customers and appreciating them. Much fanfare ensues. Special events, colourful outfits, gifts and freebies, social media campaigns light up the week.

It’s nice. Kinda.

Before we judge too quickly, let’s appreciate a certain truth: humanity enjoys events more than processes. Most people like it, for example, that their birthday is commemorated. The annual anniversary of their entry into this world should be celebrated by others. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you have done anything of meaning in your life, or whether you yourself have been generous to anyone else over the course of the year, or whether you deserve any goodwill. It’s a date. There’s cake. Let’s party.

And so corporate life is also full of seemingly fickle celebrations and festivities. These things also matter. They build kinship and create social bonds, which are the glue that hold together a business project whose rewards are otherwise skewed heavily towards a chosen few. People need to feel their togetherness, and sometimes the only visible way to do this is to engage in ritual merrymaking. Employees generally respond well to things like Customer Service Week, not least because it introduces some variety into their otherwise humdrum working lives.

Most customers also respond well. They like the unexpected gift or discount or attention, just the way they like people singing around a candle-lit cake for them on their birthday. It’s charming, sort of, and appreciated, sort of.

Those of us a who are a little more immune to gift-giving and jollification do have a serious objection, though. It’s a pretty obvious one. When did it become OK to serve customers well just for one week in the year?

Great customer experience is not a one-off occurrence, an event marked by start and stop dates. It is a way of being. An enlightened business has no need to have a week in which it focuses on its customers; every week is like that. It is a culture and a habit. Spectacular and sustained success can come the way of those who pull this off, because they have customers glued to them by the superior experience they offer. That kind of business is rare – but it has little need for pizzazz and revelry around its offerings; the offerings are uniquely special in any case. They are designed to be. For keeps.

A thoughtful business leader knows this. Anyone prone to deep thinking would use the week to do something a little beyond the same-old. Livening things up a little; surprising customers; creating some peak emotions. That’s fine. But you should do that in addition to a robust and consistent customer experience, offered all-year round – not instead of it.

Too many are using Customer Service Week as a get-out-of-jail card – a frothy and low-nutrition substitute for daily excellence in customer service. It’s easy to have a budget and focus some energy for seven days; it’s way, way harder to nurture a culture that results in the average staff member being keenly engaged with his work; and in the average staff member instinctively offering the best version of herself to customers.

Go for the real prize. Don’t win Customer Service Week; win the battle for continuous customer excellence.

I received some surprise gifts from a few service providers this week. I even appreciated some of them – but only those that came from people who are good at the service thing in any case. Greetings and offers from businesses I know to be lamentable at customer care bounced right off me. You can’t message or celebrate your way to outstanding customer experience. It takes work. A lot of work. And leadership. A lot of leadership.

My wife has a suggestion for a great Customer Service Week for your business. Why don’t you reveal to your customers the top three most recorded complaints over the past year – and the measures you are undertaking to fix those issues once and for all, so that the coming year will yield a lot more everyday excellence to your customers?

Any takers? Nah, didn’t think so. Party on.

(Sunday Nation, 13 October 2019)

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