Guest blogger Greg Ciotti: Fix Service by Making it Personal, Surprising and Slow

(Editor’s note: The saying goes, everyone talks about the weather, but but no one ever does anything about it. Customer service is a lot like that: it’s been discussed to death as a key to customer retention and customer experience, and yet it never really seems to change all that much. Why is that?

I’ll now turn the reins over to Greg Ciotti at HelpScout. He’s got some evidence that shows that turning service around – and turning it in distinct directions – can be a business saver.)

Every business likes to believe that it offers amazing customer service, but the data show that very few actually do. In fact, although 80 percent of companies say they deliver superior customer service, only 8 percent of customers and potential customers outside the businesses think these same companies deliver such service!

With many companies having blinds over their eyes, one has to ask: what traits do make a customer experience truly excellent?

I’ve got three interesting studies (plus complimentary research) that should help in answering this all-important question.

1.) Personalization

When trying to get customers to love and trust your brand, one of the most important elements is how personal your business is.

In one of my favorite social psychology studies ever, researcher David B. Strohmetz (and colleagues) were able to show how mints could be used to increase tips for waiter by over 23 percent… without changing service quality!

They had a control group of waiters use no mints, another group use two mints, and a third group come out with mints, and then return a second time asking, “I was wondering if everything was okay and if I could grab you a second set of mints?” The perceived personalization of following up that second time jumped up customer satisfaction enough to incentivize patrons to leave a notably larger tip.

To top if off, recent brain research has shown that customers love hearing their name, and are much more engaged with brands that aren’t afraid to address them by name (there’s nothing quite like getting a “DO-NOT-REPLY” message from a bot, right?). Be sure to utilize first names when natural and appropriate; customers love this personal aspect.

2.) Competent and “slow”

One big myth in the customer service space is that speed rules.

On the contrary, I would assert that speed kills, and I’ve got research to back it up. According to the Gallup Group and additional research from RightNow, customers rate “competent, thorough and polite” service as far more important than fast service.

In fact, when referencing why they would leave brands, customers were 18 percent more likely to cite “rude, rushed and incompetent” service over slow service, showing that not only do customers reward better service, they also are more likely to abandon a brand over this poor service, even fore something a bit slower.

Additionally, Malcom Gladwell was able to show that even convicted felons were more likely to rate their sentences as “fair” if they had extended face-to-face time with their lawyers. It seems that even these “customers” placed a premium on how much attention they were being given!

3.) Reciprocity & surprises

Seems like bad advice, right? What customer wants to be surprised by a business? Funny thing is, if you can create a positive surprise for your customers, you’ll likely be leaps and bounds ahead in converting them to loyal buyers.

While the social construct of Reciprocity is likely familiar to you (“I scratch your back, you scratch mine”), surprising customers with this sort of goodwill has been shown to increase its effectiveness. Social psychologist Robert Schwarz showed that even an amount as small as 10 cents was able to create this sort of loyalty: the pleasant surprise was more important than the actual gift.

Some companies that have taken this to heart include the likes of Zappos, who regularly upgrade customer orders to overnight shipping for free, without informing customers. While this expense isn’t peanuts for Zappos, this and other research by Cialdini have shown that it really is the thought that counts!

This is what the concept of “frugal WOWs” is founded on: making someone’s day while being on a budget. One company, Sweetgreen, was able to boost sales dramatically by incorporating “random acts of kindness” into their marketing, regularly handing out gift cards for people on bikes and on cars that just got parking tickets.

Getting a $10 gift card isn’t all that amazing, but getting one after you’ve just received a parking ticket, or finding one under your bike seat when it’s raining is going to leaving a lasting impact that’s “bought” goodwill with customers for very little expense.

Imagine if your customer service was the same way, dropping surprises to customers who ran into some headaches: the minimal cost will be made up three-fold as you make someone’s day.

Your Turn

Did any of this research surprise you?

Be sure to let me know in the comments!

About the Author: Gregory Ciotti is the marketing guy at Help Scout, the invisible help desk that makes email support a breeze for you and your customers. Get more insightful data from our free e-book or on our blog.