‘Algorithms can fail, patents can expire, but a reputation for great service endures. The fundamental trait of the ideal Silicon Valley startup has long been scalability. A ten-person team can build and deliver a product to ten million people, and that’s a beautiful thing. But there are times in business when you need to do things that do not scale—times when good, old-fashioned human touch is essential to address customers’ needs.’ – James Slavet, Greylock Partners, Seven Signs of a Customer Focused CEO

Customer service representatives (CSR) of small-medium enterprises (SME) are like our favorite baristas. They excel in adding a little human touch and personalizing our coffee to our liking. SMEs are bold and generous when it comes to their customer service, knowing that good customer service will result in a loyal customer base for them in the long run. SimplySoles for example, sends out handwritten thank-you notes to every customer who orders shoes. Customers can even reach the founder, Kassie Rempel directly through the toll free hotline.

Effective and friendly self-service is what SMEs are working towards. As their company expands, SMEs seek to increase the number of self-serve channels to reduce the burden on individual CSRs. A well-written FAQ page should be able to solve most customers’ problems without them having to call up a CSR. For example, IKEA has a pretty thorough FAQ page, which furnishes customers with all sorts of information from product descriptions to shipping details. This eliminates the need for customers to contact CSRs in order to obtain such information.

The customer service in big businesses, on the other hand remind me of 5 star hotel buffets. They have the means to provide customers with every detailed FAQ pages and hotlines for every problem imaginable round the clock. Self serving is encouraged, as it reduces customer waiting time, increases cost efficiency, and improves customer satisfaction, giving customers the choice to choose the type of service that best suits them.

Yet, many big businesses are notorious for their lack of human touch. As banks set up ATMs to improve customer self-service, they lose out a great deal of human interaction time through which relationships can be built. The hotel manager will never fully win the hearts of his customers if he remains behind his buffet spread. He needs to meet his customers and interact with them. To prevent himself from becoming disconnected from his customers, Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora frequently travels across the US to meet Pandora Fans directly. Though he cannot reply all his users’ emails personally now (he used to answer all customer emails personally in the early years of his company), he ensures that every customer email receives a personal response from a real life human.

Ultimately, what sets a company apart from their competitors after product excellence is how far they can connect with their customers.

I would never forget the CSR at Apple who sent me a personal response email (within 3 days as promised), attached with scanned copies of the documentation with I needed to claim my rebate. Neither would I forget the salesgirl from Frederic Sai, a local clothing boutique, who waited patiently for me for 2 whole hours while I settled a family issue at her store. I’ve since remained a loyal customer of them both.

So, how have you connected with your customers today?

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samuel lee

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