Should customer service become a caste system, segmented by dollars spent? Interesting #custserv answers

This thread began as a discussion in the Twitter Tuesday night customer service chat. We really didn't have enouogh time or space to discuss, so we brought it to Google+. I've copied and pasted the text here because the opinions are a worthwhile read. Please join us every Tuesday on Twitter, 9p ET / 6p PT for our lively chat. Search for #custserv. 
For more discussions, visit the archives Twitter Customer Service #custserv Chats 

Ok, So now you have more than 140 characters. Should customer service representatives spend the same amount of time with every customer, regardless of size?
Caty Kobe's profile photo
Caty Kobe - Touché, sir!

+Marsha Collier's original tweet was: "Should customer service should become a caste system, segmented by $$ spent? #CustServ" 

I do not believe that customer service should become a caste system (whether it currently is or isn't is still up for debate), as every customer that is willing to spend money with your organization deserves the same high level of treatment and service. The time spent with a customer should be dictated by the issue they're experiencing, and not by how much money they've spent with an organization. There's a few reasons why I believe this: 

1) Every customer has the ability to be a promoter or detractor and, in my experience, the level of service they receive almost always directly correlates with whether or not they'll recommend a company to a friend. Recommending friends typically leads to more revenue.

2) High levels of service often open the doors for an upsell and/or continuing business, which also brings in revenue.

3) At SugarCon earlier this year, one of the presenters offered an interesting statistic. I can't remember the exact details, but it was something to the effect of within 10 years, only a small percentage of companies will be able to differentiate based on products/services alone. That means, customer service will likely become the differentiating factor between organizations as markets become more and more saturated. Assuming you already offer stellar customer service, you'll likely find yourself at the top of the heap bringing in, well, revenue.

Should companies spend the same amount of time with every customer? Absolutely not, because not every issue requires the same amount of attention. Organizations should spend the amount of time that's required to effectively resolve the customer's issue regardless of how much money the customer originally spent.

**Please note that I approach customer service from a small(er) business perspective that's predominantly B2C. I'm sure people with enterprise and/ or B2B experience may have different thoughts.

Marcio Saito's profile photo
Marcio Saito - There always at least two sides to a discussion :o)

Angle 1: The mission of Customer Service is to complete/ensure the delivery of value to customers. It can only be successful if it is fully committed to that goal. If Customer Service is routinely spending time enough to solve customer problems that makes the business non-viable, the root of the problem is elsewhere. Of course, everything has a limit. There are situations where Customer Service better "fire the customer" (as discussed in a recent #custserv chat)

Angle 2: Generally, businesses try to allocate resources so that it maximizes return. So it is natural that a company will spend more resources to address issues affecting a large portion of the business. So, spend more resources on bigger deals. Just be aware, as Caty mentions, that it is becoming difficult to measure the "lifetime value" of a customer relationship as peer-influence is amplified. That "small" customer might be the person who brings you the deal of your life.

In the most common scenario where Customer Service interventions are exceptions rather than the rule (i.e. post-sale issues are relatively rare), I would advocate Angle 1: Focus on making the customer happy without looking at the meter. You are not trying to save a transaction, you are keeping the company promise.

I think looking at customer service time based on size of the deal makes more sense in cases where post-transaction interventions are common, part of the usual transaction workflow in the business model. 

Roy Atkinson's profile photo
Roy Atkinson - The time spent with each customer should be appropriate to the issue or question they have. It doesn't need to be the same for all--in fact it shouldn't be. The issue or question should drive the interaction. What should be the same is amount of attention the customer receives, the willingness to assist, and the determination to have the interaction (transaction takes the "people factor" out) end with a more loyal and happier customer than when it began.

Now, in the real world, we tend to want to please our biggest customers more, and so spend more time and resources doing it. A financial argument can be made for this: I can spend more making Mr Bigcustomer happy because I'll see more profit based on buying patterns. 

But: If we direct full attention and attentiveness to the customer and her/his issue, whether they be Mr Bigcustomer or Ms Icanbarelyaffordit, each can become a more loyal customer, and is more likely to recommend us.

When I feel the effects of good service, it rarely has to do with how much I've spent, this time or in the past. It has everything to with the attention I and my issue (if there was one) or question received.

The interaction should not waste my time or the service employee's time. It should be as personal as possible--and part of being personal is understanding my issue, my question, my needs.

Anyone who has heard me speak on customer service knows "Roy's Famous Four:"

  1. Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Clarity
  4. Consistency
None of these is related to money spent or to a time limit.
Marsha Collier's profile photo
Marsha Collier - All the response have been so elegant. I'll try to keep mine short.

As a businessperson, you bet I'll spend more time with the guy who pays me big bucks each month. Simply, a larger customer needs more time because his decisions are generally more complex. 

My smallest customers get top service too. When you have a customer with a $20 a sale, it's much easier to make them happier with a discount, bonus offer or refund. It's also quicker.

The more people pay, the more they want. As a consumer? You bet that I want to be first on the plane since I've flown close to a million miles on an airline. You bet I want the best table in the restaurant I visit regularly. It's human nature, yes?

Roy Atkinson has his famous four - mine cuts it to three:

  1. Listen
  2. Empathize
  3. Act
I do this for all my customers, whatever their size. It's just the smaller customer's needs are more easily met.

Hmmm, that wasn't so brief was it?   

Alan Berkson's profile photo
Alan Berkson - Part of this was based on a comment in #custserv about a caste system in customer service. It started with this tweet by +Marsha Collier

@MarshaCollier: @catykobe Should customer service should become a caste system, segmented by $$ spent? #custserv

to which I responded:

@berkson0: @MarshaCollier [caste system] it isn't already? #custserv

+Caty Kobe responded:

@catykobe: @MarshaCollier Nope. Every customer is equally important regardless of how much they spend. #CustServ

and I responded:

@berkson0: Is that practical? RT @catykobe: @MarshaCollier Nope. Every customer is equally important regardless of how much they spend. #CustServ

We do currently have a caste system for customer service. You get better service when you buy a Lexus than when you buy a Corolla. There are many opportunites to buy upgraded customer service. Is that a bad thing? Maybe not. 

One of the key factors here to consider is why can't we give every customer equal attention? The answer, from my perspective, (with notably few exceptions) is:

1. Too often customer service is not baked into the cost of the product/service. Corporate customers are used to paying extra for support. Consumers are not. For many consumer products, customer service is an afterthought and an expense

2. Consumer expectations are too high. There is a failure on the vendor side to set AND ADHERE TO expectations. Consistency is all important.

Join in the convo? What do you think?