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Is Your Customer Service Offensive or Defensive?

by Justin Palmer - February 12th, 2009

Offensive vs. Defensive Customer service

As much as customer service is all the rage, and heralded as the new marketing, it’s still viewed as a cost-center by most online businesses. This I believe, is entirely due to a defensive approach to customer care.

Defensive customer service can be defined as any type of reactive customer servicing such as answering calls, responding to email inquiries, or responding to live chat sessions.

Providing good defensive customer service will never result in a flood of new business for two reasons:

  1. You will only have personal contact with a fraction of your total customers. (those who have questions, problems, etc.) Only this small segment will be impacted by your excellent service. Note the uniqueness of this situation, in a brick-and-mortar world, you do have personal contact with each and every customer.
  2. Good service is an expectation. Yes, some companies like Zappos go above and beyond customer expectations with extraordinarily helpful service, including referring customers to competitors for products they don’t stock. But for the most part, good service is a requirement for doing business.

At it’s very best, good defensive customer service will only prevent you from losing what you already have. It will not, by itself, create hoards of new word of mouth business. Unless… you change the paradigm.

What if you were able to reduce needless, defensive interactions through high-cost touch points (phone, chat, email) and with the time saved, start a offensive customer care plan that will actually add value?

Consider these powerful, yet rarely used tactics:

  • VIP Recognition: Do your top customers know that they’re your top customers? They should. An outgoing phone call to a VIP customer is ten times as valuable as taking an incoming call. Come up with a system in which you regularly recognize these VIPs, and do something special for them.
  • Customer Welcoming: Want to knock their socks off? Give brand new customers a call shortly after they place their order. Thank them for trusting your business and ask for feedback.
  • Give them Feedback on their Feedback: It’s not uncommon for an online business to ask for customer feedback, but rarely do businesses respond to such suggestions. C28 makes it a habit to respond to every single customer suggestion left on their website. The response from customers is utter shock. “You actually read those suggestions?” most say.
  • Customer Apology Program: Mistakes happen. Unfortunately, sincere apologies usually don’t. Learning the art of an effective apology will greatly exceed the expectations of your customers. Imagine getting a call from a manager, who apologizes for a lost shipment, and offers a discount on the order for the inconvenience. This is not expected. This adds value.

Sounds great, but how can you possibly have time to implement the ideas above? Here’s some ideas for reducing the load of defensive customer interactions.

  1. Have a thorough FAQ / Knowledge Base: Every reasonable question should be answered in advance on your site. Ask your customer service team for help with this, they know what type of inquiries occur repetitively.
  2. Answer questions contextually: FAQ pages are good, but few people have the patience to search through your site looking for an answer. By placing answers to common questions within the context of where the question is raised, you’ll prevent countless unnecessary calls and emails. For example, if customers are constantly asking when their shipment will arrive, include an estimated delivery date on the order confirmation page or shipping receipt.
  3. Let customers help each other: brilliantly allows shoppers to ask questions about a specific product that can be answered by someone who owns that product. After all, who really knows a product more, someone who owns it or a customer service rep?

Start small. Over the next month, can you shift 5% of your customer service time from defensive to offensive tactics? 10% the next month, and so on? Give your customers the attention and care they deserve. I guarantee you’ll see a difference.

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7 Responses to “Is Your Customer Service Offensive or Defensive?” by Justin Palmer

  1. Carri Bright Says:

    Hi Justin,

    Great post! Everyone knows how essential good service is, but so few businesses ever put a premium on it which is a shame. I think you covered a lot of good points in this article, but here a re a few more offensive strategies to consider.

    Monitor your brand online by setting up Google Alerts for specific keywords including your company name and go out to where people are talking about you (blogs, message boards) to respond.

    Set up a Get Satisfaction account as another avenue of information and support (it’s free). Twitter is also another great (free) service where you can monitor your brand and interact with people who are talking about your company or service. But, remember the key here is to converse, to interact, not just to push sales message.

    And finally, don’t be afraid to be personal. It’s easy for people to vilify a company, they are large impenetrable structures. It is a lot harder to vilify a person and the more visible and helpful your people are, the better your brand reputation will be (people trust people).

    All the Best,
    Carri Bright
    Communications Lead

  2. Anh Says:

    Great tips on establishing a good offensive customer service. We do give our top customers VIP services. Everyone in the company knows who the VIPs are, and we usually follow-up an email with a phone call. Being proactive is easily to do than most people think. It leaves a good impression on customers when they see you are actively checking in on them. Those good impressions usually lead to word of mouth recommendations to their friends and colleagues.

  3. FTW Friday - 13 March 2009 | Border7 Studios Says:

    [...] Is Your Customer Service Offensive or Defensive?: We try really hard to be offensive here at Border7. How about you? [...]

  4. Robert Ruara Says:

    Goodness me.. aren’t your resources quite some gems. I am grateful that I came across your site. We are planning on starting an online store for our African merchandise business and the information on your site will go along way to ensure our venture takes off successfully.

    Thanks and Kind regards.

  5. Matthijs van Gaalen Says:

    Great tips and very practical! I was triggered by the example but can’t find the ‘ask a question to another customer’ tool on that page. What did you exactly mean?

  6. Justin Palmer Says:

    @ Matthijs,

    Unfortunately it looks like no longer has this feature! Sorry for the confusion :)


  7. Growing an E-commerce Site: 6 Lessons from 1600% Growth Says:

    [...] customer service, and yet few are known for the truly remarkable kind. I believe this is due to a defensive rather than an offensive approach to customer care. Too much emphasis is placed on serving customers who initiate contact with the company rather than [...]

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