Dr. Serhan Ili shared these thoughts about customer service on LinkedIn the other day. I found it to be pretty accurate (although a little simplistic, as everything is more complicated than a bullet-pointed list would suggest). He wrote:

  • Amazon didn't kill the retail industry. They did it to themselves w/bad customer service.
  • Netflix did not kill Blockbuster. They did it to themselves w/ridiculous late fees.
  • Uber did not kill the taxi business. They did it to themselves by limiting # of taxis & w/fare control.
  • Apple did not kill the music industry. They did it to themselves by forcing people to buy the full album.
  • AirBnb did not kill the hotel industry. They did it to themselves by limited availability & pricing options.
  • Technology by itself is not the real disrupter.
  • Being non-customer centric is the biggest threat to any business.

The technology changed and these businesses didn't think of their customers the way the startups did, and well, they were left in the dust. It reminded me of a conversation I had with Greg Collins, the Chief Customer Officer at SalesLoft. Greg and I chatted a lot about customer service and how important it was in today's economy.

He insists that SalesLoft doesn't just build software, they are passionate about their customers. They even have an official purpose:

Our purpose: Our purpose is to create an environment where we learn more, do more, and become more, through service to others. It just happens to be that we're great at building software and we're really passionate about improving the lives of the sales professional.

I, of course, am focused on the employee side of things. You can't sacrifice your employees in order to give the customer everything he wants. Eventually, you'll burn out your employees and the customer will leave you for someone else. Collins insists that it's not an either/or proposition. He said:

It's all about relationships. Really at the core, it's about building a long term relationship, and it has to be sincere. The days of living in the transactional old school sales economy with only the right hook and message are gone. I believe leading businesses have moved from a sales economy to a help economy. We genuinely have to help people to have a sustaining relationship. It's the difference between pursue and ensue: There are a lot of companies that ardently pursue only their own success, and that approach is transactional thinking. I believe that success, like happiness, must ensue. You pursue your Customer's success and your company's success will ensure from that endeavor.

Collins has a good point--a good relationship has to be good for both sides, or it's not a good relationship. Customers and employees need to be happy for there to be a beneficial relationship. He says employees like helping their customers succeed because it allows them to be a part of something bigger. Everyone likes to be part of success.

All this technology means we've moved from a thing economy to a help economy. That goes with the original quote--I choose AirBnb over hotels because AirBnb helps me to have a reasonably priced vacation with enough space that my family doesn't go crazy. I choose Amazon over a brick and mortar store because they can deliver things straight to my door. (I don't have a car, so this is especially important for heavy objects.) They looked at my needs and made my life easier. That's customer service.