Customer service is the key differentiator between businesses. In a world where more and more businesses sell similar products and increasingly low prices, the thing that will set them apart and determine their success is their devotion to customer service craft. I use the term ‘craft’ because customer service is something that should be delicately managed, and beautifully practiced, like an art form.
It’s also a science, of course, carefully crafted and calculated, with processes and workflows, and a study of human behaviour. Tied together, the art and the science of it create a ‘customer service craft’ that generates customer loyalty, retention, and, at the bottom-line: sales.
Customer Service as a Science
Science alludes to a sense of method, a strict understanding of how things fit together following a set of rules and standards. When we think of customer service as a science, we should think of the patterns and principles that result in satisfied customers. There’s a pile of information on how that can be accomplished, with books and articles written from here to the ends of the earth on how customer service processes can be improved, channeled, and taught. There’s a constant search for the right chemistry, the right recipe for what might help someone master the customer service craft.
There’s no real recipe, of course, only guidelines and some very clear cut rules on what not to do. Most of the ingredients changes as the variables of the situation do: demographics change, consumer demands fluctuate, etc. That’s not to say that the scientific method should be ignored in the search for perfecting the customer craft; on the contrary, it’s a great way to find out what’s working and what’s not (after all, what is mystery shopping if not a form of the scientific method?).
Customer Service as an Art
When I was a barista, people would often ask me how I managed to create latte art. I wasn’t really that good – I could manage those little leaves and hearts, but nothing really beyond that – but it was always flattering to know that people found it charming. My answer would always be that coffee-making was more of an art than a science – I know, it’s a ‘line’ that baristas all over the world use – but my point was, and still is, that the art of making coffee required practice and feel. When you’re steaming the milk, for example, you could use a thermometer to make sure you hit the right temperature, nothing wrong with that, but after a while, you develop an instinct for it – for me, it was all about sound. I could hear when the milk was ready based on the pitch of the wand in the milk. I could also hear if the wand was in the right place, the ‘sweet spot’. That is what I mean by ‘feel’.
Customer service is no different. An experienced hostess or retail clerk develops an instinct for their products, and their customers – when to make a recommendation, and when to leave a customer alone for a spell.
Perfecting the Customer Service Craft
Knowing the how and the why is the science, being able to read and react to people is the art, and both elements play a vital role in developing the customer service craft. Delivering excellent customer service relies on a lot of things, but by learning from mistakes, improving, and growing the customer service efforts in a business, the craft can really be mastered.