Customer Service is the New ________
Recently I heard a marketing guru refer to customer service as the new media. Forbes magazine also ran a piece not long ago titled "Why Customer Service is the New Marketing."
Why all this sudden fascination with customer service? Hasn't the mantra "the customer is always right" been with us since the dawn of retailing civilization? So why is customer service so topical now?
I would submit that customer service is akin to Mark Twain's view on the weather. Everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it. Just yesterday, some of my colleagues and I listened to a webinar ostensibly about the crowd sourcing opportunities provided by social media analytics. One of the case studies was an online discussion about American Airlines' recent rebranding initiative. Not surprisingly, the majority of people commented negatively about the new logo and branding because they felt the airline had failed to rebrand itself where it really mattered – in customer service.
On the flipside, a survey just came out that showed Nordstrom has moved to the top spot as America's favorite fashion retailer. The survey "found that the Seattle-based Nordstrom topped the competition in six of eight measured attributes including customer service, atmosphere, no-hassle returns and designer options." This ranking came despite the fact that Nordstrom is generally perceived to have some of the higher price points in the industry.
Nordstrom has always taken the "anything for the customer" approach. Nowhere is that more obvious, and powerful, than its extremely liberal return policy. I'm sure there are number-crunchers out there who abhor a policy that allows people to return clearly used merchandise or items that have sat for months in their closets and are no longer in season, much less in fashion. Nordstrom doesn't care. They see the greater good. They recognize that long-term reputation trumps short-term profit. And that, in turn, pays dividends in exceptional customer loyalty. How else do you account for Nordstrom's success in a category that is littered with formerly great brands like Marshall Field's, Wannamaker's, Filene's, Dayton's, Hudson's, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. In fairness, some of the dearly departed brands were absorbed by larger chains, but most were already well on the road to irrelevance by then.
Yet Nordstrom survives and prospers. Clearly they are doing something right. My money is on their commitment to customer service. Maybe, at least in the fashion industry, customer service is really the new black.
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