I can't wait to see the Zappos ads featured in this New York Times piece. What's cooler than a company who hires someone to create puppets modeled on its employees? And then features them in ads to highlight its stellar customer service?
The puppets, which the article liken to "Muppets who have been to the theater several times to see 'Avenue Q,'" re-enact actual calls between Zappos employees and customers (actually actors playing customers, unbeknownst to the employees). The spots will be seen in television commercials, print advertisements and video and display ads on Web sites. They'll also pop up on Facebook,YouTube and Zappos.com.
I like the idea of a campaign highlighting customer service, a differentiator if ever there was one. Unlike differentiators based on technology (Web sites, e-commerce capabilities), those based on culture are tough to duplicate. It's smart for Zappos -- and for other companies mentioned in the article such as Lowe's and Nationwide Insurance -- to use service as a selling point.
At the same time, I wish good customer service wasn't such a differentiator. If it were more common, I guess we wouldn't see ads playing it up as a "secret sauce." The message of such ads: Come to us for good service, because you sure won't get it anywhere else.
I wrote yesterday about a ContactBabel survey in which consumers said contact centers don't give them the support they need (the bad news), though they don't fault the centers themselves or their employees (the slightly better news). Customers are smart enough to realize it's the folks in the C-suite -- the ones that see customer service mostly as a place to cut costs -- that fail them, not the front-line workers who more often than not do the best they can with the resources they have.
In a comment on my post, Answer Guy Jeff Yablon linked to a post on his blog in which he makes some great points. Customer service starts as a way to win and keep business. (This is why many small companies seem to offer better service than their larger counterparts. They can't usually compete on low price or variety of products/services, but they can compete on service, an area too often neglected by the big guys.)
But then, writes Yablon, "usually as a company becomes successful, and certainly once it starts 'answering to its shareholders,' customer service goes into the toilet." Does it have to be that way? Well, no. Zappos provides proof that it doesn't. The company apparently still sees good service as a selling point, a reason for folks to do business with it, not an area that needs to have as much cost as possible managed out of it. Writes Yablon:
I'm a business guy. I understand the need to turn a profit and I know how to massage the resources. When business change becomes about that at the expense of doing the things that made your company successful, you're missing the point. And it doesn't need to be that way: Like preventive health care contributing to overall wellness, real customer service adds to a business' bottom line.
A few important points: