The workday had long ended. And yet, a Rackspace support agent—a “Racker”—continued to troubleshoot an elusive customer problem. Offhandedly, she heard the customer mention that he was hungry.
The product problem was a difficult one—with no easy answer in sight. But, the hunger problem? That was something the Racker could fix. So, she did. She ordered a pizza, without telling the customer, and had it delivered straight to his office.
For many companies, a multi-hour support call without resolution might signal the end of a customer relationship. For Rackspace, the call solidified the relationship.
Rackspace is a cloud-computing company. That night, however, the product that really mattered was customer service.
Customer service as a product
Technology startups and small-to-medium businesses of all types now build products with customer experience at the center. Likewise, long-established enterprises are restructuring their traditional business processes to put experience ahead of the product:
- Slack built version one then added features wholly based on customer feedback.
- Unbounce validated its vision with prospective customers well before it started coding.
- McDonald’s launched healthier options, all-day breakfast, and better sourcing transparency only after mining years of customer data.
- And Marriott eased the customer experience by initially eliminating front desk visits to check out. Customers loved the experience. In turn, Marriott replicated it through mobile check-in as well.
This focus on customer experience transformed Slack and Unbounce from startups to serious success stories. McDonald’s and Marriott successfully improved customer experience to reposition themselves against modern competition.
But, the customer experience only works if the customer wants the experience.
Businesses that have enjoyed great success by focusing on the customer experience, have felt the pain of creating customer experiences when no customer desire existed.
- Facebook Home: a Facebook experiment that made Facebook the home screen for smartphones
- McDonald’s McLobster: a McDonald’s specialty item that attempted to deliver a fast-food version of a lobster roll
Facebook and McDonalds both killed these products shortly after their launch. These are two of the many examples where businesses created customer experiences that customers didn’t want. Don’t forget about the customers when creating their experience.
Customer, not the experience, is king
Customer experience is undoubtedly more important than the product. Still, the customer is more important than the experience.
Think again about the Rackspace example. Will you find “order a pizza” anywhere in customer experience offering from Rackspace? Doubtful.
You will find the word “customer” repeated again and again throughout Rackspace’s Fanatical Support document. As one Racker put it, “It’s all about the customer.” That might mean great customer support. It might mean rethinking your check-in, check-out policies. Or, it might mean ordering them a pizza to get through a particularly difficult support call.
How to reframe customer service as a product
Whatever process you use to develop products or services can also be used productizecustomer service.
Rackspace refers to their customer service product as “Fanatical Support.” Turning the Fanatical Support idea into a game-changing product didn’t happen through wishful thinking. Rackspace treated Fanatical Support with the same level of care that it treats its cutting edge technology.
In 2013, then RackSpace CEO Lanham Napier, described where Fanatical Support fits in its business:
“At Rackspace, we’re Fanatical about our customers’ performance and success.
“That attitude drives every part of our business. We think of Fanatical Support as being one part great technology and one part great people. The interaction between the two is what enables our customers to leverage the power of the latest and best technologies and achieve their business goals.”
Rackspace competes with tech juggernauts like Amazon, Verizon, Microsoft, and AT&T. To keep up, Rackspace constantly thinks two and three years ahead to anticipate and drive the next generation of technology.
Despite this need for constant technological innovation, Rackspace chooses to dedicate inordinate attention to customer service. It doesn’t think of customer service as a department, or a segment of people within its organization.
It has productized customer service, and that product spans the entire organization.
Rackspace tracks the success of its customer service product as it would any other product through its Net Promoter Score (NPS): a single survey question sent to all customers:
“How likely are you to refer Rackspace to a friend or colleague?”
Customers score Rackspace on this question and offer feedback explaining that score. Rackspace takes this feedback so seriously, that Napier received a report of all responses each day and started each morning with a review of the previous day’s results.
Rackspace talks about customer service at hiring. It trains all employees on customer service. It invests in the ongoing evolution of Fanatical Support. It solicits feedback from customers. Finally, it reiterates this process.
Consider how you can reframe your customer service with this mindset …
Get to know your customers
Meet your customers and get their thoughts on your products and services.
Go to them. If your customer base is spread out geographically, reach out to them via email and social media. If your base is local, call them or host and event where you can connect with them personally. Regardless of form, survey your customers with two questions:
- How are we doing?
- What would you like us to start doing?
You see this strategy across industries in many forms. From the auto-survey after you subscribe to a free trial for an online service to the “How’s my driving?” sticker on the back of commercial vehicles, companies of all sizes solicit customer feedback.
But, soliciting customer feedback and responding accordingly doesn’t mean you’ve productized your customer service.
To transform customer service into a product, you need to create a system that consistently incorporates customer feedback and experience into the fabric of your operation.
Zappos embeds customer service into its operation through its first core value: “Deliver WOW Through Service.”
“At Zappos, anything worth doing is worth doing with WOW. WOW is such a short, simple word, but it really encompasses a lot of things. To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means to do something a little unconventional and innovative.
“You must WOW [go above and beyond what’s expected] in every interaction with co-workers, vendors, customers, the community, investors – with everyone.”
This WOW doesn’t need to be specifically tied to your product or service.
Hipmunk, a travel planning app, delivered its version of WOW by asking customers to complete a Tweet in preparation for Mother’s Day: “I love @thehipmunk, but I love my mom even more: …”
Hipmunk read through the Tweeted responses and sent $100 in personalized Mother’s Day gifts to the winning respondents’ mothers. Hipmunk creatively engaged with their customers to expand their reach to the delight of customers and their mothers.
Leverage technology to improve your products and services
Technology can help you better engage customers and integrate them into your product development. Think back to the Marriott example. Customers no longer need to stop in at the front desk to check-in or out because of mobile device technology.
Consider where technology can improve your customer experience:
- Accept mobile payments or credit card payments
- Allow check-ins via a mobile website or app to reduce waiting-room time
- Send service updates through push notifications or text: “Your car should be ready in 2-3 hours”
In addition to integrating technology into your products and services, use technology to manage your customer service as a product. Modern CRM systems allow you the ability to track conversations with customers, send updates, make notes, and much more. Use CRM packages to consistently communicate with customers, even when they don’t need your product or service. Don’t lose touch.
Strategically choose moments to go big
While it’s important to keep customer needs and desires top-of-mind when developing experiences, customers don’t always know what they want.
So, from time to time, take risks that could result in exponential gains.
Amazon is a great example of taking risks on big ideas. Many Amazon experiments fail, but the winners more than pay for the losers. You’ve seen this popular text:
“Buy now with 1-Click.”
Amazon secured its patent for technology that allows customers to enter personal and payment information once and buy with the single click of a button for all future orders in 1999. At the time, Amazon was only an online bookseller. Ecommerce was in its very early days, and users were perfectly pleased with the ability to shop without leaving their homes.
The time required to enter name, address, and payment information was not a burden to ecommerce buyers in 1999. But Amazon, thinking long term with the future customer experience in mind, knew that the easier it could make the buying experience, the more success it would have.
After landing the patent, Amazon quickly expanded beyond books, and its rapid ascent to the top of the retail world began.
Investing in the technology for “Buy now with 1-Click” was difficult and expensive. The technology was challenging enough. Add legal challenges from government and competitors, and that project required an astronomical return on investment to reach a breakeven point.
But, the risk paid off.
University of Pennsylvania professor, R. Polk Wagern explains:
“When we write the history of electronic commerce, the 1-Click patent, allowed Amazon to create a very strong position in the market.
“Most importantly, it allowed Amazon to show customers that there was a good reason to give them their data and permission to charge them on an incremental basis. It opened up other avenues for Amazon in e-commerce.”
If you are at a point where you can take a big risk to deliver an experience your customers haven’t dreamed of, what would that look like?
Right or wrong, the customer comes first
In a world where technology has allowed hyper-personalization, a new-found customer focus has emerged. In some ways, this isn’t new. Swiss hotelier, Cesar Ritz, was known to have proclaimed: “Le client n’a jamais tort.” Translation: the customer is never wrong.
But even as Ritz was enjoying much success on the rightness of his customers, Henry Ford was busy disrupting the transportation industry through his maxim: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse.”
If you get to know your customers, leverage technology, and take risks to overdeliver … you’re on your way to creating customer service as a product.