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Building a Brand on Customer Service

We’re now in an age where the customer has more power than ever before. If someone has a bad experience with a particular company, they can write a blog, make a video on YouTube, or start a group on Facebook about their negative encounter. Before long, all of the reposts, retweets, diggs, and stumbleupons can mean that millions of people now know about that mishap.

While it’s one thing for a company to respond to such a PR disaster and take the appropriate action, it’s another thing to proactively prevent it. Not only that, companies putting customer service first (whether by having highly trained and friendly call center agents on the front line, monitoring social media for negative comments, etc. ) can set themselves apart from their competitors.

A good example of such a company is Discover. The Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index has rated the credit card company #1 for customer loyalty for 13 years in a row, a fact leveraged in its recent batch of commercials. The spots show the call center of a fictitious competitor, comprised of one man named "Peggy” in a room full of ringing phones. In each commercial, Peggy leaves his callers confused and frustrated. A voiceover then sums up the benefits of Discover: “Want better customer service?  Switch to Discover, where you can talk to a real person in less than a minute.”

In addition to these entertaining yet relatable commercials, Discover’s channel on YouTube highlights the very people you talk to when calling for customer service. With a series of videos highlighting the company’s actual call center agents, customers get a behind-the-scenes look at the people who handle their calls.

Another company that has benefited from its devotion to customer service is Zappos, an online shoe and clothing store. Founded in 1999, Zappos owes much of its success to social media. The company’s customer friendly policies, such as free shipping (for both delivery and returns), a year-long return policy, and a 24/7 call center, quickly spread throughout the Internet, making Zappos a leader in online shoe sales. But one of the main things that sets Zappos apart is that its top priority is getting its products to the customers as quickly as possible. They do this is by making available only those products that are physically in the company’s warehouse, ensuring that customers only buy products currently in stock.

Like Discover, Zappos also created commercials to highlight its agents, the people who provide the company’s excellent customer service. The ads feature puppet versions of Zappos agents acting out real phone calls. Though the callers were actually other employees of the company, this was unknown to the agents handling the calls. Thus, these real responses show how professional and helpful Zappos agents are when addressing even the most unusual requests.

While it’s certainly easy to emphasize what makes customers satisfied, another strategy is to focus on what people don’t like about your company. Pizza chain Domino’s recently did just that. Through a two-year, transparent marketing campaign, the company actively sought customer feedback about their pizza by scouring social media for mentions about Domino’s and conducting focus groups.

The responses weren’t always pretty. As can be seen in a documentary about the campaign, customers complained about the bland, cardboard-like crust, sauce that tasted like ketchup and the use of processed cheese. But the company listened to what the public was saying and set out to recreate its pizza with a top-to-bottom, cheese-to-crust transformation. Once the new pizza was released, Domino’s actually tracked down some of its previous detractors and had them try the improved version their input helped create.

When a major international company like Domino’s is willing to completely revamp the product that made it a major international company, it’s clear just how important customer satisfaction and feedback are. Listening to customers and doing whatever you can to please them serves as a differentiator, no matter the industry. And if Discover and Zappos are any proof, a good marketing campaign doesn’t have to focus on the products and services a company offers. Highlighting the wonderful customer service your company provides can be enough to set it apart from the competition.