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How Service Became a Product and Why That's Bad

Over the last decade, many of the products (games, email and spreadsheets) we grew up with have turned into services, while service itself has gone in the opposite direction. Many companies have turned customer service into a product. That’s a mistake and here’s why it needs to change in 2020.

The Rise of “Premium Support”

Here’s a screenshot from a well-known web hosting provider’s website:

Chart for Customer Service as a Product

As you can see, service doesn't differentiate as heavily between pricing plans here, but in the end, the more you pay, the better your support. In fact, just google “premium support” and see how many companies are offering it today.

To be fair though, the first example is not one of the worst offenders. Take a look at this other one I found:

Customer service - support - third image

It goes on to list “Business,” “Premier Global Support,” and “Elite Global Support” as options. I don’t know about you, but I read that as “Unless you want to sift through walls of text on our website, you’re gonna have to pay us to care.”

Now contrast these above examples with Zappos, known for its fanatical customer service. Their support information is displayed on every single page of their website. They do not track or enforce call handling time. They eschew Interactive Voice Response systems (IVRs) and call scripts. They do not try to upsell.

Which company would you rather spend your dollars with?

The Case for Customer Success

Terminology is getting muddled nowadays, so let’s consider the difference between support and service.

Customer support is typically defined as helping customers correctly and effectively use the company’s products. The term is often associated with technical issues and assistance.

Service, on the other hand, is an umbrella term which includes support. It encompasses a wide range of interactions with customers. This could mean greeting people entering a store, answering questions in person or online, or helping with a specific issue, like returns. Service is primarily a reactive activity.

Importantly, support tends to be business-centric and focused on the product. Service on the other hand is customer-oriented and aims to create happy customers.

Customer support is one branch of service; another is customer success. Customer success is a proactive approach to support, one that actively ensures that existing customers get the most value out of products and remain loyal customers.

Technology blurs the line between these, especially as everything has a technical aspect to it. Even so, you can be sure customers don’t differentiate between any of these. They either get the help they need, or they don’t.

Great Service Makes a Great Brand

It’s cliché to remind people that actions speak louder than words, but this simple truth applies so fundamentally to customer service. All companies are out to make a profit, but for that they need customers. If a business tells customers it doesn’t care about them, such as by demanding money for help, it is poisoning its own well.

Let’s say you call, email, or message support and hear “I’m sorry, but you need to upgrade to a higher plan to receive premium service.” The immediate reaction may go as follows:

  • Curse the company
  • Begin Googling for alternatives to that brand
  • Complain publicly on social media
  • Tell your friends and family about the bad experience.

Now on the other hand, if you treat the customer like they matter by showing them respect and going the extra mile, they will want to pay more to remain a loyal customer. That means more long-term revenue and a higher customer lifetime value. This creates brand advocates and drives positive social sharing.

Great Service Helps You Identify Issues Early and Fix them

No matter how great your product or service, you’re going to make mistakes, have the occasional quality control issues, or experience software bugs. The better, faster, and more open your customer communication, the faster you can react and fix an issue.

Long term, this reduces support calls and tickets, creates a better product, strengthens your brand, and saves money. Additionally, it proves through action that you are responsive to customer needs.

Customer Experience is an Important Differentiator

I can live with bugs or the occasional problem. It happens. What I cannot live with is a company who is not responsive to issues or inquiries. There’s simply too much competition today and it’s quick and easy to switch to a competitor.

Today’s consumers don’t settle. They leave you. There are more options than ever in the past, and most competitive advantages are usually short-lived and quickly copied. Customer experience however, is a long-term competitive advantage.

Paid Service Means More Churn

Offering “premium service” or support is tempting. It promises to reduce calls and tickets while possibly increasing revenue, but you are also telling customers that you don’t care about them under a certain dollar amount. This undermines trust and says to customers that you care more about a few dollars now than their continued loyalty long-term.

All this is to say, bad service is expensive. Make great service free, and invest in a long-term relationship with your customer. 

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