6 Principles for Customer Service: What Made Apple and Amazon a Trillion Dollar Company


Using technology, a good number of firms have figured out a way to on-board customers faster; “Open a Bank account in 30 seconds”, “3 Steps to Sign Up”, “Buy Now”. These are all great. But when a customer has a problem with the product or service, how much time does it take to resolve it? Is it as fast as on-boarding or dreadfully slow or in worst case scenarios, completely absent?

Humans vs. Bots

Over the past several years, we are slowly moving away from ‘human’ customer care representatives to first IVR, then Self Service and now Chatbots in the name of faster and more efficient customer care. The efficiency may come, but for a large number of organizations, these initiatives are unfortunately about cutting costs through reduction in human workforce allocated to customer service rather than bettering the customer service itself.

What is more unfortunate is that ‘customer service’ is something that makes for a great boardroom conversation, but never moves beyond that in intent and investment.

Customer Service Will Make You or Break You

A customer may forget the ‘purchase experience’ but will never forget if they were treated badly when they most needed your help. Numbers speak for themselves.

  • 90% of customers will not give their business to you after receiving poor customer service (Salesforce);
  • 70% of customer satisfaction depends on how they were treated rather than the service or product itself (McKinsey);
  • Customers are 4 times more likely to switch if the issue is service related rather than product related (Bain & Company);
  • Increasing customer retention even by 5% can potentially increase your profits by 5% to 95% (Bain & Company).

These numbers and there are many more such stats out there that are eye-popping and scary at the same time, and just goes on to show how important the customer service function is. No wonder, Amazon and Apple are the what they are – the only Trillion Dollar firms in the world. We know where their secrets lie. If you have ever used Amazon’s customer service or visited Apple’s service centers, you will know what I am talking about.

The Principles

Any company that is really serious about Customer Service, needs to heed to the following 6 principles.

  1. Customer service should be easier than buying your products/service: Conduct continuous feedback tests using the right technological tools to figure out which self-service options work best for each customer, and when the time arises, make the experience exhilarating. With pervasive personalization, AI and ML, there is no excuse for companies to not know exactly which customer prefers which method of customer service.
  2. Don’t test the patience of customers with problems: Taking customers through arduous process of options 1..9 on IVR and making them repeat their complaint again and again on different mediums is unforgivable in today’s times. The IVR menu needs to keep changing frequently based on the options customers choose. For example, if 60% of customers end up ‘wanting to talk to a customer care representative’, I don’t see any reason why that should be the last option on the menu instead of among the first three.
  3. Make the customer’s problem your own: A customer has a problem with your product/service; it is really your problem and your responsibility to resolve it, whatever it takes. You may have separate departments or business units but for the customer you are ‘The Company’. You cannot ask them to call this or that number, email in, chat etc. Whatever medium the customer reaches out to you, (s)he needs to be able to state the problem and your customer data should be solid enough to figure out the rest. Additionally despite the BU/org structure, your customer reps need to be rightly empowered to reach across departments and solve the problem.
  4. Provide an immediate option to talk to a real human being if so desired: IVRs/Self Service/Chatbots are great; most customers love them but there is nothing more satisfying than a human reassuring you “It is my responsibility and I will see to it that your problem is resolved”. Lets put a rule here. 30 seconds. Nothing more to reach a real human being, or at least being provided an option to do so.
  5. Your customer is in pain and will relieve it wherever (s)he wishes: Social media, your site or a general discussion forum; your technology platform/application should be strong enough to crawl through all of these mediums to figure out the identity of the customer, their issue, next best action and hopefully the resolution.
  6. Reach out proactively: This will be the most important factor in times to come. The moment customer faces a problem and tries to reach out (clicks a ‘help’ link on website, rant on social media, reaches out to your call center, browses the FAQ section on your website), most organizations will have (should have) a system whereby a red flag is raised. If you don’t call the customer or prompt for help (through chat/chat-bot if the customer is on your website) within the next 5-10 seconds, you have already failed.

Not everything is bad though. There are firms that have set the highest benchmarks in customer service and then there are firms who discuss these benchmarks in boardrooms because it sounds cool “we want to be like so and so”. We already know which of these set of firms will be the winner in the long run. Which one are you?

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