Companies Seeing Customer Service as Long-Term Investment

John Scott
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Since the advent of the industrial economy, both manufacturers and service providers have found it necessary to maintain a costly customer service department to stay in touch with their customers. Traditionally, the customer service department has been viewed as a cost of doing business or as a tool for upselling customers on products they weren't planning to buy. Good customer service is expensive, after all, and the customer service department has never been seen as a part of the revenue-generating arm of the company.

All of that is changing for some companies. While good customer service has always been viewed as a useful tool for managing the outward migration of customers, some companies are beginning to organize their systems in such a way as to put the customer service department out in front as a long-term selling force. The idea is that by making every contact with the company work to the advantage of the customer—including satisfying needs the customer hasn't even expressed—the company with an active customer service department will position itself as the provider of choice when the customer decides to upgrade or add services in the future.

Anticipating the customers' needs before they're expressed, and thus cultivating the loyalty of people you already know are in the market for your company's products, is just one way in which a customer service department can encourage long-term growth. Another contribution it makes is in sales. Upselling customers who call in for unrelated reasons has been standard practice for years, but some companies take a proactive approach. A good example of this would be a rep from the AT&T Wireless customer service department calling a customer who is nearing a text or data usage limit. During the call, the rep can offer to credit any overage charges and upgrade the customer's account right away to avoid this in the future. As a selling tool, a courtesy call from the customer service department beats an intrusion by telemarketers every time.

Another way investing in an active customer service department can benefit your company has almost nothing to do with outside sales. A typical customer service department will have a high turnover in personnel, with perhaps a small group of career employees of the company. By investing in high pay, good training, and a generous benefits structure, the company can effectively use the customer service department as a recruiting station where new employees are brought in, trained in the industry, and acclimated to the company culture. If the company makes serious efforts at employee retention, the customer service professionals who would otherwise have moved on after a few years—taking their skills and training with them—can instead form the nucleus of management in every other department, sparing the company the costs associated with outside recruiting.

Making an investment in a thriving customer service culture is more than a loss-cutting measure. Building up a successful customer service department and then aligning the company's policies to empower the reps sets the stage for long-term growth in many ways.

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