I recently read through Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh who started Zappos.com, the world's largest shoe store, and it surprised me how quickly the company multiplied around a simple decision be customer-focused. It's almost cliché when a company says it is customer-focused or cares about its employees. However, at Zappos, it's genuine.
At one point within the company, they were debating whether to outsource customer service, but they decided it was a core function of the company and that should never be outsourced. That decision is what defines Zappos today. It's not some new technology they have created; it's not some cool application they have coded, it's just basic customer interaction in helping a customer with their buying needs.
Have you heard this story before? I have. It's called Nordstrom. Nordstrom is a large department store chain in the USA which was known for its customer service years ago (I don't know about today, have not visited in years). Like Zappos, the people there also wrote a book, The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence, documenting their path.
In one story, a customer wanted a refund for tyres which were bought. And the salesperson refunded the money to the customer even though Nordstrom does not sell tyres. I'm guessing that the salesperson figured they could take the tyres to the actual store and get a refund and then pay back Nordstrom. I've noticed more and more companies emulating the Zappos model in the apparel vertical, including Bonobos.
They have a heavy Internet presence but if you need assistance, you can call them on the phone and talk to a 'customer service ninja' who can guide you through the process.
As I mentioned before, Zappos was looking to outsource their customer service department and of course, India was at the top of the list. If Paul in the USA can help a customer at $15 an hour, someone named 'Paul' in India can do the same thing much cheaper it's all about labour arbitrage. So naturally, you would think that Indians living in India would have access to amazing customer service everywhereâ WRONG.
It's almost taken for granted that you can expect poor customer service in India be it a store, restaurant or your mobile phone provider. I believe it's because there is so much pent-up demand and these companies are just trying to scale up to meet that demand. At some point when the market is saturated, you will see companies offer excellent customer service. In the meantime, the companies which are providing a high level of customer service are growing exponentially, such as Flipkart. Flipkart is what happens when Zappos meets Amazon; it's an online bookstore with excellent customer service. I swear by them. I may go to Crosswords to browse books, but I usually end up going online and buying them from Flipkart. I had recently ordered a book on a Monday night and by Tuesday evening, I had it in my handsâ That customer experience just blew me away.
I would love to see a company like Bonobos or J. Hilburn start in India, considering that the country has such a rich textile history. Imagine the customer service they can provide by sending a 'tailor/ninja' to a customer's house for taking measurements and then displaying the various fabrics available. He can come back a week later for a trial fitting and then deliver the final product in a couple weeks. This will also solve the issue that I always hear from entrepreneurs getting commercial space in Mumbai is very expensive and throws every business model out the window.
Honestly, there is no excuse for an Indian company to provide sub-par customer service today. With all the technologies available via forums, Facebook, Twitter, help desk software, blogs, podcasts, etc., you can constantly stay in touch with your customers and find out if they are happy or have issues. By getting a customer addicted to your customer service, you have locked in a customer for life. Granted that you may end up targeting early adopters, but these early adopters will tell all their friends and families about their experience, just like I did with Flipkart.