James Olden: how to go above and beyond with customer service

James Olden is a Virgin StartUp Mentor, entrepreneur, and founder of The Observer Effect, ‘market architects’ who create persuasive branding campaigns. Here he talks about the importance of connecting with your customer on a deeper level.

"The customer is always right. But I’m not talking about a diner insisting he didn’t order the clam chowder, or justifying some archaic customer service mantra.

I’m referring to the fact that nowadays, consumers are empowered and making their own decisions - right or wrong - about what they want and how they want it. And they won’t just believe what you tell them anymore; they need to hear it from someone else. Worse still, they’re increasingly fickle. There’s arguably no brand loyalty these days - people will switch in a heartbeat if there is better deal to be had.

At the same time, there have never been so many new ideas. This is the age of the entrepreneur. New products, new innovations and the next team of disruptive tech evangelists arrive daily - there’s a smart everything, and an app for everything else. You hear about something new one day, and ten weeks later there are 5+ startups fighting over the space. The pace is phenomenal.

Despite the fact that many start-ups are producing great, transformational products - seemingly delivered and launched in the right way, with the a decent team, CEO and a colourful logo behind them - they still fail. Why? Because they don’t spend enough time considering how to make their would-be customers ‘feel’ something. If they can really change or improve the way people go about their daily lives, and if they can prove that they are genuinely beneficial, then they will attract attention - and loyalty - in return.

Ultimately, taking an idea to market is not simply about building a platform to promote it; it’s about delivering an experience which evokes emotions around it. Our business experience has taught us three key things that can change your customer experience for the better:

1. It’s not about you

A lot of founders and startups forget that success is not solely based on them and their idea. Talking and thinking only about themselves, rather than talking with their customers, is a sure fire way to deliver an experience which fails to delight.

Give attention, make the effort: go find your user, because they’re too busy to notice you. Get to know them, not through generalisation or assumption, but through engagement. If you’re a startup, right now you can afford to offer a level of customer service that is not scalable. You can surprise and reward those first few customers to the point where they will become powerful, loyal advocates for your brand.

2. Give and get given

People feel the obligation to give back - we feel more compelled to say yes to those we believe have already given us something. It doesn’t matter what you give during a customer’s interaction with you, but when you do, make sure it’s personalised and unexpected. A thank you, a relevant tweet, an unlocked reward… a show of real interest goes a long way.

When you ask for a customer to share or commit to something, start small and build at their pace. Commitments that begin with a small request are easier for people to adopt and build upon. It means their trust in your brand grows and that they feel in control of the relationship and the experience they have with you.

3. Take a new approach

Whilst I usually hate using Apple as an example, when it comes to a customer brand experience you can’t beat their Apple Store.

They looked at the retail presence in an entirely new way, building an experience, not a store. Apple don’t have shops, they have brand palace where their disciples come to worship over their shiny wares. They don’t have staff, they have geniuses. They don’t sell products, they offer intrigue and excitement. They even position the screens at 90° so that you interact with them, enhancing your experience… clever. It’s no wonder that people will queue round the corner at 3am - they’re driven by desire and it’s entirely of Apple’s own making.

4. There are exceptions to the rules

Even the disruptors can be disrupted. In terms of experience Amazon Prime still delivers - with one-click, I can get the cheapest product sent to me the very next day. But what does it make me feel? Sure, it’s convenient because of range, and desirable because of the price, but this will be its eventual downfall. After killing off the high street, and putting the squeeze on the supermarkets, Amazon are now enjoying a paltry 1.4% profit margin.

Ultimately Amazon is still just a transactional experience. And when internet retailing stops feeling special - when I can get my Prime items cheaper somewhere else and I’m bored with the cat food recommendations - just like the a startup they once were they’re going to have to get smarter, figure out what I really want. and offer me a richer customer experience."

To read more about James and The Observer Effect, visit the website, or connect on Twitter.