Customer service as differentiator
Zappos is the best example in digital commerce of how customer service can be the biggest differentiator for a brand. Tony Hsieh, who sadly passed away at 46 yesterday, founded the Zappos brand on the principles of providing the absolute best customer service. It set Zappos apart from competitors from the beginning, at a time when relatively few shopped online, and shopping for shoes or any 'sized' product seemed prohibitive to most customers.
The story of Zappos is well told in Hsieh's book, Delivering Happiness. Like other successful digital commerce startups, it was an obsession to a key detail that helped propel the company ahead. Rather than incentivizing customer service reps to resolve calls as quickly as possible, employees were rewarded for spending extra time on a call truly solving the customers problem.
Hsieh understood that digital commerce is missing something from physical commerce that cannot be re-created through a better algorithm or faster delivery. While those are important, it's perhaps more important to deliver a human touch though otherwise sterile digital environments that rarely leave customers ready to talk about the experience.
Seth Godin discussed the quantum state of a customer faced with a problem. It's an opportunity for the brand to respond and perhaps leave the customers with a better than expected result. From the start, Zappos has leveraged those opportunities to turn one time bad experiences into lifelong customers.
Excellent customer service will be a big part of Hsieh's legacy because he understood the opportunity that arises out the human interactions in otherwise digital environments. As the world grows more accustomed to digital experiences, it's worth remembering that systems go wrong, and human interaction is a chance to improve the situation for everyone. The ethos of using problems as opportunities to leave a customer with a better impression is well worth emulation by both brands and individuals.