5 top companies for customer service
Whether you own a business or work at one, customer service is crucial for success. Here's how the best companies pull it off.
What's interesting is that, despite the variety of businesses, the winners nearly all used some combination of only two techniques to get to the top: using the latest technology to better serve their customers, and creating employee loyalty.
Seeing how the top companies work tells you what you should look for as a consumer, as well as provides ideas to improve customer service at your business or workplace.
Let's take a closer look at the top five companies. We'll start with the following short news story I shot at Publix Super Markets, No. 5 on the list. As you watch, keep in mind that while some of the techniques you're about to see weren't cheap, new technology doesn't have to be expensive. Check out our recent story called "4 free new ways to bring customers to your business."
Here's a closer look at the top companies and the customer-service lessons we can learn from each:.
No. 1: L.L.Bean.
Lesson: Create loyalty with your customers by offering perks such as free shipping. Create loyalty among your employees by being flexible.
Why did catalog/Internet retailer L.L.Bean rank tops in customer service last year? According to BusinessWeek, customers like ”its lenient returns policy, inexpensive outdoor gear and clothing, and the fast responses from its Maine call centers.” Bean also offers free shipping to its credit card holders, including free returns. Finally, when the company closed a call center, rather than sending the business overseas, it offered the displaced employees the opportunity to work from home.
No. 2: USAA.
Lesson: Don't rest on your laurels. Just because you have a system in place that works doesn't mean you shouldn't create one that works better. Make life easier for your customers and they'll make yours easier, too.
USAA is one of the largest players in the insurance/financial services industry, but that hasn't prevented the company from using innovation to make life easier for its customers. According to BusinessWeek, USAA lets customers make deposits by combining an iPhone app and a picture of their checks. It's also developing a way for customers to use smart phones to handle accident claims.
No. 3: Apple.
Lesson: While low price is one strategy for increased sales, it's not the only one. Despite premium prices, Apple commands premium customer loyalty with great point-of-sale service.
How many retail stores allow customers to call ahead for an appointment? Or have checkout clerks roaming the aisles so you don' have to wait in line? Apple doesn't bank only on its iconic products to attract and retain customers; it develops new ways to make it easy for customers to buy.
No. 4: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
Lesson: The more flexible the work force, the better. And everyone -- especially those who don't normally interact with customers -- should understand the key role those customers play.
This luxury hotel chain cross-trains its employees so workers who normally don't come in contact with customers have that opportunity, and those on the front lines occasionally work behind the scenes. Result? If additional customer service is needed, more employees are ready to step in. In addition, all employees gain a greater appreciation of each other and their customers.
No. 5: Publix Super Markets.
Lesson: Use technology to fulfill promises to customers; give employees a financial stake in the outcome.
Publix, the place where we shot our recent news story, implemented new technology to keep popular items on the shelves. The company is also employee-owned. According to BusinessWeek, last year the average employee received $2,326 in privately held stock.
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Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
Having worked as a writer, reporter and editor for more than 25 years, Editor Julie Tilsner is the sort of person who can't help but correct grammar in Facebook postings and on billboards. She's written for BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times, Parenting, Redbook, AOL and others. She lives in Los Angeles County with her family and loves to drink wine and practice yoga, although not generally at the same time.
A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
Marilyn Lewis is an award-winning writer with a passion for getting readers clear, straight information that helps them stay out of financial trouble. A former reporter for The San Jose Mercury News, she works from her home in Port Townsend, Wash. Contact her at MarilynLewis@Outlook.com.
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