Businesses need customers. Without them they don’t have a business. Thus, it becomes critical for businesses to ensure that both existing and potential customers have a positive experience when interacting with them, without any delays or hitches along the way.
 
Customer experience is a differentiator. It’s what often separates the good from the great. The interesting thing about providing excellent customer experience is that it can almost never be directly tied to ROI metrics. 
 
But then why do major brands still do it?  Why do they still invest millions into customer service teams? Why do they spend time going above the status quo to simply make a customer smile? To understand the rationale behind this, we have to realize that customers are people with emotions. 
 
Once you make an emotional connection with a person, the trust and respect you gain far outweighs the benefit that you get from any form of marketing or advertising efforts. The investment mindset changes when you stop thinking in terms of the cost per acquisition for each customer but rather, their lifetime value as loyal customers and brand ambassadors.
 
The bottom line is, customer service banks on the long-term ROI.
 

The Difference Between Good and Stellar

Keeping this in mind, let us look at a two brand examples that showcase what it means to truly care about giving customers the absolute best experience:  Zappos and Ritz Carlton. 
 
Zappos, an online shoe and clothing shop, once sent flowers to a woman who ordered six different pairs of shoes because her feet were damaged by harsh medical treatments. The sales representative who spoke with the woman wanted to let her know she was in her thoughts with this gesture. A true example of going above and beyond to delight customers at any given chance.
 
This example includes some jet-setting. The executive chef at Ritz-Carlton, Bali, flew in eggs and milk from Singapore for a family whose son had allergies. After their specialty eggs and milk they had packed did not survive the trip, a few phone calls were made for a rush delivery of these items. BusinessWeek deemed this, fittingly, a “wow” story. 

 

Real-Time Reaction, Long-Term Gains

Notice that in both the examples the actions did not result in any immediate gain in terms of the bottom line. If anything, it cost them time and money to execute. However, after an experience like that, wouldn’t you continue to order your shoes from Zappos and stay at the Ritz-Carlton in the future? Chances are you would! They take care of their customers and this undoubtedly created strong brand loyalty of those customers. 
 
Another beneficial side effect? These incidents are so exceptional, they become share-worthy amongst friends and families allowing these brands to reach a group of people they many not have reached otherwise. The word-of-mouth generated and the uniqueness of these customer experiences also generated press in numerous media outlets. If you were on the fence about giving your business to these companies, this is the type of story that could tip the scale.
 
Beyond having no immediate gains for the brand, the stunning aspect of both stories is that  they both happened in real-time. They didn’t put their customers on hold to ask their manager for approval. They didn’t respond to these customers through email 36 hours later. They made a decision that was right for that customer in that moment.
 
So you don’t have the budget for flowers or flights, but you can still incorporate real-time customer service into your business. How? The power and speed of the internet, that’s how.
 

Engage, Engage, Engage

Customer service and success managers have a plethora of options when it comes to finding ways to satisfy each customer. From email to personalized thank you cards, there is no shortage of communication channels. But when it comes to lightning fast service, two options come to mind:
 
1. Social Media
2. Online or in-product engagement
 
One company doing customer service right with social media is JetBlue. While many companies have jumped on the social media train by now, this airline is known for quickly responding to brand mentions and customer service issues on Twitter.
 
The key here is not to be afraid of the sometimes not-so-nice messages you’ll see about your brand. Most dissatisfied customers just want to be acknowledged. Taking the time to quickly update or respond directly to your customer gives your brand a personality versus a robotic corporation that just wants to make a quick buck.
 
With the ever growing popularity of social media, businesses now have a direct channel to engage with both existing and potential customers to create WOW moments like the ones described.
 
People are sending less emails and making less calls into companies. Instead they are publicly expressing their displeasure or dissatisfaction on popular social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Therefore it is imperative that organizations are constantly listening to these channels for customer service issues and acting on them in real-time to provide help/support.
 
In a recently commissioned study by LeadSift, we found that everyday there are about 1000 tweets posted about Telecom providers in North America that are specific to customer service issues and churn. 
 
Many of these posts and status updates fall upon deaf ears and are never capitalized on by the mentioned brands or that brands competitors. This is a huge missed opportunity to go above the status quo and it’s happening on a daily basis.
 
Another way to reach out to your customers in real-time are online and in-product engagement tools. These include (but are not limited to) live chats available on your website or real-time personalized on site messages (pop ups, tool tips, header bars, etc.) that point customers in the right direction or provide links to help what might be hindering their experience. 
 
For example, Laptop MD says their live chat option helps them secure 3-4 customers a day, about 10 percent of total customer volume. By being there to answer questions without the delay of back and forth of emails or wait sometimes involved with phone calls or even social media, live chat is a way to engage efficiently and effectively. As you can see in the right sidebar, there are four easy to understand options to suit the immediate needs of customers and potential customers.
 
Real-time web personalization is another powerful method when it comes to reaching out to your customers. It helps convert users through each step of the user funnel, all in one session. Even a small tweak that makes your copy more relevant to your target market can work wonders. This technique gets rid of the redundancy present in current systems that prompt customers in different steps of the funnel with the same messages, thereby raising the churn rate and lowering your possible conversions. Keeping track of which customer is at which stage, targeted messages can be displayed to guide them to the end of the funnel, all in real-time.
 
When people focus only on short-term ROI, they often miss the point and run out of steam. The more customers you have cheering your cause the better chance you have at surviving in the long run. Customer service can help you stand out in a sea of competition and ultimately make your brand go from good to great. 
 
Having your brand associated with goodwill, kindness and real-time responses may not be a tangible metric right away, but can lead to more revenue and brand equity over time, making your customer experience improvement efforts ROI positive before you know it.  
 
About the Author
Tapajyoti (Tukan) Das is the CEO and co-founder of LeadSift, a platform to identify actionable business opportunities from social media. At LeadSift, he is the hacker, hustler and the dreamer where he is working with his team to make social sales a reality. Outside of work, he likes to watch cricket, soccer and Jon Stewart.