Apr 02 2011
I recently read through “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh who started Zappos.com, the worlds largest shoe store, and it surprised me how quickly the company multiplied around a simple decision – be customer focused. It’s almost cliche when a company says they are customer focused or care about their 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 created, it’s not some cool application they 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. Nordstorm is a large department store chain in the US that was known for their customer service back in the day (I don’t know about today, have not visited in years). Like Zappos they also wrote a book documenting their path called “The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence.” In one story, a customer wanted a refund for tires that were bought. The salesperson refunded the money to the customer even though Nordstrom does not sell tires. I’m guessing the salesperson figured they could take the tires to the actual store and get a refund and then payback 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 US can help a customer at $15 an hour, then someone named “Paul” in India can do the same thing much cheaper, it’s all about labor arbitrage. So naturally you would think Indians living in India would have access to amazing customer service everywhere…WRONG.
It’s almost a given that you can expect poor customer service in India, whether it’s a store, restaurant or your mobile phone provider. I believe it’s because there is so much pent up demand that these companies are just trying to scale to meet the demand. At some point when the market is saturated you will see companies offer true customer service. In the meantime the companies that are providing a high level of customer service are growing exponentially such as Flipkart. Flipkart is what happens when Zappos meets Amazon, they are an online bookstore with excellent customer service. I swear by them, I might goto Crosswords to browse books but I usually end up going online and buying them from Flipkart. I recently order a book on a Monday night and by Tuesday evening I had it in my hands…that customer experience just blew me away.
I would love to see a company like Bonobos or J. Hilburn start in India, considering India has such a rich textile history. Imagine the customer service they could provide by sending a “tailor/ninja” to the customers house, take measurements and then show various fabrics available. Then come back a week later for a trial fitting and then deliver the final product in a couple weeks. This would also solve the issue I always hear from entrepreneurs that getting commercial space in Bombay 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 technology that is available via forums, Facebook, Twitter, help desk software, blogs, podcast, 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 you might end up targeting early adopters but these same early adopters will tell all their friends and family about their experience just like I did with Flipkart.