Lessons from Businessweek’s top 25 customer service companies

Safeguarding Service: Focus on the Faithful

Times are unquestionably tough with businesses closing at an alarming rate so what are the successful ones doing to survive? You now have the opportunity to learn the “secrets to success” from the top 25 customer service companies as reported by BusinessWeek. The key is to implement four important ideas for keeping costs down and cutomer service solid: Flex Your Workforce, Spoil Surviving Staff, Invest in Simple Technology, and Baby Your Best Customers.

The No. 1 ranked company Amazon.com, the online catalogue retailer, experienced a surge in sales of 18% in the fourth quarter of 2008. To enhance quality control and bring outside merchants’ service in line with its own, CEO Jeff Bezos has been rolling out new services for the outside retailers who sell goods on Amazon and are responsible for 30% of the company’s sales such as help setting up shop or managing order fulfillment. Customers get more choices which keep them coming back. Amazon serves twice as many customers, 88 million, as it did five years ago.

Smart players have learned from previous downturns that reducing customer service reps creates long-term damage. A better strategy is to get more out of the people you have by cross-training them. USAA, the insurance and financial services giant that caters to military families and ranks at No. 2, started cross-training its call center reps who answer investment queries to also be able to respond to insurance-related calls which reduced the cost of running the call center and improved productivity. Another smart move is to consolidate call centers which can save as much as 35%. No. 25 JW Marriott is training administrative assistants to step in as banquet servers when needed. Brokerage Charles Schwab, No. 21, launched a “Flex Force” team of employees such as finance specialists and marketing managers at its San Francisco headquarters to handle customer calls on unusually busy days such as times of rapid market fluctuations.

No. 7 Zappos.com, the online shoe retailer, offers free shipping on both orders and returns and is putting more money into a new VIP service for Zappos’ most loyal shoppers. BMW, No. 22, rolled out Wi-Fi service at its dealerships to give customers a cheap way to pass the time while their cars were being serviced. The cost was next to nothing because they just expanded their broadband dealers already used to run their businesses and now that customers can use their waiting time productively, fewer are opting for free loaner cars which are expensive for dealers to maintain. BMW has cut it’s monthly loaner expenses by 10% to 15%.

For further information, please check out the Special Report on Extreme Customer Service at BusinessWeek.com.

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