Top 3 Wow Customer Service Companies

in Strategy & Trends | by Ethan Lyon

It’s fair to say everyone has experienced terrible customer service. Call about your cable bill and you’re pushed through a labyrinth of menus — half of which do not recognize your voice — then funneled to a person who can barely speak your language. It might waste 30-45 min of your day to answer a simple question. Usually companies set-up these elaborate systems to A) cut costs (it’s much cheaper to pay someone in India 85% less than an American with health care, pension and a tower of other costs) and B) deter customers from dropping the service (as exposed by Vincent Ferrari trying to cancel his AOL account).

Customer service is an integral part of how a brand interacts with its customers and to sell it short to save a few bucks can be detrimental in the long term. Just as an unhappy customer will tell everyone in their network, a happy customer will do the same. Customers will evangelize your brand because they had an excellent flight where their needs were personally attended to or they reached a customer service rep without navigating through a myriad of menus or when they asked a stock boy where they could get Chinese food, he happily escorted them to the “Wokery.”

Virgin America – Virgin’s airplane fleet shares many of the same qualities as its Delta and American Airlines counterparts. Virgin America has the same legroom, food and beverage costs, size and comparable baggage fees. What sets Virgin America apart is its creative customer service. For instance, Virgin passengers use the touchscreen and credit card swipe in front of them to place a food or beverage order. Within minutes, an attendant eliminates passengers ravenous appetites and parched pallets. The food and beverage system is only one of many cushy features on Virgin America. There is Wi-Fi for workaholics and movie rentals for the discerning movie-goer to name a few. Focusing on user experience in combination with customer experience, Virgin America creates a high-flying, Wow experience.

Zappos – “With the Internet connecting everyone together, companies are becoming more and more transparent whether they like it or not,” writes Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh in a blog post. “An unhappy customer or a disgruntled employee can blog about bad experience with a company, and the story can spread like wildfire by email or with tools like Twitter.” This web 2.0 worldview helped shape Zappos philosophy and achieve $1 billion in annual sales in just 10 years.

Thinking an unhappy customer could influence ten, hundreds or even thousands of other potential customers, Hsieh focused on service. How does Zappos create Wow customer service? Try free shipping, free 365-day return policy and 24/7 customer service. Zappos, unlike many companies trying to cut costs, has not outsourced its reps. Call Zappos and you’ll get someone in their Henderson office, not an incomprehensible sales rep in India. By striving making a meaningful human connection with its customers, Zappos makes a Wow customer service impression.

Wegmans – This Wow customer experience has a bias. As a Rochester native, Wegmans was my second home. When I moved to Philadelphia I longed for my corner grocery store. I’m not the only one, however. Nearly everyone that lives in Rochester and moves to another part of the country shares my sentiment. Why? Consistently rated one of the best companies to work for in America, Wegmans has happy employees.

Happy employees offer great customer service. I challenge you to walk into a Wegmans, ask any employee a question and they will drop what they’re doing and find out. They like being there and want to help customers. If they don’t know, they will personally escort you to someone who does. This positive corporate culture also makes check-out a lot more engaging. Instead of feeling depressed that the cashier hates her job, Wegmans employees are likely to strike-up a conversation with you. Wegman’s cultivates a positive corporate culture that rubs off on its employees. This positive attitude enhances Wegman’s customer service to the level of Wow.

How does Virgin, Zappos and Wegmans create exceptional customer service experiences? They create a positive corporate culture that makes happy, enthusiastic, employees that want to help. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh believes corporate culture is deeply intertwined with customer service. In fact, each job applicant must go through two sets of interviews, where they must meet the functional job standards, but must also fit into Zappos corporate culture. Hired applicants then go through four weeks of training. Wegmans follows a similar model.

“It’s expensive… but the payoff is usually two to three years down the line,” says Tony. At the end of the day, it’s about being genuinely vested in your employees and customers. Companies that see their customers in numbers, create barriers, while others, such as Virgin, Zappos and Wegmans  see their customers as themselves — people that just want to answer a simple question, whether it’s for a beverage, a shoe return at 3am or where they can get Chinese food.

  • Ethan…

    You probably already know, but head over the bridge to Cherry Hill and your Wegman fix awaits…prime choices for companies to look at!

    • Ethan Lyon

      Hi Todd,

      Great to hear from you. Yes, in fact my fiancee will be a chef at the new Malvern store opening in a couple of weeks. It’s supposed to be a mirror image of the Collegeville Wegmans.

      Unfortunately most of Wegmans corporate offices are in Rochester and there are zero positions in the Philadelphia office. But Wegmans is certainly on my watchlist!

  • Hi Ethan,

    I could not agree more, I think it is fair to say poor employee experience = poor customer experience. So many customer experience management initiatives begin with the voice of the customer, this makes perfect sense but only when you add the voice of the employee do you have the full picture. I find it painfully ironic that it is usually the customer service department that suffers the lowest employee experience. I believe this is a result of the actual cost of providing good quality customer service. As you pointed out, when Zappos was originally evaluating outsourcing their customer service call center they were smart enough to recognize that the cost savings would come at a much bigger cost to the quality of customer service. In a recent HBR interview Tony Hsieh shared â??As we thought more about it, though, we realized that it wouldnâ??t be matching our actions to our words. If we were serious about building our brand around being the best in customer service, customer service had to be the whole company, not just a single department.â?? The take away here is to make employee experience a critical element of your customer experience initiatives.

    My recent blog post on the significance of corporate culture explores this in more detail http://dawnamaclean.com/2010/07/04/part-3-of-7-what-does-your-corporate-culture-reveal/.

    Thanks for the great post Ethan and kudos to Virgin America, Zappos and Wegmans!