Paul Greenberg: Good Service and Good Product Aren’t Enough Anymore

“The expectations of the 21st-century customer have a huge impact on what customer service has to be.” Paul Greenberg doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to describing the way modern customers have changed—and what that means for businesses trying to serve them. He says that customers expect companies will “provide them with products, services, tools, and consumable experiences—which is a lot bigger than just ‘a good product’ or ‘a good service.’”

Greenberg, a leading authority on CRM and the author of CRM at the Speed of Light, recently recorded a free webinar for Microsoft: How to Do Customer Service, 21st-Century Style. Afterward, we asked him three bonus questions to help business leaders zero in on the best ways to serve the modern customer.


What do customers care about more than they used to?

The biggest one is highly personalized responses. That’s really important to a 21st-century customer: “Hey, you know me. Not only do you know me, you know enough about me to give me things I actually want as opposed to just generically throwing things at me.”

Twenty years ago, a 20th-century customer wanted a product or a service, wanted it to be good, and that was pretty much it. Now there are lots of options. Customers need you to provide them with things that indicate you know something about them. That’s why personalization is such a monstrously big deal right now and why people are spending millions of dollars on analytics to gain insight into individual customers.

The other thing is speed to accurate response. They want the right answer to whatever their query is, but they want it fast. Really fast. They’re used to Internet time now. Years ago, when Frank Eliason founded the Twitter customer service thing that Comcast did, he was the pioneer. He made sure that Comcast complainers on Twitter got answers within two hours. The problem was it didn’t carry over to the rest of Comcast, so even though two hours was the Twitter standard, that’s not what customers were getting on other channels, so they got pissed off.

Years ago, how did you communicate? You wrote a letter. You clipped a coupon. You put on a stamp and you sent it and you waited weeks; it could be months, even. You got an answer eventually, but you were patient. You didn’t have any option. Now the option is instant or real time.

Learn the difference between personalized service and personal service

What is a common mistake companies make when dealing with customers in the 21st century?

Inconsistent experience across channels. We talk about omni-channel a lot. Aberdeen did a study that said that best-in-class companies handle a minimum of seven channels. There are the obvious ones: everything ranging from Skype to email to Facebook and Twitter to text to phone to face to face.

It’s not just that people have a favorite channel to communicate on. It’s that on any given day, they may choose a different channel to communicate with because it’s convenient to do it. Your job is to make sure that whatever question they ask, they can get the answer appropriately in the channels they chose to communicate with that day.

That doesn’t mean that the response has to be identical. If you ask a question in email and get an email response, it’s not the same as if I call you up and you give me the exact same response that was in that email. You’re going to sound like you’re reading me something, right?

That’s just from the standpoint of quality and voice. Sometimes the answer itself doesn’t have to be identical; it just has to be consistent.

Consistent means the ultimate answer is satisfying, but it’s put in different ways, in different formats, in different approaches. The wording could be totally different, but the same answer has to be there. How you communicate is different on different channels, so how you respond is different because of your limitations and constraints.

Equip yourself to answer your customers' questions no matter how they come to you

How do you measure value of a modern customer?

Historically, you always measured loyalty with customer lifetime value, which was essentially how much money a customer or a household was worth in this projected lifetime period. That’s no longer the only measurement of value.

A very, very prominent academic out of Georgia State—Dr. V. Kumar—says there’s the monetary, transactional-value stuff (which is lifetime value), but there’s also influence. There’s also referral. There’s also brand. There’s also information.

Let’s say you went to a hotel only once, but you just loved that hotel and you happen to be a pretty influential person. So you go onto Facebook—you have 2,500 friends—and you say you had this amazing night at that hotel. You could generate business for the hotel that way because your friends trust you and you have a network of a pretty decent size.

Or what if you stayed once and said, “There are five things you could do to improve. Here are some details.” Say the hotel looks into it and actually adopts two of your suggestions. Do you know how much value you created for it by doing that even though you paid for only one night at that hotel once?

Then you’ve got referral value. You refer friends—not just influencing them but referring them through a referral program. There are all kinds of other valuations. All of that adds up to engagement value. But that’s a work in progress. Companies have to start weighing that. If you just view it from the standpoint of monetary transactions, you’re going to miss something.

You can’t just look at it as the pure transactional value of a customer anymore. Because of influence, because of social networks, because of digital presence, you’ve got to start looking at the customers now as a person who encompasses all these possible ways to provide value to a company that is measurable.