Customers for Life


By Samuel Greengard

A couple of weeks ago, I encountered a textbook case of how to gain a customer for life. After I upgraded my iMac to the latest version of OS X, Mountain Lion, my Dymo LabelWriter 350 stopped working. I find the label printer indispensable for addressing envelopes and other sundry tasks.

So I fiddled around with settings and tried to reinstall the device based on information residing at the manufacturer's site. No dice. I searched the Internet and saw that I was not alone. Alas, there appeared to be a fatal incompatibility issue.

Because the unit was several years old I figured I would just go out and buy a new one. I had definitely gotten my money's worth. But then, on a lark, I decided to call tech support and find out if the company knew something I didn't. It was worth a shot.

The call unfolded something like this: I dialed a toll-free number, pushed a couple of buttons on the phone and connected with a customer service rep. I explained my problem to the rep, and he placed me on hold for about two minutes to check the knowledge base. He returned and told me he would send a newer unit.

It was that simple.

The unit, a newer LabelWriter 450, arrived less than a week later. I installed it and it works fine. Problem solved.

What's remarkable about this interaction is that it did not center on technology, even though Dymo clearly has IT systems in place to operate a top-notch contact center. Instead, the company has developed a customer-centric approach—well-though-out processes—that allow representatives to resolve a problem. The underlying information technology merely drives these processes.

Unfortunately, very few companies adopt this thinking … and even fewer actually make it work. You usually hear about this level of customer service at Ritz Carlton or Nordstrom.

Here's the takeaway: Position customer service at the center of the business. It works much better than the constant damage control and reputation management resulting from ticked-off customers who post sour reviews or tweet about an incident. It's the difference between preventative health and constantly putting bandages on wounds.

And here's a gem that even some MBAs don't fully understand: If you treat your customers like gold and show that you value them, you can do more for your brand than all your clever marketing campaigns and advertisements combined. You will have customers for life.