The Evolution of Customer Service

The Evolution of Customer Service

“The customer is always right.”

The phrase is attributed to Harry Gordon Selfridge who operated department stores in London. He is believed to have used it as early as 1909. It is a popular phrase that has survived more than a century of service providers.

The customer’s innate ability to always be correct was one of the first things I learned about customer service. This truth was quickly challenged, however, when I began working at a video store. I learned that the customer is not always right, especially when late fees are involved. One of our running jokes at the video store was that people would call the store a day or two after checking out a movie to find out the due date because they couldn’t remember. However, if you tell someone they have a late fee for a movie, they remember every detail of the exact day and time they brought it back.

While the case can be made for the obsolescence of customer rightness, I believe it was a necessary step in the evolution of customer service. This phrase at least changed the way employees thought about the needs of customers.

In the 1960s came larger recognition for the need of customer service and the nascence of call centers and customer service departments. Everyone was joining the cause to satisfy customers.

In 1993, Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles published their book, Raving Fans. Their revolutionary approach to customer service argued (and I agree) that satisfied customers aren’t enough, but organizations need to “deliver plus one” in order to continually improve service performance, exceed expectations, and ultimately create fans who rave about their business.

With the new millennium came the idea that we are living in an Experience Economy. This concept builds on its predecessors and urges organizations to focus on the experience of the customer in its totality, and not just on the customer service portion. A superior experience includes additional facets like business setting, service processes, and user interface.

As the number of tech companies increases, so does the need for specialists that can assist customers in adopting the use of software purchases. The number of these specialists, known as Customer (or Client) Success Managers has grown exponentially over the last view years. The concept and term were largely popularized by Salesforce.com sometime around 2005.

Today, a LinkedIn search of Customer Success will yield results of almost three million professionals who use the phrase in their title.

These professionals help customers find success by maximizing the value of their software purchases.

The added value of Customer Success has had such an impact on modern tech organizations, I believe that other non-tech companies will begin adding Customer Success professionals.

Regardless of where customer service has been, what it is, and what it evolves into, at its heart, it remains the same. Whether the customer is always right, or you are trying to create raving fans, or you are helping your customers succeed; the end-goal is to maximize customer service experiences that cultivate loyal client relationships and ensure healthy business results.

As Karr’s epigram states,

"The more things change, the more they stay the same."