Why build a great customer experience if you have no competition?

Nov. 14, 2012 | by Micah Solomon

What if you didn’t have any competition? Would the customer experience you create even matter–if, for example, you ran a government agency or were otherwise lucky enough to have an inherent monopoly? Would you–should you?–trouble yourself to maintain and improve it?

I recently gave a series of keynote speeches and workshops on improving the customer experience and customer service at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), at the request of David Kappos (Undersecretary of Commerce and director of the agency). Mr. Kappos is clearly committed to customer service. And the experience got me thinking.

The Patent Office literally has no competition. (I guess you do have a choice, if you want to register an invention or trademark, but that choice comes down to “yes” or “no”: you can either register it, or neglect to do so.) The IP-registration field, in other words, is not one that Google or Amazon.com is threatening to encroach on.

And yet, the USPTO is highly committed to customer service. In fact, I’ve rarely met more customer-committed people in the course of giving speeches and researching my books than I met employed at the Patent and Trademark Office. They daily belie the stereotype of government agencies which has been used as a whipping boy for politicians since the early days of the Reagan administration.

Why are they committed? Well, while competition is an important reason to continue to develop and improve the customer experience at your organization, there are others. Here are just three to consider:

  • An arrogant, anti-customer attitude may, ultimately, breed competition. Look at how the one-time monopolistic cable companies allowed their anti-customer attitudes to feed the growth of the fledgling satellite industry.
  • Often, doing things better for the customers also works better for the organization. When an industry leader like Amazon.com declines to sell me a 2nd copy of the same ebook, even though I accidentally tried to pay for it twice, they’re helping the customer out, of course, but they’re also avoiding a very likely return and other related manpower and accounting costs. When an organization designs its systems to address “stupid stuff” calls (the contacts customers don’t want to have to make, for information that should be readily available online), it is similarly saving time and money for all involved.
  • Doing great work is a lot less strain on your people than doing crummy work. And leads to greater productivity, less absenteeism and turnover, and reduced retention costs. To come into work every morning determined to do your best work, and yet find yourself stymied by a culture, systems, and leadership which aren’t interested in your best work is deadening.

I could keep going. But the reality, of course, is that this is academic for the vast majority of us. We all have competition. Usually just a click away. And the only solution is creating a great customer experience. Just don’t get muddled into thinking that the external reasons to do this are the only reasons. Sometimes there are great, internal reasons as well.

Topics: Customer Experience , Customer Service

Micah Solomon / Solomon is a customer service, hospitality and marketing speaker, strategist and acclaimed author of the new book, "High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service."
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