Why every customer service professional should study barbers

Customer service
Aug 3, 2021
min read
Written by
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My parents always told me that, long before the internet, people used to frequent the same stores for decades. Businesses were thriving of 'the regulars'. There was a mom-and-pop store in every neighborhood. Customers were addressed on a first-name basis.

Life was simple.

But my modern consumer's brain doesn't care. I'm spoiled and picky. I'll switch to a competitor in a heartbeat. And I'll visit multiple comparison sites until I find the best deal. Sure, there's a couple of businesses I appreciate more than others. Some of them even know how to trick me into repeat purchases. With membership cards, referral programs, or similar tactics. But very rarely do I feel true loyalty towards them.

Bob the barber

There's one business that I do feel the same fairytale-like loyalty for that my parents told me about. And that's my barber, Bob.

The relationship I have with Bob has outlasted about 95% of my friendships. If I'm out of the country and get a cut elsewhere, I'm afraid he'll somehow sense it. I wouldn't know what to say if I had to tell him I was seeing another barber. There would be tears.

Apparently, I'm not the only one experiencing this. Research shows that 71% of all men have been loyal to their barbers for an average of more than seven years.

What customer service agents can learn from barbers

At many e-commerce companies, there is a special team that focuses on customer retention. Day in day out, they are tasked with finding ways to turn first-time customers into repeat customers.

As a marketer would approach it, they usually look for marketing tactics. Newsletters. Referral programs. Customer loyalty programs.

And even though a lot of barbers also use these tactics, it's not what makes customers truly loyal. And that's because you simply can't trick people into loyalty.

Here's what customer service pro's can learn from my barber Bob.

1. Customer loyalty is built on relationships, not benefits

In the last five years, Bob has upped his pricing five times. And even though I value my money and look for special offers every time I visit the supermarket, I still show up at his shop every month.

That's because I show up for the relationship. I'm sure there are cheaper and maybe even better (sorry, Bob) barbers in town. But I feel loyalty because of the relationship. We don't visit each other's birthday parties, but we do have real personal conversations. Bob makes sure that there's always time for chit-chat — even when he's fully booked.

This principle also works for your webshop. Your customers appreciate the membership card, but they'll never forget the extra time your customer service took to fix a difficult issue. Research shows that 65% of consumers are more likely to order when there is personal customer service. And they're willing to pay more for it if they have to.

In other words: it's OK to run an efficient customer service operation. Track the response times and closing times if you have to. But never do it at the expense of the relationship with your customer. Ensure all your automation is focused on freeing up time for a human conversation. Never let a chatbot handle a complaint, but train it to recognize a customer that wants to be heard.

2. Accessibility is key

If I want to make an appointment with Bob, I don't have to visit his website and fill out a form. I don't even have to call him. All I need to do is send him a message via WhatsApp. Convenient and fast for both of us. Besides that, it reinforces the informal relationship we have built over the years.

Online shoppers also appreciate this availability. Not long ago, they were more than happy if you only offered an email address and live chat. But in 2021, they want you to be everywhere. From Facebook Messenger to Instagram. And from WhatsApp to Telegram.

There's more than simply having the right channels. You need to stick with the channel's etiquettes. An email may not require an instant reply, but a WhatsApp message does. That's why your customer service teams need to ensure they manage those channels accordingly.

3. Don't be shy, be proactive

Last week, Bob texted me, "Hey Pim, I'm going on holiday next Tuesday. Let me know if you need a shape up before then."

It's little things like these that make all the difference in the world. Instead of looking like a bum for the duration of Bob's vacation, I got my haircut just in time. I paid him for his services, and still, it felt like he did me a favor.

Many e-commerce companies send out newsletters. No matter how much they 'personalize' them, they never feel truly personal. The messaging is usually something along the lines of: "Hey Pim, you bought this thing with us earlier, you'll probably like this other thing."

Don't get me wrong. That stuff works sometimes. But does it come off as authentic? Probably not. It just gets customers to buy one more time, but it doesn't turn them into loyal customers.

When a customer service employee reaches out with the same message, it feels completely different. It's truly personal, and it feels as if they're doing you a favor. That's why your team should always keep track of all the conversations they have so that they can proactively contact customers whenever it's appropriate. For example, you can track how many customers asked for that product that you didn't have in store yet, and notify them personally (not with a newsletter) when it's in stock.

There are no shortcuts to customer loyalty

If Bob taught me one thing, it's that there simply are no shortcuts (lame pun intended) to loyalty. Every conversation your customer service team has with a customer is an opportunity to slowly build towards it. Make it easy, informal, personal, and dare to be proactive.

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