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Surviving recession with great customer service

Some companies are wowing customers through good times and bad.
/ Source: Motley Fool

What if the norm in the business world was good customer service? What if whenever you had a problem with a company's product or service, you could just contact someone, and a live human being who was knowledgeable and skilled enough to solve your problem would immediately respond?

I'm sure you're probably laughing right now at the absurdity of my scenario, because it seems so ... science-fictiony. The norm today seems to be either poor customer service, or difficult customer service (push 1 for this, wait on hold, push 17 for that, wait on hold...).

The interesting thing about this situation, though, is that it creates enormous opportunity for those companies that are willing to significantly improve their customer service. By doing so, they can stand out among their competition and win more business.

Some companies are already aiming high in this department: According to the 2007 Customer Service Survey conducted for the National Retail Federation and American Express by BIGresearch, L.L. Bean took top honors last year, moving up from third place in 2006. It was followed by, and Land's End, a unit of Sears Holdings, was ranked No. 6, while Nordstrom took eighth place.

It's interesting that Sears is not on the list. Since it has a subsidiary that seems to do customer service well, it's staring at a great opportunity to transfer some knowledge and processes from one unit to the parent company.

We at the Fool have also been paying attention to customer service, and in our 2007 Fool Awards, Nordstrom beat out the competition (which included other impressive servers such as, Netflix and CarMax, among others).

Good customer service can only help a company in our current environment. I suspect it has something to do with Amazon's 75 percent revenue growth over the past two years and Netflix's customer retention.

What else could happen
Of course, if more and more companies started offering outstanding customer service, and it became the norm, there could be a downside for business: The loss of a useful competitive edge. Companies will still be paying for the service they provide, but it won't be rewarding them as much.

Until that unlikely scenario occurs, though, there's much room for improvement and rewards.