Ernan’s Insights on Marketing Best Practices

Monday, May 7, 2012

AmEx: High Value Customer Service Drives Shareholder Value

The Challenge: Businesses that do not recognize the power of high quality customer service, increase the risk of revenue loss and decreases in market valuation.
American Express Cards Welcome Businesses that treat customer service as a cost center, relegate it to an operations function and focus on manufacturing metrics such as reducing the time per call.

Innovative marketers like QVC treat service as an opportunity to build strong customer loyalty. For them, service isn't a cost;it's a revenue driver.

Jim Bush, Customer Service Czar at American Express, has pushed the envelope even further. For him, service is a major driver of market valuation and shareholder value.

Like many innovative marketers, Bush shifted the focus of his service team from reducing call time to building engagement. He discussed his reasons, and the results, with Fortune Magazine's Geoff Colvin. These are some of his innovations:

Authentic Conversations
Reps too often sound robotic. They need to conduct authentic conversations which are based on empathy and personalized data. According to Bush, "We present the profile of who that customer is and other information relevant to that particular interaction. That allows the care professional to be conversant and pull out their personality and match it to the personal needs of the customer."
Optimize for Customer Loyalty
Dropping "low call time" as your service goal doesn't mean ignoring key performance metrics. Bush's team optimizes for Bain's "Net Promoter Score”. “For every servicing transaction we ask, How can we get the customer to feel better about American Express and recommend it to a friend? That’s a promoter.”
Heed the Voice of Customer
Bush clearly recognizes the importance of the Voice of Customer (VoC): "Think of the power of the voice of customer now. Verizon introduced a $2 fee, the voice of customer screamed loud, and it turned that around 24 hours later. We need to appreciate customer centricity and the value it creates."
The results have been dramatic: According to Bush, "For a promoter who is positive on American Express, we see a 10% to 15% increase in spending and four to five times increased retention, both of which drive shareholder value".
→ Use Customer Service to Drive Personalization
Customers today expect a higher level of personalization than ever before. Bush emphasizes the role of service in personalization: "I thought about the opportunity of capitalizing on every interaction and moving away from being a cost of doing business to being an investment in building relationships. Every one of those moments of truth is an opportunity to make a difference to customers in a personalized way."
→ Train Call Center Employees to Engage with Every Call
Solving customer problems is crucial, but it's not enough. The service team at AmEx focuses on "how you create the relationship and build it through humanity, conversation, and engagement". To do those things effectively, call center employees need the right training.
→ "Serve customers, not transactions."
Bush's quote above should become a mantra for all businesses. Call center employees should serve customer’s desires and needs, and customers should be the ones to determine how long they need to be on the phone.