Customer Service the Fortune 500 Way

John Krautzel
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Fortune 500 companies know that good customer service is a cornerstone of a successful business, and their customer-focused strategies prove it. Smaller businesses may have the advantage of the personal touch. On the other hand, the most successful big businesses give customers what they need when they need it with highly trained, dedicated customer service staff providing 24/7 assistance. Luckily, you don't have to have a Fortune 500 budget to excel in customer service strategies inspired by the big guys.

A Focus on Availability

One of the biggest factors that sets Fortune 500 customer service practices apart from those of other businesses is being available for customers at all times, even if they aren't in store. If your company has a receptionist or other professionals who handle calls, one option is to ensure someone is monitoring the phone while they're on lunch breaks or handling in-store customers. One big limitation of this method is that customers can only complete orders, ask questions or make requests during store hours. Plus, not every employee may have the proper expertise and customer service skills to provide a top-notch customer experience to every caller.

Outsourcing Customer Calls

The solution to a smaller business's limited availability is to outsource customer calls to a call center or answering service. Although many Fortune 500 companies have their own call center staff, others, such as Siemens and IBM, outsource their customer service duties. As of 2016, costs can be as low as $1 per customer call according to Business 2 Community, making this a realistic option even for small companies. Customers can get frustrated when dealing with answering machines, but they feel valued when they can talk to a live person who knows your business and can politely answer questions. Plus, many of these services offer toll-free numbers so customers feel freer to call.

Another advantage of this strategy is the flexibility to meet your business' dynamic customer service needs. An outsourced answering service can add or cut down on staff based on your company's call volume, which is especially useful for seasonal shifts in business demand. Before outsourcing your customer service, weigh its cost versus that of hiring a new, dedicated customer service representative. Then, decide which one makes more sense for your business based on business size and call volume.

Embracing Social Media Connections

Setting up and maintaining corporate accounts on social media allows you to establish a Web presence while providing the opportunity to connect with customers. Timely and courteous answers to complaints or questions via Facebook, Twitter and other platforms help you gain customers' trust. When customers come away satisfied, they're more likely to become loyal to your business.

According to a study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 78 percent of Fortune 500 companies had active Twitter accounts in 2015, up from 62 percent in 2011. The study considered any corporate account that had tweeted within the last 30 days to be active. These numbers show how seriously Fortune 500 companies are taking this essential social media business tool, one that plays a key role in customer connection. In addition, 74 percent of these companies maintain Facebook pages.

Providing Prompt Responses Across Platforms

Just as important as answering every customer call is responding to emails and messages sent via social media. Wherever customers go, they expect the same prompt, courteous response from your employees or contractors. Keep in mind that customers who have access to knowledgeable, fast answers to their questions are less likely to turn to competitors.

Fortune 500 companies owe their success to many factors, but a focus on outstanding customer service is always present. Consider outsourcing certain customer service tasks to ensure your company takes care of every customer in a timely manner, and take advantage of social media and other platforms so customers can choose the contact options to fit their needs. Not only do these Fortune 500 customer service strategies help promote customer loyalty, but they also help increase revenue by driving business. Place a heavy focus on customer service early to help boost business success down the road.

Photo Courtesy of NeneD2 at


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    I guess everyone has different needs and views the value of 24/7 service differently. Personally, I feel that if they have a good website and they include some FAQs on it, that's all I need and probably don't even need to call them. It is true that some places do have 24/7 service and they are not overseas. @Lydia I know I would be happier if I spoke to someone who could understand me and vice versa. Financial incentives are the main reason. Companies can hire overseas customer service reps for a fraction of what they would pay locally. I am sure that there are tons of surveys done on whether it's better to keep your CSR in house or outsource. Personally speaking, if I get a person who does not have a good command of the English language, I will ask to speak to a supervisor. If the supervisor is no better when it comes to their command of the language, I am done. I will not deal with the company any longer.

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    I actually like it when a company has 24/7 customer service. It doesn't always mean they are overseas. There are call centers right here in the USA that never close. The staffing dwindles at night, but there's someone to handle a problem when you need them. This has been especially important when on a couple occasions I had a problem with a debit card or my credit card and had to call someone late at night on a weekend for assistance.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    I don't think there are any consumers who think outsourced customer service is a plus. Most outsourced CSR's don't know products they support and sometimes don't have the ability to communicate about technical specs. Most people would be much happier if they could talk to a knowledgeable person when they have a question or a concern. What are some ways that big companies could shift customer support responsibility back to product leads/owners? Do companies have financial incentive to do this?

  • Andrew  S.
    Andrew S.

    Customer service is important. There's no doubt about that, but as a business, do you really need to provide 24/7 assistance to ALL of your customers to be successful? Case in point, PayPal, as far as I'm aware, only provides phone support 8.00 to 4.30 Monday through Friday, and they're one of the leaders in online payments. And honestly, as a customer, do you really require 24/7 support all the time? Yes, there are issues that need immediate addressing (or you may think they do), but most of the time, I'm sure the problem can wait until business hours.

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    I think both email and social media make it easy to answer customer queries promptly. Business can send an initial message to the customer that the query has been received and then send a detailed answer within a specified time. It’s important to stick to a timeframe though, especially with social media accounts where everyone can see the customer’s complaint.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @William there are so many customer service metrics out there that a company can use one that skews the data in the direction they want so that it doesn't appear that there are many issues with customer complaints regarding having to speak with a non-English CSR. But, if you do a quick Google search for complaints about a particular company, you will find out the truth; will see how customers react to this. @Jacob thanks for that. I guess I never really thought about whether they are 24/7 for service. But, not all companies who offer 24/7 customer service hire non-English CSRs. So I am not sure that I would discard ALL companies because of this.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    I agree with William - outsourcing customer service to call centers overseas or even to indifferent contract employees making minimum wage typically does not enhance customer service or make customers feel valued. One of the first things I look for when doing business as a consumer is customer service hours - if it 24 hours a day, I typically move on to the next business since I consider that an indication of inferior, outsourced service lines with little actual resolution.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    I have a question. With so many companies outsourcing customer service overseas, how do large companies measure the frustration of dealing with non-native English speakers when trying to solve a problem through customer service? It almost seems paradoxical for Americans, with American issues, to speak to someone in India regarding a problem with a cellphone, a couch or an Internet line.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Katharine so very true. If you find a place that really works for you - especially with great customer service like Nordstroms, why would you want to go elsewhere? That's exactly what they are banking on and it has proven to be true over the years. @Erica social media certainly has taken its place in our society. Many consumers search online for answers to their questions instead of even contacting the company first. If I was in customer service and had a question from a customer that was maybe posted on Facebook, I probably wouldn't respond with a negative such as it will take time to answer your question. I would try to contact that customer one on one to get it resolved. It looks bad on a company when they respond with - thanks for your query. We will get back to you shortly. What does shortly mean? That's why I would think that would be the wrong way to go.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    I definitely choose businesses based on their customer service. For example, I buy a lot of gifts from Nordstrom, because I have the security of knowing that they will respond promptly to any issue that arises, and resolve it without a problem. That peace of mind is really valuable.

  • Erica  T.
    Erica T.

    Since timely responses to customer questions posted on social media sites seem more and more important to maintain customer confidence and loyalty, is it appropriate to post an initial response telling the customer that their issue requires more time to resolve and that you will get back to them ASAP, or should you reply only when an immediate solution is available? Unfortunately, some customer service issues and questions may require a day or more to resolve or answer.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for your comments. @Kellen so very true. Responsiveness in the world that we live in is a MUST, not a luxury as it was in the past. A company that is able to do that is a company that it going to remain in business and grow. @Abbey I understand your reasoning and it is truly wrong that companies seem to only cover their CS for certain hours - hours that are not convenient to most workers. Personally, I would rather take my lunch hour and make the call than to have to speak to someone where all I am saying is "pardon me but could you repeat that?" of "I'm sorry but I can't understand you. Is there someone there who speaks English?" I know I have done this many times when calling for customer support and it can be VERY frustrating. I have totally stopped purchasing items from companies whose CSRs are hard or even impossible to understand. My time is valuable and I hate playing guessing games as to what they are telling me when I call them. Just my opinion. It's just like the automated calls - robo-calls is what we used to call them. I refuse to use them. If you want to call me, you have a person call me. Otherwise I am not interested.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I think that ensuring there is always someone available to take customer calls is a highly valuable idea. It's nice to know that no matter what time of the day or night I need to contact someone, there will be a real person on the other end of the line. I understand some of the commenters' concerns about outsourced call centers, but I have to say that I would rather be able to call anytime and risk talking to someone who isn't as knowledgeable on the company or speaks broken English than to not be able to reach anyone at all. It's extremely frustrating when I spend all day at work only to find that the company is closed and I can't get through to a live person.

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    Answering customers promptly via social media is incredibly important! Facebook has even made this a feature: a note appears on a company's page letting customers know how responsive the company is to messages. It's a great little tool. Seeing that a company responds "within minutes" signals to me a company that listens to its customers. That's a company that deserves my business!

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. Totally agree that no customer service should be outsourced to another country. I, too, have received countless phone calls where I could not understand the person. I always ask to speak to an American or I just hang up. The same thing goes if I initiate the phone call and the person on the other end is hard to understand. Always ask to speak to their supervisor or someone else who has a better command of the English language. Then, I will go on their website and let my feelings be known. Customer service is the forefront of any company outside of the sales department maybe. CS is where a company should make an investment and hire the best people possible. Do you think that a company will remain as a Fortune 500 company for long if their CS is less than optimal?

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    I'm also not convinced that outsourcing customer service is as effective a strategy as it's made out to be. Sure, it might be cost-effective, but if you outsource your customer service department to an offshore location to save money, you might get a lot of irate letters from customers who then can't properly communicate with customer service reps. Your in-house customer service options might be more limited, but they may also deliver higher a quality service to your valuable customers.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    I realize that outsourcing is a cost-effective practice of Fortune 500 companies, but I'm not convinced that it is a way to provide the best customer service. I know that as a customer I'm often frustrated by outsourced help desk operators who are not as familiar with the company as they should be. Do you think this is a effective practice to retain customers?

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