How To Make Customer Service a Brand Differentiator

by | Dec 6, 2016 | Branding Strategies

Customer service is a point of pride for many organizations, but also a valuable brand differentiator.

Zappos, for instance, treats customer service as its primary brand differentiator. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, said, “We decided a long time ago that we didn’t want our brand to be just about shoes, or clothing, or even online retailing. We decided that we wanted to build our brand to be about the very best customer service and the very best customer experience.

Zappos is an inspirational story. Founded in 1999, the company has grown into the number one destination to buy shoes and apparel online. The company was so dominant that Amazon acquired Zappos in 2009 for $1.2 billion, but allowed the brand to live on. Amazon wanted to keep intact the culture of customer service that Tony Hsieh and his team had created.

With the right application, customer service can be a powerful brand differentiator. It can help mitigate perceived buying risks, reduce price sensitivity, and give your customers a reason to come back.

Here’s the challenge. Customer service on its own is not a differentiator. Any company can claim to offer exceptional customer service. More importantly, customers expect great service. No customer is going to tolerate being treated poorly or rudely. They’ll take their business elsewhere.

Customer service can only become a brand differentiator after you define how your company delivers service uniquely and better than anyone else.

“Customer service” is actually an abbreviation for how Zappos competes and wins. As the company succinctly states, “Zappos customers enjoy free shipping, free returns, and 24/7 customer service!”

Customer service can be amorphous and nebulous, especially if you focus on “relationships.” Zappos demonstrates how to convert customer service into a brand differentiator. The company clearly defines where it delights its customers and how they do it:

  1. Free shipping, both ways: “Zappos customers get FAST, FREE SHIPPING on every order with NO order minimums.”
  2. Free returns: “If you are not 100% satisfied with your purchase from Zappos you can return your item(s) for a full refund within 365 days of purchase.”
  3. 24/7 support: “We are here for you 24 hours a day – 365 days a year.” You can call, email, or live chat with a real human being at any time.

These three areas of service work for Zappos for two reasons:

  1. Mitigate Buying Risk: Anyone who has bought a pair of shoes knows that you try on a bunch of options before selecting the right pair. Zappos mitigates the fear of buying the wrong shoes by providing free shipping and free returns. You can order fifteen pairs of shoes, and only keep what you want or return them all. You can even order one style of shoe in a bunch of sizes to make sure you get the ones that fit you the best. You may over order, but chances are you’re going to keep something.
  2. Increase Customer Loyalty: You may only call the Zappos help desk once, but that interaction can make you a customer for life. A great experience with a helpful person will reinforce brand loyalty, and have you come back again and again.

Focusing on free shipping, free returns, and 24/7 support is how Zappos defines “customer service.” How do you define customer service for your brand?

Customer service only becomes a differentiator when you clearly define how you serve your customers better than anyone else.

To identify the levers of customer service in your brand consider the following:

  • How do your customers mitigate buying risks?
  • How do your customers make purchase decisions?
  • What information or experiences are your customers seeking?
  • What frustrates customers during the purchase or delivery of services?
  • What can you do to ease or eliminate those irritants?

I am willing to bet it’s the little things that will delight your customers. The hard part is building the organizational focus and infrastructure to transition customer service into a true brand differentiator.


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Jeremy Miller

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