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Customer service IS direct marketing and everyone can tell

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Customer service IS direct marketing and everyone can tell
Customer service IS direct marketing and everyone can tell

If you're like me, you have to have your coffee in the morning. I usually stop at Dunkin' Donuts on my way in to work for a medium hot, milk, no sugar. Yeah, cream and sugar are bad for you I hear. Taking the same path to work every day I stop at the same store. I usually go in too because, although I'm not sure this is a rule of the universe, the drive through line is always longer than the one inside.

For months, nothing changed. “May I help you?” “Medium hot, milk, no sugar.” “Anything else?” “No.” “That will be $1.96.” “OK,” I would always say as I hand the cashier $2. “I don't need the change or the receipt.” “Here's your coffee, your change and your receipt.” That also has to be a rule or something because I'm always specific about not wanting it and they're equally as specific about giving it to me. Day in, day out, same people behind the counter, same order, same routine, same me.

Day in, day out, same thing—that is, until Christine. Let me start by saying I don't know Christine. She's wearing the same uniform as everyone else and seems to be doing the same job everyone else is. But after one day of “Medium hot, milk, no sugar” from me, Christine looked up on day 2 and said, “Medium hot, milk, no sugar, right?” Actually, I had to think for a minute. What cruel game was she playing? Big smile from me: “Yes.” I gave her the $2 and left, no receipt, no pennies.

Next day, same thing. In fact, it's been happening like this now for months. I've even thrown in a curve for an extra coffee for a coworker and the next day she asks if I want one or two, even knowing the second one is a regular, surely causing heart disease for my friend.

So, how is this direct marketing? First, ask me what I thought of Dunkin' Donuts before Christine. Now ask me what I think after. Customer service has changed my perception. Somehow, I'm even an appreciated customer now. All those things marketers are after in engaging their customers, improving retention—even cross selling and upsellng. Occasionally I get a different brew to see if I can shake Christine up. Even referrals. I am, after all, talking about Dunkin' Donuts right now.

We think about this all the time in our organization. We have one of the best customer service account management teams in the business that knows that understanding the customer's needs, anticipating, and servicing the hell out of them means our company is differentiated in the marketplace. Our customers can tell the difference. Are our account teams trained in direct marketing? No, but they act toward the same goals.

So, do I think Dunkin' Donuts knows this? Not sure. No one acted like Christine, before Christine. Does the company appreciate that this marketing tactic not only improves its position with customers like me, but also increases efficiency—I'm happier and in and out quick and the cashier gets to move on to the next customer quicker, this serving more people in less time.

My guess is that if Dunkin' Donuts knew that customer service really is direct marketing and that people just like us can tell, it might make everyone into as close a replica of Christine as it could. And I don't think this is just for Dunkin Donuts. Think of all the companies you interact with and how much of an impact customer service has on you. How much more “direct” can it get?

In the mean time, I'm hoping Christine is there this morning. I'm in a hurry and I need caffeine.

John Sisson is president of Universal Wilde. Learn more about Universal Wilde via the company's blog.

Read John's last post, “Personalization, personalization everywhere and not a drop to drink.”

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