Customer Expert Series: Marsha Collier on Customer Service in the Digital Era

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The VHT Customer Expert Series provides business insights on “the era of the customer.” Each article features a leading customer expert and his/her wisdoms on delivering a dazzling customer experience.The VHT Customer Expert Series provides business insights on “the era of the customer.” Each article features a leading customer expert and his/her wisdoms on delivering a dazzling customer experience.

Marsha Collier is a well-known expert in customer service. She has written over 47 books and received several prestigious awards for leadership in  e-commerce and customer service.

We had the opportunity to talk with Marsha about her best-practice advice for customer service in the digital era, particularly through social media channels. Read the interview below and let us know in the comments section if you have any questions for Marsha.


What’s a notable change in the role of contact centers over the last five years? 

In 2011, I went to the FedEx call center in Dallas to speak to the team about new online options for customer service. I noticed that FedEx had already implemented a Twitter customer service team, and on that day, they also added a dedicated Facebook team. It was clear FedEx understood fairly early on that social media integration into the contact center is important for customer communications.

What are a few of your top customer service best practices? 

Be accessible and communicate through your customers’ preferred channels — or, as I say, “fish where the fish are.” You know your customer demographics. Be responsive, and don’t be afraid to address negative comments.

What’s your perspective on self-service?

You can’t force one strategy on all customers. You need to provide customers with customer service options. Plenty of people would much rather find solutions on your business website instead of reaching out to a customer service rep through phone or email. Self-service spans from instructional tutorials to FAQs, so don’t neglect the small informational stuff.

What is your favorite customer service quote?

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”
– Bill Gates.

My biggest “aha” moments in customer service happen when I find out something has gone wrong. Even if a customer seems unreasonable on the surface, it behooves you to step back and examine the situation. Customer needs change and negative feedback provides opportunities to update the way you do business.

What led you to focus your career around customer service? 

Early in my marketing career, I worked with author and consultant Peter Glen, who taught me the importance of making a connection with the customer. Later, when I had my own marketing agency servicing regional shopping centers in Southern California, I took note of which businesses succeeded and which ones folded. My observation was that the successful businesses had a stronger connection with their customers, as evidenced through their daily customer interactions. These businesses cared about customer needs; they put the customer first. As e-commerce grew, I took these lessons and applied them online.

What’s the best customer experience you’ve personally encountered?

My favorite customer experience occurred when I accidentally walked out of the passenger security area while changing planes at an airport — which meant I would have to go through the security line again. I tweeted to American Airlines,and they alerted the gate agent to let me through quickly so I could make my connection.

Interestingly, the best experiences I have had in general are the ones with the least outreach from the brand. On different trips, I stayed at two famous five-star hotel chains, both with legendary, impeccable customer service. One hotel was all over me to the point that it felt a little creepy; the other hotel just made things happen seamlessly. No fanfare, just good customer service.

What’s a tip you have for customer service professionals today? 

Perform your best for the customer without expectation of applause. When a customer feels at home with your brand, you’ve got a loyal relationship. Don’t go for public kudos, go for the human touch.

Thanks, Marsha, for the insights and lessons in customer service!

About Marsha Collier

Marsha Collier has over 15 years of experience in e-commerce and eBay, as well as retail. She is recognized as a Top 50 Social Media Power Influencer by Forbes, as well as a Top 30 Female Blogger, a 2009 NOW Award Winner and several other prestigious recognitions. Marsha is the author of the Ultimate Customer Service Guide, as well as 47 “For Dummies” (and more) books, selling over a million copies of these books. You can connect with Marsha on Google+, Twitter or Facebook.

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