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The Vital Role of Customer Service in the Sharing Economy

By Forrest Shinners
May 8, 2019 11:50 AM PT
customer service is the differentiator for many businesses in the sharing economy

By 2022, the sharing economy is expected to double, reaching US$40 Billion, according to Juniper Research. Pioneers such as Airbnb and Uber are now global titans, taking in billions of dollars per year. From sharing furniture to sharing clothing, every industry seems to be trying to make its way into the lucrative sharing business.

With the market becoming more saturated with products, how do companies differentiate themselves from their competitors?

The answer: customer service. By 2020, customers will give more weight to customer service than to the price or product itself, a recent survey suggests. Even today, 86 percent of customers say they would pay more for higher customer service, and 67 percent claim poor customer service is the reason they left a certain company.

In the current climate, where every retailer seems to be trending toward a more collaborative environment, customer service should be treated as a valuable tool to make the customer feel comfortable, catered to, and coming back for more.

The 'Assuring Touch'

With the sharing economy expanding into nearly every industry, providing the best customer service becomes essential. This is especially important for niche industries -- where customers may want to try something that they might never have done before. In situations like this, the customer needs expert advice in order to provide assurance that they're getting the exact product they need in order to have the best possible experience.

Curation of the product to fit the specific customer is a great way to manufacture a positive customer experience. It doesn't make sense to use an outdated one-size-fits-all approach. Customer service needs to be flexible and to take into account what the customers ask for, in order to recommend the correct products.

Take the ski industry, for instance: Those who rent equipment likely will not have very much experience about the specific items they need, making customer service their only recourse. For example, a quality customer service representative would recommend what to wear in various weather conditions, or what kind of gear would work best for an individual. In this case, to give vital recommendations is essential to make sure customers have the best possible experience.

Furthermore -- and especially when goods are shipped to the customer -- quality assurance that the product will be in good shape when it arrives is equally important.

When someone plans to access the sharing economy, many times it is for a major event, and they have skepticism that everything will go right. Making sure they know that their needs will be met will cultivate a positive relationship with the client.

Customer Feedback to Uphold Company Values

When the actual product choice depends on the particular client's interests, it becomes more essential to know how the customer felt about the service.

For a business in the sharing economy, it's important to understand both what the company does right and wrong in order to adapt for the future. Getting feedback in the form of reviews or personal calls could prove vital in figuring out how to improve your service and provide the best experience for your customers in the future.

Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the sharing economy is the sheer diversity in potential services. Contractors and gig workers provide diverse benefits, allowing customers to customize their experience by choosing the specific product they want. Think Airbnb hosts, who customize their rooms in order to fit a specific customer niche.

Of course, there is a downside to this: In the sharing economy, customers interact mostly with contractors, as opposed to actual employees of the company. While they may not be employees of the company, constractors still need to uphold the company's values. For this reason, it is essential that they understand and support the company's culture, as they act as the face of the company in the customer's eyes.

Customer reviews let the company know if a contractor is the right fit to represent the company. Of course, if a customer has a bad experience with a contractor, positive customer service can go a long way toward achieving damage control.

For example, Uber has suffered reputational damage from controversies over drivers harassing customers. The best scenario would be to have screening processes in place to make sure the right people are working with the company from the start. That said, being able to hear feedback complaints from customers in order to keep the contractors in check is an important part of cultivating a positive image.

For large companies, it's hard to ensure that every contractor adheres to company values, but reacting to negative workers -- and banning them from service as you would fire any employee -- will go a long way toward improving customer trust.

Turning Customers Into PR Advocates

The best part about having satisfied customers in the sharing economy is the fact that they endlessly want to share their positive experiences with their family and friends. They essentially become free PR wherever they go.

Traditional marketing works by segmenting potential clients into sales funnels, but in the sharing economy, people are much more influenced by reviews, other online feedback, and positive comments from people they know.

Word-of-mouth plays a significant role in the development of a business in the sharing economy -- especially for young companies. This is reflected in the numbers: 63 percent of sharers said they found the site through a personal recommendation, and 91 percent would recommend their last sharing service to a friend. This is why it is essential to provide the best possible customer service, as negative word-of-mouth could prove disastrous.

Customer service plays a vital role in virtually every company, but in no industry is customer service as important as in the sharing economy. While there is nothing wrong with dreaming of starting the next Airbnb, it's important to remember that customer service is the foundation of successful businesses in the sharing economy.


Forrest Shinners is the founder of Kit Lender, a short-term ski apparel rental service.


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