Customer service is one of those topics where it is easy to speak in broad generalities. Sayings such as the customer is always right and service begins with a smile easily convey basic, unqualified principles that mask the fact that what defines excellent customer service will always be incredibly individual in nature.
However, while superior service is inevitably in the eye of the beholder, a focus on universal principles can provide organizations a worthwhile starting point to providing a customer experience that surpasses expectation. In evaluating what constitutes superior service, two basic ideas apply to almost any business.
Excellent customer service is a level of service delivery that manages to be both unnoticeable and remarkable at the same time.
While these two conceptions might seem diametrically opposed, they are both part of a customer experience that defies the expected by delivering the expected — and then some.
Awhile back I was discussing some challenges with a key vendor when I commented to her, “If you are doing your job right, you’ll be invisible to me. I shouldn’t think of you unless I am paying your invoices or there is an emergency.” You see, the regular problems were making the service erratic — sometimes great and sometimes terrible — and the regularity of the problems was enough to make the stand out moments unimportant.
The fundamental building block of excellence in customer experience is consistent performance of the basics in a way that meets expectations. And while meeting expectations is not an end goal, it is the base upon which superior service must be built. The product should work as expected, and the service should be provided as expected. Without this consistency of met expectations, stand out moments of above-and-beyond service will have little resonance. It is important to remember that…
Remarkable experiences will not save inconsistent performance.
Before you can truly provide excellent customer service, the basic expectations communicated by your brand promise must be met regularly and seamlessly.
What takes customer service to the level of excellent or superior? Moments or processes that stand out in the customer’s mind. It is the extra touch at the end of a service, the same day turnaround for the need-it-now product, or the extra follow up at the end of a sales call.
Excellent customer service is created by layering moments of differentiation on top of consistent performance.
How do you know if you are achieving these levels of service? You start receiving comments like these…
“I can’t believe you had that waiting on me, I am blown away”
“Jane really makes every visit a pleasure; make sure you keep her.”
“I’ve been getting this type of service for twenty years; this is the first time anyone has ever listened to what I was saying.”
In the end, each business must chart its own path to excellence by knowing its customers and its model. And while the details will vary by industry and application, the above basics are a sound starting point for all businesses. Create systems and training to produce your product or deliver your service consistently, and then look for ways to stand out in your customers’ minds.
When was the last time you had excellent customer service? What made it excellent? What steps do you take in your business to provide customer experiences that are consistent and/or memorable?
By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.