Think about what goes on in your life on any regular day. You’re using water, heat, cable and internet at home, driving your car or taking advantage of a variety of transportation options, choosing where you eat, and going out to see a movie or shop. Behind each one of these seemingly mundane actions is a company, business, or organization. And each time you put on your shoes, send a package, record a show on your DVR, or do nearly anything else, it's an opportunity to connect with the provider. These near-constant opportunities to create customer loyalty are often forgotten by businesses who have chosen to give service that is merely "good enough." The support a customer receives can be as important as the product or service, and companies interested in growing their business must take a long look at how they interact with customers — and not just when there’s a problem. Rather than just giving a level of expected customer service, organizations can benefit significantly from doing more. So what is the difference? What passes as regular customer service,  what is considered excellent, and how does a company give customers an excellent support experience? We'll do our best to answer those questions.

Nowadays, good customer service means simply covers the basics. Companies providing good customer service respond to customer requests. They provide solutions when customers ask for them, and they assume that “No news is good news.” In today’s service culture, good customer service is the norm and because of that, it’s as forgettable as brushing your teeth.

An excellent customer service culture goes a step beyond. Instead of the old-school “If you build it, they will come” mindset, great companies know they have to be nimble and play by modern customers’ rules. Customers come with certain expectations; but rather than meeting those expectations, excellent customer service exceeds expectations.

In show business, they say to leave your audience wanting more. In customer service, however, you want your customers to leave with even more than they wanted.

Customer service isn’t simply answering phone calls and emails; anything a customer experiences with a product or service before, during, and after customer interaction influences how the company is perceived, which directly impacts customer service. This includes the marketing done by that company, how the sales process is scripted, the user interface or accessibility, and any care offered by the company. It's all part of the customer experience.

If a company changes its promotions often or penalizes existing customers in favor of new customers, customers will lose faith and trust in their company. If an existing mobile phone customer learns that new customers are getting devices for free, their first thought will be to inquire if that deal is also available to them. What the provider will learn is that their customer is not loyal to them at all, but to his or her own wallet and needs. This mistake will cost the company not only that customer, but customer referrals.

Excellent customer service means different things to different industries. While consumers want an engaged and attentive doctor, for instance, they would be confused if a bank teller were so interested in their current health. At a minimum, consumers expect to receive adequate attention without a sense of being invaded, either in time or space.

Customers want personalized attention and to feel in charge of the interaction. Even when a customer is seeking expert advice, the customer wants to make the final choice, and they want to feel good about that choice. Finally, consumers want to feel a certain sense of satisfaction about doing business with that particular person or company. Consumers like to feel like they have made the best and most informed decision, and part of excellent customer service is reinforcing the customer’s belief that the decision is theirs and that they made the right one.

Customers like to know that help is available when they need it. That said, they don’t want to have to rely on that help to get the most out of the product or service. Customers should have all the information they need to use the product or service. At the very least, the packaging and literature should be appealing, and customers should not have to ask for assistance in using the good or service unless it is specifically designed to be out of the customer's control.

Customers do not expect to install their own cable equipment, but they should feel comfortable about self installing purchased software programs without assistance, if they choose. If that customer wants assistance, it is imperative that the company provide contact information clearly and provide it promptly without condescension.

Exceptional customer service providers place themselves in the customer’s shoes. If a customer is made to feel stupid or inept, the company is not only at risk of losing that customer, but also of losing perspective.

When a company has been thoughtful about designing its sales and service processes so that they are customer focused, there is little room for catastrophe. If that same wireless provider mentioned above were to offer enticing plans to new customers but made no provision to give current customers equally attractive plans, then they could be unintentionally alienating some of their most valuable clients. A wise company would proactively contact customers and explain the company's decision, then use what he or she knows about that particular customer to offer a reasonably expected alternative. For example, if the customer owns a delivery business, the wireless salesperson could offer an attractive accessory discount on bluetooth headsets, which will enable the customer to run their own business more safely.

Based on understanding that customer's needs, the salesperson will be able to explain why the new plans are irrelevant to the existing customer while offering an enticement to stay with the wireless company and help the customer's business. Tailoring the sales pitch to the customer while minimizing fears of being treated unfairly ensures customer loyalty, which in turn ensures that the business will continue to prosper.

The best teams cover their bases with informed, motivated, and empowered agents

Excellent customer service skills aren’t something you can identify on a resume. Sure, prospective employees may be including it on their resumes, but if you want to be sure that your workforce knows the best way to treat clients, you’re going to have to focus on training.

When a company thinks about employee training, the focus should be as much on customer experience as it is on maximizing profit. The best teams cover their bases with informed, motivated, and empowered agents. If a company trains its employees to anticipate consumer needs — if it streamlines its sales and service processes to eliminate frustration and delay, and can communicate these things to both employees and customers without too much fanfare — that company becomes known for providing excellent customer service.

In addition, excellent customer service should not only keep the customer satisfied, but also loyal to the brand. This means organizations should learn from their missteps, keep the customer informed through effective communication skills, and be accommodating to the customer’s individual needs.

If a company sees that employees are reverting back to good (rather than excellent) customer service practices, it becomes prudent to ask "why?" Are the current processes too involved to be manageable, do the employees need tools or resources they do not have? Or have the customer’s needs changed?

Maintaining focus on the customer, involving the customer in the sales and service process, and making thoughtful changes as needed will help your business resume offering exceptional service — bringing it back up to the higher standard that ensures repeat customers and customer referrals. This is how businesses grow and prosper, hand-in-hand with their customers.

Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with simple, good customer service. Good customer service asks the right questions, provides adequate services or products, and resolves customer issues quickly and effectively. It’s as expected, and there’s nothing inherently bad about good customer service.

There’s just nothing really exceptional about it, either.

With good old-fashioned customer service, you won’t lose customers, but you won’t be winning any new customers, and you won’t be turning your clients into brand evangelists. If you want your business to define “excellent,” you need to take things much further.

Excellent customer service goes above and beyond that of normal service levels. Service excellence is a combination of empathy and foresight that anticipates the customer's needs and makes the desired outcome available.

Ultimately, the difference between good and excellent isn’t just how quickly you answer a phone call or how many times the words “please” and “thank you” come out of a service reps mouth. Customer service situations that define “excellent” come down to not only how deeply the company understands their product or service they’re providing and the industry they’re serving, but also how extensively they understand their customers. A company serious about customer service will provide the features, tools and solutions that meet the customer's expectations, whatever their channel, wherever they are, and whenever they need it.

Think about that: the more intimate you are with all the facets of what you’re putting to market and the understanding you have of your likeliest customers, the more equipped you will be to foretell the problems that inevitably come along.

With that kind of mastery over your product and trade, your company will be capable of developing a solutions long before any service ticket becomes necessary.

 

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