Nowadays, good customer service 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 culture, good customer service is the norm and because of that, it’s as forgettable as brushing your teeth.
Excellent customer service, though, 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.
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 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 places 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 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 that plan, 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.
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, 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 bring the service 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.
I want to be clear that there’s nothing wrong with simple, good customer service. Good customer service asks the right questions, provides adequate services or goods, and resolves a customer’s issues straight-away. It’s as expected, and there’s nothing inherently bad about good customer service.
With good old-fashioned customer service, you won’t lose customers, but you won’t be winning any new customers with it, either.
Excellent customer service, on the other hand, goes above and beyond that the 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 “thank yous” come out of a service reps mouth. Excellent customer service comes down to the how deeply the company understands their product or service they’re providing and the industry they’re serving.
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 would have developed a solution before it ever became a customer service ticket.