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by Danny Wong; In the U.S., poor customer service costs brands $83 billion every year. An active investment in exceptional customer service can produce generous returns and can combat this loss. A study by management consultancy Bain & Company and Harvard Business School found, "Increasing customer retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 to 95 percent."; Of course, to keep your customers coming back for more, businesses must provide a good product and a high-quality customer experience. Doing so helps brands develop a strong competitive advantage. According to entrepreneur Chris Hurn, "Exemplary customer service distinguishes your brand, builds repeat business, combats price competition, and even improves employee morale."

What is Exceptional Customer Service?

What Makes Exceptional Customer Service

Five qualities that define great customer service:

  1. Empathetic
  2. Generous
  3. Solution-driven
  4. Timely
  5. Unexpected

While brands can foster customer loyalty by offering amazing products, a thorough knowledge base, and helpful staff, those qualities are unremarkable. In fact, buyers consider those things the bare-minimum in brand-customer relationships. Exceptional customer service, on the other hand, seeks to surprise and delight clients using unanticipated strategies that social audiences will rave about.

In an article on Business Insider, editor Jim Edwards notes a few examples of the extensive lengths footwear retailer Zappos has gone through to amaze its customers:

  • "In 2011, Zappos sent flowers to a woman who ordered six different pairs of shoes because her feet were damaged by harsh medical treatments."

  • "Last March, a customer service rep physically went to a rival shoe store to get a specific pair of shoes for a woman staying at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Vegas when Zappos ran out of stock."

  • "The same year, it overnighted a free—free!—pair of shoes to a best man who had arrived a wedding shoeless."

  • "It also paid the tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike one day last November."

  • "Oh, and Zappos employees don't read from scripts."

Using an atypical approach to customer service, Zappos breathes fresh air into an otherwise templated and transactional business function. To make headlines, brands need to deliver incredible customer experiences worth talking about. Below are four important anecdotes and tips to help your business become admired and loved by both current and potential customers.

1. Listen to and apply customers' advice

In May 2011, a toddler named Lily Robinson wrote a letter to her local supermarket, Sainsbury, suggesting its product, tiger bread, be renamed giraffe bread because the bread's pattern more resembled the long-necked mammal. Chris King, a member of Sainsbury's customer service team, agreed with Robinson in his reply, and spent the time to explain the misguided origins of the product's name.

Nearly a year later, the exchange of two typed and signed letters between King and Robinson went viral on social media, which encouraged Sainsbury to formally re-label tiger bread as giraffe bread.

The story made headlines for being an adorable, human interaction between an otherwise faceless corporation and a three-year-old. As a result, the BBC, NBC News, PSFK, The Daily Mail, and The Telegraph picked up the story and praised Sainsbury for its response.

What Makes Exceptional Customer Service Infographic

2. Save the day in style

Upon returning home from a vacation, Chris Hurn and his wife discovered they had forgotten their son’s stuffed giraffe, Joshie, at the Ritz-Carlton, where the family stayed. For their son, this was a big deal.

In an article for The Huffington Post, Hurn explains, "As most parents know, children can become very attached to special blankets, teddy bears and the like. My son is extremely fond of his Joshie, and was absolutely distraught when faced with the idea of going to sleep without his favourite pal. While trying to put him to bed the first night home, I decided to tell a little white lie. 'Joshie is fine,' I said. 'He's just taking an extra long vacation at the resort.' My son seemed to buy it, and was finally able to fall asleep, Joshie-less for the first time in a long while."

But when the Ritz-Carlton confirmed they had found Joshie, Hurn knew he needed to somehow preserve the white lie he told his son. "I came clean to the staff about the story I told my son and asked if they would mind taking a picture of Joshie on a lounge chair by the pool to substantiate my fabricated story. The Loss Prevention Team said they'd do it, and I hung up the phone very relieved." Days later, when Joshie the giraffe arrived in the mail, he was accompanied by a binder filled with photos documenting his extended stay. Those included pictures of Joshie enjoying a massage at the spa, driving a golf cart and hanging out by the pool. Although their son was unimpressed, the Hurns were floored. Hurn writes, "Needless to say, my wife and I were completely wowed by the Ritz-Carlton Loss Prevention Team... It goes without saying that the Ritz-Carlton can count on my family to be repeat customers."

The staff at Ritz-Carlton turned an everyday occurrence—accidentally leaving an item behind—into an opportunity to offer not just exceptional, but world-class customer service.

3. Make it unexpected

One secret to exceptional customer service is to do something… exceptional; something unpredictable. By definition, don't be the rule, be the exception.

A few years ago, a tale emerged about a mysterious JetBlue flyer who gifted passengers free tickets redeemable for a flight to any of the airline's destinations. The story seemed almost too good to be true—part fortune, part fiction. But Consumerist confirmed the myth, stating that the mystery man was JetBlue's Chief People Officer Dave Clark. Every time Clark emerged, JetBlue travellers felt like they had won the lottery, and bloggers and journalists spread the word.

For JetBlue, this worked especially well because the brand was already known for its commitment to a high-quality customer experience. But in this instance, JetBlue's team went out of its way to outdo itself and extend even more value to its loyal customers. By breaking routine, JetBlue—and other businesses—can create newsworthy customer happiness stories.

4. Play along with weird and wacky requests

On his way to Newark airport, Peter Shankman jokingly tweeted a request to Morton's Steakhouse. While on his flight, he asked them to meet him at the airport with a steak.

A steak fanatic and a bit of a celebrity on Twitter (with nearly 110,000 followers at the time), Shankman was the perfect customer. Morton's Steakhouse realised that and seized the opportunity to make Shankman's wish come true. When he landed, a well-dressed representative from Morton's Steakhouse approached him carrying a bag filled with his meal. Shankman recalls, "[The man] proceeds to tell me that he'd heard I was hungry, and inside is a 24-ounce Porterhouse steak, an order of Colossal Shrimp, a side of potatoes, one of Morton's famous round things of bread, two napkins, and silverware."

Shankman wasn't actually serious when he tweeted his request, but Morton's Steakhouse decided to play along. Consequently, Morton's was able to turn a frequent customer into a vocal brand evangelist, and continues to earn positive press for its exceptional customer service.

Bake exceptional customer service into company culture

What Makes Exceptional Customer Service Infographic

It's simple — happy employees breed happy customers and unhappy employees make for unhappy customers. Brands can't expect their team members to take excellent care of their clients if they are unable to create a fun, welcoming, memorable and working environment for their employees. If you want exceptional, you can't have a subpar work atmosphere.

To create experiences that customers, fans, and the media will talk about, businesses need to make quality customer service a core value of their organisation. And with technology, companies can create processes that enable amazing customer experiences. Using a CRM, brands can plan ways to deliver happiness to current and potential customers through multiple touchpoints. That way, companies can continuously deliver remarkable experiences to their users and prospects.

Exceptional customer service is an ongoing effort

While a majority of customer service teams believe their work ends as soon as they address a customer's concern, other brands recognise the opportunity they have to stand out. They go the extra mile to not only resolve customer issues, but leave users with a great impression, a smile, and a story they will eagerly tell their friends, family, and followers.

As your organisation learns how to be more empathetic, generous, solution-driven, timely, and unexpected with customer support, not only will your customer service become synonymous with exceptional, but your brand will also be associated with excellence.

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