Delivering Exceptional Service
Everyone likes to feel important. People love interactions that leave them happy, valued and understood. What’s more, people remember the interactions which reward them in this way – and they share these experiences with people they know. Delivering exceptional customer service is your key to winning and keeping your clientele.
Just consider for a moment some of the biggest brands you know. What came to mind, and why? From Disneyland to McDonald’s to Virgin – regardless of the industry, customer service unites them all as being absolutely vital to their brand integrity. These brands have made big names for themselves by delivering service that qualifies as exceptional.
Moving outside the field of large multinationals, it doesn’t take long to realise that customer service gets even more important, the smaller a business gets. One of the first things you’ll notice about the most successful small businesses is that they not only meet, but surpass customer service expectations. They don’t stop at simply satisfying their customers’ requirements and then walk away. They take care with every interaction and go to the effort of delighting, not just satisfying, their clientele.
And it pays off. Delighted customers will talk about your business to their friends and acquaintances, helping to build awareness of your brand and keeping a fresh stream of new customers headed your way. By the same token, dissatisfied or angry customers can wreak havoc with your reputation – particularly in this age of social media and online rating tools.
If you doubt the importance of delivering exceptional customer service, think carefully about how much business is obtained through word of mouth. As every business depends on referrals to some extent, the question to ask yourself is, “How can I get more people referring my business?”
The easiest and cheapest way is to impress your customers so much that they become advocates for you. This is done by delighting them with your customer service – service that gets your business talked about. How’s that for free publicity? At the end of the day, it will cost you about the same to give ordinary service as it will to give exceptional service. This is an opportunity not to be wasted.
Most businesses that have made a name for themselves and achieved remarkable growth are those with outstanding performance or service standards.
They consistently deliver more than the expected levels of service, often surpassing even their own benchmarks.
Take fast food chains, for example. Their service standards – e.g. clean premises, uniformed staff, quick service, and consistent products – make them models across the food and hospitality industries. They’ve built brand empires based primarily on one thing, which is arguably not producing the world’s tastiest meals. It’s their service. Customers know exactly what they’re going to get and how, every single time they go there.
We’ve all come to expect McDonald’s will deliver orders quickly and in the same way, consistently. But we can’t all be a McDonald’s, can we?
Or can we? Step one is to start thinking outside the square. Don’t simply give customers something that falls within the scope of your business anyway. Surprise them. Do something unexpected.
Shaping a service ‘culture’
Customer service must be integral to your culture, and flow through the whole organisation. It’s not good enough to offer customer specials or gifts if your telephone skills leave a lot to be desired. Remember that a single bad experience can destroy a customer relationship that’s taken months or years to cultivate.
One solution is to systemise the process: write down how you want customers treated, and train your people to achieve the required standards.
Customer service should be a focus across every area of your business. In particular, think of the following:
1. Your product offerings
Does the quality of your products exceed your customers’ expectations? How is your offering different from your competitor’s, or how can you make it different?
If you don’t believe that’s possible to do, reconsider. Think in terms of presentation. Deliver your product in a way that makes it stand out.
Can it be delivered quicker than your competitors? Can you deliver it more attractively, with a gift, or in some way that will impress your customers?
2. Phone calls
Your business’ telephone conduct is one of the most important pieces in your repertoire. The way calls are handled can make or break customer relationships.
Learn how to make phone calls work for you and develop a process. Think about how your business greets its customers. Do your people introduce themselves and listen attentively?
When customers have a problem, are they shifted around from person to person because everyone keeps passing the buck, or do they deal with one person who handles it until it’s resolved? Think about how long people have to wait on hold and what they might be listening to.
If a large portion of your business is done over the phone, you need to ensure the experience is a positive one.
Superior customer service in face-to-face interactions delivers serious results. It presents the best opportunity for your business to stand out and be memorable. Efforts don’t have to be big, expensive or outrageous. They just have to make your customers’ experience different and exceptional. And don’t think business isn’t supposed to be fun. Remember times when you’ve been a customer delighted by service offered to you.
Delivery is critical, be it for a product or for a service. How does yours measure up in your market? Can you make it quicker, more convenient, or more memorable?
It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver. A great example of this is Disneyland. If you’ve been there, you’ll know you spend much of the day queuing for rides and attractions. Signs along each queue display the wait from various points - but the actual wait is always less than the estimate given. If you’re at a 30-minute point, you’ll usually get to the ride in only 20 minutes. People love it! They love to get more than they expect. How can you do this for your clients? Come up with ways to deliver beyond the expected.
How frequently does a business follow up on purchases with you? More often than not, you or someone you know will be in need of that product or service again. Following up with customers will keep you front of mind, as well as make them feel more valued.
Remember that customers don’t stop buying, but businesses do stop selling. Businesses that make a habit of staying in touch with their customers enjoy some of the highest customer retention rates around and can lead to positive referrals.
The keys are in your hands
If you’ve provided exceptional service in addition to all the required information about your offering, it’s much easier to ask for the order and expect the sale.
Your action plan for delivering exceptional customer service should incorporate:
- Service standards
- Shaping a service culture
- Actions in each service area - i.e. product, telephone, face-to-face, delivery and follow-up.
Taking these recommendations to heart and making a real effort to entrain exceptional customer service as part of your core business will put you well on your way to fully leveraging your greatest business asset: your satisfied customers.