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     Customer Service: Get S.O.U.L.

The International Customer Service Association celebrates National Customer Service Week each October. This year, Customer Service Week was celebrated with SOUL -- Service on Unbelievable Levels.  

For those of us in the customer service business (and who isn't?), service on unbelievable levels needs some definition. From my perspective, it means going a little bit above and beyond what most people expect. In other words, it's the experiences you REMEMBER for months and years because someone took the extra time, energy and interest to give you more than you believed you would receive. They are the experiences we share with our friends, relatives, and co-workers; the times that someone took our best interests to heart and made it their personal mission to ensure we wouldn't just be satisfied -- we would be pleasantly surprised, amazed, and perhaps even thrilled at the results. It's often these LITTLE things that have the biggest impact.

Here are a few examples of customer service that go above and beyond what is expected:
  • The dry cleaning establishment that WARNS you about the foil protection covering the buttons on your suit, so you don't forget to remove it before that critical business meeting.

  • The shuttle drivers at the airport long-term parking who give you a slip of paper with the row and space number to REMIND you where you parked your car.

  • The phone representative who jeopardized a larger sale by warning me my bank would soon be merging, indicating I may not want to order more than one box of checks.

  • The unexpected APOLOGY letter I received after experiencing a lengthy delay between flights at a national airport. The airline apologized for the inconvenience and enclosed a generous travel voucher for my next trip.

  • The assistance I received from a store manager at a national retail chain when I wanted to receive credit for a previous purchase. The lack of a sales receipt could have been a major obstacle, but the manager not only allowed the credit from the shirt towards the purchase of a suit, but also threw in two COMPLIMENTARY ties. Overall, the store increased their sales significantly by bending the rules just a little bit!

Anticipate and communicate DIFFICULTIES that could occur, and offer advance warning to prevent the customer from having a disappointing experience. These are the unexpected delays, frustrations and setbacks that customers experience when they take action, unaware of potential consequences. Ask your frontline employees, “What are the most frequent reasons why our customers complain?'” You know those experiences you've had when you've been tempted to say, “Well, couldn't someone have just told me that in the first place?” Track them down, and give your customers all the information they need in ADVANCE!

SINCERITY makes all the difference in the world when something goes wrong. We know customers should immediately receive an apology when things go awry, but often an apology is the bare minimum. If our only motivation to apologize is because it's company policy, customers will hear it in our voice or see it in our expression. On the other hand, customers who also hear, “How can I best solve this situation to your satisfaction?” or “What can I do to COMPENSATE you for your inconvenience?” or “I'd be happy to offer you a free X for your frustration,” will feel much more understood, appreciated, and valued. And, they'll be more likely to come back the next time!

Courtesy has not gone the way of the dinosaur, despite the fact that 9 out of 10 Americans surveyed said INCIVILITY is a serious problem in our culture. 78 percent felt it's gotten worse in the past 10 years. Saying “please” and “thank-you,” offering to open a door, or asking for permission to call someone by their first name is sadly lacking in our society. Additionally, you will automatically exceed the majority of Americans in courtesy, respect, and basic etiquette if you consistently do one simple thing -- return your phone calls and return them PROMPTLY! Reputations are quickly built or destroyed by this one practice.

In today's complex world, companies that do it only one way -- their way -- will be left behind as customers seek out more FLEXIBILITY, choice, and CONTROL over their buying experience. How many of us have seen customers waiting in line to scan their own groceries in stores where this is now an option? We also expect choices about how to communicate with the organization. These choices include phone, email, automatic call-back, and live “chat” options. Ensure that the reasons you establish policies and systems have more to do with SUPPORTING the needs of your customers than just making it easy on yourself. To be absolutely sure, ask them what they prefer.

Rewarding your loyal customers with upgrades, free shipping and other PREMIUMS is a highly effective way to thank those who have been your source of repeat business and referrals. Too often, the “perks” are extended only to lure new customers. Remember that it costs 6-7 times to attract a new customer versus keeping your existing ones happy! Here are a few ways to do this: 
  • Make a bonus payment as a thank-you to a VENDOR who was willing to accept flexible payment terms.

  • Quote your customers (with their permission of course) in your next newsletter, article, book, or white paper and send them a COPY of it upon publication. They will appreciate the free publicity and your thoughtfulness.

  • Select a customer at RANDOM each month to receive a special gift for no reason at all.

  • Call your customers periodically and ask their OPINION of what you are doing well, and what you could do better to serve them. Then send a thank-you gift for their willingness to share their time and opinions.

It doesn't take much in MONEY or TIME to implement the little things mentioned above. It will pay off in the relationships you develop and maintain with your customers, and interestingly enough, you'll also see similar rewards in the behaviors and retention of your front-line employees!


Laura Benjamin speaks and trains nationally on employee retention and customer loyalty. Laura is adjunct faculty for the Pikes Peak Information Technology Partnership Program, and a member of the National Speakers Association. Contact her at 719-266-8088 or . Visit her website at www.laurabenjamin.com.

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