4 steps to exceptional customer service

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The phrase “the customer is always right” originated in the early 1900s with the customer service pioneers of big departmental stores and has evolved into a common mantra that is a source of constant strife between customers and staff in most businesses today.

Why? Because the original ethos, or belief, behind this philosophy has been forgotten – excellent customer service requires everyone’s effort to satisfy customers whenever possible.

“Always right” does not translate to “always satisfied”.

We need to understand that customer perceptions often vary from our, or our employees’, perceptions on the same matter. The truth is not all customers are equally pleasant to experience, yet we must treat all customers with the same respect we would expect to receive if we wish to deliver exceptional customer service.

We can start by changing the “always right” mantra to “the customer is always loved” in our businesses. Loving our customers will enable us to step back, listen with understanding, adapt to their evolving needs and, most importantly, to validate them and their concerns.

Exceptional customer service

The best way to “love your customer” is by giving them exceptional customer service by ensuring that you and your staff:

  • provide services in a friendly and consistent manner
  • understand the products and/or services being sold and their applications
  • take time to understand the customer’s needs and business – listen and ask questions
  • fulfill all promises, whether explicit or implied, made to customers
  • show respect in all dealings with customers
  • follow-up with customers to ask about their satisfaction and further needs
  • immediately respond to any customer concerns
  • constantly seek ways to surprise customers by going beyond their expectations.

Exceptional customer service involves developing real, honest relationships with customers. Listening to their concerns and needs, responding quickly to requests or concerns and interacting at events outside the business all combine to reinforce the relationship.

Handling customer concerns

A clear and immediate response process to handle customer complaints must be in place for staff to follow, empowering them to resolve concerns right away. The process should ensure employees establish what the customer really wants so they can resolve any concern that may have arisen.

“The customer is always loved” does not mean telling them they are right. It means being prepared to work with them to resolve their concern in a mutually respectable and beneficial environment. Customer complaints should always be treated as a way to understand how to make customer service even more exceptional – an opportunity to increase the level of customer trust.

The starting point to achieving this is letting your staff know they have your full support and, should they be unable to resolve the concern or have an unreasonable customer, that they can refer the concern to you. For your staff to put customer concerns first they need to know you, in turn, will put their concerns first and back them up.

Listen to your customers

When a customer voices a complaint, their most basic requirement is that we listen to them. If we start by justifying ourselves then they feel they have to argue more and speak louder to get their point across. By listening, we get to understand the concern from the customer’s point of view, plus they also get to hear what they are saying and whether or not it sounds reasonable.

Once a customer feels listened to and validated they are more amenable to listening to your point of view and for you to offer a win-win solution. Remember, it is often more cost effective to offer to fix something – even if you are in the right – than to deal with future negative fallout.

When we “love our customer” by stepping back, listening and then making every effort to right the perceived wrong, any reasonable customer will not only leave satisfied, they will also leave feeling positive about your business.

That said, some customers are just irritable, some are frequent complainers, some are chancing it and some, sadly, are just dishonest. It is these unreasonable customers that are harder to love, and sometimes the only answer is tough love. Even when everything has been listened to and all the circumstances evaluated, you will not be able to make it right in their minds. Sadly, you have to be prepared to let some customers go – if they are not prepared to deal with you reasonably then they are not good for your business anyway.

Customer delight

The end result of “loving the customer” is customer delight. Delighted customers become loyal customers that not only repeat buy but also become your best sales force through word-of-mouth referrals and/or testimonials.

When you “love your customer” and deliver a strong, positive experience that exceeds their expectations, it generates a favourable emotional response – customer delight. The constant and consistent generation of this response will result in you being able to develop a key business advantage to support and grow your brand and/or product value.

Customer delight is achieved by delivering high quality goods and services, exceptional customer service and best value repeatedly and consistently. What better way to show “love” to your customer?