When most people hear the phrase “customer service,” they immediately start thinking of department store horror stories:
- Long lines…
- Overly tired cashiers…
- Non-refundable purchases…
To put it bluntly, customer service is rarely ever thought of in a positive light.
Unfortunately, this is due in large part to human nature: the negative experiences we’ve had in life tend to stick out in our memories much more than any positive or neutral experiences we’ve had.
As a small-business owner, this means you’ll almost always be working against the grain when it comes to building a positive reputation for your company’s customer service.
Even if you provide “good enough” customer service to a vast majority of your customers, those who are left disappointed by their experiences with your company are more likely to remember them – and to report these poor experiences to others.
In other words: “good enough” won’t cut it.
Your customer service needs to be excellent if you want to have any chance of sticking out in your customer’s memory in a positive way.
Before we dig into how you can provide such excellent service to your customers, let’s define what “customer service” actually is.
What Is Customer Service?
Consumers tend to think of “customer service” as a department of an organization separate from the rest of the company. They see customer service as the service a company provides when someone needs to return an item, needs help finding an item, or has questions or concerns relating to the company’s policies.
As an entrepreneur or manager, you know this is only a small part of what customer service truly is.
Desk.com says it best:
“Customer service is the support you offer your customers — both before and after they buy your product — that helps them have an easy and enjoyable experience with you. It’s more than just providing answers; it’s an important part of the promise your brand makes to its customers.”
Yes, part of customer service is providing answers to consumers’ questions and solving problems they come to your organization with.
But even more so, customer service is answering your customers’ questions before they even ask them, and solving their problems before they even know the problem exists.
Excellent customer service is providing the positive experience your customers didn’t even realize they were seeking until you gave it to them.
It’s making them feel valued not just as a customer, but as an individual.
And it’s doing everything you possibly can to ensure they become loyal to your brand, and will continue to come to your company when they’re in need of the products or services you provide.
Killer Customer Service Examples From The Best
Now that we have a better understanding of what customer service is and what it entails, let’s take a look at twelve companies that have become known for the excellent service and experience they provide. We’ll then discuss one customer service-related lesson entrepreneurs and managers can take away from each of these companies.
(Note: The first ten companies on the list earned the highest percentage of “excellent” ratings from respondents to a 2015 customer service survey commissioned by Zogby Analytics, in conjunction with 24/7 Wall St.)
It should come as no surprise that Amazon tops the list of companies providing excellent customer service; the e-commerce giant continuously appears at or near the top of such annual surveys.
First and foremost, Amazon revolutionized online shopping more than two decades ago. Features consumers now take for granted – such as product suggestions, customer reviews, and one-click checkout options – all have their origins in Amazon. Going back to our definition of customer service, consumers had no idea such convenience was even possible before Amazon implemented these services and made them par for the course.
While Amazon has its fair share of feel-good customer service stories, it’s the innovative, forward-thinking, customer-facing approach CEO Jeff Bezos and company take that earns them the top spot when it comes to customer service.
The lesson to be learned here is this: be relentless in your search for what your customers want – even if they don’t know what that is – and dedicate your all to providing it to them. Anyone can provide a product or service after being asked to do so; anticipating your customer’s needs before they even come to you is what will really help you stand out.
If you’ve ever stepped foot inside a Chick-fil-A, you already know it’s not your ordinary fast food restaurant.
For the uninitiated, here’s a quick rundown of some of the small but pleasant differences you’ll find upon entering a Chick-fil-A:
- Employees ask “How may I serve you?” rather than “How may I help you?”, and say “My pleasure” instead of “Thank you.”
- If you need to wait for your food, an employee will ask you to find a table and bring your food to you when it’s ready.
- Employees will come to your table to see if there’s anything they can do for you, such as refill your drink or bus your table.
On paper, these small gestures don’t seem like too big of a deal. But first-time customers expecting a typical fast-food experience will immediately notice a difference not just in how the organization operates, but in their overall dining experience as a whole.
If you want to make a difference, step over the line and into that second mile, because magical things happen there.” – Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A
To be sure, Chick-fil-A makes good food, too – but it’s still just fast food. What really keeps customers coming back is the genuine atmosphere awaiting them once they step inside the restaurant’s doors, and the knowledge that the organization truly appreciates their business.
(Okay, the dipping sauce probably helps, too.)
Though Apple could probably still make billions without offering excellent customer service, the company prides itself on its ability to build genuine relationships with each one of its customers.
This pride is never more evident than when visiting an Apple Store.
At each storefront, employees are trained in providing service the “APPLE” way:
- Approach the customer with a warm welcome
- Probe politely to see if they need any help at the moment
- Present the simplest and quickest solution to their problem
- Listen to their concerns and help resolve their problems
- End with a fond farewell and invitation to return.
During the “Listen” step, employees often utilize the “3 F’s of Empathy”: Feel, Felt, and Found. If a customer expresses that they’ve been having difficulty with a certain Apple product or service, the employee will explain that they understand how the customer must feel; that they, too, have felt that way in similar situations; and they’ve found a certain solution to be most beneficial.
By focusing on providing a positive and valuable experience during even the smallest service-related interactions, Apple does its part to increase the loyalty of first-time and long-time customers alike.
If you’re in the hospitality business, providing comfort to your patrons is always going to be your top priority.
But providing guests with clean sheets and warm towels is standard. Sure, providing these basics might be “good enough” for your average guest – but doing so won’t provide the memorable experience you should be aiming to give them.
Marriott understands the importance of going the extra mile to ensure that each guest has a uniquely enjoyable stay in their hotel.
The company does this by preparing its employees to engage in authentic interactions with guests, embrace conflicts, and provide individualized support to its patrons.
— Rob G (@rob_g12) February 2, 2017
— Mariana Reis (@marykings_25) February 2, 2017
Marriott is well-known for providing personalized upgrades and freebies to its loyal customers and to guests who are clearly in need.
For evidence of such, read Brian Whetten’s account of his experience at a Los Angeles Marriott, in which multiple managers catered to the various needs of his wife and newborn daughter while he attended a conference. Not only were they upgraded to an executive suite to provide more room and comfort for his wife and children, but at least two managers offered his wife assistance when their newborn became fussy at dinnertime.
These managers could have easily asked them to leave the dining hall and return when the baby had calmed down. Instead, they came up with an individualized solution that led to the best possible outcome for Brian’s wife and daughter, as well as the restaurant’s other patrons.
Everyone has their favorite grocery store.
But, according to a study by Maritz Loyalty Marketing of New York, Kroger boasts the most loyal customers of any supermarket in the country.
Case in point: a whopping 90% of purchases made at Kroger stores are made with the company’s Kroger Plus reward card.
“Every day you have to earn customers’ trust and serve their needs.” – Rodney McMullen, CEO of Kroger
And it’s no secret why that is.
Kroger Plus members enjoy discounts on various products throughout the store. A Kroger Plus card also entitles members to discounted gas at either specified Kroger stores or Shell stations.
Members can also download Kroger’s smartphone app, which gives them access to weekly coupons, allows them to easily find an item’s in-store location, and create a shopping list while on the go.
But Kroger has been known to go even further, providing personalized coupons to frequent shoppers based on their previous purchases. While most supermarkets send out identical flyers to everyone (even to those who don’t regularly shop in these stores), Kroger tracks Plus cardholders’ purchases and provides targeted coupons, all but ensuring these customers will soon return.
By providing individualized attention to its most loyal members, Kroger makes it clear that its customers are more than just a number to the company.
If you have some time on your hands, go to Google and search for “FedEx customer service examples.” There are numerous examples of FedEx employees going above and beyond to ensure a package is delivered to its rightful recipient intact and on time.
But you might also come across a much less flattering candid video of a FedEx employee blatantly tossing packages (including fragile electronic equipment) into the back of a delivery truck.
Unfortunately, the larger a company gets, the more likely it is for a rogue employee to get caught doing something they shouldn’t be. If it happens, owners and managers are put in a difficult position, and are faced with a choice: sweep the instance under the rug, or face it head on.
FedEx chose the latter, and did so the right way.
The CEO of the company could have simply released a statement saying the employee had been fired, the item had been replaced, and the problem was resolved.
But if the incident was left at that, it would surely happen again somewhere down the line.
However, in addition to terminating the employee and replacing the item at no cost to the customer, FedEx also amended their training process to include the video in question – meaning all future employees would know exactly what not to do if they wanted to keep their job.
In doing so, FedEx turned a negative customer experience into a point of growth for the company, and reaffirmed its customers’ faith in the company’s service.
If you take the friendly atmosphere of Chick-fil-A, combine it with the individualized attention you get while staying at a Marriott, and put it all into a grocery store, you get Trader Joe’s.
Adrian Weidmann of StoreStream Metrics writes, “When you go to Trader Joe’s, you are experiencing a ‘story’…The ‘typical’ grocery story is merely a clean warehouse.”
There are numerous stories of Trader Joe’s employees going above and beyond their paid duties to satisfy their customers (including one heartwarming story of an employee delivering groceries to an elderly man’s door during a snowstorm). But TJ’s attention to customer feedback is what truly sets the organization apart from other, more corporate grocery stores.
At most supermarkets, the phrase “Did you find everything you were looking for?” is simply a formality; if you didn’t find it, chances are you’re not getting it. But at Trader Joe’s, if you weren’t able to find an item that you know they offered before (or perhaps at another location), an employee will take note of it and make sure the item is available the next time you stop in.
As a business-owner, you don’t always need to rely on faceless data collected over the months to figure out what your customers want. Sometimes, you just need to ask them.
The tech industry is all about foresight. To be successful – and maintain a certain level of success – companies need to be able to predict to upcoming trends and changes within the industry, and adapt their services accordingly.
Of course, with innovation often comes glitches and problems that previously have never been encountered – meaning tech companies need to be extra diligent when it comes to providing their customers with solutions to common issues.
Instead of waiting for customers to encounter these glitches and contact customer support, Sony has implemented a system of predictive diagnostics, allowing the company’s tech gurus to monitor equipment around the world in order to proactively identify possible pitfalls and technical issues. If one consumer has an issue with a piece of equipment, Sony will work to ensure no one else encounters this problem in the future.
As an entrepreneur, the lesson to be learned here is that it’s much more beneficial to fix a problem at its root once, rather than to fix individual problems multiple times over. No matter your industry, work to notice trends in customer complaints – and get to the bottom of your company’s largest problems.
The following is a reminder that, no matter how seriously you take your business, you should never underestimate the importance of having fun.
In 2012, a diehard Samsung fanatic sent the following message to the company via Facebook:
Upon receiving the message, the people at Samsung had two options:
- Laugh for a moment, then move on to the next serious piece of email in their inbox.
- Respond with this:
The customer then posted the correspondence to Reddit. Naturally, the response went viral – arguably winning Samsung Canada more brownie points than any 5-star review possibly could.
But the company’s relationship with the customer didn’t end there. Months later, he was invited to a launch party for the Galaxy S III in Toronto. Then, he received this:
A fully-functional Galaxy S III personalized just for him.
Now, it’s not like Samsung makes a habit of giving away its products – or spending countless manpower hours designing personalized cases – but given the fact that this one customer helped shed a positive light on the company’s customer service team, it was the least it could do.
The lesson: just have some fun; you never know what good will come of it.
Providing a delivery service seems pretty straightforward. Pack up the truck, deliver the packages on time, call it a day, right?
It would be easy for UPS to just assume that, if no customer complaints are rolling in, there’s no reason to improve the service the company provides.
But that mindset certainly wouldn’t lead to growth.
UPS prides itself on providing service that is enjoyable, easy to use, and covers all of the customer’s needs. To make these three things happen, the company relies heavily on customer feedback.
In addition to collecting data from incoming calls and complaints, UPS proactively solicits feedback through surveys and phone calls after any customer interaction is completed. In fact, UPS’ CEO David Abney actually takes time to speak to individual customers when he can – allowing him to garner first-hand reports of his company’s service.
As a business manager, you can never be too sure that your customers are happy. “No news” might mean “no bad news,” but it also means “no good news,” too. Work to actively seek out as much information from your customers as possible, and your company will continue to grow.
This entire article could have been written solely using examples from financial service giant USAA.
To begin with, USAA is all about customer engagement and accessibility. The company has routinely been among the first in its industry to release technological advances that allow clients to easily access and utilize its services in new and convenient ways.
While now relatively common among banking services, USAA was the first to allow customers to deposit checks via email.
Furthermore, within weeks of the Apple Watch’s initial release, USAA introduced an app developed specifically for Watch owners, allowing them to complete transactions without needing to use their computers or smartphones.
But the best lesson to learn from USAA’s business model is: put your customer’s needs ahead of your desire for profit.
This is no more evident than in USAA’s policies regarding checking and debit accounts. Not only does the company offer free checking accounts to its members, but it also provides up to $15 a month in ATM fee reimbursement.
Perhaps due in large part to USAA’s focus on customer satisfaction, the company not only weathered the storm of 2008, but saw growth of almost 75% from 2008 to 2011.
USAA’s success is proof that you can focus on making your clients happy and making money – you don’t have to choose one or the other.
As we’ve seen throughout this article, you can’t fake quality customer service.
And perhaps the best way to ensure your ground-level employees provide top-notch service to your clientele is to treat them fairly.
International warehouse club Costco is known throughout the world for its anti-corporate business model.
For starters, though the company consistently earns over $100B in revenue each year, Costco’s CEO took less than $500,000 of these earnings for his yearly salary before stepping down in 2012.
Yes, he brings in additional income from stocks and other investments, but he shares a large portion of his company’s profits with the people who make these profits possible. New employees are paid livable wages, and are given bonuses, raises, and ample time off as time goes on. Low-level employees are also provided opportunities to grow within the company, as well.
Simply put: Costco ensures its employees are taken care of, so that they can take care of their customers.
By showing respect and gratitude to your employees – whether monetarily or otherwise – they’ll be much more likely to do their job to the best of their ability. When your employees perform at their highest capacity, your customers get the top-quality service they deserve.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, customer service isn’t just about rectifying complaints and righting wrongs.
In fact, by proactively focusing on customer service, you minimize the chances of such complaints and wrongdoings even happening in the first place.