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Exceptional Customer Service Creates Unique Competitive Advantage

Larry Fehd

Larry Fehd is CEO and founder of Human Performance Strategies. Please see bio for professional background and experience.

Contact Information
Phone: 512-415-0748
Email: lfehd@hp-strategies.com

Tom Peters once said, "Exceptional customer service is not about getting what you expected, it's about getting what you didn't expect." Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles describe customers getting what they didn't expect as being "raving fans."

Rate the following statements as true or false:

T__  F__  Exceptional customer service is the norm versus the anomaly for businesses today.
T__  F__  The majority of business encounters — including those with customer service department representatives — encourage customers to return again to purchase products or services.
T__  F__  Research studies suggest that on average 75% of customers do not return due to the "human" side of the business vs. the performance of the product or service.
T__  F__  Exemplary leaders fully leverage exceptional customer service as a unique form of competitive advantage.
T__  F__  Exemplary leaders represent only a fraction of the total and produce impressive results including bigger profit margins with the same or fewer resources.

Enough said, right? We could probably end the article here and everyone would have gotten the message. However, if everyone got the message, why is customer service so poor if not completely appalling these days?

We believe exceptional customer service is rare because society has become somewhat immune to what could be described as borderline abusive treatment. I realize this is a rather bold statement; however, take a moment and think about the last time you experienced or heard someone else describe a truly exceptional customer service experience. Contrast that with your personal experiences or stories you've heard from others describing their experiences often ranging from awful to even worse.

Why do you think exceptional customer service is such a pleasant surprise? Why do you think exceptional customer service captures our attention? Why do we tell on average only three people about our exceptional customer experiences and a whopping eleven about our unsatisfactory experience? Which story would you like your current and potential future customers to hear? Which story would you like your customers to tell their friends about their experiences with your company?

In order to envision exceptional, we probably need to consider the operative word, service. In this context, service could mean work or the performance of duties for others. Doesn't sound too exciting, does it? In the same context, exceptional could means being the exception, unusual, or perhaps well above average. If we add the word exceptional, that spawns a little more excitement, doesn't it? While above average may be better than the competition, we surely don't want our customers to experience our companies as merely "above average," do we?

Defining exceptional customer service and behaving in exceptional ways while serving customers are very different things. Note the word behavior, because that is the essence of bringing exceptional customer service to life. Bringing it to life requires doing whatever it takes to meet or exceed the needs of the customer.

In the commoditized "Wal-Mart" world that we live in, customers have a smorgasbord of choices when buying the same or similar products or services. The factor which most often differentiates average (or even above average) from exceptional is our people.

Human Performance Strategies has studied customer behaviors based upon the non-cognitive function of the human brain. Non-cognitive intelligence is more commonly referred to as Emotional Intelligence. The most important thing required to deliver exceptional customer service boils down to the recognition and affirmation of human values. Leonard Berry described this in the context of leadership in his recent book, Discovering the Soul of Service. Dr. Berry suggests that "values-driven leadership connects with strategic focus, executional excellence, control of destiny, trust-based relationships, generosity, investing in employee success, acting small, and brand cultivation to drive customer satisfaction, innovation, and growth."

Here are some of our views and considerations regarding exceptional customer service:

  • Developing processes to ensure exceptional customer service is a savvy business practice and it is obviously much less expensive to retain versus replace customers.
  • When you make a mistake with a customer always overcompensate.
  • Ask, don't assume. Always get the customer involved in solutions; e.g. if we could resolve this issue to your satisfaction what would it look like, what's seems fair to you?
  • Remember, people tell, on average, three people about exceptional customer service experiences and eleven about their unsatisfactory experiences. Run the numbers!
  • All other things being equal, exceptional customer service creates unique competitive advantage with the same or even fewer resources.

What are you doing today to inspire the best from your people to deliver exceptional customer service? Do you really know how your customers feel about doing business with you? Do they remain loyal by chance or do their encounters with your people motivate them to return again and again?