The secret to gaining a competitive edge lies in customer service—for any type of business, in any economy and in any market. If another company in your market sells the same product or service that you do, then an offer of a higher level of service can draw customers to you. This holds true even if the customer has to drive farther, wait longer or spend more.
Companies that offer a higher level of customer service in all that they do are amazing—and you can be, too. Let’s look at what makes these companies amazing and the steps you can take to ensure that your business joins the ranks of the customer service superstars.
First, we need to coordinate our understanding of the word amazement as it relates to customer service. When I talk about customer amazement, I’m not referring to over-the-top wow moments. In most companies and customer engagement scenarios, it’s not possible to wow every customer, every time. But, it is possible to be better than average—all of the time.
The key is consistency. This is the factor that will make all the difference. It instills confidence in customers and leads to customer loyalty that can be seen in the foundation of strong, successful companies. And, “a little better than average, all the time” is within everyone’s grasp. Study the best companies in retail, service, and business-to-business – any category, really – and you will find this type of service and consistency.
The best companies analyze the typical touch points that a customer has within their organization and make sure the proper level of service is built into every interaction. The goal is to operationalize service into the culture of the company. The journey to amazement begins here.
A term that embodies this concept is customer-centric—striving to keep a company’s entire focus on the customer. The best way to achieve that goal is to first become an employee-centric organization. By amazing employees—making them feel appreciated—you take the first step toward amazing the customer.
I have chosen one business to serve as a role model. Ace Hardware epitomizes the concept of operationalizing customer service—and has for a long, long time.
Since 1924, Ace has achieved a customer service track record that is second to none. The company has been rated among the best in customer service and satisfaction by Business Week and JD Power. It is a multi-billion dollar corporation and a network of 4,600 individual stores in 70 countries—with more than 3,000 owners.
Ace Hardware has branded its version of amazing customer service as “helpful.” The company lives by the tag line The Helpful Place. Customer service is operationalized into Ace culture, giving the company a competitive edge. Being known as “the most helpful hardware stores on the planet” allows Ace to thrive in a competitive industry.
Ace also is among the successful companies that understand the importance of focusing on employees first. The concept permeates the hiring process and employees are trained to deliver helpful service. Management and employees treat each other with respect, and then employees treat customers well, having learned through example and practice.
For an organization to find lasting success, all of the employees must be in alignment. The goal must be to attract customers and keep them coming back. In addition, successful businesses have customers that recommend the company to others. This won’t happen if employees operate under the belief that the only function of the business is to make money. The function of a company is to serve the customer. Do that, and the money will follow.
There are countless customer service strategies, but the foundation is a company culture focused on serving the customer. And it begins in-house.
My customer service twist on the Golden Rule: Owners and managers must treat employees the way they want the customer to be treated, maybe even better. Employees—inside customers—then treat each other with respect, leading to a good experience for the outside customer.
In short: Whatever happens on the inside of an organization will be felt on the outside by the customer.