In today’s connected, consumer-driven world, customer-focus is the verbal mantra of every company. So why does customer loyalty remain tenuous? As the wise and clever Chinese proverb says, “Talk doesn’t cook rice.”

What does it take to truly “walk the talk”? Here are three tenets that establish customer-focus and help you build customer loyalty, exemplified by companies that have created a customer-centric culture and live it daily.

1. Serve Customers As Your Privilege, Not Your Burden

Creating amazing customer experiences involves proactive planning. However, no matter how prepared you think you are, mistakes happen. Handled correctly, mistakes can be the portals to even deeper engagement. The key is to create a culture that believes handling customer challenges is a privilege, not a burden. The “humanity” of a company’s response to customer issues tells all. Is your response customer-centered or company-centered? Whose needs are really being met?

In addition to humanity, speedy responses are critical. Did you know that response time now trumps actual response? We desperately want a company to feel our needs, hear us and care about us — as one human being to another, urgently, and with appropriate emotion.

Example: Southwest Airlines lives this. Consistently, they are happy to assist me. Once, I had to cancel a flight within 24 hours of departure due to a death in the family. With one phone call, they expressed their condolences, gave me a full refund and didn’t demand paperwork to prove my loss. On the same day, I tried to cancel another airline carrier’s flight and after 7 phone calls, 2 faxes of the death certificate and a handful of emails, I decided to give up the fight for $800. It was a flight I never took and cancelled beforehand for what I considered a legitimate reason. Who do you think gets my airline dollars now?

2. Meet Your Customers Where They Are, When They Need You, and with What They Need

Time is our one non-renewable resource. When we are ready to connect or need support or assistance, we reward those who are there for us…on our terms. Providing 24/7 access, chat, email and mobile communication options is the new minimum cost of entry into a consumer’s heart.

Example: My family came for a visit and we were ready to leave on a mountain trip. That morning, my key stopped working in my car. I faced the specter of having to cancel the entire family vacation. When I called my car dealer, they said my roadside assistance had expired. I was stuck. The person could sense my distress and spoke to the manager, who said he would gladly drive over immediately and help me resolve the issue. And he did. He resolved the problem — with a temporary vehicle rental and a service call on my vehicle. Family vacation saved! I got a response based on my needs, matched to my sense of urgency and one that went above and beyond the call of duty. I am a raving fan now with airtight loyalty.

3. Rigid Rules Are The Enemy. Try Guidelines.

In order to live in the moment and meet your customers at their moment of need with an empathetic response, you must be willing to give up rigid rules. Life doesn’t stay within straight lines. Doing the right thing is not formulaic. Don’t ask your employees to follow strict checklists and be unwavering or they won’t be able to create appropriate, human and customer-centric responses. In other words, empower your team to be human. How? Try guidelines.

Example: One of my favorite companies and stories is from Trader Joe’s. When an 89-year-old man was stranded at home due to a holiday snowstorm, his daughter was worried about him having enough food to weather the storm. After many unsuccessful calls, she contacted Trader Joe’s. They told her they do not deliver. However, based on her story, they said they would gladly deliver groceries — which they did, within 30 minutes of her call, free of charge, with a simple message to daughter and father: “Merry Christmas.”

The Wrap

Start with these three foundation principles and you’ll be on a more sustainable path to creating raving fans and loyal customers — the Holy Grail for every company.

The Smart Agent Console enables you to deliver customer service that builds raving fans. Find out how by downloading the free e-book.