In 2011, a whopping 1 percent of consumers said their expectations of good customer experience are always met.

Add this to the 89 percent of customers who said they did business with a competitor following a single poor customer experience (up from 68 percent in 2006–a 21 percent jump in five years), and you can count on one thing: If you don’t do a better job serving your customers, someone else will.

It’s no coincidence that the number of customers willing to leave a company after a single bad experience has risen in near lock-step with the rates of broadband, social media, and smartphone adoption. Smart customers know what companies have the ability do because, in many cases, they’ve dealt with other companies in other industries that give them exactly the type of customer service they want.

No matter your industry, they’ll soon be expecting this level of service from you, too–if they aren’t already.

What If You Could Set A New Standard For Customer Experience?
Let’s pretend that customer service is a major pain point in your industry (for most, it is). The first step is to fix it by looking at it from the outside-in. In other words, what would you do differently if you really considered service from your customers’ perspective? For example, why can’t they put your firm on hold? Why can’t they make you (the company) navigate their voicemail system for a change? Why can’t they schedule “service windows” based on their time constrains–not yours?

Such ideas may seem silly at first, but disruptive forces and digital innovation provide the tools any organization can use to effectively–and profitably–turn traditional approaches to customer service upside-down. Let’s take a look at what customer service in your industry could look like.

Imagine how you could delight customers and leapfrog your competition if. . .

  1. Your customers booked service time through an online calendar, and your staff contacted the customer at the scheduled time.
  2. When customers opted to leave a message rather than wait on hold, they could choose a specific call back time (and actually get called back).
  3. You connected each product customers used to an analytical service in your company so that reps could more quickly diagnose problems and offer customers relevant guidance.
  4. Using such a service, you solved customer problems remotely, minimizing or eliminating the need for a call. Even better, you solved problems before customers were aware of them.
  5. You could eliminate data silos and distribute information internally so that all customer information was instantly accessible to any customer-facing employee.
  6. Ratings and specialties of specific service personnel were posted online, allowing customers to choose (and rate) who serve them.
  7. Voicemail trees were posted online, and you allowed customers to click at a specific point in the tree to initiate the call, thus skipping the entire navigation process.

Of course this list could be much longer, but this gives you the basic idea.

Your Starting Point: A Road Map For Transforming Customer Service
The heart of customer centricity is the ability (and the willingness) to actually listen to your customers and use this information to deliver better experiences. This means understanding customers’ wants and needs–and the data that increasingly surrounds them–and using this information to create stronger relationships.

Today, more powerful new tools exist than ever before to help companies become customer-centric. But you still need to ask the right questions to help point the way. These are just a few of those we’d suggest:

  • “If we had no infrastructure, no politics, no barriers, and no limitations–how would we exploit the status quo to radically improve customer service?”
  • “How and where can we leverage existing service channels–or create new channels–to save our customers, time, money, and effort?”
  • “How do we better serve the needs of our most valuable customers?”
  • “How and where can we leverage digital innovation to provide dramatically better service?”

The evolving ecosystem of customer service interactions is where loyalty is won and lost, where relationships blossom or wither, and where corporate reputations are made or dashed.

In a world where nine out of 10 customers will leave after a single bad experience, there really is only one approach that responsible executives should embrace, and it’s as simple as this: Listen to your customers. Respond to their needs–even those they don’t yet know they have. And make this a priority for your people.

Now that you have a starting point and a road map, what are you waiting for?

– Adapted from the book Smart Customers, Stupid Companies: Why Only Intelligent Companies Thrive, and How to Be One of Them, by Michael Hinshaw and Bruce Kasanoff, (Business Strategy Press, 2012). Follow Michael and Bruce on Twitter, and visit them at SmartCustomers.com.