What is it that makes some companies so successful and others not? Is it an outstanding product? Or could it be an advantage in pricing? As important as product and pricing is in the customer shopping experience, there is a third criteria that may very well spell the difference where product and pricing are about the same — customer service. Provide exemplary customer service and your customers will beat a pathway to your front doors. Read on and we’ll look at what it takes to provide service your customers won’t soon forget.

Promote Employee Satisfaction

Don’t think for a moment that your business will be able to provide exemplary customer service without the assistance of your employees. And not average assistance either: service that goes beyond what your customers expect and is served up by motivated employees.

To motivate your employees, you must put your customer service policy in writing advises Entrepreneur. Your employees must understand your policy and be trained accordingly. From there, you must develop a measurement of exemplary customer service and build in a reward system that recognizes those employees that consistently practice this. Positive communication and feedback to your employees can build trust and confidence, an infectious trait that can spread throughout your organization. It costs money to reward employees; it costs a lot more money to replace disaffected employees with new ones.

Customers Want It Fast

We are an impatient people and by recognizing this fact, your business can provide an important edge. Just think of it: there are companies that have based their entire operation on speed and have won the loyalty of customers in the process. The “need for speed” may be an exaggerated one, but it it there nonetheless.

In the airline business, Southwest Airlines has long been the darling of customers. Not just are its flights generally cheaper than competing airlines, but the airline’s turn around time has won it must praise. Turn around time is the period between when an aircraft lands and the passengers disembark, the aircraft is cleaned, new passengers board and the aircraft takes off. In its early days, Southwest turned its planes around in just 10 minutes. The industry average was 45 minutes. Today, turn around times have risen to 23 minutes, but that is still less than half the time of its competitors.

Alway Be Helpful

Customers do not like to be ignored. Certainly, when shopping at a big, discount store like WalMart, customers may be focused on one thing: saving money. Poor or no service in this case may be acceptable, but what if you want to take the accepted model and turn it on its head? You can by training your employees to always show themselves helpful to your customers.

One excellent example of a company that puts the customer pleasing part into practice is Trader Joe’s, the specialty grocery store with more than 365 stores in 31 states. Its stores are small, it does not sell name brand products nor does it take coupons. What keeps people coming back isn’t just the interesting and always changing inventory, rather the personal service that each employee has down pat. If you have difficulty finding a product, you can ask any associate and they’ll stop what they’re doing and take you right to it. You’ll also find at least one employee roaming the aisles with a big “can’t miss” sign with a question mark. That person is there to help you find what you need or answer a question about a product. TJ employees are well trained, treated well, get to work in Hawaiian shirts and have fun while working. Management understands that helping customers is essential even if that means stopping work long enough to help someone personally. Your competitors aren’t so attentive, but you can be.

Handle Complaints Immediately

No business can offer perfect service at all times. When you fail to hit the mark, you can expect your customers to speak up. What separates average businesses from successful businesses are those that respond to complaints quickly and satisfactorily. Not satisfactorily just for the sake of the business, but for the customer.

Your customer service policy must kick in the very moment a complaint has been registered. First, you must be available to address a complaint. Naturally, if your store is closed, you may not be able to help your customer until it reopens. Second, when your customer registers a complaint, be prepared to listen and ask for details if any points of the conversation are unclear. For instance the customer may say, “my bag of lettuce was old.” You want to find out what that means, such as asking if it was sold past the expiration date or if the lettuce was wilted.

The next three steps should happen in quick succession: apologize for the mistake or the problem, make amends immediately and follow up. That follow up isn’t with the customer, but with the problem that caused the complaint in the first place. In the lettuce example, you’ll want to find and pull the bags that led to the complaints. You may also need to post signs to alert customers to the problem and update your website accordingly.

Exemplary Service

At minimum, your customers expect consistent service. That is what keeps you in the ballgame. Beyond that, exemplary service can win your customers’ praise and raise their satisfaction. Always under promise, over deliver and take the extra step. Throw in something extra such as refunding the customer her money and giving her a replacement bag of lettuce for free is the “wow” factor you want. View every complaint as an opportunity to show how well your customer service policy works and the positive results it is meant to convey.


Entrepreneur: Customer Service

CBS News: Something Special About Southwest Airlines

Bloomberg Businessweek: Trader Joe’s Recipe for Success

Small Business Administration: Four Ways to Effectively Anticipate and Handle Customer Complaints

Read more: Gearing Up For Customer Service Training