Achieving exceptional customer service (article)


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In this article, Derek Stockley explores customer service, particularly the concept often promoted by consultants: exceptional customer service (exceeding expectations). Derek Stockley provides Customer Service Training and Customer Service Consulting.

"We will exceed customer expectations"

I am often intrigued by companies and organisations that claim in their publicity that they will "exceed" customer expectations. Such phrases are often included in mission/vision/values type statements. The message may even be shown on posters prominently displayed in shop fronts or reception areas.

As a customer, I have very high expectations. This may be because of my training and consulting background, but I think that many others share them.

It is very rare for customer service representatives to regularly meet my expectations, let alone exceed them.

My service expectations are met when I am provided with the right product/service, at the right quality, at the right price, every single time.

The emphasis here is on "every single time".

Think about regular transactions you have. Do you receive prompt, efficient and courteous service every time?

Does the company or organisation manage busy and quiet times equally well?

Meeting customer service standards

Most of my banking transactions can be done by the internet or phone banking. However, some still have to be done in person. I have a number of regular, but infrequent transactions that require "special" processing.

Unfortunately, I have to rely on dealing with a staff member "who knows me" and/or "knows the special process." This does not always happen. It depends on who is working at the time I go in. You can probably hear me "sigh" as I stand in the queue and realise that a familiar face is missing.

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Free tip

I have some free advice for the banks and other like institutions. It is probably worth a million dollars, and given the cost of their ICT systems, wouldn’t cost that much to implement.

The idea is simple - allow your staff to create and update a "special notes" section for each customer.

Once a special situation is determined, and you know it could occur again, spend a minute recording the policy/decision/process. This will save a lot of time and aggravation, because the customer will not have to go through the long process of explaining it all again the next time.

Exceeding customer expectations

So when you consistently provide excellent service, how do you exceed customer expectations?

Let me give you an example.

I was conducting a training program at a major hotel in Melbourne.

So what did I expect when I arrived prior to the session start?

  • Courteous, helpful staff - yes

  • Room ready and set out as requested - yes

  • Requested equipment provided and working - yes

  • Air conditioning comfortable and adjustable if necessary - yes

  • Hotel pads and pens at each table place - yes

  • Drinking water and mints - yes

  • Hot coffee/tea on arrival (including health conscious alternatives) - yes

This is what I expect of each venue I use.

So how did one staff member exceed my expectations?

I asked for some large clips, as I was going to use chart paper during the day.

After a brief conversation, she quickly returned. Not only did she bring the requested clips, she also brought other stationery items including "blue tac" which I did use.

A simple, but powerful example of "exceeding customer expectations".

Summary

It takes a lot of hard work and effort to provide high levels of customer service for every single customer transaction.

It is possible, particularly if you set standard policies and procedures, like the training venue checklist above.

You have to build in flexibility, and provide information and guidance to staff. If a decision is made in regard to a customer, record it so it is known the next time.

Finally, you can exceed expectations if you empower staff to think for themselves and, based on the guidance and training you have provided, equip them with the skills to interact with customers and apply their knowledge to the customer’s situation. What may be new ground to a customer can be routine for the staff member - encourage them to use their prior knowledge.

Personal statement

Although my motto is "Helping Australia Achieve" (visible at the bottom of every page of my website) and my slogan is "Making a difference through training and consulting services that meet real needs" which is prominent on my home page and stationery, I am guilty of listing "exceed expectations" as part of my vision statement.

For the record, my vision statement is:

"To be a high quality training and consulting provider operating at the world's best practice level, working in partnership to fulfil needs; exceed expectations; and achieve a real difference to individuals and organisations in an ethical and professional manner."

My mission statement is:

"To deliver specific training and consulting services and products, that:

  • fulfil individual and organisation needs; and
  • facilitate innovative achievement and best practice

in an ethical and professional manner."

You can find a full explanation at: consulting approach.

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