15 Truths About Great Customer Service…(Not Involving Steak)

by Ken Mueller on August 24, 2011 · 27 comments

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Image by Metro Transportation Library and Archive via Flickr

Recently there’s been a lot of talk about the concept of customer service, sparked by Peter Shankman’s post last week, The Greatest Customer Service Story Ever Told. When I read his post I had a very adverse reaction. While many were praising Shankman, and Morton’s Steakhouse, for their “great customer service,” I had a hard time buying it. I ALMOST blogged about it, but decided not to, and was glad I didn’t when I saw that Danny Brown pretty much summed up my thoughts in Great Customer Service, or Great PR?.

You can read those two posts to get the gist of the story, and spend some time reading the comments, as well. Regardless of my opinion, it IS a great story, and is a story that needs to be discussed.

So while I’m writing about this incident, I’d rather take a different angle on it, and focus on what really matters: what exactly IS customer service? Every business engages in customer service whether they know it and acknowledge it, or not. We all deal with customers, and how we treat them has an impact on how they, and others, perceive us, and our product.

Here are 15 marks of great customer service. How well do you measure up?

1. Great customer service should be consistent -This is one of the points Danny brings up in his post. I address this in more detail in a few of the other points, but in short, great customer service is great customer service.

2. Customer service knows no Klout – Peter Shankman is an Internet/Social Media superstar. He has a lot of followers and is an influencer. That is why he received rock star treatment from Morton’s. That is why his situation wasn’t a customer service win. Great customer service says “Everyone is a rockstar!”. Treat John Q. Regular the same way you would treat the President of the United States. You never know whether that “nobody” is really a “somebody”. They might have a lot of influence in some realm, and we need to remember that in the mobile/digital age, everyone has a megaphone at their disposal. My friend Amber, for instance, is right now having a difficult time with some local contractors, and the frustration boiled over yesterday in this tweet:

Amber Tweet 15 Truths About Great Customer Service...(Not Involving Steak)She’s just about had enough and she’s not alone. She may only have 2,000 followers, but on the local level that can spell disaster.

3. Great customer service should be sustainable over time – Part of the scientific method is that for a hypothesis to become a “law” of science, it must be repeatable. If you can do it once, you need to be able to do it again. Every time. That’s one big reason why Morton’s was NOT providing great customer service. They cannot, and will not, do this every time. Not for everyone. Once you set the expectations, you need to meet those expectations. If you can’t, even your good customer service won’t be enough for some people.

4. Great customer service is 24/7 – Thanks to the Internet, we no longer live in an age of 9-5 business transactions. We now have the ability to do just about anything online at any time. We can research your business, purchase products, write reviews…at 3 a.m. if we so choose. Some companies even provide 24/7 phone or online chat customer service. While this isn’t necessarily feasible for all of us, we need to keep this in mind. That means that we need to at least provide some sort of customer service that is always available, while managing expectations. Perhaps you can’t provide customer service at 3 a.m. But you can provide an easily findable email address on your website, with information letting your customers know that you will respond to them within a certain time frame. And then you need to follow through. If you don’t provide this, your competitors will.

5. Great customer service is past/present/future – We often think of customer service as how we deal with people as they come into our business looking for a product. Or perhaps you reserve your best customer service for those who actually have purchased a product. But great customer service begins the moment someone even thinks about doing business with you, and continues from that point forward. Great customer service might be what turns a prospective customer into an actual customer, and what keeps actual customers coming back for more.

6. Great customer service is proactive, not just reactive – Yes, we need to react when someone seeks us out with a question or problem, but there are ways to be proactive. If you’ve been in business long enough, you should be able to anticipate certain things. Follow-up with your customers and find out how they are doing before they come to you with a problem. There are even ways of addressing negative online reviews before they even happen. And strong customer after care is crucial. This is just reminding your customer that their warranty is up for renewal. A blog or social media presence is a great place to offer tips to your customers related to the products they have purchased. Remember that this is all part of the customer service equation.

7. Great customer service can be your most powerful marketing tool – I mention this a lot, but if you consistently provide great customer service to your customers, do you think that perhaps they’ll tell others? There’s that word of mouth thing, again! I have no real basis for this statistic, but some have said that 90% or more of your new customers come to you as the result of word of mouth or referral. I’m sure this varies among different business categories, but I don’t doubt the idea behind that stat in the least.

8. Great customer service is personal and relational – The best customer service comes from someone who treats you like a human being. Someone who gets to know you, knows your name, and offers you solutions that aren’t necessarily from a template or script. If you can treat every customer as if they are the most important person at that moment, you will have done a wonderful thing. Better yet, treat them as if they are guests in your house.

9. Great customer service is everyone’s job – You may have a customer service department, but they aren’t the only one’s responsible for customer service. Every individual within your organization that has any contact whatsoever with a customer is responsible for providing great customer service. From the person who answers the phone, to your sales staff, to the person who works on your website: everyone is involved in providing great customer service.

10. Great customer service can’t be faked or manipulated – This is where the Morton’s case falls apart. Yes, it was a great PR move/stunt. Yes, they got a lot of publicity. And even though this wasn’t “planned” and is truly a case of a business understanding and taking advantage of a great opportunity, to call it customer service is wrong. To do so is a form of manipulation. You can “create” great moments of customer service, but those moments will fail a lot of these tests: they can’t be sustained or consistent. So be genuine and transparent. Don’t think that you can replicate what Morton’s did and suddenly become known for great customer service. People will see through that very quickly.

11. Great customer service should be great in response to both the good and the bad – As Danny Brown pointed out in his post, it didn’t take him long to find online reviews from people bemoaning their poor customer service experiences at Morton’s. I have no idea if Morton’s has addressed those reviews, or how they addressed them. But a mark of great customer service is knowing how to properly handle both the positive and the negative with grace.

12. Great customer service is too important to outsource – In recent years, most of the lousy customer service experiences I have had involve outsourcing. Several years ago I had an incredibly horrible situation with Amazon when trying to get gifts in time for Christmas, even though they were ordered early enough. Both my phone and email contacts were outsourced, and I wasn’t able to get satisfaction without first going through a lot of stress and frustration. That same problem is the reason I have Comcast for my Internet provider as opposed to my first choice, Verizon. If you want to keep me as a customer, give me great customer service. Rarely have I gotten that from an outsourced customer service representative.

13. Great customer Service can always be improved upon – None of us is perfect. There will always be dissatisfied customers. Even Morton’s can improve their service. Always be looking for ways to improve upon the service you offer your customers. Yes, there will always be the malcontents who will find something to complain about. But they are in the minority. Do everything you can to do your best in terms of customer service, and then kick it up a notch.

14. Great customer service is always cost-effective – Let me put it this way, if the way you treat your customers is going to translate into word of mouth, are you willing to go the extra mile to get positive word of mouth? Positive word of mouth = more new customers and repeat customers. If not, are you willing to let negative word of mouth hurt your business? I would dare say that negative word of mouth more than offsets the effects of positive word of mouth. The one time you slip up on customer service may come back to haunt you. You don’t want my friend Amber telling others about your failures. On the other hand, the ROI of positive word of mouth is incredible.

15. Great customer service goes the extra mile – Good customer service meets the needs of your customers, and solves their problems. Great customer service goes beyond that. Great customer service solves the problems, and meets the needs, of which your customers aren’t even aware. In some cases, the difference between good and great might just be a smile, or the attitude you have. I can solve your problems for you in a timely fashion, but if I seem annoyed, or not happy to be talking to you, that can still leave a negative impression.

How well do you measure up? Are there any other tips for great customer service that you can offer?

 

 15 Truths About Great Customer Service...(Not Involving Steak)
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19 comments
Inkling Media
Inkling Media

well, perhaps that should have been a 16th point. great customer service is somewhat relative, depending on your personal experience. When we moved into our house, we ordered verizon phone and Internet. After a week they couldn't get either hooked up, and we never once spoke to someone in the U.S. UNTIL we told them we were canceling. Comcast, around here, is about the same price, and their customer service has been amazing for us. We have never had a problem and they have worked well with us, and we have never had to deal with outsourced customer service from another country.

Andrew Pickett
Andrew Pickett

finally got around to reading this. good article, but i can't get past your insinuation that comcast has superior customer service to verizon. not to mention that there is one thing that trumps customer service: the product. comcast's product is the only thing worse than their customer service (yes, i am totally biased). i have been to restaurants with very friendly and helpful staff and pathetically average food. i usually go to such a restaurant once.

TomMahoney
TomMahoney

Great points. Number 3 kinda hit me between the eyes. As Shep mentioned, you can have a few 'favorite' customers that you tend to go an extra mile for - I know we do. But that extra mile can make good customer service look bad to others that may not get the extra mile. If you do for one, you're going to have to do for everyone. It can be a fine line.

ShepHyken
ShepHyken

You make some great comments. There are some customers that are worth more than others, and they may receive special treatment when the situation warrants it, however the best customer focused companies make all of their customers feel special. Really enjoyed your article. Thank you! Shep Hyken, author of "The Amazement Revolution" (http://www.Hyken.com) - @hyken

reboloke
reboloke

I think one point that is often missed in talking about what makes great customer service is knowing when to back off. If I walk into a store I MAY be looking for something specific and appreciate assistance finding it, but I may just want to browse and see what's there. If customer service or sales reps are too persistent about trying to "help" when I'm not looking for help I'm more likely to avoid that store, because I like to take my time to figure out what my options are and what I want and if you're trying too hard to help when I don't really need help I feel pressured to make a decision on the spot.

jcamis
jcamis

Very good points. I advise anyone wanting to study great customer service to visit Zingermans Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor, MI. They are consistent, everyone from a bus boy to management provides it, they have excellent systems in place to monitor and improve it, and they go the extra mile. What is interesting about the Morton's story is I wonder if customer service will actually improve or get worse in the day and age of social media?

mdyoder
mdyoder

This is a very timely post in my case. Over the past several weeks I've had experiences with two different companies that were at the opposite ends of the customer service spectrum--one an example of how not to do it, and the other a great example of many of your 15 truths. I'm struggling with how to blog about the experience without getting too negative about my experience with the company from which I received terrible customer service. Any suggestions? I think I should forward them a copy of your post! :) Thanks, Ken.

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

Well said. I don't have much to add, other than that I agree, the Morton's story was an AWESOME PR move. I wouldn't even call it a stunt. It was great PR, the end.

JuanitaGwinn
JuanitaGwinn

Great post Ken. Always an interesting read. I must admit..i followed the Mortons' steak saga and got caught up in the hype. You provided a different view and excellent 'food for thought'. :-) I've been passionate about customer service for more than 30 yrs and think providing exceptional customer service is essential for any business to succeed. This isn't original but is one of my favorite quotes: Customers won't care how much you know, until they KNOW how much you care.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@ShepHyken@hyken Thanks, Shep!I agree completely. And I think the extra mile you give a special customer, should probably done behind the scenes and not so publicly, perhaps.

Latest blog post: Bloggers on Pedestals

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@reboloke And that's the difference between customer service and sales. or good and bad customer service. Customer Service, in my mind, like inbound marketing, is being there when you are wanted and needed.

Latest blog post: Bloggers on Pedestals

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@jcamis I think in general it will improve. It will have to, because our customers and clients can really hold our feet to the fire and keep us accountable. There is the ever present threat of being called out. Plus there is the added bonus of receiving some great word of mouth praise when we do things right.

Latest blog post: Bloggers on Pedestals

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@mdyoder feel free to forward it. I generally try not to get too specific and mention names, but I'm sure there are exceptions I would make. Might be best to keep it generic.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@JGoldsborough Thanks, Justin! And I agree, it IS what they remember. Even a great product can get a bad reputation with poor customer service.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@JuanitaGwinn Thanks, Juanita, and you're in a business category where you can really make a difference with great customer service. People will definitely know the difference as you go above and beyond. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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