Customer Service That Goes Above and Beyond
by Laura Benjamin

The International Customer Service Association celebrated National Customer Service Week (October 4-8) with SOUL - Service on Unbelievable Levels. For those of us in the customer service business, (and who isn't?) service on unbelievable levels needs some definition. Here's one person's interpretation: service on unbelievable levels means going a little bit above and beyond what most people expect. 

In other words, it's the experiences you remember for months and years because someone took the extra time, energy, and interest to give you more than you believed you would receive. These are the experiences we share with our friends, relatives, and co-workers; the times someone took our best interests to heart and made it their personal mission to ensure we wouldn't just be "satisfied" - we would be pleasantly surprised, amazed, and perhaps even thrilled at the results. And it's often the little things that have the biggest impact. 

So, in recognition of National Customer Service week, it's appropriate to share examples of customer service that goes above and beyond, and to thank the people who work so diligently behind the scenes. Here are a few of many favorites:

  • Thanks to the auto repairman who took extra effort to quickly get a part installed in a friend's jeep, and stayed late to finish the job. 
  • Thanks to the shuttle drivers at the airport parking lot who give you a slip of paper with the row and space number to remind you where you parked your car.

  • Thanks especially to the driver who told me they also provide "roadside assistance" should I ever lock my keys in the car or my car battery ever go dead.
  • Thanks to the phone representative who jeopardized a sale to warn me my bank would soon be merging, indicating I may not want to order more than one box of checks.

  • Thanks to the airline for an unexpected letter I received shortly after experiencing a lengthy delay with a Salt Lake City connection. They apologized for the inconvenience and enclosed a $75.00 voucher towards my next flight.

  • Thanks to the young high school student working as a courtesy clerk for a local grocery chain. He not only insisted on taking my groceries out to the car for me, but sincerely asked me how my day had been. His smiling face, enthusiasm, and polite conversation was the highlight of a very stressful day. 

  • Thanks to the Assistant Manager at a local retailer who recently bent over backwards to provide credit on a returned shirt for a friend. He wanted to apply it to the purchase of a suit, and the lack of a sales receipt could have been a major obstacle. The store gained two loyal customers that day by giving their employee the autonomy to be flexible with store policy.

Here are some simple ways you can ramp up your customer service efforts to go above and beyond the norm:

Anticipate Roadblocks
Anticipate and communicate difficulties that could occur and offer advance warning to prevent a disappointing experience. These are the unexpected delays, frustrations, and set-backs customers experience when they took action "X" because no one told them it was possible "Y" could occur. You know these experiences…it's when you usually respond, "well, couldn't someone have just TOLD me that in the first place?"

Offer Apologies with Teeth
Sincerity makes all the difference in the world when something goes wrong. We know customers should immediately receive an apology when things go awry, but often an apology is the bare minimum. If our only motivation is because it's company policy, customers will hear it in our voice or see it in our expressions. On the other hand, customers who also hear, "How can I best solve this situation to your satisfaction?" or "What I can do to compensate for your inconvenience?" or "I'd be happy to offer you a free 'X' for your frustration," will feel much more understood, appreciated, and valued. 

Practice Courtesy
Good old-fashioned courtesy has not gone the way of the dinosaur, despite the fact that U.S. News and World Report found 9 out of 10 Americans surveyed said incivility is a serious problem in our culture. 78% felt it's gotten worse in the last 10 years. You will automatically exceed the majority of Americans in courtesy, respect, and basic etiquette if you consistently do one simple thing…return your phone calls. Reputations are quickly built or destroyed by this one test of manners. 

Offer Options
In today's complex world, companies that only do it only one way - "their way" - will be left behind, as customers seek out more flexibility, choice, and control over their buying experience. How many of us have seen customers now waiting in line to scan their own groceries in stores where this is now an option? We also expect choices on how to communicate with the organization which includes, phone, email, voice-mail, automatic call-back, live "chat," etc. Ensure that the reasons you establish certain policies and systems are because you are supporting the needs of the customer, not just your own. To be absolutely sure - ask them! 

Say Thank You
Rewarding your loyal customers with upgrades, free shipping, and other "premiums" is a highly effective way to thank those who have been your source of repeat business and referrals. (Too often, the "perks" are extended only to lure new customers.)

Make a bonus payment as a thank you to a vendor who was willing to accept flexible payment terms. 

Quote your customers (with their permission) in your next newsletter, article, book, or white paper and send them a copy of it upon publication. They will appreciate the free publicity and your thoughtfulness.

Select a customer at random each month to receive a special gift for no reason at all.

Call them periodically and ask their opinion of what you are doing well, and what you could do better. Then send a thank you gift for their willingness to share their opinion.


Colorado speaker and author, Laura Benjamin, specializes in Developing Managers and Job Search strategies. Her work has been featured on television, radio, and national publications from bluesuitmom.com to Remodeling magazine. Subscribe to her FREE email newsletter at: www.laurabenjamin.com.

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Copyright 1999 by Laura Benjamin. All rights reserved.

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