Expert Author Kate Tammemagi

A clear definition of exceptional Customer service is important for any business. When is a Customer service experience exceptional, when is it BAD and when is it good, but NOT exceptional? Everyone knows that Customer satisfaction and keeping the Customer happy is important. To many people in business, however, these maxims are very vague and not clearly defined. A business, large or small, that is fuzzy in its approach to Customer Service, will have only a very small chance of achieving success.

If you know what success is, and why it is important, then you have a much higher chance of succeeding, and delivering an exceptional Customer service experience is no different! Your staff will be focussed in the right direction, and their efforts to achieve exceptional Customer service will be recognised and reinforced.

Three Types of Customer Service Experience
The first step in looking for a definition of exceptional Customer Service is to identify why this is so important. Frederick Reicheld, in his book The Loyalty Effect, first identified the importance of Customer loyalty, saying that this is the ONLY way to achieve real business success. To succeed in business, you must retain more Customers than your opposition. He recognised that the best of the best companies had higher Customer retention than their competitors, they knew HOW to keep their Customers and they worked continuously to improve at building loyalty.

He identified three types of Customer service experience -
1. The negative experience, where expectations were not met
2. The perfect experience, where expectations were fully met
3. The exceptional experience, where expectations were fully met and something special was added

In terms of retention, the negative experience will send Customers on their way to the opposition. That was obvious, and not a surprising finding. What was new, however, was that a perfect experience, expectations totally met, would not KEEP Customers coming back. Perfection is a very forgettable experience. To have high retention, you need perfection plus the exceptional Customer Service experience, perfection plus the extra 10%.

The Perfect Customer Service Experience
To identify the exceptional, we must first clarify the PERFECT Customer service experience. Perfect is expectations totally met. Separate the TASK or PRODUCT side from the PEOPLE side of the experience. On the task or product side, a perfect experience is -

They had the right product
It was good quality
Good value for money
Quick and efficient
There were no negatives

In a shop, this would be they had the item the Customer wanted, the shop was clean, the item easy to find and the person could pay for it quickly. On the telephone, the perfect experience might be that the call was answered quickly, the person got the right contact easily, the contact understood and solved my query very competently.
On the people side, a perfect experience is -

I LIKED the experience of dealing with these people
They were fast and efficient
They were professional, courteous and respectful people

In the shop example, a perfect experience would be polite, attentive but not pushy people, small queues to pay, warm people who struck the right tone. On the telephone, good listening responses, acknowledging the issue, positive, confident language while offering the solution, gaining the caller's agreement well and a warm close.

To deliver a perfect experience the Customer Service person needs a high level of awareness. Too pushy in the shop, or lack of eye contact, will trigger a negative experience. Aggressive questioning, negative language or inappropriate use of the Caller's name, will trigger a negative on the phone. However, perfection will NOT keep Customers coming back. This is EXPECTED and will not be memorable.

The Exceptional Customer Service Experience
An exceptional Customer Service experience is perfection plus 10%. The extra experience must be unexpected, over and above what would be the normal experience. On the product or task side, this might be -

- Two for the price of one
- A relevant free offer with the product
- Offering extra information that is of value to the Customer
- Going the extra mile

On the people side, it is offering an experience that is both personal and appropriate. It might be -

- Remembering the person from a previous visit and referring to this
- Making a check-in call to follow up
- Keeping a record of the Customer's likes and needs - and using this to anticipate needs



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