We all can learn from examples of excellent customer service

Think about a time when you received amazing customer service. Now think about how rare it was that you experienced that level of customer service. In this day of social media and the omnipresent “review” of businesses and services, one would think companies would do their best to provide top-notch customer service at every turn. Yet it’s surprising how few companies really take the time and effort to provide outstanding customer service that will increase customer loyalty.

Businesses would be wise to prioritize customer satisfaction and retention because driving new business is expensive. In fact, it is six-to-seven times more expensive to win a new customer than it is to keep an existing one, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs. In addition, according to Bain & Company, 80 percent of CEOs believe they are providing excellent customer service when only 18 percent of their customers agree. Clearly there is a disconnect between what management thinks is happening and what the customer is really experiencing.

The bottom line: Businesses with a reputation for treating their customers with great levels of service are noticed, and usually rewarded. When we hear of extraordinary customer service experiences, we tend to remember and gravitate towards companies that provide them.

Here are four examples of well-known businesses capitalizing on opportunities to provide next-level service to their customers. Let’s take a look at what they did and how mid-sized enterprises can apply these lessons to improve their own customer service experiences.

1. In 2009, The High Wycombe John Lewis store stayed open during a blizzard so that stranded customers had a place to stay while the storm passed. Beds, sofas, duvets, coffee and tea were provided to over 100 customers.

Lesson: Go above and beyond. One of the quickest ways for a mid-sized enterprise to win loyalty is to give customers what they need, when they need it, and embrace any and every opportunity to bend over backwards for customers in a time of need. Thinking outside the box and going the extra mile for your customers will not only boost your reputation, it’ll help you stand apart from your competition.

2. After a franchised Starbucks refused to honor the 10 percent discount given to Gold Starbucks reward members, the customer reached out to Starbucks to air his grievance. Instead of just responding to the unhappy customer, Starbucks responded and sent the customer a $50 store credit, going way above and beyond what the customer expected and reported on social media.

Lesson: Admit mistakes. A quick response to remedy any customer service mistake helps show your customers that their satisfaction is your top priority. Mid-sized enterprises can achieve this by establishing policies and protocols that empower employees to resolve customer conflicts as quickly and efficiently as possible by apologizing, compensating the customer, or both.

3. As a way to promote highway safety, the South Carolina Highway Patrol partnered with the U.S. restaurant Chick-fil-A and rewarded drivers wearing seatbelts with Chick-fil-A coupons.

Lesson: Provide your customers with added value. Even if your business does not typically provide ongoing customer service, you can look to partner with outside organizations to build a positive reputation among your industry and those you serve. Mid-market enterprises can bundle solutions or partner with other businesses to build visibility and trust, and improve their brand’s reputation. Offer an upgrade or a business care discount day to offer customers something of value. Everybody wins when the customer feels like they are rewarded for working with you.

4. The merchandise retail store Bed Bath & Beyond sends out frequent discount coupons. Not only will stores honor them even after they expire, they will also gladly take multiple coupons and apply them to a single transaction.

Lesson: Make it as easy as possible for customers to give you their business. Similar businesses also offer coupons and discounts, but Bed Bath & Beyond really makes an effort to accommodate customers. Take the same approach and make sure it is easy to purchase upgrades or additional items and that there aren’t any roadblocks when it comes to doing business with you.

Forward thinking and company-wide understanding of the standards of customer service will help build a positive reputation, customer loyalty and ultimately higher profitability. Customer service isn’t an option. All customers expect it, whether your company is big or small. And excellent customer service does not need to be something complex or need to follow an intricate program. It can be simple, pragmatic, and quick. Lengthy loyalty programs are not mandatory, but instead have empathy, respect, common sense, and quick reflexes.

By providing your customers with a great, memorable experience you not only make them happy, but you establish a legacy of excellence that positions your business for future growth.

Benoît Gruber is vice president of corporate communications and brand for Sage Enterprise-Market Europe and Sage ERP X3. He leads, defines and implements the strategy of corporate and digital communication in cohesion with the overall business strategy.

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