To the Extreme: Making Excellent Service the Norm, Not the Exception

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Customer Service
Customer Service
Though extreme customer service campaigns may gain momentary publicity, offering consistent, trustworthy support fortifies the foundation for true service excellence.

Today's social world allows customers across industries to share their brand experiences with friends and family quickly and easily. Yet, while many grand gestures generate much PR buzz, it's the small actions and constant support efforts that encourage true loyalty. In many instances, extreme customer service acts as an outcry for publicity. Brands base their initiatives on the premise of aiding customers in need, but these actions take on a life of their own, growing into stories that make national news. But, as we've begun to see more often, extreme service doesn't necessarily mean setting off the bells and whistles. Often times, it simply means putting the customer at the heart of every support interaction.

"You don't always have to make [the customer] feel special," says Bernie Pitzel, creative in residence at Jacobs Agency. "You just have to listen. Focus on the customer and what they need at the moment. Be polite. We learn this lesson in kindergarten, but sometimes it's the simplest lessons that have the most impact. People will come back to places they feel welcome."

While most staff members and service professionals cannot control what their company sells or offers, they can control how they interact with customers. Just one bad experience is all it takes to send customers running toward the competition, but provide them with trustworthy employees and reliable assistance, and they will surely gravitate toward respect and comfort, Pitzel highlights. Consumers rarely expect customer service representatives to go to extremes. Instead, they simply seek an intelligent human being who's willing to listen to the issue at hand and do their best to rectify the problem and offer a solution.

"If you help the customer, they will want to help you in return," says Joanne Woytek, NASA SEWP program director. "Every day, you must go the extra step to do what you can without asking. Talk to them on the phone. Don't just tell them to go to the website-do it for them, and then tell them where they can find the information for future reference."

Often times, if one customer has an issue, there are more who've been stifling their discontent. Companies must learn from those who speak up and improve the overall customer experience, for there's no need to go to extremes for each person. Instead, brands must work to improve operations across the enterprise. Brands must also acknowledge that they are not always right and be transparent when they don't know something. Just as all people are humans, all companies are run by fallible employees and processes that occasionally fail to satisfy. In such scenarios, companies must show customers that they are diligently working to rectify the situation, hopefully gaining the customer's respect in the process.

Though going above and beyond the call of duty may be every service department's ultimate goal, excessive, over-the-top initiatives rarely withstand the test of time, for consistency makes the greatest, long-lasting impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty. For instance, when some prankster in Bethel, Alaska posted fliers throughout the town, inevitably tricking citizens into believing that Taco Bell would be setting up a nearby location, the restaurant chain mobilized its social media team and brand personnel to smooth things over. Because the town's closest fast food restaurant exists 400 miles away, Taco Bell delivered 950 pounds of beef, 500 pounds of sour cream, 300 pound of tomatoes, 300 pounds of lettuce, 150 pounds of cheddar cheese, and 10,000 tacos via airlift to this tiny town for free. While the effort clearly grew from one simple response to an all-out mission, this PR win sets the fast food chain up to look like the classic knight in shining armor. Other brands will recognize the kindness behind Taco Bell's actions, but the motivations remain fuzzy as such efforts cannot be recreated for every location lacking its own Taco Bell. To watch the story unfold, visit Taco Bell's YouTube channel.

For customers of AirAsia, pleasant journeys often start with peace and quiet. Now, passengers who wish to travel with minimal noise and no disruptions can choose to sit in AirAsia's new Quiet Zone. Launched in February, the program allows customers to choose a seat just behind the premium cabin. This section, which comes at no extra charge, provides soft, ambient lighting, while also banning any passengers under the age of 12. Passengers need only choose a seat within rows 7-14 while booking their flight.Though some may consider this ban to be exclusionary, limiting the options of those with children in tow, this move shows that AirAsia understands customer sentiment and aims to please all travelers by offering a versatile seating selection.

Small Gestures Leave Lasting Impressions

Customers rarely require companies to jump through hoops just to retain their loyalty. In most instances, consumers simply wish to interact with brands that provide consistent products and support they can rely upon. Such companies rarely need to go to extremes because they understand that "above and beyond" means doing their best to provide exceptional service every day.

Diamond Candles, an online retailer of all-natural soy candles, once connected with a customer inquiring about the cute pug dog the person came across in one of the photos on the shop's Facebook fan page. Though out of the ordinary, as the brand solely focuses on candle sales, the team decided to locate a pet store near the customer's hometown so she could explore her options. Diamond Candles discovered a local pet store within the customer's city that was selling a pug dog, then provided the customer with a small gift card towards the purchase of a new pet or supplies to show her how much the brand loves its customers. The customer was stunned and wrote back with a typed line full of heart and smiley face emoticons.

For Photojojo, an online source for photography tips and tools, excellent service means bringing an empathetic attitude to the table. One Photojojo customer ordered himself a special present to celebrate his birthday, which falls on Leap Day. Because the actual date only comes around once every four years, he decided to splurge and purchase something that would arrive right on his birthday. Unfortunately, because of shipping delays, the item didn't arrive until March 1-just like every other year. To cheer him up, Photojojo ordered an ice cream cake from his local Baskin-Robin's to brighten his day.

Though neither of these gestures by Photojojo or Diamond Candles required an excessive amount of effort or planning, they prove that these brands care about the person behind the transaction. They care for the customer, not the publicity and notoriety. Through small gestures such as these, brands across industries can see that truly successful service derives itself from the trustworthy foundation of a customer-centric organization.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION