"Outstanding customer service is a tapestry of individual actions that are important in the customer's eyes," writes the Performance Research Associates, Inc, in the fifth edition of its book, Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service. And while many of these actions are relatively easy and simple to master, when woven together "they make the service you provide truly memorable."
This type of service, described as "knock your socks off service," is the kind that makes a positive and lasting impression on customers. The first step to delivering such service is to understand customers' expectations. This insight can help companies create memorable experiences for every customer by exceeding expectations and satisfying needs. "It means looking for opportunities to wow and delight your customers in unique and unexpected ways," the authors write.
The result of memorable service is a victory for both the company and its customers. However, mistakes happen and companies—and their employees—need to answer to customers honestly rather than hide the truth. In this excerpt from Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service, Performance Research Associates argues that honesty is better than hiding the truth.
Honesty Is the Only Policy
When it comes to customer service, honesty isn't the best policy, it is the only policy. Lying to or misleading customers invariably leads to far worse problems than looking them straight in the eye and telling them something unpleasant they need to hear right now.
There are two very good reasons for facing your customers with the bad news.
First, tall tales inevitably catch up with you, and often in the most unexpected ways. Tom Connellan, president of the Orlando-based Connellan Group, tells the story of a shipping clerk (let's call him Ralph) in a company in Michigan who had discovered a cute and, to his way of thinking, foolproof way of keeping customers off his back. Every morning he would bring three newspapers to work: the New York Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times. He would scan each carefully and circle any news item having to do with a transportation disaster—train wrecks and derailments, heavy snowfall in the Rocky Mountains, trucking strikes in the Southeast. You get the picture.
Then, for the rest of the day, any time a customer called up complaining that a promised shipment had not yet arrived, Ralph would put the caller on hold, thumb through the newspapers until he found a likely item, go back to the caller and ask: "Did you hear about the train that derailed outside Fort Worth last night? No? Well, it happened, and I know for a fact that your shipment was on that train. I'd like to help you out, but there's not a thing I can do about delays that are out of my control. I'm sure you understand."
Ralph's little trick worked well for all of a year—until a customer, suspicious of the fact that three of his last five promised shipments were subject to "disasters," began checking around. To make a long story short, he figured out what Ralph was up to, put Ralph's company on his "Unreliable Vendor" list, and wrote a stinging letter to Ralph's company president. Do you need to ask what kind of disaster happened to Ralph?
The second reason for playing straight with your customers is that—surprise!—customers respect honesty. No, it isn't fun to tell a customer that there is a problem, or that the delivery date the customer has in mind is unrealistic. But when you have to be candid, and you make it clear how you'll follow up to make things right, your customers come away appreciating you as a straight shooter they can depend on to tell the truth—regardless.
Miss Manners, a.k.a. Judith Martin, dubbed The High Priestess of Protocol by Frequent Flyer magazine, provides a case in point. She described two recent airline flights, both delayed due to bad weather. As she described them to the readers of Frequent Flyer:
On the first, the crew did little to inform the passengers of the flight's status, glumly responding to requests for pillows, blankets, drinks, etc.
The second crew apologized for the delay, offered advice on passengers' scheduling problems, kept everyone informed, and generally tried to make things as pleasant as possible.
Which planeload of passengers believed that the flight crew was really doing everything possible to get them to their destination? And which airline will Miss Manners choose the next time she flies?
Do It for Yourself, Too
There is actually a third reason for always being honest with customers: the way you feel about yourself. A friend of ours used to work for a now defunct television shopping network. She was the chief upset customer handler. When customers called to report that the merchandise they bought was defective, her job was to smother those callers with platitudes like "I'm sorry" and "We apologize."
The trouble was, most of the merchandise the company was selling was factory seconds—items known by everyone in the company to be defective in some small way. Our friend was, in essence, a shill charged with the responsibility of mollifying the few customers who were brave enough to complain about their purchases. The company, she was told straight out, was counting on the fact that only about 4 percent of upset customers complain when they receive shoddy service or merchandise.
Did she give the complainers their money back? Absolutely. The company was willing to buy off the few who braved its complaint and return systems. Did she make the complainers feel better? Definitely. At least someone was there to listen to them.
But she quit her job after six months. Why? "Because," she says, "I couldn't take being part of an operation that was knowingly exploiting its customers."
Excerpted with permission of the publisher AMACOM Books, www.amacombooks.org, Division of American Management Association, from Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service, 5th Edition © 2012 Performance Research Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.