Take Your Customer Service To The Next Level

You outsmart the competition when you outserve the competition.

When you’re better than the competition, when you’re delightfully different than the competition, you’ll probably do quite well — no matter what kind of business you’re in. And in the last three issues of the “Tuesday Tip,” I’ve given you five simple, powerful strategies to do exactly that.

However, today’s tip, the sixth strategy for customer enthusiasm, is a real winner. You have to DIFFERENTIATE. You have to do more than the competition is doing, and you have to do more than the customer expects. And when you do that, you’ll be remembered, and you’ll be rewarded.

To get very practical about DIFFERENTIATION, imagine four concentric circles — circles inside of circles. I like to call those four circles the four rings of service.

The innermost ring represents “Basic Service.” It’s getting your product or service into the customers’ hands. If you’re a retail clothing store, it’s getting your merchandise into the shopper’s bag. If you’re an accounting firm, it’s completing your client’s tax returns. If you’re an educator, it’s giving your lecture to the students. It’s very basic.

The next ring beyond “Basic Service” is “Expected Service.” In other words, your goods and services are delivered in a way your customer expects. It’s all about expectations.

Unfortunately, most organizations operate in these two rings of service. And most customers feel somewhat fortunate to get what they want in a half-way decent manner.

But that’s not good enough. “Basic” and “Expected” service may get you some customer satisfaction, but it will never get you customer enthusiasm. As I discuss in my book, Customer Service Champions operate in the two outer rings of service. They deliver “Extra Service” and “Dream Service.” They differentiate themselves from the competition.

Let me illustrate. In the department store business, Nordstrom’s sells more dollars of merchandise per square foot than anyone else. At the “Basic” level, they sell clothes, for the most part. At the “Expected” level, they tend to carry higher quality, higher priced goods. And the salespeople tend to be more knowledgeable and professional than the part-time, teenage clerks you’d find at some other stores. You’d expect that at Nordstrom’s.

However, it’s at the “Extra” level of service that things start to get exciting. Nordstrom’s overstocks its merchandise so you can always find what you want. They have more salespeople on the floor so you can get help from a real person when you need it. And that real person will gift wrap or ship anything for you free of charge. The list of the “Extras” goes on and on.

But at the “Dream” level of service, Nordstrom’s will blow your mind. Their dream return policy is their willingness to accept anything without any hassles.

If, for example, you bring a tire into Nordstrom’s and want a refund, you’ll get a refund. But get this, Nordstrom’s never sold tires.

You might think that’s a crazy policy. Jim Nordstrom was even asked that. His response is worth noting. Jim said, “Over the years, I’ve learned that 95% to 98% of our customers are good, honest, decent people. We base our policies on the 98%, not the 2%.”

Of course, most organizations have policies based on the 2%. They do everything they can to protect themselves rather than serve the customer.

Most organizations try to compete at the “Basic” and “Expected” levels of service. But the real winners compete on the “Extra” and “Dream” levels of service. It’s how they thrive, and it’s how they build customer enthusiasm.

Let me give you another example, a fairly personal one. My wife and I enjoy the beauty, charm, and quietness that can be found in the Bed and Breakfast experience.

By far, our favorite Bed and Breakfast is the Strawberry Lace Inn in Sparta, Wisconsin. They have mastered the four rings of service.

At the “Basic” level, like all B & B’s, they offer a place to sleep and some food to eat. No big deal. Any B & B can do that.

At the “Expected” level, they offer historical, antique-filled surroundings and old-fashioned, welcome-home friendliness. We somewhat expect that, certainly more than we would expect to get at a chain hotel along an interstate highway. And they serve a unique home-cooked breakfast. We also expect that.

But at the “Extra” level of service, Jack and Elsie Ballinger at the Strawberry Lace Inn really differentiate themselves from the competition. They do such things as arrange all your dinner and entertainment reservations — if you’d like. They even called my office, talked to my assistant, found out where I could be contacted as I traveled across the United States, and asked me about my food preferences. Wow!

It gets better. To offer extra “Extra Service,” the Ballinger’s changed their breakfast menu when they found out our accompanying friends had restricted diets. And to top it all off, Jack and Elsie look for something special in each of their guests. When you are about to depart, they give you a handwritten note filled with warm appreciations for your business and a specific compliment on something they like about you. Now that builds customer enthusiasm.

Their “Dream” level of service is almost unbelievable. The Ballinger’s serve a five-course gourmet breakfast — which in itself is fabulous. They have 27 completely different five-course breakfasts, none of which includes the traditional eggs, pancakes, or pastries. But here’s the clincher. They keep a computerized record of every meal you’ve ever had with them, and you will never have the same meal twice, unless you ask for it. Now that’s “Dream Service.”

Does such service pay off? You bet! Their word-of-mouth advertising is unbelievable.

What about you? Which levels of service are you using? Are you outsmarting the competition by outserving the competition? I hope so.

I would strongly recommend my new book on Creating Customer Service Champions. Considering the fact that it could save your business or significantly increase your business, it’s a very small price to pay.

This DIFFERENTIATION strategy really works. Perhaps one more example will drive home the point. There’s a gas station in the San Francisco Bay area that sells eight times more gas than any other station.

At the “Basic” level, they sell gas, of course. At the “Expected” level of service at the full-service pump, they pump your gas, wash your windows, and check your oil. You would expect that.

That’s where almost every full-service station stops giving service, however. But at this station, they provide “Extra” service as well. As you drive into the full-service aisle, two attendants come up to your car and ask you to please step out. One gives you the morning newspaper, and the other one gives you a cup of fresh, hot coffee.

As you’re reading your paper and sipping your coffee, at the “Dream” level of service, the two attendants go into your car. They wash all the windows, vacuum all the mats, and empty all the trash. In fact, one customer wrote on his comment card, “This is the closest I’ve been to an Indy 500 pit stop.”

Of course, the cynics say, “I’ll bet they charge more, don’t they?” Well, yes they do, but they still sell EIGHT times more gas than anybody else in the whole area.

Maybe it’s time you took your service up another notch. Maybe it’s time you DIFFERENTIATED with “Extra and “Dream” service. It’s bound to pay off.

Action:  Take an inventory. What “Extra” or “Dream” services are you offering to your customers? What else could you do? Make your list as complete as possible.

Now pick one new thing you can implement each and every month for the next twelve months. You’ll be as delighted as your customers