The only sustainable competitive differentiator left to many businesses today is creating a culture of continuous innovation and extreme customer focus driven by highly talented people. Competitors can copy your products, your processes and systems, buy or reverse-engineer your technology, and gain access to the same or similar distribution channels. They can meet or beat you on just about every front except for building a team of talented people who strive every day for continuous improvements and deliver consistently superior customer service (as defined by the customer).
It seems almost too simple to say that excellent customer service is a foundation of a truly great company, but it’s the truth. And similar to the idea of hiring only the best people, almost every businessperson you talk to will enthusiastically agree that delivering excellent customer service is critically important. Yet almost nobody does it!
The Eighty-dollar Book
Several years ago, I ordered an eighty-dollar book on business success. When it arrived, I was dismayed to discover that it was only twenty-eight pages long, with big type and lots of pictures, which meant I paid roughly four dollars a page for this book. What’s worse, in my opinion, was that the entire book boiled down to four key principles for business success:
- Show up on time.
- Keep your promises.
- Be extremely polite.
- Give a little bit more than is expected.
I felt taken advantage of. But then I realized something amazing about that brief list. At the time, my wife and I owned two companies and were in the middle of building a custom home. We used to joke that we had an entire village of people working for us. So, I asked her to look at the four items and tell me if she could think of a single vendor, subcontractor, or business we dealt with that consistently delivered those four things every time we interacted with them. The answer? No, not a single one.
To prove this point, I ask you to take a minute or two and think about all of the suppliers, vendors, and businesses you deal with in an average month.
From strategic partners you deal with in your business to your local dry cleaner. How many of them honestly deliver those four items to you every time you do business with them?
If you are still skeptical, let me throw a few numbers at you. I teach a class on delivering consistently superior customer service and researched to uncover the financial implications of improving customer service levels. I won’t torment you with a bunch of statistics, graphs, and charts. But here is what all of the research shows: creating a culture of engaged employees who consistently deliver superior customer service can drive as much as an 85 to 104 percent increase in profitability. In other words, delivering great customer service can literally double your profit.
I have also conducted several surveys in which respondents said they would willingly pay a 15 to 25 percent price premium to buy the exact same product if they received genuinely outstanding service.
Although what constitutes superior customer service is somewhat unique to each customer, a broad array of national surveys demonstrates that these are the most crucial customer expectations for excellent service:
- Reliability: The ability to provide what was promised on time, dependably, and accurately
- Professionalism: Highly knowledgeable, ethical, and honest employees who instill a sense of trust and confidence in the customer
- Empathy: Genuine care and concern for the complete satisfaction of the customer
- Responsiveness: Not just delivering prompt service but being proactive in anticipating the needs and concerns of the customer
- Ambiance (for some businesses): The design and comfort of the physical facilities, cleanliness of the facilities and equipment, and appearance of the personnel
That list does not look particularly daunting but ensuring that every team member in your organization embodies it every time they interact with a customer can be a monumental challenge.