10 Proven Ways to Provide Excellent Customer Service With Examples

Woman smiling

By Tricia McKinnon

Speaking about when Apple first launched the Apple store Ron Johnson said: “when we launched retail [at Apple], I got this group together, people from a variety of walks of life.” “As an icebreaker, we said, ‘tell us about the best service experience you’ve ever had.'” “Of the 18 people, 16 said it was in a hotel. This was unexpected. But of course: the concierge desk at a hotel isn’t selling anything; it’s there to help.” “We said, ‘well, how do we create a store that has the friendliness of a Four Seasons Hotel?'” The answer: “let’s put a bar [the Genius Bar] in our stores. But instead of dispensing alcohol, we dispense advice.” 

Maybe you can’t put a genius bar in your store but there are a number of things you can do to provide excellent customer service.  From cheap fixes like having your employees smile more to more expensive initiatives like having a more liberal return policy providing excellent customer service is worth it. For example, it is estimated that $62 billion is lost each year in the US due to poor customer service and 91% of customers who are unhappy with a brand will leave without complaining. To keep your customers happy and coming back for more try these 10 proven tips and you can use the examples for inspiration.

1.  Smile. You never get a second chance to make a first impression and having sales associates that warmly greet and smile at your customers makes a real difference.  While perhaps this sounds basic, the devil is the details.  Think back on your last five to ten visits to a retail store or a restaurant.  How many times were you greeted warmly?  Isn’t that one of the first things that you remember about that experience?  Starbucks is a retailer that does a great job in this area. Despite the large size of the organization almost every time I walk into a Starbucks I am greeted by the smiling face of someone who truly seems excited to help me.  Do your employees greet your customers that way each and every time?  If not, perhaps that is one of the reasons customers are not enthusiastic about coming back to your store.  

Taking it a step further rude behaviour according to an eMarketer report (see below) takes the top spot for the factor that will cause a shopper to shop at another store.   

Which In-Store Factors Would Cause a Shopper in the United States Shop at Another Store? 

1. Employees were rude to me – 42%

2. Store was disorganized – 17%

3. Prices were higher than expected – 15%

4. Employees were not knowledgeable – 13%

5. Sales people tried to sell me on the product – 13%

6. Checkout lines were too long – 12%

7. Employees didn’t offer assistance at any point – 12%

8. Items not in stock – 12%

9. Limited selection of products - 12%

10. Items I saw online were not in store – 11%

Source: eMarketer, 2018

As you can see polite and courteous service can go a long way.

2.  Make it personal.  Your customers like products and services that are tailored to them.  Don’t you like it when your local dry cleaner greets you by name? That may be the simplest form of personalization of all.  Personalization continues to be an important trend in the retail sector. Part of the impetus for this can be seen in an another study that found that 51% of digital shoppers would be likely to make a purchase due to personalized branded content (see the results below)

What actions are US digital device users likely to take as result of personalized brand content?

1. Make a purchase - 51%

2. Become loyal to the brand - 49%

3. Recommend the brand to others - 46%

4. Subscribe to the brand’s communications - 44%

5. Make purchases that you didn’t intend due to enhanced recommendations - 34%

Source: eMarketer, 2018

Many companies offer ways to personalize products. For example, when you buy AirPods from Apple you can have your initials engraved on the case.  Stationary retailers like Shinola allow you to get your monogram imprinted on their notebooks.  You don’t have to break the bank to do something personal for you customers.

3.  Be responsive.  It has been said that goldfish have longer attention spans than humans at 9 seconds while we humans tend to lose concentration after 8 seconds.  We don’t even like it when a website takes more than two seconds to load.  Customers don’t want answers tomorrow, or in five minutes they want them now..  If you want to impress your customers try to respond to their inquiries as quickly as impossible.   According to another study the top aspect contributing to positive customer service is the quick resolution of an issue/question.

4. Have a liberal return policy (if you can afford it).  More flexibility can go a long way. Do customers have to return your merchandise within 14 days to get a refund?  Can you extend that to 30 days?  Costco has a very liberal return policy where customers can return almost anything they have purchased at anytime.  On Costco’s website it says: “we are committed to providing quality and value on the products we sell with a risk-free 100% satisfaction guarantee on both your membership and merchandise.” 

In recognition of the company’s outstanding customer service in 2018 Costco was ranked number one in the American Customer Satisfaction Index in the internet retail category, ahead of Amazon.

5.  Go the extra mile.  A key differentiator between Nordstrom and other retailers is its customer service.  Nordstrom focuses on having employees use their best judgement in all situations. Employees are also given the flexibility to determine how best to solve a customer's problem.  In a classic story of great customer service, a Nordstrom employee noticed that a customer left their luggage and flight itinerary in the parking lot of the store. The employee jumped into their car and drove the customer’s luggage to the airport and found her before her flight took off.  Without an engaged employee base or empowerment most employees would be unlikely to go the distance to surprise and delight a customer.

6. Get feedback.  Most organizations ask customers to complete customer satisfaction surveys.  But does your organization have a culture that is centred around gathering, responding to and incorporating feedback into everything that you do? That can be easier said than done.  But the clues to providing excellent customer service are often hidden in the questions your customer ask on a regular basis.  What do your customers want you to stop, start and continue doing?

A great example of a customer centric organization is millennial beauty brand Glossier.  Glossier essentially crowdsourced data about what type of beauty products readers of its popular blog Into the Gloss wanted and turned that data into the launch of a successful beauty brand. Now Glossier which was launched back in 2014 on the back of a wealth of direct to consumer data is valued at over a $1 billion.  

7.  Apologize and mean it.  Why is it so hard to apologize at times?  Perhaps we think an apology is a reflection of our own weaknesses.  But sometimes all your customers want to hear a sincere apology and know that the problem will be resolved as quickly as possible.  Saying “I’m sorry” can go a long way in building trust. 

After a shortage of chicken in 2018 in KFC restaurants in the UK which forced the company to close over 450 stores KFC issued an apology. The apology which can be seen below read: “we’re sorry. A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed. And endless thanks to our KFC team members and our franchise partners for working tirelessly to improve the situation. It’s been a hell of a week, but we’re making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. Thank you for bearing with us.”


8.  Invest in your customers.  Instead of having a “selling” mindset have a “teaching” mindset.  Retailers like lululemon and Apple have offered customers free classes for years and customers have rewarded both retailers with loyalty and sales.  Focusing on teaching instills a sense of trust in your customers and when you invest in someone, they tend to invest in you.  Author Robert Cialdini writes in his best-selling book Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion that: “one of the most potent of the weapons of influence around us [is] the rule for reciprocation.  The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.” “By virtue of the reciprocity rule, then, we are obligated to the future repayment of favours, gifts, invitations and the like.”  “For those who owed him a favour, it made no difference whether they liked him or not; they felt a sense of obligation to repay him, and they did.”

Is there a way you could offer classes or events that your customers enjoy not only to help them but foster a sense of community?

9.  Invest in your employees.  Customers love Trader Joe’s friendly and helpful staff.  One of the keys to Trader Joe’s success is hiring the right people and investing in them.  Jon Basalone, President of Stores at Trader Joe’s has said: “we’ve been around for over 50 years, and we’ve never had layoffs. We stay true to what we know works for Trader Joe’s and our crew members.”  “You combine that with the pay, benefits and supportive, fun environment, and people tend to want to stick around.”  In 2019 Trader Joe’s was named Forbes’ best large employer and Trader Joe’s was ranked as having the highest customer satisfaction rating among supermarkets in the 2018-2019 period by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Speaking about investing in employees the former CEO of Best Buy, Hubert Joly, who was instrumental in the company’s turnaround several years ago said: “there's a daily, individual coaching session for each associate in the stores. So you check in, you meet with your sales supervisor, and then you're going to review your performance over several days, what you're working on, because everybody's working on something, getting better at something. Maybe you're working in the appliance department, you're trying to get better at selling the full kitchen, because you want the colors to match. And so, maybe, yesterday, your supervisor asks you to go talk to Mary, who is really good at this. You're going to do a role play, and then at the end of the day, we're going to check how it's going, and how your results are.  That is very meaningful, because I'm paying attention to you.”

10. Become a critical customer of your own service.  When was the last time you tested the service offered by your company yourself? Whenever I have poor customer service I think to myself if only the owner was here. Would they think this level of service is appropriate?  In an interview Hubert Joly, former CEO of Best Buy, was asked if he ever goes to Best Buy stores incognito.  He said that as soon as he steps into a store he is recognized in a nano second.  But he said this about experiencing Best Buy’s service from home:  “on a Saturday, about five years ago, I had a networking issue at home. It was intermittent failures, as is often the case with networking issues. So I called 1-800-geeksquad, and that was very early on in my tenure, and the fact that — instead of recognizing me not as the CEO of the company, but as a customer — based on some number, like my phone number, or my account number, they had to ask for my information. Then after taking all of my information, including my credit card, they said, "Somebody will call you back." I said, "Really? What are you talking about?" “They didn't have the tool to know how long the wait time was to get a specialist for my issue. These were well-intentioned people, but we ended up giving them the tool. So a lot of what we've had to do is give people the tool. It's what Churchill wrote to Roosevelt in 1941. "Give us the tools, and we will finish the job." 

One of the best ways to improve your customer service is to become a customer.  What are your likes? What are your dislikes? What is memorable about your own service that you would tell a friend?  If you can’t go incognito what about having a friend or family member do this for you? If you don’t enjoy your own customer service it is unlikely that your customers will.


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