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Three Reasons Ordinary Customer Service Doesn't Work

And seven ways "experts" provide extraordinary client experiences.

Allyson Lewis, 12/23/2010

Look back over the last week and quickly scan through the list of common interactions you had as a customer and make a mental note of how you rated the customer service models for each of the following encounters:
* Shopping for groceries
* Filling your car up with gasoline
* Purchasing a cup of coffee
* Mailing a package
* Picking up your dry cleaning
* Depositing a check
* Taking your family out to a restaurant for dinner

You likely view the above services as commodities and somewhere deep in your brain you have made the choices of who you will choose to be your provider of these commodities based on things like price, convenience, and even familiarity. Today, companies like those listed above, and definitely companies in the financial services industry, are spending millions of dollars training their employees to improve their customer service skills. But often small changes can make the biggest differences.

Here are three reasons why ordinary customer service doesn't work:

1. There is a difference between perception and reality. As you look at the above list, my belief is you have developed such a long held belief system regarding the ANTICIPATED level of customer service you will experience as you engage with each of these providers that individual encounters will rarely make a profound impact on you. Your perception of past experiences will make it very difficult to change the reality.

2. We all want and expect different levels of service. In order to exceed client expectations, you must clearly define what those expectations are on the front end of the relationship. One of the reasons it is difficult to train for excellent customer service is that every client has a different expectation of what excellent customer service means to them.

3. The service that we think we should give may differ from what the client expects. As service providers, we superimpose our expectations of what great customer service is rather than finding out exactly what each different client expects and choosing to deliver specifically to their needs.

Seven Ways "Experts" Provide Extraordinary Client Experiences
1. "Experts" get it right the first time! 
First impressions are the strongest impressions.  Malcolm Gladwell, in his best-selling book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, says that we all make decisions in the "blink" of an eye.  According to Gladwell's research, by the time you say, "Hello, my name is", your client is already forming the basis for how he or she will view your relationship.

2. "Experts" are Competent! 
Competence, wisdom, and knowledge are powerful tools.  Credentials are important, and I would add being on the cutting edge of learning will help your clients trust that you are working diligently to help them reach their goals and objectives.

3.  "Experts" listen!
Clients want to be heard.  Competition allows our clients to find the best fit for their needs.  If we truly want to serve each client we must first understand what they need.  In order to exceed client expectations we have to know what those expectations are.

4. "Experts" customize!
Once you fully understand a client's expectations, customize your service to deliver what they need.  This sounds simple, but over the years it becomes easy to deliver what we think they need rather than deliver what they tell us they need.  "Experts" want to position their practice as far away from being viewed as a commodity as possible.  Customization and niche work are invaluable.

5. "Experts" ask!
Clients needs and expectations change over time. It is possible what was most important to them when you started the relationship has changed. "Experts" create systematic methods to regularly ask what their clients' needs are and build repeatable processes to deliver consistent service.

6. "Experts" understand that EVERYTHING matters! 
"Experts" know that everything from the clothes they wear, to the cleanliness of their office, to how their clients are greeted, to the ease of doing business, to proper telephone etiquette--simply put, everything matters.

7. "Experts" are happy! 
"Experts" genuinely enjoy their work and their enthusiasm is part of what their clients enjoy. They also work with happy teams. Happy employees make a HUGE impression.

Finally, let me turn the issue of delivering great customer service on its head. One of the most surprising aspects of becoming an "expert" and delivering exceptional customer service is the impact it will have on YOU. As you develop the skill sets required to deliver truly the best client quality service, think about the psychology of how having those skills will impact the quality of your life both at work and at home. The more proficient you become the more meaning and fulfillment you are likely to discover.

P.S.--Here is one practical idea to create a client experience. Your clients can buy a service from many places, but only you can deliver your brand of client experience. Consider what each individual client experiences in the interactions and encounters they have while they are doing business with you. Design meetings that involve all five senses. What do your clients see, hear, touch, taste and smell?

For your next meeting, instead of inviting your client out to a local restaurant for lunch, invite them into your office for lunch. One of our favorite ideas is to pick up the client's favorite Italian dish and have lunch in our office. When the client walks in, their first response is usually, "Wow, that looks and smells delicious!"  By hosting these luncheons in your office, you will literally be "anchoring" their client experience to all five of their senses.

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