Wow Your Customers with Extreme Service:  Four Secrets to Success

by Diane Berenbaum

Every now and then, you have such an exceptional customer service experience that it makes you pause and say, “Wow.” It's so surprisingly rare that it sticks in your mind and you can't wait to tell others about it. That's extreme service.

I had one such experience in October when ordering a birthday cake for my son in college.  Seeking something special (and shareable with his friends), I searched the web and found Cookiepots;  a site that sells cakes made out of candy bars (fully wrapped candy bars stacked in the shape of a three-layer cake). “Perfect!” I thought as I clicked my way through to the shopping cart. Since his birthday was a week away, I selected express shipping to ensure timely delivery. The extra $7 was worth the peace of mind that it would arrive in time.

The next day, to my surprise, I received an email from Cookiepots telling me that regular ground shipping would only take two days. So they took the liberty of changing my shipping option to save me money, and reduced my total charge (and gave me the FedEx tracking information).

I was shocked—they didn't have to do that! They did the research, proactively sent a friendly email about the “news” and, to top it off, lowered the cost of my purchase. Wow. Most companies would have just fulfilled the order as placed.

Some companies have figured out how to surprise customers and keep them so extremely satisfied that they wouldn't consider going anywhere else. In Fortune Small Business, author Justin Martin shares the stories of several small companies that go to extremes to please their clients—and their customers love them in return. Here are some of their secrets to success:

1.     Differentiate with a Human Touch
“Find a service edge that can set you apart from your competitors,” notes Kassie Rempel of online fashion shoe seller SimplySoles, one of the featured organizations. Kassie and company write hand-written thank you notes to all of their customers, and each note addresses the customer and the shoe ordered by name. It's a huge time commitment, but customers love it and tell her it's one of the reasons they remain loyal.

2.     Give them What they Want—and then Give them More
Giving customers what they want sounds simple, notes Justin, but it is not easy to execute. One suggestion is to involve your customers early on in the design of your new product or service. Fortune Small Business selected to feature Threadless, a Chicago shirt manufacturer, as a model of this best practice. Using its website and company-sponsored blogs, it has created a fervent community that submits designs and votes on its favorites (think American Idol). They created an algorithm to select styles to produce—and every winner has sold out.

SimplySoles offers designer shoes in their online shoe emporium—something many women want. But they do more than just offer great shoes—they will send out a selection of their high fashion (and high-priced) shoes to certain customers—no charge, no commitment. These customers can try on the shoes in the comfort of their homes and see which look best with the outfits in their closets. They are only billed when they make a purchase; they send the remaining shoes back in a prepaid mailer.

3.     Customize
Customers get lots of generic messages, but they take notice when they receive something that is clearly meant just for them. When new members join HyperFit USA, a gym in Ann Arbor, MI, they fill out forms about their fitness goals and health issues. HyperFit then uses this information to tailor their communication, face-to-face and email, to every member.

Say a member joins the gym to prepare for her first marathon, but then stops coming for a while. The gym may send a subtle message by emailing an article about marathon training and its benefits. If a regular customer doesn't show up for three weeks, an email alert is automatically triggered. And, that member's trainer may choose to initiate a personal call to gently urge him to return.

4.     Recover in Style
Mistakes happen—it's how you handle them that will determine whether they are bashing you on blogs or singing your praises. “If you stumble,” writes Justin, “say you're sorry and then scramble to make it up to the customer.”

According to the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis, a recipient of good service tells an average of five other acquaintances. But, turn a bad experience into a peak experience and your customers will tell 20 others. A great example comes from Nurse Next Door, a Vancouver home health-care company. When they stumble, they send customers a “humble pie”—a real apple pie with an apology note declaring that they are humbled by their mistake.

Cookiepots managed to do three of the above with just one short e-mail. I felt like they cared about me and took extra effort to save me money —that's worth telling others about!

No matter the size of your business, you can deliver extreme service and get people talking about your organization by applying these four principles. So gather your associates and brainstorm some ideas that will help you stand out from the crowd. Your associates and customers will stick with you and you'll be extremely happy with the results.

Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
Before and After
Before and After
Just one "tragic" contact can influence your customers' perception of your company (and their buying decisions). Listen to the difference MAGIC® can make.