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December 2017
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Creating real service excellence
Dr. Rick Johnson
Dr. Rick Johnson

Nothing short of service excellence will initiate and maintain customer relationship equity, which is the cornerstone of customer retention and increased customer spend. The most successful businesses in any industry are those that maintain relationships through ongoing customer satisfaction earned by meeting changing customer expectations, versus those that focus just on new business and new sales but lose existing customers. Consequently, customer service requires a priority focus on existing customer relationship equity. Customers have become accustomed to receiving “The Ultimate Customer Experience.” 

If you don’t commit to great customer service, you can be sure it won’t happen.  Devote yourself to treating your customers’ right.  Develop a company culture that focuses on customer service, and go above and beyond the call of duty. 

Build a relationship
Psychologists use a term called implicit egotism. Everyone has an ego. One of my very first mentors once told me to let the customer do most of the talking and he will think you are a pretty good sales person. “How can he NOT like you if you just spent forty-five minutes listening to him talk about himself, his needs, his problems and maybe even his wife and dog.” 

Academically it simply means that people have a tendency to like people they think are like them and are interested in their thoughts and feelings.  In the real world of sales this means you must seek to find area’s in common with your customer. Relationships with customers are built one step at a time, and the first step is simply getting to know them.?Without customers, we don’t exist, customer service is useless and there would be no need for professional sales personnel.  Next to employees, customers are the company’s most precious asset.  Consequently, customer service must become a core competency.  Most companies define customer service a little differently than just sales.  The broad definition states that we must not lose sight of the fact that every employee in one way or another is involved in customer service.  Sales personnel just happen to be one of the “Front Lines.”  As a “customer driven organization” it is important to discuss how you serve your customers. In one way or another, every employee provides customer service.

Acknowledge mistakes
Every sales person cringes when they know a mistake has been made and the customer is unhappy.  However, statistics have proven that over 75% of customers are understanding and willing to do business continuously with suppliers that show concern and resolve issues fairly, quickly and equitably. A key to dealing with customer complaints is maintaining control of the situation. Use language that shows empathy, understanding and the projection of competence and caring in solving the problem. 


Make sure every customer service representative is trained on communication and has an understanding of things like:


Taboo words that should never be used.

  • No 
  • Can’t
  • You Must
  • Policy
  • Joe screwed this up
  • It’s not my job


Words that diffuse.

  • I’m sorry this happened
  • I’ll take care of this
  • I understand why you are upset
  • I’d feel the same way
  • I’ll check into this situation right now
  • We made a mistake---  give us the opportunity to fix it


Positive language is a great way to avoid accidental conflicts due to miscommunication. Directing the conversation away from the negative aspects and instead focusing on the proposed solution helps customers accept the situation and reduces the odds that they will be upset.

Ending the phone call
Customer service is quite challenging. This is especially true when dealing with customers on the phone. Building a relationship, asking questions to get the customer to talk about themselves while at the same time knowing you have six voice mails waiting and a back-up on order entry can become the biggest challenge faced for even the greatest customer service representative ever born.

So ….. The ability to “end a conversation” is one of the most critical skills that you can learn, and it is severely underrated. You can’t end the conversation without the customer confident the issue is resolved. In fact you can’t end any conversation that leaves the customer feeling like more conversation is needed. Taking the time to confirm that every issue brought forward has been solved and even their personal desire to articulate feelings has been met is critical in sending them away happy. Let them know:

  1. That you care.
  2. That you're willing to keep going until you get it right.
  3. That they are the one that determines what “right” is.

At the same time when you reach that point of understanding don’t ramble. Look for the opening to end the call by confirming your next steps. That is generally a very acceptable way to end a call and leave the customer confident and feeling good.

Follow up with customers
Cyber space, the smart phone, e-mail and the internet have created somewhat of a crutch for the lack of personal contact in today’s world. You would be surprised how grateful some customers are to actually get a personal note of thanks or follow-up these days that doesn’t come in the form of an e-mail or text message. In today’s digital world, a handwritten note can mean a lot to not only new customers but existing customers as well.

Invest – create and embrace a service excellence culture
Creating a service excellence culture is fundamentally important for building a business that customer’s love. The quality of your service will never surpass the quality of those who provide it. If you plan on out-servicing the competition, plan on investing heavily in the team, tools and tactics to deliver.

Service excellence is not guaranteed regardless of company mottos, promotions or any other marketing strategy. Service excellence is created by the employees. Make the investment in continuous training of your employees and provide real incentives for them to build relationship equity which in turn will result in customer loyalty. Don’t just hire warm bodies even though there is a shortage of candidates. Consider a recruitment incentive for current employees to recommend candidates. Look for potential, pay a little above market and make sure your managers are trained in leadership and continuously work on their people skills.

Customer loyalty must be engrained in your culture
Don’t wait until you have a customer complaint to address specific issues that relate to customer loyalty. Listen to your employees. Encourage suggestions, ideas and comments regarding work environment improvements. Make sure communication is crystal clear. Employees need to understand what your expectations are. Believe it or not the vast majority of employees regardless of diversity, religion, background or personal upbringing really want to do a good job. They do want to be held accountable.

Ask your employees to find ways in which they can WOW customers when special requests come in. Look to create that ultimate customer experience. A memorable moment in customer service doesn’t have to cost a lot. If customers request something special or if employees notice an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, encourage them to follow through. That extra effort goes a long way in creating customer loyalty.

Create a customer service score card
The majority of distributors and manufacturers that I have talked to over the past twenty years have said to me (and with a straight face) that they are customer driven and service excellence is one of their core competencies. REALLY…….. And by whose definition are they so good. Typically it’s their own. In reality, if the customer is asked their opinion, on average over 75% of the customers would disagree. 

Rating your customer service based or self-imposed standards based on what you think can be very misleading. In fact, what you think isn’t even relevant. It’s what the customer thinks that really matters. Internal data is important but you can’t only be guided by data. If your measurements are wrong, misguided or not relevant you are wasting your time.

Getting feedback from customers through surveys, focus groups and individual sales representative allows you to get a handle on what matters to them and whether or not you are delivering it. Reach out to your top twenty customers, conduct user tests and create follow-up emails that ask for candid responses. Take the time required to complete a focus group that is facilitated by and independent party.

Walk the walk
Do your leaders and managers practicing what they preach?? The key to delivering service excellence is to create a focus on customers that permeates all levels of your business, from your management team down to the frontline players who deal directly with customers. Make sure supervisors, managers and yes even members of the executive team are performing the way they expect employees to perform.? 

Your primary competitive advantage lies in the hands of your employees. They are the ultimate amenity. You must recognize that and be proactive in leveraging it. If what you are selling is really good but your employees don’t embrace the customer loyalty concept eventually you will lose because the competition that recognizes the role the employees play in customer loyalty and retention will take your business.

Dr. Rick Johnson is the founder of CEO Strategist and a veteran of the wholesale distribution industry with more than 30 years of executive management experience. Sign up to receive “The Howl” a free monthly newsletter that addresses real world industry issues. – Straight talk about today’s issues. E-mail to learn more or to arrange to have him speak at your next event.