John DiJulius | Customer Experience Blog

28 Customer Service Skills learned at The Summit
2013 Secret Service Summit – Two weeks ago The DiJulius Group presented our annual Secret Service Summit, and it was clearly the best one we have done in five years. As expected, we sold out with about 450 attendees! This group of speakers was the highest rated roster we have had so far. Best of all was the energy in the room!  A world-class Customer service conference unlike any other. Everyone came to find out how to raise hospitality and Customer experience to the next level. The passion in the room was indescribable.

Let us recap some key takeaways and invaluable Customer service skills learned this year:

“Absolutely outstanding! He really drove home his message. I feel privileged to have sat in on his presentations.
Thank you.”
Key takeaways:
  • Culture – Your employee culture can’t be bluffed, bribed or bullied, but it will give you what you want; you just have to give it what it wants first. It wants context – Why are things happening? It wants predictability – What is going to happen next? It wants a positive sense of self – What is the character, the true intention and the higher purpose of the work I do and the company I do it for?
  • Leadership – Emotional commitment is what your company wants when it says it wants leadership. The key neurobiological source of emotional commitment comes from living your own deepest personal values in the relationship with your company and the environment at work.
  • Branding – Becoming a brand means transferring the sustainability of your company to your Customers, who will advertise and sell for you, and step up to protect you if you stumble or get attacked. “Branded” is a tribute, not a verb – you can’t claim it; it has to be given to you.
“I truly believe in changing the world through service, and obviously Holly does, too. I just want to give her a hug and thank her for not leaving me to feel like I am dancing alone.” 
Key takeaways:
  • Service is a Feeling. We need to pay attention to the human needs behind the business needs. The need to be truly heard, acknowledged, remembered and respected.
  • It is simple but not easy, so wearing the “turtle hat” and embodying the metaphor, reminds us to stick our necks out, have a hard shell so we don’t take things personally and be slow to respond with a negative emotional trigger.
  • Being Right Is The Booby Prize. This is the place service breaks down the fastest. If we could let go of having to be right we could actually serve people with little confrontation and upset. It doesn’t mean we don’t have guidelines; it simply makes the distinction to serve people as opposed to holding on to our righteousness
“This was my favorite presentation from both days, perhaps of the three conferences I have attended so far. This young man is so wise beyond his years and so articulate. I find him inspiring and his message very powerful.” 
Key takeaways:
  • Life doesn’t always go according to plan
  • The only disability in life is a bad attitude
  • The importance of wearing your armour of positive attitude is that it is the most powerful combatant to anything life throws at you.
“Outstanding on many points… content, delivery, ability to engage audience.
I could listen to Sasha talk for 2 days. Bring him back next year!” 
Key takeaways:
  • The New Normal has changed Customer service forever. It’s time to find new ways to relate to Customers.
  • Empathize and advocate for your Customer’s needs publicly.
  • Social media is the environment, brand content is the recipe.
“I feel very honored to have heard his presentation. Very powerful, will stay with me for the rest of my life. I will use what I learned from him in my daily life with my family, friends and co-workers.
Reon’s message is so simple, yet so incredibly profound.”
Key takeaways:
  • Having the courage to move forward in life without fear
  • The ability to truly forgive those who have wronged and/or hurt you
  • A focus perspective on what is really important in life
“Great piece to push our teams to action.
Great messages, and perfect content for the end to help deal with idea overload.” 
Key takeaways:
  • Win On The Basics. When looking for ways to differentiate our business it’s easy to get carried away with “wow” factors that we overlook the most powerful “wow” factor of all: be the best at what Customers value most. Your goal should be to be so good at the basics that you are cutting edge.
  • Create WIN/WIN Relationships. Market leaders and winning brands are those that are best at creating wins for Customers, employees, business partners, and the community. We should always strive to create wins, opportunities, and solutions for others. It is the ultimate power strategy in business and in life – be sure the other guy wins!
  • Take action. People in extraordinary companies have great ideas and take decisive action on them. People in mediocre companies have great ideas, too, but they never get past thinking about them, talking about them, and having meetings about them. Your ideas have no value until you take action. Stop thinking about it and DO it!
“So inspiring and goes to show that regardless of the business you are in, Customer service is so important and can be done. Loving the Customer RIGHT WHERE THEY ARE was an amazing message.” 
Key takeaways:
  • If you compete in an industry where world-class Customer service is not the norm, even more the reason to make it your distinct competitive advantage.
  • You can dramatically increase employees’ service aptitude and solidify their awareness to your service vision, pillars and Nevers & Always by making it fun through interactive eLearning games, i.e. Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Matching.
  • Creating a world-class Customer service organization is a long-term commitment by the entire executive team and needs a dedicated champion, i.e. Customer Xperience Officer.
“John’s openings were some of the best examples I’ve seen him present.” 
 Key takeaways:
  • Companies need to systemize hospitality to make it easy for front-line employees to genuinely connect with each Customer
  • Online retail satisfaction is rising while brick & mortar is declining because retailers are failing at their biggest competitive advantage– building human relationships with the Customer standing in front of them.
  • Hire for attitude not aptitude
The 2013 Secret Service Systems Award Winner – Chick-fil-A 
The Secret Service Award recognizes Customer service excellence in three categories:
  1. Creating Secret Service Systems
  2. Creating an Experience Epiphany
  3. Revolutionizing their industry
Chick-fil-A has revolutionized the quick-service industry as well as best practices for world-class hospitality for nearly every industry. Some highlights of best practices of CFA that were recognized:
  • Their service vision – Making every guest feel cared for unlike anywhere else
  • The Core 4 – Create eye contact, share a smile, speak with enthusiasm, and stay connected
  • 2nd Mile Behaviors – Carry meals to the table for high-needs guests, clear trays from tables and refresh beverages every 15 minutes, and carry large orders to cars.
  • Their ability to get their front-line employees to be true brand evangelists.
Registration is now open to next year’s Secret Service Summit. Learn more about America’s #1 Customer Service Conference.

 2013 Secret Service Summit complete audio – Whether you were there seeing it unfold live or you were unable to get a ticket, we now have it available for you to hear and share with your entire organization. This group of speakers was the highest rated we have ever had. We captured the amazing content offered by all the brilliant leaders, authors, and motivational speakers of the 2013 Secret Service Summit Audio Series.

~John R. DiJulius III best-selling author, consultant, and keynote speaker, is the President of The DiJulius Group, the leading customer experience consulting firm in the nation. He blogs on customer experience trends and best practices. Learn more about The DiJulius Group or The Secret Service Summit, America’s #1 Customer Service Conference.

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Found Money | Business is Personal | Keeping the momentum | Customer Service incentive | Not making the customer wrong | Quote of the Week

“Changing the World by Creating a Customer Service Revolution…”  

A radical overthrow of conventional business mentality designed to transform what employees and customers experience.  This shift produces a culture that permeates into people’s personal lives, at home and in the community, which in turn provides the business with higher sales, morale and brand loyalty– making price irrelevant.

Found Money – Want to increase revenue without increasing advertising or labor? Customer service expert Jack Mackey proves that you can in his recent article, “Found Money: Want it or Not?” Mackey demonstrates how research has proven a staggering amount of money lost or gained per year by how well you manage your service breakdowns and your service recovering systems. I strongly encourage you to take 10 minutes and read his article to see how your company is stacking up.

Jack Mackey
Jack Mackey

All Business is Personal, it goes where it’s invited and stays where it’s appreciatedthat is Jack Mackey’s philosophy and message. Jack is one of our keynote presenters at the  2011 Secret Service Summit. As the Vice President at Service Management Group (SMG), he helps companies guide and energize their people to deliver remarkable service.  With more than 20 years of experience in customer service leadership, Jack is also co-author of The Total Customer Service System and The Manager’s Role as Coach.  He speaks on performance improvement strategies nationwide and is legendary for instilling a spirit of “celebrated discontent” in his audiences.

What gets recognized, gets repeatedOne of the best ways of keeping a World-Class customer service culture alive, without losing its momentum, is by finding ways to recognize your employees, locations or departments for delivering Above & Beyond service (Commandment VIII in What’s the Secret?) These range from soliciting, capturing and celebrating raving fans’ stories sent in from customers, to sharing them through signage, pre-shift huddles, awards, internal newsletters, and several other company communication mechanisms you use.

Excellent incentive Here is a best practice by Nestle, a consulting client of The DiJulius Group, and a company that has had their customer service management team in attendance at every annual Secret Service Summit. Nestle currently has a contest running where the employee with the best Above & Beyond story (voted on by their peers) from each of their customer service center locations wins an all expense-paid trip plus tuition to this year’s 2011 Secret Service Summit. This does several positive things: 1) It gets people to continue to think creatively to solve customer problems, 2) It generates more Above & Beyond stories so Nestle can use them to drive the awareness and service aptitude in their front lines, 3) Sometimes people who do great things, don’t do it for the recognition, and don’t bother to tell anyone what they did. A contest like this gets co-workers to tell on each other, and 4) The winners, the ones that “get it,” are rewarded by going to a two-day customer service conference with dozens of customer service experts and motivational speakers, thus giving them even more ideas and systems they can further use. Is it any wonder why Nestlé’s customer service has reached new levels over the past three years? Are there ways you can stimulate a stronger World-Class customer service culture?

Not making the customer wrongA favorite best practice I have learned from being a regular at Starbucks is how well they educate their customers in order for the customer to be able to adapt to their terminology, thus making their job more efficient. For example, if someone comes in and says, “I would like a big size, sugar-free vanilla, with non-fat milk, latte,” the Barista will confirm the order by saying something like, “certainly, you want a venti skinny vanilla latte.” This just taught the customer how to articulate their drink more quickly in Starbucks’ language, which reduces time and improves accuracy of the order. Best of all, the customer wasn’t made to feel stupid.

Quote of the week

“The biggest tragedy isn’t death — it is living without a sense purpose and a lack of passion. It is not being blind; it is having sight but no vision.”

~John DiJulius best-selling author, consultant, and keynote speaker, is the CVO of The DiJulius Group, the leading customer experience consulting firm in the nation. He blogs on customer experience trends and best practices. Learn more about The DiJulius Group or The Secret Service Summit, America’s #1 Customer Service Conference.

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In order to create brand loyalty and customer evangelists, you must operate at a high level in six distinct areas of business and constantly evaluate your company’s customer service across each category, separately, and as categories overlap:

1. Physical: Deals with the actual brick-and-mortar component of your operation. These are the physical elements that are more permanent or long term, that cannot be changed daily.

2. Setting: Refers to the controllable setting you create daily. As Disney says, “Everything speaks from the doorknobs to the dining rooms sends a message to the guest.”  The setting communicates a message about what you can provide your customers. This isn’t always visual, it may be the music your customers hear when they call and are placed on hold or the mood your web site creates. The setting reveals the characteristics of your business as they appeal to the five senses of your customer: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.

3. Functional: Refers to the ease of doing business with you-return policies, hours of operations, and other factors. Functionality has nothing to do with human interactions, such as being pleasant or saying please or thank you.

4. Technical: Refers to your staff ’s level of expertise in their particular skills and in the company’s systems and equipment, such as product and job knowledge. Again, this has nothing to do with whether they are nice.

5. Operational: Refers to the actions that team members must execute behind the scenes before, during, and after a customer’s experience. These actions assist in the day-to-day transactions with customers, the tasks, compliances, and duties of our jobs.

6. Experiential: Refers to the actions that team members execute while interacting with the customer. Those actions that make the customer say “WOW!” The customer is delightfully surprised. Experiential actions are the reason why customers return, refer others, and become brand evangelists. These include Secret Service, personalization, anticipating customer’s needs, and others.

Let’s look at some real-life examples of these components:

• Your server is the most incompetent waitress (technical) you have ever met, but she is trying her hardest and being extremely nice (experiential).
• The place needs a good paint job (physical).
• The store where you shop is always out of what you want (operational).
• Your favorite store is difficult to get to and has barely any parking (physical).
• This salon has high energy and always smells great (setting).
• The quality of the food (technical) is unfit for human consumption.
• An associate overheard that you really wanted a diet drink and ran across the street to the drugstore to get it for you (experiential).
• At the diner, everything is themed 1950s style (setting).
• It is impossible to get a human being on the phone. No matter what you try, you cannot get out of the company’s voice-mail maze (functionality).
• The company has a 24-hour answering service and guarantees a call
back within 60 minutes (functionality).

• My sales rep always screws up my order (technical).

Specific examples of each of these six components are:


Brick and mortar






Parking availability



Public areas

Floor coverings



Handicap accessible









Comfort of chairs,beds, etc.



Sound system

TV placement

Noise level



Hours of operation

Ease of doing business

Accessibility to a human being

Product selection

Design of your web site

How well you are staffed

Reliability of vendors


Payment options

Phone number on website


Employees level of


Speed of your technology


State of the art


Ability to use your website


Phone system


Product knowledge

Quality of product




Daily tasks


Dress code


Answering the phone


Checking people out

Processing orders

Functions of the job





Customer engagement


Above and beyond

Using the customer’s name

Remembering preferences

Presentation of food

Verbiage/vocabulary of staff


Willingness to help

Anticipating needs

Service recovery

Soft skills

An example of physical excellence would be the beauty of Disney parks or how The Cheesecake Factory restaurants are designed. Starbucks has mastered setting, from the comfortable, inviting furniture to how well they merchandise their cafes, just as Disney has mastered how well they theme their parks and hotels. A couple of great examples of Functional excellence are Nordstrom department stores and who have simplified the process of returning merchandise.

Cleanliness is a great example of operational excellence. When you are considering your customer’s experience, you need to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Consider a hospital room, or massage or facial room. Because patients and customers are lying down for extended periods of time, they may notice the condition of areas of the room employees never look at.

As for the sixth component of the customer’s experience, experiential excellence, there is no need to provide specific examples here because the rest of this book is focused on experiential standards.

Keep in mind that it is important to constantly review how customer friendly your company is in each department. With regards to training of new and existing employees, the majority of your training will deal primarily with technical, operational, and experiential.

The vast majority of companies focus their training on the technical with very little if any emphasis on the experiential. Having been fortunate to work with some of the best customer-service companies in the world, I have both learned and helped create some amazing training that truly prepares new employees to be able to provide a world-class experience, regardless of their backgrounds.

Are any of the components more important than another? No, all are critical and all need to be reviewed and tweaked on a regular basis. The components differ significantly in terms of required people skills training. Physical, setting and functionality have little to do with training or people skills, but the other three components absolutely do involve people skills and training. There is a difference, however, in the training required for each component. It is much easier to train employees on technical and operational skills; they are job-specific, and they include easy-to-train subjects, such as product knowledge, and checklists. Also, technical and operational skills tend to be present and thorough because of prior education, degrees, licensing, certifications, and trade schools.

Many industries today mandate continuing education credit hours. The vast majority of companies are weakest in the experiential category.

~John DiJulius best-selling author, consultant, and keynote speaker, is the CVO of The DiJulius Group, the leading customer experience consulting firm in the nation. He blogs on customer experience trends and best practices. John DiJulius is the innovator of a methodology called Secret Service a customer service system which consistently enables organizations to deliver World-Class Customer Experiences. Find out more about The DiJulius Group or The Secret Service Summit, the #1 National Customer Service Conference.


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John DiJulius

John DiJulius - Presenter at The 2010 Secret Service Summit

Recently a survey was conducted in the US and eleven other countries exploring attitude and preferences customers have toward who they spend their money with based on the customer service they experience (read the entire article).

Here is a summary of the findings.

  • The majority say customer service is even more important to them in today’s economic environment
  • 61% will spend an average of 9% more when they believe a company provides excellent service
  • Only 37% feel businesses have increased their focus on providing better customer service
  • 27% feel businesses have not changed their attitude toward customer service
  • 28% say companies are now paying less attention to good service
  • 91% consider the level of customer service important when deciding to do business with a company
  • 81% of consumers are likely to give a company repeat business after a good experience
  • 52% will never do business again with a company after receiving a poor experience
  • The three most influential factors when deciding which companies they do business with include:
    • Personal experience (98%)
    • A company’s reputation (92%)
    • Recommendations from family & friends (88%)
  • Just about half of consumers use online postings/blogs to get others’ opinions about a company’s customer service reputation

World-Class Customer Service Companies recognize the value
“Customers expect superior customer service especially in this tight economic environment,” says Jim Bush, Executive VP, World Service at American Express. “Many customers say companies haven’t done enough to improve their approach to customer service, yet it’s clear they’re willing to spend more with those who deliver excellent service, suggesting substantial growth opportunities for businesses that get customer service right. It’s important to see service as an investment, not a cost.”

“We know that luxurious touches don’t matter to guests unless the service surpasses the setting,” said Simon Cooper, president, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC. And Susan Reilly Salgado, managing director of Danny Meyer’s learning business, says, “Service is about the technical delivery of the product, while hospitality is about how guests feel during that transaction.”

How Service is Valued Globally
The report found that consumers from different countries feel that customer service has become more important to businesses in the current economy.

Consumers feel that companies have increased their focus on providing good customer service


  • India 65%
  • Japan 49%
  • Mexico 47%


  • Australia 29%
  • Germany 34%
  • Canada 35%
  • Italy 35%

In summary, customer loyalty is the strongest asset a company can have in any economy.  There are significant growth opportunities for companies that want to compete on the experience they deliver versus getting caught up in the price wars.  There are fewer players competing in the experience arena. Customer Service must be viewed as an investment, not an expense!

~John DiJulius best-selling author, consultant, and keynote speaker, is the CVO of The DiJulius Group, the leading customer experience consulting firm in the nation. He blogs on customer experience trends and best practices. John DiJulius is the innovator of a methodology called Secret Service a customer service system which consistently enables organizations to deliver World-Class Customer Experiences. Find out more about The DiJulius Group or The Secret Service Summit, the #1 National Customer Service Conference.


John DiJulius

John DiJulius

[tweetmeme source=””]Quality training must include systems and processes that remove variation and provide a consistent customer experience.  A common misconception is that the only way to get better people is to pay more than everyone else. There are many great examples of world-class companies who do not necessarily pay better than their competitors. In fact, employees at Disney, Starbucks and Nordstrom are hired from the same labor pool every other organization uses and are paid the going rates. The real reason why Disney employees are so good at customer service is how well they are transformed into Walt Disney Cast Members, which occurs in their training.  In most cases, the most recently hired, least trained, lowest-paid employees deal with the customers the most.

What determines the consistency of delivering the experience is the quality of the systems and training that every new and existing employee goes through. Just like in sports, the contest, match, or game, is decided long before the actual event takes place. It is won in the practice and the preparation leading up to the event.

Inadequate training is definitely the biggest underlying reason for the inconsistency and scarcity of great customer service. Companies skimp on training because it costs money, but companies that invest in customer service by training their new employees reap great financial benefits.

To be a world-class customer service organization, your training should include the following:

  • A company orientation that covers company policy and the company’s history.
  • The functional components of the specific job.
  • The operational procedures of the job.
  • All technical training, including product knowledge, use of equipment/tools, software and other technology, plus scope of services.
  • Experiential training on soft skills (especially how to create relationships and personalize encounters), preventing customers from feeling like transactions, and customer recovery techniques.
  • On-the-job shadowing.
  • Testing and certification, including extensive testing on experiential skills.

Map the Customer’s Experience Journey

Identify all the significant points of interaction, called “stages,” that your customers may have with your company. Once you have mapped out your customer experience stages, you need to get your employees involved in helping to create what those stages should look like. You then break each stage down into four individual components:

1) Service Defects – All the things that can ruin the customer’s experience at this stage.

2) Operational Standards – All the tasks or jobs for each stage.

3) Experiential Standards – The actions that will create an exceptional experience and a raving fan.

4) Above-and-Beyond Opportunities – Common situations that we want our front-line employees to recognize and be prepared for in order to make a customer’s day.

Let your team help create this experience. Once you have your final version of service defects, standards, and above-and-beyond opportunities, you can create a training manual that all new employees get trained and tested on during their first two weeks with your company.

Action Plan
It is imperative for companies to ensure that every employee – new and existing – truly understands the organization’s Customer Experience Promise. The Customer Experience Promise is what the organization is supposed to deliver to their customers, consistently, at every stage of interaction. Every employee needs to understand the importance of each point of contact, what to avoid, the company’s non-negotiable standards that every customer must receive, and the potential opportunities to really “wow” them. Organizations need to make sure their Customer Experience Promise is structured in such a way that all employees learn, understand and execute it.

~John DiJulius best-selling author, consultant, and keynote speaker, is the CVO of The DiJulius Group, the leading customer experience consulting firm in the nation. He blogs on customer experience trends and best practices. John DiJulius is the innovator of a methodology called Secret Service a customer service system which consistently enables organizations to deliver World-Class Customer Experiences. Find out more about The DiJulius Group or The Secret Service Summit, the #1 National Customer Service Conference.


[tweetmeme source=””]Your customer service has many legs and pockets.   It is not only the way your employees interact with your customers, but it’s all the messages being sent to your customers in countless ways. Everything speaks: verbal cues, systems, technology, physical signage, uniforms, etc.  It is imperative you take a step back and review any negative cues that are making your business appear less than world class.

Verbal – Medical practices are the leaders in negative cues of all kinds. First, negative verbal cues: when a patient is checking in and the receptionist says, “We need to VERIFY your information.”  Verify makes me feel like they don’t believe who I am; that maybe I am trying to use someone else’s insurance information.  How about saying, “we need to CONFIRM your information?”  Another example is when a patient is being seen by a doctor and a nurse comes into the room during the exam and says, “Your 10:30 is here,” or “You have a call on line 2.” At that point I am convinced the doctor is now rushing and more concerned with the patient waiting rather than focusing on me. Some great medical practices have created both verbal and non-verbal codes for this.

Signage has by far the highest occurrence of negative cues.  I have collected so many examples over the years and am constantly receiving more each week from all of you.  Businesses are so concerned about getting taken advantage of by 2% of customers that they end up insulting 98% with threatening signage.  Here are just a few examples:

This is an actual sign on the glass door at the entrance to a high-end wine bar located in a beautiful shopping area.  There are 12 things they tell you that you cannot wear. But they have a line underneath it all that says, “Business casual or business attire is suggested.”  Couldn’t they have just put that on the door?

This one is so popular that actually sells it!  I have another one that says, “No English, No Service!”

I was recently speaking to a group in Sydney Australia, where a partner of one of the most successful real estate companies in Sydney approached me. The partner confessed that he has some negative cues.  When they have an open house for potential buyers, they display the following sign on the door that reads, “CONDITIONS OF ENTRY,” and it proceeds to tell you that you cannot enter with food or drink or shoes or unaccompanied children or a slew of others barriers to viewing the house.  I was so excited when this gentleman said, “I realized we could position this notice in a more positive way by saying:

Out of respect for the homeowner, we appreciate your removing shoes…

He got it!

On Stage vs. Off Stage
Do your employees really know what is considered on stage and off stage? I recently worked with some QSRs (quick-service restaurants) and after touring some of their locations, I repeatedly saw their employees on break, standing in front of the restaurant where customers were walking by, smoking.  This goes back to last week’s service aptitude article.  This is not their fault.   To them, they are on break and can do what they want.  It is management’s responsibility to make them aware that even though they are not interacting with customers while on break, if they are in uniform where customers can see them, they are “on stage.”  This can apply to all our businesses. I worked with a hospital and found nurses chatting behind the nurses’ station forgetting that they still can be seen and heard by patients and their visitors.

It is critical that you do a periodic review of the negative cues that can be expressed in numerous ways and can project a less than world-class image.

About the Author
~John DiJulius is President and Chief Visionary Officer of  The DiJulius Group, a customer experience consulting firm used by top organizations, to create, develop, and improve their customer service systems. Our customer service consulting engagements help improve and maintain a healthier corporate culture and performance; lower employee turnover costs; increase customer retention factors; generate more referrals and make price less relevant. Companies across the world use The DiJulius Group to create World-Class Customer Experiences every day.  John will be a presenter at The Secret Service Summit 2010.

Wow Your Customers 3 Keys for Delivering Great Customer Service

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The term “customer service” evokes different images in people’s minds. One image could be that of friendly, smiling, helpful employees who go out of their way to serve you. Or it could be the opposite – indifferent, unfriendly employees who can’t wait for you to leave or hang up the phone.

Most people can recall many examples of poor customer service. Whether it’s the help desk employee that puts you on hold for 20 minutes or the store cashier who engages in a personal conversation instead of ringing up your purchase, poor customer service can make people feel frustrated and vow never to do business with that company again.

On the other hand, great service feels like a gift. It makes us want to continue to do business with an organization over the long haul. And that alone is the secret to business success – retaining customers by providing great customer service. With so much competition out there, customer loyalty is the single most important attribute your business can have. You achieve loyalty by doing the “little things” that make customers want to deal with you again and again and recommend you to their friends. The real difference is how a business makes their customers feel. If customers feel valued, most will remain loyal. If they feel under-valued, sooner or later they will defect to a competitor.

Several reasons exist for why customers defect from a company. The customer may move away, a competitor may lure them away, or they may leave because they are unhappy with the product. However, a recent study found that a whopping sixty-eight percent of customers who defect do so because of poor service. That’s a sobering statistic. The study further noted how customers defined poor service: “an attitude of indifference on the part of employees.” So while bad service certainly causes customers to leave, indifferent service can be just as detrimental.

With every two out of three customers citing poor customer service as a reason for leaving, what can your company do to achieve customer loyalty? Assuming your products and prices are competitive, you need to focus on providing superior customer service in order to gain loyalty. To do that, here are three simple steps to help you make sure your customers stay with your company.

1) Look through the “lens of the customer”

No matter what industry you’re in, chances are that you interact with customers at some level. Realize that customers can be shoppers at a store, patrons at a bank, patients of a doctor, clients of a law firm, etc. Because customers have their choice of where to obtain goods or services, the business has to convince the customer that they truly care. An engaged, caring employee raises the customer’s confidence that the business is looking out for the customer’s interests. When that employee suggests a new product or service, the customer trusts that his or her best interest is at heart. On the flip side, if the customer senses a lack of caring, he/she will question the motives behind any recommendations.

Every business has its jargon, so be careful to speak in a language that customers understand. Successful businesses speak the language of the customer, not the language of their own industry. Take, for example, the banking industry. Would a young couple buying their first house be looking through the same lens as a customer who buys and sells real estate for a living? Of course not. That young couple purchasing their first house is excited and nervous – that is the lens with which they are experiencing this purchase. Therefore, they need loan officers who are excited for them, who explain the terms in everyday language, and who provide information that will make their buying experience easier. A bank that shows that level of care is likely to earn that young couple’s ongoing business.

The same applies for customer complaints, which can be frustrating for customers and employees alike. As employees, we often can’t understand why a customer is making such a big deal about a particular issue. Didn’t the customer read the contract? (Probably not.) Doesn’t the customer understand that researching a problem takes time? (No, they don’t.) Remember, it’s not the customer’s job to see through the business’s lens; it’s the business’s job to see through the customer’s lens and show an understanding of the customer’s frustration.

Next time you are working with a customer, stop and ask yourself: “Am I seeing this experience through the customer’s lens?”

2) When it comes to a company’s environment, recognize that “everything speaks”

Imagine visiting a fine dining restaurant for a special occasion. You’ve been looking forward to the meal and you’ve heard good things about the restaurant. Then imagine noticing something crusty dried to your silverware and old lipstick marks on your water glass. Wouldn’t you begin worrying about the cleanliness and quality of everything else in the restaurant? Everything speaks!
Now imagine a customer entering your place of business. She notices trash in the parking lot. When she enters the reception area, she sees delivery boxes stacked by the receptionist’s desk. She sees employees standing around eating and having personal conversations. All of this detracts from your business’s image. Consciously or unconsciously, the customer’s antennae go up and makes them question, “Do I really want to spend my money here?”

The “everything speaks” philosophy means that all employees understand that even the little things count. So pay attention to everything, including whether the physical environment is neat and clean, whether all necessary supplies are available, whether the employees are dressed appropriately, etc. Anything that sticks out as “wrong” becomes an intrusion on the customer experience. These intrusions add up and result in customer concern. On the other hand, when customers sense an atmosphere of professionalism, care, and order, they feel a sense of confidence.

How many times have you seen employees in a business walk right by trash on the floor or a display that has been bumped out of alignment? Employees who understand that everything speaks will take a moment to pick up some wadded paper and straighten the display because they know that such behaviors have a direct impact on the customer experience.

Take a moment to think about your company’s environment. Since everything speaks, what are the details saying about your organization?

3) Create customer “wows”

Small gestures can create customer wows. Consider the housekeepers working in the hotels at Walt Disney World. Housekeepers have a tough job. Cleaning up after people on vacation is a challenge. Even in such a challenging job, Disney’s housekeepers will do little things that make guests say, “Wow.” For example, while spending a day in the Magic Kingdom children will often leave their stuffed Disney characters in their hotel room. Housekeepers have been known to position the characters with playing cards in their hands or tuck the characters into the children’s bed to create a moment of magic.

Employees can do many things to create wows. Remembering a customer’s name is a huge wow, creating a feeling of family. Letting a customer know that another product may better meet their needs is another wow. Sending a goody basket with a handwritten note to that young couple who just took out their first mortgage is a wow. Some wows are small and some are large, but make no mistake about it – wows add up.

One of the most powerful ways to create wows is to share best practices with fellow employees. Hold a company meeting so employees can share things that they have done that dazzled customers. Just talking about these behaviors increases the likelihood that others will adopt some of the practices or create new ones of their own. It is also likely that some wows can become standard procedure, whether it’s a grocery store bakery handing out fresh-baked cookies to children, or salespeople escorting customers to a product rather than simply pointing.

Next time you’re helping a customer, ask yourself, “Will my behaviors make this customer say or think, ‘wow’?”

Take Action Now

Excellent service is not about policy manuals. Excellent service is about excellent behaviors. When employees focus on excellent service, the results can be magical. Customers are happy, employees are happy, and shareholders are happy. Everyone wins. The key is to make service excellence a habit. Encourage every employee to internalize the above steps so they become habits. When employees focus on these principles, your company will achieve the most powerful result of all – intense customer loyalty.

About the Author
~Dennis Snow is a a speaker at The 2010 Secret Service Summit business author, speaker, and consultant who helps organizations develop world-class customer service. He is the author of two books, “Lessons From the Mouse: A Guide for Applying Disney World’s Secrets of Success to Your Organization, Your Career, and Your Life” (DC Press), and “Unleashing Excellence: The Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service.” (Wiley). Dennis can be reached at, or at 407.294.1855.

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