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How Memorable Is Your Company?

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Lots of companies claim to understand the importance of creating a memorable customer experience, but few of them actually put that knowledge to use with their customer service programs. Today, let's take a look at five organizations that do "get it" and see how you can incorporate their practices into your business.

1. The Ritz-Carlton is a classic benchmark organization when you talk about customer service. Their motto is, in part, "we are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen." Everyone within their organization is treated with respect and they in turn show great respect to their guests.

After checking in to the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City in Virginia, we noticed that our room lighting was much brighter than in other hotels. The mattress, padding and pillows were more comfy and the little card next to the bed claimed they were "allergy-free" and "hyperclean." Indeed, Ed did sleep better than he typically does in hotel rooms. I needed a nail clipper and a toothbrush and both were provided for no charge. But the one thing that really impressed me was that my husband had mentioned in passing to the woman at the front desk that it was my birthday. We returned to our room after dinner to find a plate of chocolate covered strawberries, a bottle of champagne chilling in a bucket and a handwritten note card of birthday wishes, "on behalf of the ladies and gentlemen of the Ritz-Carlton" and signed by the front desk agent. How cool is that? I've been telling people about that experience all week.

All of these "little" details add up to an outstanding overall experience. What can you do in your business? Pay attention to all the seemingly insignificant details. People do notice and the small stuff can make a huge difference.

2. Southwest Airlines is an anomaly in an industry that has recorded losses throughout its existence. They've been in business for more than 34 years and have been profitable every year since 1972, and every quarter since September 11, 2001. Sure a business model that was built around low costs and low fares, their ontime record and excellent customer service are key factors to their success. But the most distinguishing characteristic is their people. Heard that one before? This is one company that walks their talk. Unlike at most companies, Southwest's employees seem to like coming to work; they make their jobs fun and they transfer that feeling to the passengers. They joke around with passengers, dress more casually than their competitors and create as enjoyable an experience as you can have in air travel these days.

How can you transfer this to your business? Lighten up, have fun with your customers. Business doesn't have to be so deadly serious all the time.

3. USAA is an insurance and financial services company that serves only military personnel, their families, former spouses and adult children. They refer to their customers as "members" and once you become a member, you are eligible to use their services for life. In 2005, "Fast Company" magazine's "Customer First" awards recognized USAA as an "employee innovator," a company that most understands the link between happy employees and happy customers. (seeing a trend here?)

Based on personal experience, USAA's service reps are knowledgeable, courteous and efficient. They make helpful recommendations, even if it's more in my best interest than their bottom line, and they go out of their way to do what they say they're going to do. I probably pay more for my car insurance than I could, but I'd rather work with a company I know will take care of me when I need them.

What can you take away and use? Always do what you say you're going to do (and maybe even a little more).

4. Starbucks started out with the purpose of bringing the Italian coffeehouse experience and fresh roasted coffee to Seattle. They made sure each new hire (or partner as they call their employees) became a knowledgeable barista who could answer customers' questions about the coffee and make recommendations. Along the way they learned that people were coming not only for the java, but for the community atmosphere as well. They recognized this trend and capitalized on it, making the environment even more inviting with comfortable chairs, hip music, wireless internet access, etc.

Starbucks has become a great meeting place, a work space or a relaxation zone for lots of people who may not even like their coffee (that would include me). Today Starbucks is more of an experience vs. just a place to pick up coffee.

What can you do with this info? Remember that more than selling a specific product or service, you're creating an experience for your customers.

5. Moe's Southwest Grill serves fresh burritos, tacos, fajitas and other southwestern fare with a flare that you don't find in other fast food fresh mex places. First of all, every time someone opens the door to enter, at least one person from behind the counter yells, "Welcome to Moe's!" Check out the menu and you'll see items with names like "Joey Bag of Donuts" (a burrito), "The Full Monty" (a taco) and "Blabbermouth Soup" (a frozen lime margarita). You can't help but laugh when you order "The Ugly Naked Guy" with black beans and chicken.

The customer acknowledgement doesn't stop at the front door. As one of the country's fastest growing franchises, Moe's uses franchisee and customer input to drive store and product planning. What can you take out from Moe's? Go out of your way to acknowledge clients and their ideas.

Work any and all of these "lessons" into your business and you'll find your clients will be more loyal and your business will be stronger.

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