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Exceptional Customer Service: Exceeding Customer Expectations

I define exceptional customer service as:

Exceptional customer service involves exceeding customer expectations, where the standards and level of service received exceed what the customer could reasonably define as normal or expected.

It is very hard to measure, as the standards rise with each initiative or innovation designed and implemented by your competitors. What might have been acceptable three years ago might not be acceptable today.

Exceptional customer service prompts customers to share their experiences with others. Estimates vary, but the general consensus is a bad experience is more likely to be shared. You have to have performed very well to have a customer talk enthusiastically about a positive experience. If you receive a written thank you, you have done very well, particularly if it is not prompted in any way (for example, by a customer survey card).

Different standards
Superior customer service is slightly different. This involves consistently meeting the high standards set.

Guests have certain expectations when they check into a five star hotel. They have different expectations when they check into a three star hotel. In both cases, they expect a certain standard of service delivered with 100% consistency. Exceptional customer service will occur if the guests feel they are receiving five star service in a three star establishment.

Exceptional organisations
Most good organisations 'get it right' most of the time. Exceptional organisations 'get it right' 100% of the time.

It takes constant attention and vigilance. It also takes consistent attention to detail.

Exceptional systems
The slightest hiccup can cause problems. I heard the story of someone who visited their bank branch recently. They had received a letter advising that their new credit card was ready to be collected from their local bank branch. When they went, it was not there, which caused a great deal of inconvenience and annoyance.

The co-ordination of different systems takes a lot of work. I wondered if the bank teller reported that the credit card was not ready. If they didn't, it was a missed opportunity.

Exceptional companies have comprehensive feedback and reporting systems in place. If it happens once or twice, it may be a hiccup. If it happens regularly, it may be the indication of a real problem. The problem has to be reported and someone has to investigate it.

One of the major banks here in Australia recently had to repay millions of dollars to customers because of an error in a computer program that calculated a tax liability. Apparently, a number of customers had picked up the error. The bank had corrected these cases. The bank's internal systems failed to identify the error as systematic.

My initial training and work experience has always taught me to be cautious and look for possible system problems.

It may have been my auditing experience with a firm of accountants. It may have been the many problems I discovered when acceptance testing various computer systems.

What ever it was, I operate on the basis that no system is perfect - there is always room for refinement and improvement.

Exceptional organisations realise this. Their staff constantly monitor and review. They revise their standards, setting higher targets each time.

Derek Stockley is a training, learning and performance management consultant based in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, serving government, business and the not-for-profit sector. Derek is the Director of Achieve ABC Pty Ltd. AABC stands for: Achieve Actual Behaviour Change.

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