I am often asked how I define exceptional customer service. Here it is in a nutshell: speed, price, and technology - all built around service. That definition is especially appropriate today, given the fast-paced life we live and the budget constraints many of us face. When we are looking to make a purchase, we want to do it conveniently, we want it now, and we want it at a good price. That is true whether we are purchasing a car or carpet cleaning, an air conditioner or airline tickets.
How do you provide that exceptional service? Take a good look at how you deal with your customers, from initial contact to closing the deal. Are you welcoming, whether customers walk through your physical or virtual doors? Do you call them by name? Do you have a smile on your face and in your face? Do you provide the information that will help them make an informed decision regarding their purchase? Do you deliver what you say you will as quickly as possible?
Let me give you examples of three companies that go above and beyond to not only meet, but exceed, customer expectations. At Metro Bank in London, you can open an account in just 15 minutes, complete with checks, a debit card, and an account password. At other banks, that process would take at least two days.
Metro Bank has the most sophisticated technology of any bank in London, but it also focuses on the human touch. Real people answer its phones in one to two rings 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also competes on price: customer checks are free, and customers can use their debit cards throughout the world -with no fees.
Metro Bank's focus on speed, technology, and price has proven to be more than a little successful. It opened July 29, 2010 and today has more than 130,000 accounts and $2 billion in assets. It projects that it will have at least 5,000 employees and 200 offices in the greater London area by 2020.
Apple, the most valuable company in the United States - with more than $7,000 in sales per square foot at its Apple Stores - bases everything it does on speed. Walk into one of its stores and an employee immediately greets you and asks what type of help you need. The employee then enters your information into a handheld device and, when your name is called, another employee accesses that information and is ready to help you.
Apple's focus on its products, and on going above and beyond in meeting its customers' needs, has made it a service leader. It bases all of its product innovations on speed and, because it has such a strong brand, customers are willing to pay more for those products. And those customers flock to its stores. In fact, each Apple Store averages 5,400 customer visits per week.
Amazon is another company that has realized great success by focusing on speed, price, technology, and service. The company constantly attempts to eliminate cost - and then passes those savings on to its customers, which results in prices that other companies have no chance of competing with. In fact, Amazon is so competitive that is has software that customers can use to scan a bar code in a retail store to see if Amazon has a better price for a specific product.
When it comes to speed, you'd be hard pressed to find any company that would beat Amazon. I get confirmation of my orders immediately and am notified when my order has been shipped. The company also offers its prime members free shipping and no sales tax.
Everything Amazon does, it does to make buying its products easy for the customer. Combine that ease with state-of-the-art technology and prices that are almost impossible to beat, and you can see why Amazon had $41 billion in sales during 2011, a 41 percent increase over 2010.
These three companies - Metro Bank, Apple, and Amazon - have incredible value because they create incredible value for their customers. They have mastered the customer experience. What value do you offer your customers? Is it enough to keep them coming back to you? If you want to ensure the success of your business, give your customers the type of service that will keep them loyal for life.
John Tschohl is founder and president of the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis. Described by USA Today, Time, and Entrepreneur as a "customer service guru," he has written several books on customer service and has developed more than 26 customer-service training programs that have been distributed throughout the world. His monthly strategic newsletter is available online at www.customer-service.com. Contact him at 952-884-3311 or firstname.lastname@example.org.