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What Is Good Customer Service?
Three Principles for Getting Customers for Life.

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Last month, I checked in at the Donovan House hotel in Washington, D.C.

I stay there every single time I’m in town, and when I got to my room, I was reminded why:

Dear Special Agent… Dear Special Agent…

As far as their balance sheet is concerned, there are customers much more valuable than me. Others log 40 or more nights per year at the property, while I’m only there a few times.

And yet every time I check in at the Donovan House, someone takes the time to handwrite a genuine, human note to make me feel special.

Their rooms, their amenities and their rates are not all that unique in D.C.

(That is, of course, other than having the coolest showers ever. Seriously. I’m convinced these are built to blast off and function as escape pods should our capitol come under siege.)

But because of their excellent customer service — and simple gestures like the handwritten notes — they have a customer for life.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

Think back to the last time you had a really amazing customer service experience.

If I asked you, “what did the support agent say to you?”, you probably wouldn’t remember.

But if I asked you how you felt coming away from the interaction, you’d recall it instantly.

I felt like they went out of their way to help me.

I felt like I was talking to a human, not a corporate robot.

I felt like they really cared about me as a person, and not just as a customer.

Anybody can answer a customer’s question and even solve their problem.

But if you make them feel like your interaction was special, they’ll never forget it.

A McKinsey study found that 70% of buying decisions are made based on how a customer feels the business treats them.

Consistently good customer service — always treating your customers well — gets you customers for life.

How to Deliver the Best Customer Service in Your Market

There are hundreds of customer service “tips” all over the internet.

(You know what I’m talking about: Use positive language! Never tell the customer they’re wrong! Always follow up! )

A small number of them are really good, even.

But the truth is, you can read about and try new tactics all day, and it won’t help you become the business in your market that’s known for great customer service.

That’s because until you and your entire team internalize and master the three fundamental principles of good customer service, tactics can only get you so far.

But once you’ve laid a bulletproof foundation and are applying the three principles to every single support interaction, you’ll begin to see reactions from your customers that will actually help your business grow.

You’ll see Tweets about the amazing support you’ve delivered.

You’ll find that customers are referring you more often and more enthusiastically.

You’ll get emails from customers telling you that your support has driven them to keep doing business with you, or to increase the amount of business they do with you.

These principles are simple and straightforward, but they do take a bit more effort than simply phoning it in and “helping” your customers.

But if you’re interested in delivering customer service that actually grows your business, then read on…

The Three Fundamental Principles of Good Customer Service

At Groove, we like to think of the three principles as stages in the support interaction lifecycle:

1) Empathy

Imagine that an app you use — one that’s really important to your business — isn’t behaving the way you want it to. Maybe you can’t access it at all.

Annoyed and frustrated, you reach out to the company.

“Thank you for emailing Acme Corp. Your message has been received. Someone will reply to you within 24-48 hours.”

(Aside from the company name, a real email I got last week)

Compare that to the culture of empathy that Derek Sivers built at CD Baby:

If someone would call, saying, “I’d like to talk with someone about selling my music through you,” we’d say, “Sure. I can help. What’s your name? Cool. Got a website? Can I see it? Is that you on the home page there? Very cool. Is that a real Les Paul? Awesome. Here, let me listen to a bit of the music. Nice, I like what you’re doing. Very syncopated. Great groove. Anyway… so… what would you like to know?”

I can tell you from my own experience of being a self-promoting musician for 15 years that it’s SO hard to get anyone to listen to your music. So when someone takes even a couple minutes to listen to you, it’s so touching that you remember it for life.

The first stage (and the first principle) of good customer service is to be empathetic; to put yourself in the customer’s shoes, understand and appreciate who they are and how they feel, and to communicate that empathy in the way you talk to them.

2) Next-Level Helpfulness

This one is less obvious than it seems.

When most businesses answer support requests, they do it to be helpful.

Customer: I’d like to add my colleague, Mike, to our account.

Most Support Agents: Sure, he’s now added to your account. Thanks!

That’s called being helpful.

It resolves the customer’s issue. No more, no less.

That’s helpful enough if you want to deliver average customer service.

But to be great, practice next-level helpfulness.

You’ve already answered the customer’s question. What’s the next step you can take to be even more helpful?

Can you anticipate something else the customer needs, and proactively help them fulfill that need?

In the example above, next-level helpfulness might look like this:

Customer: I’d like to add my colleague, Mike, to our account.

Most Support Agents: Sure, he’s now added to your account. Thanks!

You: Sure, he’s now added to your account. I’ve also gone ahead and emailed him a new tutorial we’ve been working on to help him get started. It’s right here if you want to check it out :)

See the difference?

When a lot of people talk about proactive helpfulness, they throw out examples of grand, theatrical gestures, like the Morton’s airport delivery from Peter Shankman’s The Best Customer Service Story Ever Told.

But next-level helpfulness doesn’t have to be a monumental gesture; simply building it into every support interaction as a regular “little touch” can be incredibly valuable.

All you need to do is ask yourself: what would be the next natural need I can help this customer with?

I use WP Curve to manage my own WordPress blog. They send me emails like this one:

They don’t ask me if there’s “anything else they can help with.” They do the work, and it takes me zero effort to get more value out of our relationship.

As a result, I’m a happy, long-term customer.

Next-level helpfulness is going the extra mile; solving your customer’s issue, and then going one step further.

3) Delight

If you’ve communicated empathy and exercised next-level helpfulness, you’re two-thirds of the way to becoming the kind of company that customers rave to their friends about.

The last principle — the one that’s going to turn happy customers into raving fans — is delight.

Delight moves mountains. It’s what drives the stories of extraordinary customer service that you see shared around the web from companies like Zappos, Nordstrom and Morton’s.

Why does delight work?

Science.

You see, there’s a psychological concept called reciprocity. The idea is that if someone does something nice for us, we’ll probably do nice things for them (and vice versa).

It seems like a ridiculously simple concept, but it actually plays a huge role in our daily lives.

One study observed that when restaurants waiters brought candy when they gave diners their checks, tips went up.

What’s more, when the waiters came back afterwards with extra candy — delighting the customers — the tips got even bigger.

Delight your customers with “candy”: something extra that they didn’t expect, whether it’s free content that isn’t available anywhere else, a promo code or any other small gift.

One example of delight that any company can use is the same one that the Donovan House used on me: handwritten notes.

Groove is a SaaS company, but we get our customers’ physical mailing address when they sign up.

Often, we’ll surprise customers who email us for support with handwritten notes, or other small gifts. Not surprisingly, it makes people feel good when an online company sends something as personal as a handwritten note:

Handwritten Note Handwritten Note

A low-cost gift that delivers thousands of dollars in ROI over the lifetime of a customer? I’ll take it.

Which brings us to…

Why Is This Important? (AKA What’s the ROI of Good Customer Service?)

You can have average customer service and grow your business.

You can even have bad customer service and still grow.

So why bother making the extra effort to be excellent to your customers?

(Aside from the fact that it’s simply the right thing to do.)

Think about the companies who have your business, and who you’ve had average or terrible support experiences with.

There’s a good chance that you’re doing business with those companies for one of two reasons:

1) Their product is the best one for the amount you’re willing to pay. What would happen if someone else came along with a better product at the same price, or cheaper?

It’d be pretty easy to say goodbye.

2) You don’t have a choice. Why are cable companies and utilities consistently get voted as having the worst customer service? Because they don’t care, and they don’t have to care. If you want cable and there’s only one company running lines to your home, they’re going to get your business regardless.

In either of those scenarios, you may be a customer, but you’re certainly not a loyal customer.

Now think about the companies you do business with who’ve delivered awesome, memorable support experiences consistently

Do you still shop around for better options whenever you can?

If you’re like most people, absolutely not.

For companies with bad support, customer service is a cost center.

But look at the ROI for companies who deliver good customer service:

When your customer service is good, your customers come back: 81% of customers are more likely to do repeat business with a company after a good customer service experience.

When your customer service is good, your customers spend more: One study by Harris Interaactive suggests that 85% of customers are willing to spend up to 25% more money if it means a superior customer service experience.

When your customer service is good, your customers tell their friends. In 2011, an American Express survey found that customers tell, on average, 9 people about good customer service experiences.

When your customer service is good, your competitors’ customers are more likely to switch: The same American Express survey found that nearly 60% of customers said that they would try a new brand or company for a better service experience.

Join us on a NEW journey

If you’ve been following Alex’s blog on our journey to $100K in monthly recurring revenue, then you already know that producing valuable, actionable content for small businesses is very, very important to us.

With this blog, we’re taking the next step, and starting a new journey to help startups and small businesses realize the true benefits of amazing customer service: higher retention, lower churn, and more valuable customers for life.

We'll be publishing new posts each week to help you improve your customer service skills.

I promise to do my absolute best to make you thrilled that you signed up.

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About the Author

Len Markidan heads up marketing at Groove. He’s focused on helping startups and small businesses build better relationships with their customers.

Read his latest posts or follow him on Twitter

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