Before we jump into this topic, I want to make one thing clear — there’s a HUGE difference between exceptional customer service and over-the-top, trying-too-hard, acting-like-the-nice-guy-in-high-school-who-just-wants-your-vote-for-class-president customer service.
Over-the-top customer service doesn’t work, and is probably a waste of your time.
When I say exceptional customer service, what I really mean is customer service that fosters brand loyalty by meeting the needs of the customer with as few problems during the experience as possible.
It’s customer service with foresight, where the business providing customer service both anticipates and meets the needs of their customers in a smooth, frictionless manner without the customer needing to push, prod, ask, or beg for the brand to solve their problem.
Let me give you some examples to help clearly delineate what I’m talking about here:
Let’s Start with the Bad One
So my first example is totally not real life and totally has nothing to do with anything I’ve ever experienced myself before with a certain video game maybe/probably called Boreframe.
Anyway, so this totally-fake and not-at-all-real example concerns a customer (who is definitely not me) who may have made the mistake of accidentally violating the EULA (end user license agreement) and who may (or may not!) have had their account suspended because they foolishly purchased in-game currency from a hacker-thief-type-person.
So this customer makes a mistake, breaks the rules, and gets banned.
Said person then gets a message after his attempted login to this video game that their account is suspended and they need to go to the support center on the website to even find out why.
No explanation other than a cryptic message on the login screen that only an employee would understand.
So, after an exhaustive process, this absolutely-not-me customer-type-person finally gets an email explanation (quickly, in about 24 hours or less) that EULA was violated and an exorbitant price was required to bring the account back into the black.
Where’s the customer service failure? This is it — the failure to properly warn customers of a potentially huge hazard that would stop their entire service.
Why should buying in-game currency from non-game developers require a specific warning?
A just question my liege.
Because, in this industry, purchasing in-game currency from third parties is incredibly common.
Many, many, many video games like Boreframe have thriving game-based economies, and it is quite common for enterprising individuals to collect and sell in-game currency.
So here we have a simple problem with a simple solution — something that’s commonplace is not allowed with a particular service.
The solution is to make prominent warnings (and, you know, maybe just give a slap on the wrist the first time you violate the EULA and its super-secret clause about such things.)
But the lack of prominent warnings and the harsh penalty led to the following:
- The purchase of currency from a third party that prevented the service from collecting rightfully deserved money in the first place (remember, this all could have been prevented if it had been clear it wasn’t allowed)
- A dispute by this 100%-fictional customer with the firm
- The loss of service and hard feelings on the part of the customer
- The loss of a once-loyal customer from the firm
Both sides lose, both sides are sore at each other, and the scammer-thief-jerkface laughs all the way to the bank.
And, at the end of the day, whether firms like it or not, the burden is on the firm, not the customer to make sure all forms of communication are clear and that all problems are handled. This could have gone very differently and ended with a loyal customer, but instead, it ended with lost business.
And that’s stupid for both sides.
Now, let’s talk about an example of excellent customer service.
#1 The Movie Store
Bad customer service is distasteful — blargh!
Let us wipe our hands of this naughty business and talk about some examples of exceptional customer service, shall we?
So the other day, I’m sitting at home, agonizing over the existential angst of choosing between fruit salad for lunch or the cake I secretly crave for all meals all the time, when suddenly, I get a phone call.
It’s from the movie store.
And I think “Oh boy, here we go — darn late fees!”
I already have a negative expectation, which is about to be smashed to bits.
What do I get instead? An exceptionally lovely voice that brightly asks how I’m doing.
“Hello Mr. Fout, how are you?! I’m just calling to let you know that if you come into the store in the next two weeks, we’ll give you half off on all your rentals and wipe out any late fees you have! How does that sound?!”
I was flabbergasted, gobsmacked, dumbfounded, and blown away.
I said “Well that’s just great! Thank you!”
And she said, “You’re very welcome, looking forward to seeing you soon!”
Now, to my great shame, I never took advantage of this offer (we just moved, and they’re 40 minutes away when traffic is good, so yeah, not gonna happen), BUT, I can tell you, without a doubt, that I will not only be strongly recommending this particular store to all of my friends in the area, but also, if I ever move back there, regardless of the fact that the offer is long past, I will certainly be shopping with them again.
Even though I have the Netflix and the HBO Go and such.
Let’s analyze this situation: What did they do that was so exceptional?
They went out of their way to, basically, combine a cold call with a promotional offer to get business in the door.
Except it wasn’t quite a cold call because I’m a customer who just hasn’t been in for a while, so more of a warm-ish call, but still — a bold move.
Further, they addressed what is probably the biggest pain point for customers in that business — late fees.
I hate them. You hate them. They probably hate them too.
So, for a limited time, they eliminated the pain on the condition that I re-rent Carpenter’s The Thing or something.
And really, this is a beautiful example of the old adage, “It’s the thought that counts.”
Because even though I didn’t take advantage of the offer, I now think differently about the brand.
As Bezos famously put it, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
And what I’m saying about Family Video in Keller Texas is that they’re awesome, and I recommend them to everyone forever.
They didn’t really go over the top in this case — they just offered me a little promotion. They could have given me some kind of weird “experience,” which frankly sounds creepy and is usually what you see when people talk about over-the-top customer service.
No, instead, they reached out, did something nice, and solved a problem that I had forgotten I had — because I may or may not have had some late fees over there.
How about another example?
#2 The River Rafters
This example of phenomenal customer service also happened recently, and it really was phenomenal (and led me to leave an excessively large tip).
So, for those who aren’t up-to-date on the solar happenings of North America, the U.S. just had its first full solar eclipse in, like, 38 years.
And people. Freaked. OUT.
My wife and I went to the great state of Wyoming to see it, and since it lasted for approximately 2.5 minutes, we had to find something else to do for the other 6 days we were there.
So we went river rafting with good ole’ Dave Hanson, and it was awesome.
If you’ve never done one of these things, it basically goes like this — you meet at the place with a bunch of other people, you all pile on a school bus with no seat belts, you cruise it to the river, you split up into a couple rafts, and you ride the rafts down the river.
This was a Scenic Float Trip (which I highly recommend), and it was beautiful.
We learned very quickly that, amongst our lovely new float trip friends, were several families with small children.
Very small, very loud, very annoying children, who, apparently, had deep, undiscovered fears about riding in rafts on rivers.
After they spent the little bus ride screaming at the top of their lungs about Sponge Bob or god knows what, we got to the rafts, and they began to scream in earnest about the raft and the water and such, much to the chagrin of all the adults (especially their poor, godforsaken parents).
The children could not be consoled, and my wife and I began praying as hard as we could to NOT end up in a raft with small, terrified, children.
However, that frankly seemed like a complete impossibility as there were several families, all saddled with little bundles of ear-splitting joy.
Here’s where the exceptional customer service comes in.
There were two rafts, and there were three families with kids, and then another couple (besides my wife and I) who had no kids, and an older woman on her own.
The guides (bless their humongous hearts) took one look at the situation and made an incredible decision (in my mind).
One of the poor sods said “OK! Families with kids in this boat, everyone else in the other boat.”
And that man sacrificed himself, for two hours, in the Screaming Child Boat, while the rest of us rode in relative peace in the other raft.
And we thanked the lord the whole way down.
But it gets better! Once we got on the river, we hauled butt.
And, though the screaming carried across the water farther than you would have ever thought possible, our River Captain and Savior rowed his little heart out and got us far enough away to feel relative peace.
I gave him a very large tip.
Why Was This Exceptional Customer Service?
I’ll tell you why — and truly, this sticks in my mind as one of the greatest examples of exceptional customer service that I’ve ever seen.
They could have split up the families — the families with kids didn’t seem to really know each other.
They could have split the burden between the two of them and made everyone miserable.
They could have put in earplugs and ignored us for two hours.
They could have yelled and screamed at the children.
They could have cancelled the whole thing if the kids didn’t behave.
They could have done many things that, frankly, they would have been completely within their rights to do.
But they didn’t.
However, they also didn’t go over-the-top.
They could have gone crazy and offered one of those over-the-top, adults only, heavily-centered-on-wine-and-expensive-cheeses experiences that would have been completely out of place on the river.
They could have driven us to the river in a limo, complete with booze and snack cakes, and given the kids iPads or fidget spinners or whatever the little brats love these days.
They could have done many silly little things that would have been unnecessary or expensive and would have just made the experience weird or made the poor people with poor children feel unwanted.
But that’s not what any of us wanted.
We just wanted a quiet, scenic trip on the river.
And they made that happen (for some of us).
And eventually, the kids settled down, and a good time was had by all.
They saw a problem, they met a need, and they did it quietly, smoothly, and without making a fuss.
They were cool as cucumbers, and they impressed all of us on the quiet boat — and probably on the Screaming Bloody Murder Boat too.
And they were rewarded higher than normally for their efforts.
What they did was exceptional without being over-the-top.
And that’s a lesson everyone can stand to learn from.
Until next time, marketers.