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soapHere in Australia customer service tends to be non-existent. We’re all so familiar with having to wait to be served – because the shop assistant is on the phone, talking, or otherwise busy – that we don’t even bother objecting any more. And on the rare occasion that a person does object, they’re looked at strangely, because bad customer service is so much the norm here.

And it’s the same online. Everyone likes to say they give good customer service, but do they really? How often do you have to wait a few days for a support ticket to be looked at? What about fast postage? Products oversold, or not able to be made as quickly as promised? The internet is rife with shoddy customer service just as much as the offline world.

Here’s somewhere that your business can really shine. How many people do you think would refer you if you over-delivered on customer service? I don’t mean with your products – they should be outstanding anyway. I mean in the way you treat your customers.

What about a guaranteed 24 hour turnaround on emails? Overnight delivery? Follow-ups after a sale or support issue? Emailing a new customer to say hello? Going over and beyond the accepted standards, beyond what your competitors are doing, beyond what your customers expect from you.

How many people do you think your customers would refer to you if they knew you treated every customer like royalty?

I bought some soap online the other day, from the Fresh Cut Soap Co. I ordered it at 8.33pm Tuesday night to be exact. It arrived here this morning, Thursday. I had to go back and check my sales invoice to check I had remembered correctly. (That’s a picture of my soap up the top, photography all mine) It’s pure, handmade, gorgeous, real soap – no chemical additives, no cheap detergents. Delivered to me a day and a half from ordering. Now that is good customer service! (and I have to add a plug here, Kelly’s soap is amazing. Go check it out, and buy some while there’s still some left – and remember, Christmas is coming, these make great presents!)

Compare that to this experience. A few months ago I ordered some seeds online. They were recorded on the website as being in stock, so I assumed I would have them within a week and planned my weekend for some gardening. They didn’t arrive. The seeds were posted to me over three weeks later, after I had emailed and asked them about the order. Talking to others online I found this was a normal experience for that company. They generally posted orders out three to four weeks after ordering – and that was for items in stock.

Outstanding or bad customer service isn’t limited to only physical products though. Another two case studies on service businesses….

A few days ago I was looking for an online appointment scheduler to use for booking in coaching clients. I really wanted one that can accommodate different time zones as I’ve had issues with timing mixups before. I found one that looked good (TimeDriver), and submitted a form via their website asking about the time zones. I had also mentioned it on twitter, and within 12 hours had received a tweet asking what I thought of it.

I replied that I was looking at it, and waiting on a reply from Support. The person tweeted back that they didn’t have my request (yes, they went looking for it!) and would I mind emailing or contacting them directly. I tweeted that I’d email, however I then found the answer to my question so I didn’t bother with the email.

Thesupport person then contacted me the next day to say they hadn’t seen an email from me, would I like to chat via Skype or phone? They were so conscious of making sure I was looked after that they were checking to make sure they had my email. I was astounded, and yes, I did sign up for their service.  It turned out I’d been tweeting with the company owner personally and she was really making sure I was looked after.

And the really bad customer service case study? We have two wireless internet modems here, with the account in my husbands name and I am authorised on the account. Several months ago my husband emailed their support section requesting to increase our monthly bandwidth allowance. A person from their (offshore) support centre phoned us three months later to discuss it. Three months. In the meantime we’d signed up with another company for hi-speed adsl and were loving it.

That’s not the worst of the story though. The customer service representative rang during the day, so I was talking to him, not my husband. I insisted that we no longer required more bandwidth, and that we would be cancelling the service at the end of the contract. He requested my husbands work phone number, which I refused to give him, and he then said “I think I should speak to your husband about this to make sure he is in agreement with you.” To say I was stunned is an understatement.

I don’t know if there’s a connection here between the fact that both of the great customer service experiences were small companies and the bad experiences were at least reasonable large businesses. There may be a connection, but I think I’d be pushing it to say that’s the only reason.

The great customer experiences happen because they are thought out in advance, planned for and acted on. They happen because the owners realise that happy customers and positive word of mouth are their greatest assets.

We can all improve our customer service. It doesn’t have to be a huge overhaul of your entire systems to make an improvement. Small changes, made consistently and intentionally, can lead to an amazing customer service experience for your clients.

Where’s one place you can improve your customer service today?