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3 Steps Toward Brand-Worthy Customer Service

Google “customer service horror story” and you have 211 million results to choose from. On the more positive side of customer service, here’s one easy link to “11 of the Best Customer Service Stories Ever, compiled by Stacy Conradt for Mental Floss, with samples that will inspire you and show the brand value of going beyond just meeting customer expectations to delighting them.

You can click over to that site for the moving story of a grandparent who missed the flight he needed to make to see his dying grandson alive one last time… only to arrive at the airport and find a Southwest Airlines pilot holding the plane for him. However, not every story has to be this spectacular or heart wrenching to merit viral online notice – also read the account of how a hungry traveler sent a general email to Morton’s Steakhouse, begging for food upon landing: “Hey, @Mortons – can you meet me at Newark Airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :)”. The hungry traveler was stunned to then be met at the gate and handed a bag with a 24-ounce steak, shrimp, potatoes, bread, napkins and silverware, courtesy of the nearest Morton’s Steakhouse establishment, more than 23 miles away.

Because “delighted customer” moments (and the easy availability of cell phone cameras to record such delightful encounters) have brand marketing power, you’ll see more campaigns in the future like Zappo’s 2010 campaign “Happy People Making People Happy”. Branding itself as “a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes”, Zappos recently showcased real conversations with customers and then parlayed those interactions into an integrated (TV, digital, social, experimental and print) campaign.

The result? Site visits increased 40% and Zappos saw a 44% increase in new customers, with a 40% increase in sales overall. Revenue per media spend increased 488%. We marketers are interested in such data, but regardless of your business background, sales is sales is sales. That’s what creates jobs in the real world. And the real measurement of Zappos’ success is growth from $1 million to $1 billion in 10 years.

I’ve reviewed 50-plus top customer service companies and found three identical themes, which can be transplanted to your business environment as well.

1. Customer service is a top-down value, branded and trained into every staff position. The 2011 NRF Foundation’s list of Top 10 retailers (selected by shoppers) for holiday shopping is now available: (1) Amazon.com; (2) JCPenney; (3) Kohl’s Department Stores; (4) Lands’ End; (5) L.L. Bean; (6) Newegg; (7) Nordstrom; (8) Overstock.com; (9) QVC; and (10) Zappos. In each case, winning companies’ top executives interject how important customer service is to their core business when interviewed about divergent topics.

2. Employee empowerment: Ritz-Carton adopted the easy-to-understand motto, “We are Ladies and Gentlemen servicing Ladies and Gentlemen,” and has since empowered every employee to spend up to $2,000 making any single guest satisfied. They’ve become the industry icon for customer service standards.

3. Tell the story and encourage others to tell your story. Ritz-Carlton also has committed to a daily 15-minute lineup of all employees worldwide. One agenda item is the “Wow Story” which calls out and reinforces a customer service success story, positively motivating employees to be part of a similar story at the next meeting.

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