1. Change your vocabulary

How do you talk about, and to, your customers? What phrases do you use to communicate with customers, and what do you call them behind their backs? What do you call those who help customers at your company?

Every single word you choose reflects back on your company’s culture and is an easy opportunity to steer you on a customer-centric path.

Take a lesson from Chick-fil-A who has embedded the simple phrase “my pleasure” into the DNA of their brand. The unexpected touch, more Ritz-Carlton than chicken joint (which surprise, surprise is exactly who inspired the little linguistic flourish), tops every customer service interaction with a delicious, memorable cherry.  

The words you choose to use not only have a profound impact on your customers, but they can also affect your employees’ attitudes. At Chick-fil-A, their team members come to believe serving customers is an exciting, enjoyable task—the driving force behind their job is actually pleasurable.

For Ritz-Carlton, their legendary luxury all starts with two simple words: ladies and gentleman. Their entire brand and culture stems from the power of these two very strategic words. When you call your team members ladies and gentleman, you set an incredibly high standard from them including the utmost class, elegant service and sophisticated behavior.

2. Set goals. Set big goals.

When it comes to wowing customers, aim high, nah even higher than that. Set your target higher than you’ve ever imagined, impossibly high, and commit to pursue it relentlesslyboth you and your customers will love the results.

Amazon’s mission from day one in 1995 is simply to be “the most customer-centric company on earth.” Because they built and grew their company around a hugely aspirational goal, they consequently developed an innovative culture, relentlessly dedicated to improving the customer experience, undaunted by the impossible.

By placing the customer squarely in the cross hairs of their driving mission, Amazon has grown a culture hell bent on improving their customers’ lives every single day. Not surprisingly, in their unending quest to become increasingly more customer-centric they consistently deliver unbelievably awesome customer service.

3. Give your employees freedom to soar

Crippled by the fear of an agent damaging your brand by saying something stupid, you latched onto your unfailing safety-blanket—the script.

Everything is scripted from the moment they answer a call or start an email response, to the exact steps and phrases they must follow to deliver a specific answer.

Not that you need me to remind you, but your customers always know when a robotic agent tracking a script is talking at (not to) them. To put it plainly, they don’t enjoy it.

Unlock and unleash the potential of your employees to wow customers by empowering them with the complete freedom to use their unique voice and personality to serve customers. Of course you can’t expect to become Zappos overnight, where their fun and freewheeling agents will gladly gab with a customer off script for as long as it takes (even a record 10 hours and 40 minutes) to bring happiness to a customer.

Instead, take initial steps away from the script and toward improved education and training focused on building experts of your products and services, not just the script. Drop the dogma of the script and develop systems that arm your agents with information accurate to the context of a specific customer, their history with you and their exact needs.

Don’t be surprised if, like Southwest Airlines, your agents thrive in the freedom and find creative ways to share the important information with customers while simultaneously making their day. Something the script has never once accomplished.

4. Focus on the metrics that matter to customers

Simplify what you track and how you grade your customer service by focusing on metrics that are customer-centric. Seriously, as common sense as it sounds, the customer-centric companies with raving fans for customers focus on customer-centric metrics.

The simplest place to start would be with customer happiness (or satisfaction) ratings, where a simple post service survey gauges how happy your customers are with the service they just received.

Taking the next step by measuring Net Promoter Score, an important metric to Zappos and many of the world’s most beloved brands track. This revolves around asking a customer the question, “How likely are you to recommend this company to a friend or family member?”

Spoiler alert: the brands customers love for being unabashedly customer-centric crush it, consistently turning in awe-inspiring NPS scores.

Want to go deeper? Start monitoring your customer retention and customer effort, two more customer-first metrics to round out your customer-centric report card. Because, after all what’s measured improves.

5. Get everyone involved

Even if you are not in the hospitality industry, take a free lesson from the mind-blowing way the teams at luxury hotels Ritz-Carlton and The Four Seasons work together to ensure they deliver consistently exceptional service and wow their customers.

At these hotels (and not surprising all 10 of the beloved brands) ensuring a customer’s happiness is a responsibility that belongs to everyone, regardless of their specific role. Take this story for example, where a housekeeper cleaning nearby noticed as a guest left his room that his door was not closing properly—because the sound she heard wasn’t exactly right.

Because every aspect is a part of a customer’s experience with a brand, every little thing that could possibly impact that experience is the whole team’s business. In this case the housekeeper noticed the door closed “with an indeterminate gentle closing sound, which is a little bit less definitive the ‘click’” they preferred, so she immediately called down to engineering to have them come fix the closing mechanism while the guest was out.

Which, is why when the guest returned to his room to grab something he forgot, he found a nice Four Seasons employee working on his door.

When customer happiness becomes the responsibility of your whole company, not just the department labeled customer service, you start to reap the rewards of customer-centric collaboration.

6. Tell a Story

Your customers are creatures that crave stories. We all are. Look no further than your most recent Netflix bender where you binged on episode-after-episode, because you HAD to know what happened in House Of Cards. That can’t be just me.

Tap into your customers desire for stories, by engaging with them and wrapping them into a bigger narrative. At Trader Joe’s, the members of their crew use each interaction with a customer as an opportunity to tell the next chapter of the brand’s ongoing adventure. They gladly guide customers right to a newly discovered tasty treasure, eagerly sharing the product’s origin story and the exciting journey it took to reach you.

Obviously Disney, the master-storyteller, has perfected the art of inserting their customers into the midst of the epic stories in order to establish an emotional connection. By delivering memorable experiences through the context of the timeless stories synonymous with their brand, Disney hooks their customers into sharing the magic and returning year-after-year. Building long-lasting relationships with devoted customers, happy ever after, indeed. 

7. Hire for attitude

There are reasons landing a job at a brand like Southwest Airlines, Zappos or Four Season is difficult. Not only are they amazing places to work, they are extra picky when recruiting as they know every new hire must share the values that define their committed, customer-centric cultures. 

Here is Southwest’s former CEO James Parker explaining their hiring process:

We at Southwest put a lot of effort into our selection process. We received over 100,000 applications every year and hired a very small percentage of those people, maybe 2,000 or 3,000. We used to say that we hired for attitude and trained for skill…But what we really looked for was people who had the right attitudes, who were ‘other-oriented,’ who were not self-absorbed, who wanted to accomplish something they could be proud of.

8. Empower your employees to use their good judgment

Typically, executives dictate customer service policies to the front-line customer service workers, who at most companies are the newest, greenest employees.

But Nordstrom, the department store renowned for their impeccable customer service, flipped the whole corporate hierarchy on its head, putting their customers and those who interact with them face-to-face, their front line customer service workers, at the very top of everything they do.

And it isn’t lip service. Because Nordstrom empowers those providing the customer service to use their good judgment to serve the customers they know best. They don’t have to differ to corporate policies or slow-moving bureaucracy to enact their ideas, as they already have the complete freedom to do whatever it takes to wow their customers.

The results, in addition to the thriving customer service, every aspect of the company has improved from the ideas and innovation stemming from their front-live customer servants.

9. Happy employees make happy customersCostco is an uncompromisingly simple organization that Bloomberg BusinessWeek once called the “cheapest, happiest company in the world.” 

Their secret strategy for unlocking happiness for both their employees and currents, is simple according to current CEO Craig Jelinek:

“This isn’t Harvard grad stuff,” he told Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “We sell quality stuff at the best possible price. If you treat consumers with respect and treat employees with respect, good things are going to happen to you.”

Their culture is feverishly obsessed with treating their employees well—offering great pay and benefits, tremendous opportunities to grow within the company and a contagiously ecstatic work environment. Invest in a culture that values and creates happy employees and give them the freedom to share their happiness with your customers. 

10. Everything plays its role

Disney might be in the magic business, but when it comes to a customer’s experience they leave nothing to chance. Instead they utilize three delivery systems working in perfect harmony to ensure their clearly defined service standards are always met.

Designed to leave a lasting impression on every customer, Disney’s culture emphasizes the role of all three systems plays: their cast—their employees, the setting—the stage on which service is conducted, and the process—systems engineered to produce a desired result.

In every possible situation a customer might encounter, Disney has already thought about the exact role each of the three delivery systems will play in meeting their service standards, giving their employees the optimal conditions to bring happiness to their guests.

The tickets at Disney are a perfect example, as Disney has coded a system into the ticket that gives the cast member scanning you into the park each day a quick snapshot of who you are, and most importantly where in your Disney vacation this day falls.  The system (the smart ticket) and the setting (the beginning of your day) arms the cast member to tailor the perfect welcoming message, tone and information for you.

If it’s your ever trip and first day at the park, they will pump up the energy you with an extra dose of Disney excitement, give you a personal welcome to Disney, thank you for visiting and let you know where to go if you have any questions. Yet, if it’s your last day of a 5-day trip, they will welcome you differently, ask how your trip was and wish you luck on your journey back home.

Having great employees isn’t always enough for Disney, and it won’t be enough for your team. Take time to think about every aspect your customers encounter and strategically design a plan that leverages each part to play a role delivering great customer service. 

  1. Jay

    Great article, Austin! Stellar customer service results when that agents go above and beyond what is asked and leaves the customer bragging to their friends that your company took it to the next level…. “Not ONLY did they do …… but they also …… ” This kind of behavior not only builds loyal customers, it also build FANS of your brand. Fans that will sell your product for you with their stories of customer support.