Clearly, there are many aspects of customer service. For me, the bottom line is finding the product or information or support I need to solve the problem at hand. It’s not just knowledge I want, but the right knowledge.
From there, my relationship with the company grows or atrophies according to a few simple characteristics: Are the customer service reps friendly? Patient? Helpful?
Taken together, though, do these characteristics make for exceptional customer experiences? In most cases, these traits simply make for a good customer service experience. Often, it's enough to bring me back for more, and possibly enough to make me loyal.
What, then, is the intangible element leading to exceptional? It’s passion. As an element of customer service, passion transforms knowledge into a shared experience, a conversation rather than a transaction.
As an example, I’m going to share a story about replacing a faucet in my house.
Old Home Problems
I bought my house, which was built in 1962, from the original owner, who made essentially zero upgrades. Considering the price, I have little to complain about. Regardless, the day came when the original faucet bowed out after nearly 50 years of service. Commendable!
In any case, I pulled apart the faucet and discovered I could fix the issue by simply replacing the stem. Cost-effective by any measure. With my handyman hat fixed firmly atop my head and elbow grease at the ready, off I went to Home Depot for some spare parts.
In the plumbing department, I found the first hint of trouble. I took the faulty stem with me for comparison, but the manufacturer name wasn’t stamped anywhere on the part. The gruff Home Depot staffer patrolling my aisle had never seen such a part. Regardless, he reluctantly helped me try to visually match the stem to the in-stock replacement parts.
My salty assistant next suggested replacing the entire faucet. Whoa! Slow down, there’s money to be saved! As he edged away from the unsolved dilemma, a thought struck me. Perhaps the manufacturer name could be found on the parts I’d left at home.
Quick thinking, right?
Frustratingly, I was back at Home Depot 30 minutes later with no more information than before.
After I reiterated my desire to replace the part rather than the faucet, the same Home Depot staffer guided me to a universal replacement part. According to the package, the universal model “fits most major brands.” With no viable alternative, I figured what the heck!
The Universal Frustration Principle
My step-father would later tell me, “universal really means it don’t work with nothin’.” Well said, Wally. It certainly didn’t work with my faucet. Sadly, it took me the better part of three hours to reach this conclusion. One last time, I drove to Home Depot, returned the part, and promptly went home to fume over wasting an entire Saturday afternoon. I tried not to be mad at the guy working in Home Depot, but I just couldn’t help it. He was no help at all. And not particularly friendly, helpful, or patient.
A New Hope
As I wasted the late afternoon, dwelling on how I’d wasted the early afternoon, I remembered something interesting. Several years earlier, I’d heard about Elliott’s Hardware, a throwback store staffed mostly by retired tradesmen with an obscure knowledge of parts and local building lore.
Why didn’t I think of that earlier?!? In any case, off I went. Again.
I parked in front of Elliott’s at 5:04 p.m. In true throwback form, Elliott’s closed at 5 p.m. on Saturday. Fearing I’d be turned away, I was heartily welcomed by a store greeter who assured me they could help. She guided me to plumbing, where I found a stout man in his 70s sitting on a stool.
He spotted me and sprung to life. On his feet and at my side in a flash, he greeted me enthusiastically.
“What is it you’re looking for?”
I began explaining the situation as I held the part out for him to see. Before I finished my sentence, he interrupted.
“That’s a Springdale. Right over here.”
As he looked for the part I needed, he breezed through a short history of Springdale faucets and the various sub-divisions where he’d seen them before. Upon locating the part I needed, he grabbed one other small part to help the installation go as planned, shook my hand, and told me how glad he was he could help.
This guy had it all—friendly, patient, helpful, knowledgeable, and…PASSIONATE! Full house!!
In less than 10 minutes, I found what I needed; learned some new stuff, and became utterly loyal to Elliot’s Hardware. To this day, Elliott’s is my go-to hardware store.
Friendly, patient, helpful, and knowledgeable: These are the traits of every great customer service experience. Elliott’s Hardware nails it every time, relying on passionate employees to make their service exceptional.
Do you have any examples of truly exceptional customer service? What are your go-to companies?