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What Exceptional Customer Service Means

Published at Oct 01, 2015.

“Exceptional customer service” is a term that gets tossed around a lot. Companies claim that they strive to provide it, and the rare happy customer raves about receiving it. But what does it really mean?

Last updated 4/11/2018.

The Meaning of “Exceptional”

Merriam-Webster defines “exceptional” as “unusually good” or “much better than average.” That seems simple enough. However, it brings up another question: what does “average” mean in the context of customer service?

Sad Customer Service Statistics

It turns out that “average” really means “bad.” Most customer service leaves much to be desired, as Help Scout reports. According to them:

  • 67% of customers hang up in anger while trying to reach a live support agent.
  • 50% of responses from customer service agents fail to answer the customer’s question.
  • 27% of email responses give an answer that’s completely wrong.

That’s terrible. If you failed to answer half the questions on your tests in elementary school, you’d stay back a year.

Rising Above the Competition

Improving the Way You Do Business

If your own customer service statistics are better than those abysmal numbers, then it means you provide above-average service. But holding your business to the same standards as a third-grader does not make it exceptional.

I believe that eBay has the right idea of exceptional service. Top Rated Seller status is awarded to the best sellers on eBay, but they can lose it for providing a poor customer experience on as few as 0.5% of transactions. That 99.51% and up rate of fair or better experiences shows dedication.

But to truly stand out as exceptional, you can’t stop there.

If, for example, an eBay customer only buys from Top Rated Sellers, then that level of customer service will seem average to her. You can’t just be exceptional for your industry. You have to be exceptional compared to the other places where your customers do business.

You also need to remember that for the less than 0.5% of customers who had a bad time, your customer service certainly was not “unusually good.” They thought it sucked.

People like these see your company as just another money-grubbing business. To really stand out and win them over, you need to adopt...

The Philosophy of Exceptional Customer Service

Exceptional Customer Service

An unhappy customer always has a reason to be unhappy. If you have unhappy customers, it’s your responsibility to fix that problem.

It’s a simple customer service policy, but one that can transform your business. Here are a few practical ways to apply it:

Constantly Seek to Improve

If you have even one negative review from a remotely reasonable customer, then you need to improve your customer service. Review what went wrong and figure out what you can do better. Then act on it.

Keep Calm and Carry On

A good customer service agent should have angelic patience, and always remain polite and professional no matter how emotional the other party gets. Remember that your top objective is to make sure the customer walks away happy. This applies even if he’s objectively a jerk.

Try to Repair the Damage

Always try to offer an olive branch to an upset customer, even if they have already posted irrevocable negative feedback. Give them something for free. Send them a personal apology. Respond politely and kindly to unhappy comments posted in such public places as social media.

You can earn forgiveness this way. If you do, the customer may tell others about how well you responded, and you have a good chance of getting their business back. And ultimately, the goal is always to keep your customers coming back.


If you consistently apply the philosophy of exceptional customer service, then you will quickly emerge as one of the few companies that is “much better than average.” It will turn your customers into fans and your business into an undeniable success.

Want more? Discover "7 Ways to Provide and Improve Ecommerce Customer Service," see our answer to the question "What Is Good Customer Service?" or check out  "4 of Our Best Online Customer Service Tips."

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