“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 3/5/2021.
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?
Customer Service Statistics Are Changing
When we first wrote this article in 2015, “average” really meant “bad.” Most customer service left much to be desired, as Help Scout reported. According to them:
- 67% of customers hung up in anger while trying to reach a live support agent.
- 50% of responses from customer service agents failed to answer the customer’s question.
- 27% of email responses gave an answer that was completely wrong.
While Help Scout has since removed those stats as outdated, they state that US companies still lose an average of $62 billion per year by providing poor service. Oof.
Since then, support has begun improving worldwide:
- 84% of millenials now report that businesses are at least meeting their expectations.
- 78% of Americans are able to get the help they need from the business's self-service portal.
- Most support requests on social media get a response within nine hours.
So, most companies can meet customer expectations. That means you can no longer call your business exceptional just because you answer more than half your customers' questions correctly. You must go above and beyond to stand out.
Rising Above the Competition
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
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."