Exceptional customer service is always voluntary


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Maitre d'In an earlier blog post titled What is customer service?, I offered an 18-word definition of customer service containing seven unique elements that we’ll be exploring one-by-one in greater detail over the coming weeks.

Too often, customer service is viewed as a department, an employee’s designated job role or, at least, someone else’s responsibility. Because of this limited view of customer service, many employees are content to simply execute a series of mandatory job functions until the end of their shifts—blissfully unaware of the myriad opportunities forfeited to make lasting positive impressions on their customers.

To expand on this narrow definition of customer service, I’d like to submit my own definition for consideration: Customer service is a voluntary act that demonstrates a genuine desire to satisfy, if not delight, a customer.

The first element contained in this definition that we’ll explore further is the voluntary nature of exceptional customer service.

Providing exceptional customer service, unlike executing mandatory job functions for which employees are paid, is always voluntary. Employees don’t have to deliver it. And most don’t.

I recall once saying this to a client who disputed my claim. Upon hearing it, his smile faded and his eyes narrowed as he leaned forward across the conference table. His voice took on a “Dirty Harry” tone as he retorted, “Not around here! In my building, exceptional customer service is mandatory!”

I disagreed but, in his defense, most general managers would say the same thing: “Of course exceptional customer service is not optional. We don’t permit employees to provide substandard customer service!”

In theory, they’re right. But in practice, they’re kidding themselves.

The reason that you and I as customers rarely experience the “exceptional” customer service that these business leaders claim is mandatory is because it’s optional. An employee chooses to pay attention to detail, to display a sense of urgency, or to go the extra mile. An employee chooses to make eye contact, smile, or add enthusiasm to her voice.

It’s voluntary. It’s elective. It’s discretionary. (This explains why you will most certainly succeed in shipping a parcel at your local post office but may or may not receive exceptional customer service from the postal employee. Weighing a package is mandatory. Smiling isn’t.)

And knowing this truth about exceptional customer service provides the first piece to an elusive 7-piece puzzle that, when assembled, provides employees with a very clear image of what exceptional customer service is and what’s required of them to consistently deliver it.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


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