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What it Takes to Deliver Exceptional Customer Service...Culture Trumps Strategy!

Updated: Feb 8, 2022



Loyal fans cheering at baseball game.

What constitutes exceptional customer service? It is customer service that acknowledges the customer’s journey, exceeds their expectations, and distinguishes your company as a business partner and not just another supplier. An article written by Sophia Bernazzani and published by Hubspot entitled What Good Customer Service Looks Like at 12 Companies [+Examples] reviews the “6 most common characteristics of good customer service teams” and 12 companies that deliver “exceptional customer service”.


The list of 12 companies encompasses large and small businesses including The Ritz-Carlton, Lego, Lyft, Santa Cruz Bicycles, Wistia and Whirlaway Sports.


Whirlaway Sports Center is a New England premier dealer of athletic shoes and sporting goods. I was excited to see that it made this exclusive, short list of companies known for their exceptional customer service! For those who have read my blog posts, you know that I am a passionate runner and have been for 39 years. My running journey began one April morning in 1982 when I decided to lose weight and get in shape. I dressed in an old tee shirt, gym shorts, white tube socks and, “tennis shoes”, ran out the door of my apartment in Amesbury, Massachusetts and never looked back. Like most newbie runners, that first run was torture! As my fitness and mileage increased, I realized I needed to upgrade my running gear.


In 1984 I found Whirlaway Sports. At that time it had recently opened for business and was located in a small corner of the established Whirlaway Golf Center Pro Shop. It was there that I met Dave Kazanjian, an accomplished runner, and the young owner of Whirlaway Sports. Dave outfitted me in gear that was appropriate for where I was in my running journey. He educated me in running shoes and apparel appropriate for the type and volume of running I was doing at the time. Dave encouraged me to try out their running shoes by putting them on and going for a run in their parking lot. This was unheard of in 1984! Because of Dave’s interest in me, advice and direction, my running experience became much more satisfying and rewarding. I was hooked and have been running ever since. Until I moved to Burlington, Connecticut in 2002, I bought my running gear from Whirlaway Sports, primarily because of Dave and his staff, their exceptional customer service, customer care, selection, and quality.



Author at the 1990 Cape Cod Marathon starting line.
The author, #208, at the start of the 1990 Cape Cod Marathon

Exceptional customer service is the product of a company-wide customer-centric culture and is evangelized from the top of the organization. It starts with understanding the customer journey through the customer’s eyes and not solely from a seller perspective. It is more than just the customer touch-points with your company. For example, a runner’s customer journey is not just about buying running apparel and gear. It’s about education, learning the sport, comradery, training, biomechanics, fueling, hydrating, mindset and so much more. If you are in the running store business, understanding and acting on different aspects of a runner’s customer journey, in addition to apparel and gear, can separate your business from the competitor’s and create loyal customers.


Where companies miss the mark is when they view exceptional customer service as a business strategy instead of as the outcome of a customer-centric culture. The responsibility of establishing exceptional customer service is often delegated to a senior staff member, or lower, in an organizational hierarchy, instead of being embraced by the CEO and the rest of the company. Exceptional customer service cannot be solely created with mission statements, business plans, employee training and pithy inspirational quotes on posters mounted in cheap frames. Companies that embrace a customer-centric culture recognize that their company’s present and future is inextricably linked to their customer’s expectations, hopes and desires. Yes, some of this is emotion-based, but customers are people, who have emotions and react to customer service experiences in an emotional way.



“Exceptional customer service cannot be solely created with mission statements, business plans, employee training and pithy inspirational quotes on posters mounted in cheap frames. Companies that embrace a customer-centric culture recognize that their company’s present and future is inextricably linked to their customer’s expectations, hopes and desires.”



Customer expectations can include ease of communication, product availability, customer service response time, issue resolution time, product quality, return policy, just to name a few. How well a company performs in these categories can be measured. The emotional side of the customer service equation is less tangible, less measurable, and therefore more elusive. This part of the equation can only be fully understood when you have embraced your customers, understanding what their journey is all about and positioning your company to be a trusted partner in that journey and not just another supplier. As management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. True customer service transformation is a culture, mindset, and behavioral change, supported by the CEO, senior management, and all company employees. Strategy is an enabler of culture change, mindful of culture as it currently exists, but unrelenting in its mission to change it to a customer-centric focus.


The bottom line at most for-profit companies is just that…the bottom line. The best and most rewarding way to grow the bottom line is by growing the top line. Happy and satisfied customers are very often loyal customers. Loyal customers stick around longer, buy more, are more profitable and have a higher customer lifetime value. Exceptional customer service is the primary reason for customer loyalty. The customer service team cannot deliver exceptional service alone. It requires assistance and support from everyone at your company. It requires a customer-centric culture. It requires YOU to make a difference in your customer’s journey!



To learn more about delivering exceptional customer service, please visit Bass HarborGroup.com


 

Patrick Sandefur profile picture

Patrick Sandefur is the Founder and Managing Director of Bass Harbor Group / Customer Experience Solutions. His 30+ year career in Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Product Management and Business Development has given him a unique perspective of what customers want and expect when interacting with a brand.


Read more from Patrick Sandefur by clicking on recent posts below.



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