The Key to Delivering Amazing Customer Service

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Outstanding customer service should begin at the door, according to Shep Hyken, author of Amaze Every Customer Every Time: 52 Tools for Delivering the Most Amazing Customer Service on the Planet. While big-box stores such as Lowe's and Home Depot consistently provide many customers with satisfactory service, Hyken argues that "satisfactory" is simply not enough. For Hyken, Ace Hardware stands out as the pinnacle of customer service, not only among immediate competitors, but also across all other industries. Associate Editor Maria Minsker caught up with Hyken to discuss what makes Ace Hardware the "creme de la creme."

CRM: What made you choose Ace Hardware as a model for outstanding customer service?

Shep Hyken: The reason is twofold. First, [Ace has] gotten a lot of recognition recently. The company has won awards from J.D. Power and Associates, and ranked highly on Businessweek's list of best customer service brands. The other thing that's interesting about Ace is that its corporation is a multibillion-dollar company. However, there are also 4,600 franchised stores owned by entrepreneurs. Here you have B2B and B2C operating together—the true customers for the Ace corporate retailer are the individual stores, and the customers for those stores are consumers. This was a great setup, because I wanted to write about a company that could serve as a model for anybody and everybody.

CRM: How does Ace Hardware deliver better customer service than, say, Home Depot?

Hyken: Home Depot and Lowe's are Ace's biggest competitors. What makes Ace stand out is that it has operationalized customer service and simplified it into one word: helpful. And there's a big difference between helpful service and nice and friendly service. I went to an Ace Hardware store with a lightbulb and somebody immediately came up to me and said, "Hi, how are you today? What can I help you find?" When I showed him the lightbulb, he said,"Follow me," and took me to it. I did the same thing in Home Depot and you know what the nice guy said to me? "Aisle 16." That was it. It's a subtle difference, but a huge one at the same time.

CRM: Ace Hardware serves as an example of the right way to deliver customer service. What, on the other hand, are some mistakes you see companies making?

Hyken: The biggest issue in customer service is that promises are always made, but they aren't always kept. It's basically a question of "Are you as good as you're advertising yourself to be?" The customer decides who you are—a company can control it to an extent, but ultimately it's up to the customer. Another problem that companies have is that they create a certain perception, but they don't have the culture to deliver it. There's no way to be perfect; there will always be mistakes, but the best companies have ways to ensure that they have systems in place to handle these mistakes.

CRM: In your book, you outline 52 tools for "the most amazing customer service on the planet." What are some of these tools and why are they important?

Hyken: The tools are broken up into five areas: leadership, culture, one on one, competitive edge, and community. In terms of leadership, it's not just about being the leader of a company. It's about everyone being a leader when it comes to customer service. One of my favorite tools in that category is "Act like you own the place." It means taking responsibility for everything that comes your way.

Culture is the second category, and a key tool in that section is "To be the best place to buy, you should also be the best place to work." You can't expect the people who work for you to be friendly and willing to go the extra mile if you're not willing to do the same for them. In the one-on-one category, a helpful tool to remember is "The customer is not always right, but they are always the customer." If they're wrong, you let them be wrong with dignity and respect and work through the situation. Competitive edge is the fourth category, and my favorite tool from that bunch is "Satisfaction is a rating, loyalty is an emotion." Studies have proven that up to 40 percent of satisfied customers in typical frontline businesses will not come back even if they're satisfied. Loyalty is what you want. The last category is community. One of the biggest tools in that section is the "law of reciprocity—the more you give the more you get."

CRM: Can you provide an example of how Ace uses one of these tools?

Hyken: Ace is really good at giving back to the community. For example, I remember talking to one Ace retailer who constantly faced ad budget challenges. His ad budget just wasn't big enough to compete with the neighborhood Lowe's or Home Depot, so he decided not to compete in marketing dollars. Instead, he decided to give money to charity, schools, and churches. In business, this really pays off, because if you give a customer something, the customer wants to give back. And they go to your store to do that.

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