How do I Deliver Exceptional Customer Service?

M. K. McDonald

Different organizations define exceptional customer service in different ways, depending on whether they are service-oriented or sales-oriented, and depending on the particular industry. That being said, there are some fundamental elements of exceptional customer service that all organizations embrace. The way to provide exceptional customer service is to start on a positive note, set clear expectations, listen actively and try to answer to customer's question or concern as completely and as satisfactorily as possible.

Being attentive and friendly to the customer are two ways to provide good service.
Being attentive and friendly to the customer are two ways to provide good service.

First, exceptional customer service requires that you start the interaction on a positive note. Break the ice with the customer by asking his or her name and the nature of his or her request or concern. Practice customer recognition throughout the interaction, referring to the customer by name. If the interaction is in person, use open body language, face the customer, make eye contact, and refrain from crossing your arms or turning away from the customer. Be reassuring, positive and professional.

Listening is an important customer service skill.
Listening is an important customer service skill.

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Next, set the expectations clearly for the customer. Inform the customer of how long the interaction will take and the scope of what you can do for him or her. Be honest and realistic. If you are not going to be able to solve the problem immediately in the first interaction, say so.

Customer service representatives have to treat customers well, even if they're having a bad day themselves.
Customer service representatives have to treat customers well, even if they're having a bad day themselves.

Throughout the conversation, listen actively. You might want to paraphrase or restate the concerns to be sure that you have understood the issue. If interaction is in person, look for nonverbal cues that let you know if the customer is becoming irritated. Listen carefully without speeding up the interaction, which might make it seem like you are in a hurry.

Finally, answer the customer's question as completely as possible. Be patient, and be willing to answer follow-up questions. Clarify any issues about which the customer might have doubts, and check to make sure the customer is satisfied with the assistance you have provided. Use clear, jargon-free language that the customer can understand.

There are some additional issues involved when providing exceptional customer service over the telephone. When answering a telephone call, try to answer within the first three or four rings. Greet the customer, and identify yourself. Finally, offer to assist the customer with his or her question or concern.

If you must put the customer on hold, exceptional customer service requires that you first ask permission to put him or her on hold. Explain why you need to place the customer on hold, and give him or her an estimate of how long you will be gone. If you cannot return to the customer within the promised time, update the customer and ask whether he or she would like to continue to hold or would like to receive a return call. After you return, thank the customer for holding.

At the end of a telephone interaction, summarize any actions to be taken and check to make sure that the customer is satisfied. Offer further assistance, if needed, and thank the customer for the call. Exceptional customer service over the phone is challenging, and extra care must be taken.

A positive attitude from the waitstaff helps customers feel valued.
A positive attitude from the waitstaff helps customers feel valued.

Discussion Comments


@Scrbblchick -- You must work at my company. We need to have lunch some time.

My profession is one that tends to attract, shall we say, odd calls. If I get a call from someone who is obviously on mind altering substances, or who is not in a normal state of mind, I have to deal with that person just as professionally and courteously as I would anyone else.

If the person becomes abusive, harassing or threatening, however, I do have the authorization to hang up on them. That's comforting.


In my company, exceptional customer service means you do your best to get the caller to the department he or she needs on the first try, and not bounce them all over the building.

I've gotten callers who are thoroughly frustrated because I'm the fourth person they've talked to, and then I have to transfer them to a fifth person, but at least it's the person they need.

The reason this happens is because no one is *listening* to the caller! They're just concerned about getting off the phone as quickly as possible, rather than getting the person to the right department to start with, even if it means spending a little more time on the phone.

We would have much better customer service ratings if some of our people would actually listen to the callers!

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