It's no secret that excellent customer service is one of the best ways to delight your customers and encourage them to remain loyal to your business with future purchases. And with the rise in the popularity of customer reviews and word-of-mouth, great customer service is a way to grow your business by attracting new customers -- and, conversely, can be a way to lose new customers if your service isn't up to par.

Given the great importance of customer service, many businesses want to show their customers that they genuinely care about customer satisfaction, but with hundreds of other competitors claiming the same dedication, it is hard to differentiate your company from the rest of the pack.

Customers have now come to expect remarkable service from every support organization that they engage with. And with that standard set, it becomes even more imperative for your service team to go above and beyond the customer's expectations.

By doing so, you're not only building a stronger relationship with your customers, but you're also generating positive word-of-mouth that will help differentiate your business from its competitors. If we look at some of the top-performing customer service brands, you can see that the best way to build this one-of-kind customer service experience is through focusing your attention on the customer's success, going above and beyond their expectations, making it unique, and sharing your efforts with others.

Keep reading for four strategies for exceeding standards and setting your brand apart:

4 Ways to Offer Above-and-Beyond Customer Service

1. Dedicate your efforts toward improving customer value.

When you consistently help your customer succeed, they will begin to associate your business with their success. The customer will choose your product or offer because they believe it will give them the best opportunity to meet their goals, so it's important to align your service team with those same objectives. This reinforces to the customer that their success and getting them value from their purchase is your end goal, and not just a means to an end.

One company that does a great job of doing this is USAA. In 2016, USAA was ranked number one in Forrester's customer experience index, as well as being ranked number one in KPMG Nunwood's Customer Experience Excellence rankings. USAA has earned this reputation by focusing their customer support on features and offerings that align with their customers' core values -- in this case, that value is financial security.

To make its customers feel financially safer, USAA has installed biometric authentication technology on its cloud-based mobile app, creating an innovative fraud alert system. They also have added a "My Account" functionality, where customers can track and receive updates on insurance claims and other important transactions.

Because its customers also value efficiency, USAA is also working to make sure this upgrade does not generate any inconvenience within the customer experience. To do this, USAA added messaging bots powered by natural language processing and machine learning technology that can personalize account features while protecting against cyber attacks. By focusing on the core values of its customers, USAA was able to recognize what customers cared about most, and optimize customer service technology to create a more delightful customer experience.

Another company well-known for its focus on the customer experience is Amazon. While Amazon has become a giant in the ecommerce industry, it still keeps the customer's experience at the forefront of decision making. At all major company meetings, Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, keeps an empty chair present at the head of the table to remind his colleagues that the customer is the most important stakeholder to consider in any discussion.

On a more tangible level, Forbes reports that Amazon tracks its performance across 500 measurable goals -- 80% of which are related to customer objectives. As Amazon continues to grow, its ability to understand and align with customer goals remains a key differentiator between Amazon and its competitors.

2. Go above and beyond when it's not expected.

While it's great for your support team to be able to meet the initial needs of your customers, surpassing their expectations is a great way for your company to stand out and create a more memorable experience. Customers who are surprised with unexpected moments of delight from your company are more likely to be loyal to your brand over time.

One company that does a remarkable job of going above and beyond in routine customer service interactions is Zappos. Zappos' customer support team was listed as one of the top 15 companies in Forrester's 2016 Customer Experience Index, and is well known for their ability to create a one-of-a-kind customer experience that goes far beyond the right pair of shoes.

Zappos refers to itself as a "service company that happens to sell shoes. And handbags. And more …" The company even has a "School of WOW," where it trains support leaders and front-line support reps in the Zappos customer service philosophy. This focus has resulted in an overwhelming amount of support for the company because these satisfied customers have gone on shared their stories.

For example, one traveler forgot to pack a favorite pair of shoes that she had bought from Zappos, so she called Zappos' concierge service with the hope of buying another pair. However, the shop no longer had the shoes. Zappos' support team member found and purchased the shoes from a rival store at a nearby mall, then hand-delivered the new pair to the customer at no charge. The customer was so delighted with this unexpected service that she shared her story, which has since gone viral.

This investment in customer support has ended up paying dividends for Zappos' marketing team, as stories like these are quickly circulated on social media and generate positive buzz around the company.

Even if you don't have the bandwidth or resources that a nationwide company like Zappos has, your support team can still build a personalized support experience that impresses customers beyond their initial expectations. One way to do is by recognizing an unfulfilled need that your customers have, and offer a solution to it for free.

Jamf, a provider of software for both enterprise and smaller businesses, does exactly that by offering a community service called "Jamf Nation." Jamf Nation is a community forum where users can connect with IT professionals that can help them manage their software and devices. Users can also gain insight about device deployments, as well as share best practices with one other on using different products.

Jamf doesn't generate any monetary value from this exchange, but rather it builds a stronger relationship with customers via community engagement. With the addition of the user forum, Jamf customers not only look at the company as just a distributor of software, but now as an informational resource as well. This creates a mutually beneficial relationship in which customers are satisfied that they're optimizing their usage of Jamf's products, and web traffic keeps going back to Jamf.

3. Stand out from the crowd.

Unfortunately, every day won't present the opportunity to create a customer service story that goes viral, but there's always the opportunity to personalize an experience for a customer. Your customer service team has the chance to represent your company's brand beyond the initial product offer and create intangible value that differentiates yourself.

Apple has one of the most notable examples that stands out in customer service with its "Geniuses." When your iPhone breaks and you walk into an Apple store, you don't speak with a customer service rep. Instead, you speak with an Apple Genius who already knows everything about your product and how to fix it. This customer service approach has proved its worth as well, because in 2017, Statista reported that over 50% of Apple's U.S. customers were "very satisfied" with the customer service of the company.

In addition to increased customer satisfaction, not only does this tactic make the customer feel more confident in their support service, but it also adds value to Apple's product line. By giving you a "Genius" to work with, Apple is subconsciously saying that their product is so sophisticated and advanced, that you need someone with extraordinary intelligence to troubleshoot it. It also offers a better experience than a typical tech support interaction that usually involves long periods of time waiting on hold, an appointment window for a technician that requires you to stay home from work all day, or other expensive, difficult troubleshooting.

Another great way to make your customer service efforts stand out is to consider your target audience and create an "in group" for them. An "in group" is a communal feeling or social status that is obtained from interacting with a brand. One example of this approach is the coffee company, Starbucks.

Starbucks goes to the effort of putting your name on your coffee to make you feel important and part of their community -- also demonstrated by the free birthday drink every Starbucks patron with a Starbucks Card receives every year. It uses an Italian-inspired menu and "artisan baristas" craft gourmet beverages and snacks. Starbucks also offers free WiFi in locations that are stylishly decorated and create a shared space for customers to hang out, do work, and socialize. This differentiates Starbucks from competitors, as customers feel they are part of a premium community by frequenting the chains. Even though they are paying higher prices for similar products, Starbucks has built a customer service experience that is valuable to the customer beyond just the product.

4. Share how much you care on public channels.

If you're doing outstanding work for your customers, it's important that you let the world know how much you care about them. Customers trust the stories of other people like them more than your marketing content or sales reps, so if you know you're creating wonderful customer experiences, share those stories with your target audience.

TD Bank does exactly this through its Customer Appreciation Day campaign that it releases every year around July. This campaign is aimed at " [shining] the light on our customers working tirelessly to make our communities a better place." As a part of this promotion, TD Bank rewards customers who work in social and community outreach programs with a free TD Bank account (aimed at helping fund their charitable work), a personalized goodie basket, and a monetary award.

TD Bank creates strong emotional connections with their customers who were happy to then share their story through commercials, blog posts, news articles, etc. One woman even remarked that TD had "brightened her life" after receiving a plane ticket to see her daughter which she couldn't previously afford. That customer's tear-jerking story is now permanently associated with TD Bank, which the brand can now re-play to other customers again and again. Instead of blasting an advertisement about its amazing customer service, TD Bank took the time to actually show its customers that it really cares about their personal financial endeavors -- which is now doing its own advertising.

To learn more, read our list of customer service podcasts to listen to next.

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Originally published Oct 25, 2018 8:00:00 AM, updated October 25 2018

Topics:

Customer Service