One bad customer service experience can swear you off a product forever.

But one exceptional experience, on the other hand, can turn you into a lifelong and loyal brand advocate.

Download Now: New Research on the State of Customer Service in 2019

More than half of U.S. consumers express loyalty by recommending brands to family and friends, and almost half of those consumers stay loyal to those recommended brands. And brand loyalty is important -- because almost half of consumers spend more with brands they're loyal to.

So, how can brands actually earn the loyalty of customers? How can customer service professionals consistently delight and empower customers so they not only keep coming back, but they refer family and friends to become customers, too?

To answer this question, we've curated a list of B2B and B2C brands that are established as industry leaders -- and that deliver exceptional customer service. And because no two brands are created equal, we've distilled lessons and wisdom from each story that any customer service professional or brand can apply to their own strategies today.

But, before we dive into those examples, we need to set a baseline for what "good" customer service is. 

In addition to the ones listed above, let's break down the six most common characteristics of good customer service teams. 

1. Rapid Response Times

Customers are always looking for fast solutions. In fact, 66% of adults say that the most important thing a company can do is value their time. This means your team needs to focus on efficiency and develop a workflow that streamlines different support functions. Consider adopting a help desk as this tool can manage and automate a variety of service tasks.

2. Customer Feedback Collection and Analysis

Since customer needs vary from industry to industry, good customer service looks different depending on the type of business you're running. The best customer service teams use feedback collection tools to identify the specific needs of their customer base and create personalized solutions for them.

Rather than assuming you know what your customers want, reach out to them through surveys and interviews to get their perspective on your business. These tools will help your team uncover new opportunities to enhance your products and improve the customer experience

3. Customer Self-Service

When your customers want to find their own solutions to service problems, they should use self-service resources provided by your business. For example, one of the most common self-service resources is a knowledge base.

Knowledge bases consist of categorized support articles and FAQ pages that supply customers with solutions to common user roadblocks. With over 50% of customers wanting to solve problems on their own, self-service tools like these are an asset to providing high-quality customer service.  

4. Omni-Channel Support

It should be easy for customers to contact your support team, regardless of the medium they're using. Your team should be equipped to respond to incoming service requests via the phone, email, social media, live chat, and any other communication channel that your customers prefer. Providing this type of omni-channel experience makes your team more accessible and creates less stressful service interactions. 

5. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence refers to your ability to read and react to other people's emotions. This skill is highly valuable in customer service roles because it helps with diffusing difficult customer interactions. Every business experiences a frustrated or upset customer, but the best service teams are able to de-escalate the situation and prevent potential churn. In fact, 67% of customer churn is avoidable if the customer's issue is resolved during the first service interaction. 

6. Creative Problem Solving

At the end of the day, the best customer service teams solve their customers' problems. They're tenacious and determined to help their customers achieve their goals. In many cases, this requires agents to be creative and come up with unique solutions to customer issues. As you'll see in the examples below, sometimes excellent customer service means finding a solution that falls outside of normal company protocol.

1. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company

ritz-carlton-customer-service

Source: The Ritz-Carlton

The Ritz-Carlton's service policies are so legendary, stories of satisfied customers have even made it into books -- like this one.

In it, customer experience expert and author John DiJulius describes the story of his stay at a Ritz-Carlton hotel -- when he unknowingly left something behind in his guest room.

I left The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota in such a rush for the airport that I forgot my laptop charger in my room. I planned to call when I got back into my office, but before I could, I received a next-day air package from The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. In it was my charger, with a note saying, 'Mr. DiJulius, I wanted to make sure we got this to you right away. I am sure you need it, and, just in case, I sent you an extra charger for your laptop." The note was signed by Larry K. Kinney, in Loss Prevention.'"

If this customer service story sounds over-the-top good, it's not. Ritz-Carlton's commitment to exceptional customer service is so strong that any employee is independently authorized to spend up to $2,000 per day to improve guest experience. That's right -- whether an employee works at the reception desk, in the restaurant, or cleaning hotel rooms, they can independently decide to make a guest's experience exceptional -- as was the case in the example above.

In an interview with Forbes, The Ritz-Carlton Group President and COO, Herve Humler, describes the organization's key to making customer service so stellar: employee engagement. Humler noted,

I believe in the power of recognition and empowerment leading to great employee engagement. And employee engagement is critical to guest engagement."

Ritz-Carlton is committed to excellent service, and its mission -- "We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen" -- serves to reinforce and promote employee engagement in their day-to-day work to look for moments when they can transform a customer's experience.

Customer Service Takeaway: Employee empowerment is critical to achieving good outcomes for your customers. The first step toward employee empowerment is engagement: Make customer service part of your mission, and make your mission a part of everything your organization does. Then, structure and incentivize your team so employees can work independently to solve customer problems and think creatively.

And if you don't have $2,000 per day in your budget, you can still empower customer service reps with strategies like:

  • Measuring qualitative and quantitative feedback, and not just how many cases or tickets they resolve in a given day
  • Freeing up employee time off the phones or the queue to conduct research, analyze data, create processes, or work on other projects to have greater impact
  • Devote creative or monetary resources to helping employees create moments to delight your customer with handwritten thank-you notes, small swag gifts, or discount codes

2. Wistia

Video Hosting for Business | Wistia

Our friends over at Wistia -- a video hosting and analytics platform -- believe in the power of video to help tell company stories. And that isn't just restricted to marketing videos and social media content -- Wistia uses videos to provide great customer service, too.

Wistia team members create personalized how-to videos and individualized thank-you notes to help customers and demonstrate how to use different aspects of the software using a visual medium.

It makes sense for a video hosting brand to use videos when helping customers, but it's also helpful for the customers themselves, too. As Harper, a Customer Happiness team member at Wistia says,

When it comes to communicating technical concepts or processes, videos are the best.”

"Even if I can explain something clearly with words," he says, "it's totally different to be able to show someone how few steps it takes to get from point A to point B. Realistically, eyes will gloss over a wall of text."

That's how Wistia has seen such success in achieving good customer service -- by showing, rather than telling, customers how to troubleshoot, they can learn more effectively and remember solutions better than reading an email or hopping on a phone call.

Customer Service Takeaway: Don't feel restricted to phone calls to provide exceptional customer service. Instead, use technology to deliver support in the medium that makes the most sense. Tools like screenshots, GIFs, and videos can go a long way toward explaining a tricky concept, and they don't need to be fancy to work. Tools like Jing, Awesome Screenshot, LICEcap, QuickTime Player, and even your own smartphone or webcam can be used to create helpful resources customers can refer to again and again.

And, of course, if you're a HubSpot customer, you can integrate with Wistia to create and host video using its neat software.

3. Warby Parker

warby-parker-customer-service

Source: Warby Parker

Disclaimer: I wear Warby Parker glasses.

But I'm not the only who favors the brand -- Warby Parker has revolutionized the pricey glasses industry and made itself a beloved brand, thanks to its affordable frames and home try-on program.

One of Warby Parker's most famous customer service stories is a very unique case: A customer abandoned a pair of glasses on a train and got home to find his glasses and a replacement pair waiting for him -- thanks to his seatmate on the train, former Warby Parker General Counsel, Anjail Kumar.

warby-parker-facebook-post

Source: Forbes

This is fantastic customer service -- but it's obviously hard to replicate on an everyday basis. Some of the bigger customer service lessons can be drawn from Warby Parker's mission and business model.

Upon arriving at Warby Parker's website, visitors can immediately take a quiz -- which is a) fun, and b) get customers excited about the variety of glasses types they can choose from. From there, visitors can browse the selection of frames, and they can choose five options to try on, free of charge, at home. From there, customers can completely customize frames and lenses to suit their needs -- all the while saving money compared to a traditional eyeglasses retailer.

All of these options make customers loyal -- and not only do they keep buying, but they recommend Warby Parker to friends: When Warby Parker sends customers glasses to try on, they recommend sharing selfies on Instagram using the hashtag #WarbyParkerHomeTryOn to get opinions (and, of course, to spread the word with friends).

Customer Service Takeaway: Everyone likes options -- especially when it comes to fashion. Give your customers options -- from the first moment they interact with your brand. Whether this means creating interactive quizzes, offering free demos or trials, or sending backup products, give customers a chance to "try on" your products and learn more about you.

If policy decisions are outside of your pay grade, give people options when you're on the customer service front lines.

  • Ask customers how they like to be contacted, and provide service in the mode that works best for them.
  • Decide with customers if they want to be proactively contacted on a regular basis, or if they want to reach out to you when they need help.

It's nice to have options -- so use technology and be flexibility to provide them to customers.

4. Basecamp

basecamp-homepageSource: Basecamp

I recently heard from Kristin Aardsma, who works in customer support at Basecamp, at Support Driven's SDX 2017. She spoke about Basecamp's customer support team -- more specifically, how the team readjusted how it measured success to reduce employee stress and turnover and achieve better outcomes for customers.

Part of Basecamp's solution to solving for the customer and making sure it could staff its customer support team to capacity was creating time in the workday for research, innovation, and creativity. To that end, customer support reps spend two hours per day off the phone lines and away from the queue -- and they re-dedicate that time toward other projects. Employees have more opportunities for company-wide impact by collecting research, analyzing data, identifying patterns and trends, and working on projects and processes to achieve better results.

Two hours per day, or 10 hours per week, might sound like a lot, but it paid off for Basecamp. Employees weren't burning out due to overload and stress, and Basecamp wasn't over capacity and unable to solve customer problems because team members were happier.

Customer Service Takeaway: Time spent away from the queue isn't time wasted -- so make sure to dedicate time during your week to identifying patterns, analyzing data, and creating processes to work more efficiently. When you're burning through tickets or on the phones non-stop all day, it can be hard to step away, but front-line customer service insights and feedback can help your organization, so make sure to collect and share them.

Dedicate time each week to reviewing what went wrong, what went well, feedback you receive from customers, and common themes you can identify and surface to your team. You'll be able to do your job better and help others improve, too.

5. Glossier

glossier-homepage-1

Source: Glossier

Skincare and makeup brand Glossier is hailed as an industry disruptor for preaching "skincare first, makeup second," but its customer-centric business model and customer service team are disruptive, too.

CEO and co-founder Emily Weiss explains that she built Glossier around the crowdsourced opinions of real women about the beauty and skincare products they loved -- and the ones they wanted, too. By reading and engaging with readers on her blog and on social media, she built a brand that was about affordable skincare and beauty products that made women feel good to use.

And that social media savvy and crowdsourcing prowess hasn't faded from view since Glossier has grown bigger and bigger -- in fact, it's still the guiding philosophy when Glossier brings new products to market, like when it launched its first sunscreen last year after calls from customers to create a product that wasn't sticky and didn't smell like sunblock. Weiss told Entrepreneur that she received "so many DMs from people on Instagram writing to say, 'Thank you so much for listening; we've been waiting for this moment.'" Most of the products Glossier offers are made vegan and cruelty-free in another example of the brand listening to and immediately implementing customer feedback.

Glossier's customer service department, otherwise known as the gTEAM, are responsible for collecting and responding to customer comments and messages on social media, and creating individualized experiences with each engagement. Perhaps that's why the team is a team within the marketing department, and why they're called "editors" -- because content creation is a big part of Glossier's customer service strategy. With likes, retweets, emoji-decorated DMs, and blog posts, Glossier strives to make each piece of content engaging and authentic to the brand.

For example, here's an email I received from the gTEAM after making one of many recent purchases:

glossier-customer-service-email

The emails were clearly written by a real person, and they feature analytics and feedback tools to get quantitative numbers to support the qualitative feedback editors receive, too. This simple act of proactive outreach and help was helpful and memorable for me as a customer, and it ensured that Glossier would solve a problem I was having with the product before I got frustrated and complained.

Customer Service Takeaway: It's not enough to acknowledge and respond to every piece of incoming customer feedback if you're not listening to what your customers are saying. Make sure you're responding to customer feedback, but also make sure your team is identifying and communicating any recurring trends to your company's leadership and product teams so you're able to consistently meet customer expectations and fulfill their needs.

6. Lyft

Lyft-logo

Source: Lyft

Ride-hailing app Lyft succeeds in the customer service space by making its customers proud by putting its money where its mouth is toward values and causes customers truly care about.

For example, Lyft recently announced its commitment to minimizing the environmental impact of the millions of car rides it provides every day by declaring all of its rides to be carbon neutral, thanks to its voluntary purchase of carbon offsets. According to Pew Research Center, majority populations in 40 countries rate climate change as a serious problem, and a median of 78% of people surveyed globally support the idea of limiting carbon emissions.

And in 2017, Lyft donated $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in response to the introduction of an executive order that restricted immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries to the United States -- and act a majority of Americans opposed. Lyft condemned the executive order, writing in an email to customers:

"Banning people of a particular faith or creed, race or identity, sexuality or ethnicity, from entering the U.S. is antithetical to both Lyft's and our nation's core values. We stand firmly against these actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community."

Wherever you stand on these important issues, it's undeniable that Lyft's customers care about these topics all over the world. Lyft is doing work that's important to its customers with initiatives like those described above, and Round Up & Donate, its program that lets customers round up the price of their rides and donate the extra change to the charitable organization of their choosing (the ACLU is one cause).

Customer Service Takeaway: An important facet of customer service that can be difficult to measure is standing for the values that are important to your customers. Customers take pride in supporting businesses that represent them -- and two-thirds of consumers thought it was important for brands to take a stance on social and political issues -- so companies shouldn't be afraid to serve customers in big-picture ways that make them proud to support them, which will encourage them to share and refer their friends and colleagues. Even if you don't have the budget for a $1 million donation like Lyft, getting customers involved with and excited about fundraising and charity partnerships can go a long way towards fostering loyalty.

7. Whirlaway Sports

Whirlaway Sports is a running apparel and equipment store located in northern Massachusetts. It differentiates itself from competitors through its above-and-beyond customer service experience.  And, that's not just my opinion. Facebook rated the company 4.8 out of five stars while Yelp gives it a five out of five-star rating. 

Here's why Whirlaway Sports is different. They guide you through every step of the buyer's journey. For example, I went there to purchase a pair of running shoes.

Good Customer Service WhirlawayAnother disclaimer: I never purchase running shoes. 

I'm more of an athlete who begrudgingly chose running. So, when I needed a pair of shoes I went on Yelp and found Whirlaway Sports. The reviews didn't let me down as I was greeted immediately as I walked into the store. I told them I needed shoes and they paired me with one of their running specialists. 

This rep knew his stuff. He asked me about my running style, where I ran, how often I would run. Then we talked about price range and brand preferences. They even had a high-tech foot scanner that analyzed my feet to match for potential inserts. It was clear that every step of the experienced was planned and detailed.

And, to really go above-and-beyond, the rep knocked the price down because he knew the shoes I chose were going on sale the following week. He didn't have to mention that, but it was clear he was focused on my goals, not getting me out of the store. 

Customer Service Takeaway: It doesn't matter if you're a multi-billion-dollar company or a local business, your service should be consistent throughout the entire customer experience. Even though Whirlaway is a small business, they've made their mark through committing to the customer's goals. This, in turn, produces loyal customer advocates who willingly refer new leads to the business. 

8. Lego

There are many reasons why Lego has been around since the early 1930s, and customer service is definitely one of them. From the friendly staff to the painless self-service experiences, Lego has stood out with its product and service offerings.

Ever order a Lego set and found that a tiny, yet instrumental piece was missing? Lego offers a missing-pieces service which delivers bricks that are accidentally left out during packaging. Additionally, when the piece is delivered it's accompanied by a personalized apology from the company. This proactive customer service feature helps users overcome a common roadblock and prevent potential churn. 

Even if the piece was lost after packaging, Lego may still replace your order. Like with Luka Apps, who lost his toy during a shopping trip. He wrote this letter below and sent it to Lego's customer service department. 

Good Customer Service Lego 1Source: Help Scout

And, probably while wiping a tear from their eyes, Lego's customer service agent played along and sent this message in return. 

Lego Customer Service 2Source: Help Scout

Customer Service Takeaway: With one free giveaway, Lego obtained two lifetime customers. Luka will obviously be thrilled with his new toys and will recall this experience whenever he thinks of Lego. But, Luka's father will also remember this positive interaction and will probably spend more money with Lego in the future. 

By giving away some free products now, the company is investing in a profitable, long-term relationship down the road. This is how historic companies like Lego have been able to stay in business for decades. 

9. Santa Cruz Bicycles

Santa Cruz Bicycles manufactures and sells high-quality off-road bicycles. Its bikes are known for their high-performance and its customers deeply care about the technology that they're riding. 

But, the bike's performance isn't the only feature that Santa Cruz customers love. They're loyal to the company because its service and support teams match the quality of its products. Customers can trust that any problem they have with a bike will be solved swiftly and with excellent service. Kyle Harder, Santa Cruz Rider Support Lead, noted in an interview with HubSpot that, 

"What sets us apart as a company is that we want to deal with anyone that owns our product, regardless of where you bought it. If you have an issue with a Santa Cruz Bike and come to us with your issue, we'll help you resolve your issue."

And, Kyle wasn't just talking about problems with the bike. The company is also focused on removing long-term roadblocks from the customer experience.

 For example, when the business was first starting out, it experienced a sudden growth. Customers loved the bicycles and the demand for the product rose beyond what Santa Cruz's service team could support. Agents were working tirelessly and the team's email inbox nearly reached capacity. 

Recognizing this flaw in its service experience, Santa Cruz adopted customer service tools to aid its support team. Reps started recording data on customer issues and highlighted problems that were most common with their customer base. They created a shared inbox with an email alias so customers could easily contact the support team. They also created a customer feedback loop so they could collect and share customer reviews to the entire organization. 

Customer Service Takeaway: When your company experiences growth, it can sometimes create unexpected problems that pop up down the road. If these issues are left unchecked, they can become a detriment to the customer experience and halt your business's success. 

Santa Cruz recognized a potential flaw and acted immediately. They adopted customer service tools to ease the pressure on its support team while simultaneously improving the customer experience. That way, reps weren't being overworked and had the time and energy to provide excellent customer service. 

Additionally, Santa Cruz used its new tools to conduct reporting as well. This allowed the company to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction while its customer base continued to grow. Even though more customers were interacting with the business, each interaction still felt genuine and personalized because of the customer data Santa Cruz had gathered.

To learn more about good customer service, read these customer service quotes next.

State of Customer Service

 State of Customer Service

Originally published Aug 6, 2019 12:05:00 AM, updated August 06 2019

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Customer Service