Customer Service: What Does It Mean?

I think it’s ironic I’m most satisfied with the customer service at Starbucks™ – a place I spend very little money. It’s not at my telecom where I spend considerably more. Not my gym, my grocery store or a handful of other service providers.

The good news is that the National American Customer Satisfaction Index reports that since 2001 customer satisfaction has been on a slow incline (after many years of decline).

I’d like to think businesses are once again realizing long-term profitability (and Return On Investment / ROI), is driven from investing wisely in customer relationships – and that investment means a renewed focus on their customers, their employees and the company.

The pay-off for those companies is that customers are noticing. And no wonder. Customers love to know someone is looking out for their best interests.

How Does A Company Improve Customer Satisfaction?

I believe customer satisfaction is a combination of Managing Customer Expectations and Exceptional Customer Service. What do these trendy catch phrases mean?

The definition I work with and follow in my communication training is that they have to meet the following:

First – Managing Expectations and Exceptional Customer Service have to be outwardly focused. It’s about exceeding Your Audiences expectations – not yours – and your audience can be your clients, your co-workers or your boss.

Second – Managing Expectations and Exceptional Customer Service have to be recognized, appreciated and valued by your audience every time you communicate.

Third – Managing Expectations and Exceptional Customer Service have to be flexible and meaningful. The right solution for ‘client A’ may not be the right solution for ‘client B’. As Starbucks says on their website “It happens millions of times each week – a customer receives a drink from a Starbucks barista – but each interaction is unique.”

Fourth – Managing Expectations and Exceptional Customer Service have to be real. You can’t fake it… they have to represent the personal values of your employees and the values of the company… and support your customers values.

Fifth – Employees need to know what Managing Expectations and Exceptional Customer Service mean and that they are empowered to make a difference. Employees are motivated when they are encouraged and their successes celebrated.

Sixth – Managing Expectations and Exceptional Customer Service have to be cost-effective and sustainable – they can’t bankrupt the company. We all have to find place where ‘demonstrating our best’ and ‘making it right’ also supports ROI, productivity and brand reputation.

We Have To Communicate Clearly And With Respect

It doesn’t matter if you are a lawyer, an account manager or a sales executive; your customers need to make decisions and they look to you for your professional advice. So, be clear when you communicate with them.

Help them understand what’s possible and what’s impossible.

One of the most common communication challenges I help clients overcome when I deliver Effective Email Etiquette training is Managing Expectations and Exceptional Customer Service. The following is an example of an email I received while writing this blog post – and where this is NOT happening.

Example 1: Manage Expectations

sample email

It’s clear the writer is not managing my expectations – or even their own. A simple solution would be to offer two or three alternate meeting times.

There is a very real cost / loss when employees write bad email like this. As I mention in my blog post called Increase Productivity By 15% Or More! you’re wasting 12 days of your time each year if you have to write one additional email to 15% of the people who write to you (because your co-worker didn’t write a clear message for example).

Example 2: Manage Expectations

Consider the differences in people’s expectations around hotels. Customers may want one or more of the following:

  • A place to be transported into luxury
  • Peace and quiet
  • A kids water park
  • Adult only

If you represent a hotel known for its kids water park you shouldn’t fake it and book someone calling and requesting a quiet, luxury weekend option. A good move here would be to recommend them to another hotel (preferably a sister hotel).

That’s the difference between completing a transaction vs. building a relationship. Customers will remember if you manage their expectations and provide exceptional customer service. Even if you send business away today, they’ll likely recommend you to others.

Involve Employees

I believe we are all good at Managing Expectations and Exceptional Customer Service – but we don’t all do it the same way.

Some people are great in front of customers so may be good in sales or customer service. Other people like being behind the scene and may prefer a product development position. The key is to know where your strengths are… or what the strengths of the members of your team are.

There are simple evaluations you can employ to help you determine the strengths of your employees. The results will help your employees choose better career choices – and help the company effectively reward, place and train employees.

Example 3: Know Your Strengths

A few weeks ago I was walking into a building. The large doors were closed. A man who I happen to know is a lawyer was entering about 5 paces ahead of me. He pulled a heavy door open, stepped in and without looking to see if there was someone behind him, he “leffer go” as my dad would say. The door slammed shut.

I opened it again under my own power (and was kind to the people behind me). Ironically we were entering a church… which proves you’ll find all types of people in similar places (or companies).

The man is successful in a profession that’s very fact based. Empathy is not likely one of this persons strengths… and I bet he knows it… and for him that’s OK. Not all lawyers need to be empathic – and for some that works in their favour.

Involve The Organization

Managing Expectations and Exceptional Customer Service for a company begin with defining company objectives (what do we want the companies reputation to be)? The next step is to define how to demonstrate those objectives.

Industry best practices have proven the best results happen when employees help define your objectives and the associated behaviour. Why? Happy employees create happy customers. Also, you’ll likely not to miss anything and you’ll have their buy-in when it comes to implementation.

Here are a few suggested objectives to consider and to get your teams creative juices flowing.

Objective Setting Example: Bruce Mayhew Consulting

When defining objectives, keep them in-line with mission, vision, values and core competencies. The easiest way to exceed expectations is to use the strengths that come natural (individual strengths and company strengths).


Customers have more choices and a greater voice in what they want than ever. And, every interaction is a customer experience.

Exceptional customer satisfaction isn’t about being out there on your own. It’s about aligning what’s best about you with what’s best about your company, your co-workers and your customers.

As Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” It’s about aligning your organization’s mission, vision, values and purpose and for a company objective to align and take advantage of these important assets.

So, what can you do that is different from your competitors and great for your customers?

Happy communicating.

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Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Email Etiquette, Managing Difficult Conversations, Multigenerational Training, Time Management and Mindfulness.

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I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.

About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

7 Responses to Customer Service: What Does It Mean?

  1. Alex Loach says:

    Excellent article from a slightly different yet very interesting perspective!

  2. Lou Mancini says:

    Thanks Bruce, a great refresher as customer service is key to any successful business relationship.

  3. Pingback: An Email Style Guide; Should Your Company Have One? « Bruce Mayhew Blog: Business Communication

  4. Pingback: Does Customer Service Live In Corporate Values? « Bruce Mayhew Blog: Business Communication

  5. Lurlene Madge says:

    Good customer service is the lifeblood of any business. You can offer promotions and slash prices to bring in as many new customers as you want, but unless you can get some of those customers to come back, your business won’t be profitable for long.*

I’ll enjoy reading your thoughts and your experiences.

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