Any successful business must have a strategic plan that is fluid and workable. And not surprisingly, all too often the plan is complex, unrealistic and difficult to grasp. Over the last 30 years, I have come to realize that there is a very simple and straightforward strategy that drives the success of many great companies — and it’s not complicated. But delivering it isn’t always easy.

In our hyper-competitive global economy, superior customer service is essential. Unfortunately, many companies lose sight of this — along with valuable customers. After a recent attempt to return home on a major airline, I was again reminded of this fact and the maxim: “customer service is an attitude, not a Department.”

Companies often allow their employees to forget the true meaning of good customer service. And this can kill a business. Why? At every level of responsibility, a firm’s employees are the true face of the company. In turn, a positive attitude, empathy and smile can go a long way when dealing with a disgruntled customer.

Providing Great Customer Service

There are many companies that have become a big success primarily due to their fantastic customer service. For example, Nordstrom’s, a Seattle, Washington-based department store became the model for the service sector. In fact, it became a benchmark for great customer service as noted in the book, The Nordstrom Way: The Inside Story of America’s #1 Customer Service Company. Many agree.

David Glass, President and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, said “our outstanding customer service and Nordstrom’s are synonymous. The innovative approach has allowed them to find out what customers want and then do it. Their standards of service are what we all shoot for.” This is echoed by Willard Marriott, Jr., Chairman and President of Marriott International, Inc., who said, “Nordstrom is a national model for outstanding customer service.”

Wal-Mart, a small regional five and dime store founded by Sam Walton in Bentonville, Arkansas in 1950, built its reputation on providing selection, pricing and great customer service. As a result, in 1988 it became the most profitable retailer in the United States. But that’s not all. Wal-Mart has become one of the largest corporations in the world.

A driving force in firms with great customer service is superior management.

To keep the service department operating at the highest levels, founder Sam Walton often would travel to stores unannounced just to observe how his employees treated customers. Factors setting Wal-Mart aside from the rest also include its “no hassle return policy,” smiling faces, and a greeter that welcomes everyone who enters and exits its store. And very importantly, Wal-Mart has a policy of promoting from the bottom-up, rewarding employees for a job well done.

In 1946, Lowe’s Home Improvement was a small hardware company headquartered in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Since then, the company has grown to become the second-largest home retailer worldwide. Lowe’s built its reputation by providing high quality home improvement products at low prices, while also delivering superior customer service. Their tagline, “Never Stop Improving,” is something the company has taken to heart.

A socially responsible company, Lowe’s often participates in programs such as Habitat for Humanity, and often delivers relief for hurricane and tornado victims. This is reflected in their employees’ attitudes. The firm also has a strong record of promoting from within. In fact, Bob Tillman, who became the CEO in 1996, began his career with Lowe’s as an entry level employee in 1962.

Establishing Good Corporate Values

A driving force in firms with great customer service is superior management — which has the responsibility to be good role models for employees. Thus, to build a top customer-centric company, top-down programs must embrace the best values and visions.

Although this could be a real challenge for today’s employers, it’s essential to identify, hire and retain employees who are enthusiastic and eager to perform. To boost incentives, it’s important to offer competitive packages that reward employees for superior performance. Also, when hiring, keep in mind that a good employee should be confident, motivated, self-starting, disciplined, and able to work well without constant supervision.

Employees who are respected, recognized by their organizations for good performance, well compensated, and offered opportunities to advance within the company often are happier. In turn, they typically have better attitudes that customers will notice.

There are plenty of tips that sales representatives can use to improve their performance as well. An important one is this: under commit and over deliver.

There is no secret to providing great customer service: hire the right people, provide an attractive incentive and compensation program, educate employees of how best to deal with customers in various situations, and very importantly, explain the benefits of a great attitude. Although this is a challenge, it’s increasingly necessary in today’s digital age where competition is a click away.

Every day we observe examples of great customer service — whether we are buying a cup of coffee, ordering lunch or shopping at the local department store. We all appreciate a friendly smile and positive attitude. But the poor attitude and bad service sometimes will be remembered for years keeping customers buying at our competitors.


Michael DeLaura
About The Author Michael DeLaura
Michael DeLaura is a contributing writer for various publications. With more than 30 years of sales experience, he also is an Exterior Cladding Specialist at Sto Corp., a leading German manufacturer of construction materials with offices in the United States and worldwide.

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