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Customer Service Stories: Lessons from the Pros

We all know good customer service stories when we see them: The employee that takes the extra step to show you where the low VOC paint is or who returns your sneakers with a smile. And on the flip side, bad customer service is also very easy to recognize: The clerk who is too busy talking to a coworker to acknowledge your presence or the rude agent at the cell phone company. Fortunately, there are many great examples of outstanding customer service in the world and here are 10 top customer service stories:

1)  Costco. Known for paying its employees above industry average, Costco wisely knows and goes after its target market – business owners interested in affordable high-end items and families wanting sophisticated products for a bargain. Hiring policies, great service and product selection have led Costco to achieve greater earnings than Sam’s Club, its nearest competitor. If you own a business of any size, it simply makes sense to focus on hiring the best people and paying them a well-deserved wage.

2)  Zappos: In addition to its 100 percent satisfaction-guaranteed return policy, Zappos encourages customers to order several pairs of shoes and other products and simply return what they don’t need – all for free. Beyond that, the company sent flowers to a woman whose feet were damaged by medical treatments, overnighted a free pair of a shoes to the best man who arrived to the wedding without shoes, happily justified a customer service call that lasted more than 10 hours (and resulted in the sale of one pair of Ugg boots) -- and employees don’t read from pre-set scripts. When it’s clear that customers come first, customers will come flocking.

3)  Disney: With an ideal combination of strong financial performance and customer appeal, Disney targets the heart above the head, making guests’ (of all ages) wishes come true. The magic of the parks is matched by the follow-through and organization of the company and its employees, simplifying family vacations and creating an experience to remember. If your company is all about experiences, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s is important when it comes to reputation management.

4)  Amazon: As big as Amazon is, the company consistently scores well for service, work environment and overall leadership, thanks to the diversity of its products and services, its affordable/free and fast shipping, and its customer response team. While the company continues to grow, it remains focused on the little details that make a big difference.

5)  Nordstrom: From easy returns to not decorating for Christmas until the day after Thanksgiving, and from friendly staff to a book that heralds the company’s great service, the clothing store is recognized for the best customer service in the business. Employees are treated well, which translates into customers being treated well. Likewise, regular customer service training is incredibly important in a customer service business.

6) Southwest Airlines: Receiving rare praise in an industry marred by criticism, Southwest Airlines was founded with customer loyalty in mind. It focuses on hiring engaging employees and giving those employees the ability to respond to customers personally, and is willing to apologize when something goes wrong. In addition to more affordable prices, Southwest has far more social media fans than its competitors, adding to its reputation for doing it right. Being willing to stand out can be a great thing in an underwhelming industry.

7) Whole Foods: Adept at meetings its customers’ needs and providing the social responsibility platform they desire, Whole Foods recently lowered prices and has been recognized as a great place to work by its employees in key surveys. It’s become less of a niche and more of a go-to grocery store for the latest in organic, gluten-free and other important dietary needs, making it easier for its customers to eat and live the way they want.

8) Google: Named the “Best Place to Work” in both 2011 and 2012 by Fortune, Google creates a paradise for employees (through activities, great food and opportunities for interaction) who, in turn, pass on the charm to customers, who consistently rank the company’s service as good or great. A company recognized for creativity and innovation is always of interest to customers.

9) Ritz-Carlton: In addition to luxury rooms and properties, the hotel chain is known for its top-notch guest satisfaction rankings. Employees are trained to offer what guests don’t even realize they want and regularly go above and beyond to provide it. By providing such superior service, the Ritz-Carlton keeps guests coming back and willing to pay top dollar.

10) Trader Joe’s: Offering unique grocery products at affordable prices, Trader Joe’s hires friendly employees, offers fun and creative food items, and creates a festive atmosphere and brand. Thanks to its specialty products, helpful employees and great prices, the stores sell twice as much per square foot than other grocery stores. Being different can be a difference maker in a crowded industry.

What are the lessons from these customer service stories? Do it right the first time. Hire the best people and treat them with respect. Put customers first and last. And take the time to create a lasting experience that will keep customers coming back, bragging about your business and refusing to settle for anything less.

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