What is your best ever customer service experience? It's a question I've asked thousands of people and 95% of the results tell the same story.
Most answers aren't about a fabulous fascia or a stunning full colour brochure. It's almost certain that it would be something that involves a person who was thoughtful, caring and who genuinely wanted to help. And not just help, but help you at a time when you needed it most.
Then if you were asked to put a cost on that amazing service (other than a little time) it's more than likely that it cost either very little or nothing to provide.
In 12 years writing about and teaching organisations I've discovered that it's possible to be brilliant and how to provide five-star customer service - often on a one-star budget.
And it's never been more important, as customers are becoming ever more savvy and will continue to demand ever higher standards.
So here are some of the top mistakes most people make and, more importantly, what you can do to avoid them.
1. Thinking they are already good
In most cases they aren't, but even if they are, here's a home truth for 2010 - doing a good job is no longer good enough. It's time to raise your game and be brilliant.
2. Focusing on ‘fixing things' only when they go wrong
Customers have an emotional bank account (EBA). When you do a brilliant job, you're in credit. A good job is neutral (nobody becomes a raving fan of a company because they're simply good) and if you get it wrong it's a massive withdrawal.
The secret to creating a five-star service reputation is to put multiple deposits - large and small - into your customer's EBA.
Then when you do need to take a withdrawal (and you will) you'll stay in credit.
3. Trying to ‘wow' your customers with one off super service specials
Yes, we all like to be wowed, however, there is something even more important. I call them ‘wee wows'. The little things that you know you should do but, in haste, through lack of knowledge and other factors, you forget.
Wee wows are as simple as always saying please and thank you, using a person's name, having a genuine smile, handwriting ‘Yours sincerely' and making sure things work (take note hotels, with regard to bedroom tv remote controls).
There are dozens of things that you could do and each one of them counts.
4. Making ‘bad profit'
It's easy to make bad profits, because they are made at the expense of your customers. You've probably experienced a few yourself: Special offers that aren't really special; missed deadlines; a slight drop in quality to increase the margin; and hidden extra charges to bump up the price.
The challenge with bad profit is sooner or later you are going to get caught out. Then the short-term gain will seem tiny compared with the long-term losses that you could have avoided if you'd focused on creating good profit from day one.
5. Thinking that customer satisfaction is important
My friend Jeffrey has a great quote: "Customer satisfaction is worthless. Customer loyalty is priceless." It's true. Companies waste a fortune on customer satisfaction surveys. Surveys which simply point out that the minimum expectation your customers have of you and your business is satisfaction - minimum.
No one is going to become an advocate and shout about what you do because you provide ‘customer satisfaction'. It's time to go to the next level and create loyalty, because loyal customers don't switch.
6. Believing silent customers are happy customers
Beware the silent customer. How important is five-star service? Really? Imagine the scene. You're out for a meal. The service is slow, the food distinctly average and the wine overpriced.
At the end of the evening you pay the bill (and probably leave a tip to save embarrassment). Next, there's the moment of truth when the waiter asks, "How was everything?" And you reply "Fine".
It wasn't fine at all - it was pants. You won't tell them but you will tell your friend who's thinking of booking a table there next week.
And there lies the challenge. If your customers aren't complaining it doesn't mean they're happy - it just means they're not telling you.
7. Forgetting who the most important person in the world really is
I spoke at a conference last year which had Outstanding Customer Service as its theme. I asked the audience, "Who is the most important person in the world?"
Quick as a flash a bloke shouted out, "The customer".
I replied with, "OK, so you and your customer are on a desert island, there's food for one. Now who's the most important person in the world?"
He looked confused for a moment before shouting back, "I'd eat the bugger."
You are the most important person in the world, so start looking after yourself. Self-respect, self-help, self-worth are three areas to focus on. Only when you address those areas can you really create amazing five-star service for your customers.
8. Spending so much money on the decor, there's nothing left for training
I checked in to one of the most stunning new hotels in London a few weeks ago. The interior design made me gasp - stunning. The reception staff made me cringe - awful. Curt and careless. The best staff are trained every week and are given the tools, techniques and motivation to want to do a five-star job.
9. Lack of service education
You can't be brilliant at customer service by only studying yourself. There's a wonderful wide world out there bursting with ideas that you could adapt and use.
By ‘thinking transferrable' you can grab some amazing ideas very quickly from the likes of the motor trade, education, specialist traders and dozens of others.
If you like what you see, concentrate on tweaking the ideas and adapting them to fit your organisation now.
These are just a few mistakes to avoid and a few tips to keep you ahead of the competition. And did you notice how much it would cost you to implement them? That's right, nothing! And if you don't you'll lose business. Your customers aren't going to tell you why they've gone - they will just go.
You'll blame anything but your own less-than-brilliant service and never know how it could have been.
You don't want that (no one wants that), so go for it. It's never been as important as it is right now to raise your game and create five-star service for you and your organisation.
Michael Heppell is the international best selling author of 5 Star Servicewww.michaelheppell.com