Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary

Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary

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by Steve Curtin

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Great customer service is rare. In fact, one survey found that while 80 percent of companies described themselves as delivering “superior” service, consumers estimated the number at a mere 8 percent. The problem, according to service expert Steve Curtin, is actually quite simple. When asked what their work entails, most employees list the duties and tasks


Great customer service is rare. In fact, one survey found that while 80 percent of companies described themselves as delivering “superior” service, consumers estimated the number at a mere 8 percent. The problem, according to service expert Steve Curtin, is actually quite simple. When asked what their work entails, most employees list the duties and tasks associated with their position. Very few refer to the true essence of their job, which should be their highest priority—to create delighted customers who will be less price sensitive, have higher repurchase rates, and enthusiastically recommend the company or brand to others. Without this customer focus, all that exists is a transaction—and transactional service does not make a lasting positive impression or inspire loyalty. In Delight Your Customers, Curtin reveals three elements common to all exceptional service experiences. He also makes a compelling case that attention needs to shift from monitoring service activities to modeling, recognizing, and reinforcing the behaviors that actually create happy customers, such as expressing genuine interest, offering sincere compliments, sharing unique knowledge, conveying authentic enthusiasm, providing pleasant surprises, and delivering service heroics when needed. Illustrated with real-world stories and examples, this refreshing guide helps readers everywhere take their customer service from ordinary to extraordinary.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Consultant Curtin offers a cheerful though obvious jaunt through the basics of customer service. Great customer service isn’t a Herculean task, he notes; people don’t want the wheel reinvented—they want solid, courteous service. To get there, managers should focus on helping employees understand the difference between the two sides of their jobs: job function (the daily tasks of work) and job essence (the true priorities of the job). Job function, in other words, is “sweep the store”; job essence is “pay attention to detail.” Customer service must be made the most important aspect of each employee’s job. Curtin uses case studies to illuminate his process for reaching those all-important repeat purchasers who provide positive word of mouth: express genuine interest, offer sincere and specific compliments, share unique knowledge, convey authentic enthusiasm, use appropriate humor, provide pleasant surprises, and deliver service heroics. While his approach is solid—personalize your service to each customer, and treat customers like guests in your home—the content is slim and unoriginal, and anyone seeking the skills to provide excellent customer service will likely already understand his advice. Agent: Michael Snell, Michael Snell Literary Agency. (June)
From the Publisher

"If you are serious about elevating the level of service in your organization, this is your book...Read it and begin your journey from ordinary to extraordinary." --9InchMarketing

"... written from a fresh point of view..packed with a lot of details and comparisons to help you understand what is ordinary and what is extraordinary." --CXJourney

"If you want to delight your customers, then the new book Delight Your Customers is a must-read for you and your employees." --Eric Jacobson On Management And Leadership

“…great new book called Delight Your Customers.The author talks about great customer service, how important it is, and how to deliver it. You really should pick it up." --PCB007

“…must-read for small or mega-businesses who want to offer such amazing service to their customers or clients that they will be more than delighted to come back again...”

“The age of service enlightenment has arrived with Steve Curtin’s Delight Your Customers.” --Ken Shelton, Sales and Service Excellence

"This is a book that every customer service professional should read and every manager should model.” --Portland Book Review

Customer Service Newsletter Best Customer Service Books of 2013

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Delight Your CUSTOMERS


By Steve Curtin, Aaron McKissen


Copyright © 2013 Steve Curtin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8144-3282-2



Three Truths of Exceptional Customer Service

If you want to find out just how bad customer service is, go buy something. It hardly even matters where you go, whom you call, or which website you visit. Sure, there are exceptions—those fabled companies that come to mind when one thinks about legendary customer service, like Zappos, Disney, L.L. Bean, Nordstrom, and Ritz-Carlton. But even then, the quality of your service experience hinges on the one-on-one interaction you have with a service provider, despite the company's acclaimed service culture.

But if you are not dealing with an exceptional company or an especially customer-focused service provider, chances are you are dealing with an average company or an indifferent employee in terms of customer service.

In my customer service seminars, I distinguish between the two aspects of every employee's job role: job function, the duties or tasks associated with the employee's job roles, and job essence, the employee's highest priority at work. Recognizing the difference between these two aspects is central to understanding why customer service quality is so predictably poor. In my seminars, I also share three truths that are common to all exceptional customer service experiences:

1. It reflects the essence—the most critical aspect, the highest priority—of every service industry employee's job role.

2. It is always voluntary. An employee chooses to deliver exceptional customer service.

3. In most cases, it costs no more to deliver than poor customer service. In other words, it's free.

Awareness is key. People don't know what they don't know.

The first thing to do to increase awareness and improve the quality of customer service delivery in any business is to ask employees this question: "Would you describe for me, from your perspective, what you do—what your job entails?"

When I pose this question to employees I encounter in hotels, shopping centers, supermarkets, or airports, the responses I receive almost always apply exclusively to their job functions.

Here's how my latest conversation with a supermarket employee went:

ME: "Pardon me. Do you mind if I ask what you do—what your job entails?"

EMPLOYEE: "Are you from corporate headquarters or something?"

ME: "No. I'm just interested in what you do."

EMPLOYEE: "Well, my job is to sack groceries, but when we're not busy, I bring in shopping carts from the lot and sweep the store. Sometimes I have to check prices or clean up spills. That's about it."

Every action mentioned has to do with job function. Rarely do employees reference actions or behaviors pertaining to job essence, which, ironically, should be their highest priority at work.

This brings us to the first truth of exceptional customer service.

Exceptional Customer Service Reflects the Essence of Every Service Industry Employee's Job Role

While employees consistently execute job function, they inconsistently demonstrate job essence. That's a problem, because job essence reflects an employee's highest priority at work. For employees at most service-oriented companies, this priority is, by his or her actions, to create a promoter. A promoter, according to the consulting firm Bain & Company, is a customer who is less price-sensitive, has higher repurchase rates, and is responsible for 80 to 90 percent of the positive word-of-mouth about a company or brand.

The challenge for employers is that, oftentimes, employees think that the functions and essence of their job roles are one and the same. When this happens, employees become transactional and process-focused, treating each customer like the last customer. A factory mentality ensues. In the short term, this practice may be highly efficient (employees process more customers more quickly), but in the long term, it is ineffective. It does not fulfill the organization's highest priority: to create promoters.

Consider your own organization. Do employees really know the difference between their job functions and the essence of their job? If you're not sure, just ask them. My hunch is that you will be met with blank stares. This then becomes an opportunity for you to have a meaningful conversation with your employees about the difference between the tasks they are responsible for executing and your organization's highest priority.

Job function includes employees' job knowledge (what they do) and job skills (how they do it). Most employees are aware of their responsibility to execute job function and are proficient in this aspect of their work. And managers can recite job functions for most job roles in their sleep.

Consider the supermarket employee discussed above, and his list of what his job entails:

• Sack groceries (job function)

• Bring in shopping carts (job function)

• Sweep the store (job function)

• Check prices (job function)

• Clean up spills (job function)

Note that these are all job functions, the duties or tasks associated with his job role, and that there is no mention of any attention to job essence.

Job essence reflects employees' motivation (why they do it). Employees are typically less clear about this dimension of their job roles, mainly because they are focused on job function. What motivates employees individually—their unique purpose or vision for their lives—is beyond the scope of this book (although the most effective leaders do engage their employees to glean insight into what motivates each of them as individuals). For our purposes, we are simply considering the organization's priorities: Why does the organization exist? What is its purpose? And what role does the employee play in contributing to this purpose?

For example, Zappos has aligned the entire organization around one mission: to provide the best customer service possible. Everything its employees do—from receiving a merchandise order at its contact center, through order fulfillment, to (when required) product returns—is geared toward providing the best customer service possible. This is the essence of every Zappos employee's job role, and it informs every decision employees make. This is especially critical when employees are faced with a decision of whether or not to express genuine interest in a caller or to pleasantly surprise a customer by expediting the shipping of her order.

I work with a shopping center in Denver that defines its purpose as: to create promoters of [the shopping center]. This is a very effective purpose statement or vision because it is simple and concrete. Similar to the Zappos example, every shopping center employee can understand and remember it.

A lack of clarity of purpose exists whenever employees know what to do and how to do it, but do not know why they are doing it. Most often, this is the case.

When I ask five employees with the same job title what they do and how they do it, 80 percent of the responses are similar. This is no surprise since these employees are simply describing their job functions. However, when I ask the same five employees why (from the organization's perspective) they do it, 80 percent of the responses differ.

Most of the time, an organization's "why" is unknown to its employees. Or, the "why" is known but is misunderstood or misinterpreted. There are a variety of reasons for this incongruence, including lack of communication, awareness, understanding, credibility, or interest.

Let's say the organization's purpose (its "why") is reflected in this vision statement:

We will strive to provide exceptional customer service to our customers, coworkers, vendors, and other stakeholders in order to create promoters of our company.

That may be the organization's stated purpose—you know, the one that is framed and displayed in the executive offices and perhaps is referenced during the company's new-hire orientation—but it cannot inspire employees unless it is reflected in the culture, policies, and practices of the company, and unless it is brought to life daily in the words and actions of company leaders.

In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek writes:

To inspire starts with the clarity of WHY ... When a WHY is clear, those who share that belief will be drawn to it and maybe want to take part in bringing it to life ... Average companies give their people something to work on ... (The best) organizations give their people something to work toward.

What are your people working toward?

Although it didn't come up during my informal interview with the supermarket employee, the essence of his job role might be to create promoters of his supermarket. In order to create promoters, the employee must execute his job functions in addition to demonstrating job essence. There are countless ways to achieve this, such as:

• Expressing genuine interest in customers

• Displaying a sense of urgency

• Paying attention to detail

• Anticipating the needs of customers

• Conveying authentic enthusiasm for serving customers

Table 1-1 shows examples of job function and job essence for a supermarket employee.

Job function is indicated in job descriptions, policies, procedures, protocol, and checklists. Job essence is reflected in employees' personality, creativity, enthusiasm, passion, and unique flair.

It's not enough to demonstrate attention to job function while ignoring job essence. For example, most parents appreciate a photographer's authentic enthusiasm for photographing their children (job essence), in addition to high-quality photos that reflect proper exposure, aperture, and shutter settings (job function).

It's also insufficient to demonstrate job essence in the absence of job function. An outgoing hotel front desk agent who pleasantly surprises a couple with a spontaneous upgrade to a premium room with ocean views (job essence) ultimately disappoints if she checks them into a dirty room (job function).

In order to provide exceptional customer service and create promoters, employees must exhibit both job function and job essence. I recently went to Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches, which emphasizes "freaky fast" speed of service. Upon delivering my order (job function), the employee said, "Sorry you didn't have to wait for that" (job essence). I laughed. By simply interjecting humor, he enlivened what could have been a routine and ordinary transaction.

Figure 1-1 illustrates the necessity of demonstrating both job function (knowledge and skills) and job essence (purpose, one's highest priority at work) in order to provide exceptional customer service and create promoters of a company or brand.

Recently, I spoke with Zane, the manager of a fast-casual restaurant. During our conversation, he shared some of the recurring challenges he faces in trying to elevate customer service at his restaurant.

One frustration he mentioned was the inability of his staff (with the exception of one or two "superstars") to consistently provide exceptional customer service. According to Zane, when he challenges employees to "try a little harder" to provide such service, the majority reply, "But I do everything I'm supposed to do." This response is telling and may hold the key to whether or not customer service quality will improve at the restaurant.

The employee lament above highlights the mandatory aspect of job functions that are required of employees' job roles—those duties or tasks that are expected by supervisors and customers alike. These are responsibilities that employees are "supposed to do." Absent from this remark is anything that is not required, is unexpected, and is voluntary—anything that reflects job essence.

Most employees consistently execute mandatory job functions but inconsistently demonstrate voluntary job essence—behavior that is not required and is often unexpected, actions that employees choose to do. This explains why you and I seldom receive exceptional customer service: because employees don't have to deliver it. And most don't.

There is one reason why Zane is challenged by staff who consistently deliver hot food hot and cold food cold (job function), but inconsistently express genuine interest in customers or convey authentic enthusiasm in serving them (job essence). It is because most operations, and the supervisors who oversee them, focus predominantly on job functions and the efficiencies associated with them in order to reduce costs and increase profits.

In Zane's restaurant, it's not uncommon for employees to receive feedback on and be held accountable to menu knowledge, following procedures, completing their side work, and other job functions. And it's unlikely that a day goes by that he doesn't scrutinize operational metrics associated with job function: average check, food costs, productivity, profitability, etc. That's what managers do, right?

I told Zane that I understand the importance of job function. Really, I do. You can't run a business without it. And you can't provide exceptional customer service without it. No guest at his restaurant wants an undercooked entrée delivered with a smile. But job function is only half an employee's job. The other half, job essence—which is often neglected by employees and managers alike—is missing in most employee interactions that customers would describe as routine and transactional.

Managers must remind employees daily through modeling, feedback, pre-shift meetings, etc., that excellence lies not in what's expected and required (what employees are supposed to do) but in what's unexpected and voluntary (what employees choose to do). These unexpected and voluntary actions include anticipating customers' needs, paying attention to detail, displaying a sense of urgency, and following up.

And therein lies the second truth of exceptional customer service.

Exceptional Customer Service Is Always Voluntary

Consider the illustrations mentioned earlier in this chapter: Does a photographer have to convey authentic enthusiasm for photographing children? Of course not. It's optional. Does a hotel front desk agent have to provide a pleasant surprise by spontaneously upgrading guests to a premium room with ocean views? No. Her decision is voluntary. What about a sandwich maker at Jimmy John's? Does he have to use appropriate humor with his customers? No. His choice to use humor is voluntary.

Most people don't choose to deliver poor customer service. They just don't choose to deliver exceptional customer service. Most employees are content to simply occupy a customer service role and execute job functions, blissfully unaware of the opportunities they forfeit daily to demonstrate job essence by taking the initiative to do the little things that leave big impressions on customers.

I recall once saying to a client, "Exceptional customer service is always optional." Upon hearing this, his eyes narrowed as he leaned forward across the conference table. His voice lowered as he retorted, "Not around here! In my building, exceptional customer service is mandatory!"

I disagreed but, in his defense, most general managers would say the same thing: "Of course exceptional customer service is not optional. We don't permit employees to provide substandard customer service!"

In theory, they're right. But in practice, they're kidding themselves.

The reason that you and I as customers rarely experience the "exceptional" customer service that these business leaders claim is mandatory is because it's optional. An employee chooses to make eye contact, smile, or add a bit of enthusiasm to her voice.

Can you recall a recent interaction you've had over the phone or face-to-face with an employee who you sensed was apathetic, bored, or indifferent toward serving you? Of course you can. It happens all the time—even in work environments where exceptional customer service is "mandatory."

Employers can mandate many aspects of an employee's job role: the protocol required to complete a task, the employee's wardrobe and grooming standards, or the time the employee begins or ends her shift. But they cannot mandate the attributes that influence whether or not customers receive exceptional service.

An employee's personality, disposition, uniqueness, creativity, or engagement level is determined by the employee, not her employer. She chooses to smile. She chooses to refuse to banter with a coworker in front of a customer. She chooses to go the extra mile to serve a customer.

While employers cannot mandate these attributes, they can hire for them. That's why the companies that consistently produce the highest levels of customer satisfaction also invest the most in their employee selection efforts. Leaders at these companies are not kidding themselves. They recognize that employees choose to provide exceptional customer service (or, as is often the case, choose not to), and they establish their employee selection criteria accordingly.

Southwest Airlines is a company that is renowned for its highly selective hiring process, which searches for applicants with the perfect blend of energy, humor, team spirit, and self-confidence to match its famously offbeat and customer-obsessed culture.

Excerpted from Delight Your CUSTOMERS by Steve Curtin. Copyright © 2013 by Steve Curtin. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

STEVE CURTIN spent 20 years with Marriott International. He now runs his own customer service consulting firm, Steve Curtin, Customer Enthusiast!

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Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having spent 8 years in the hotel industry, I've gone through many trainings and have read many books on customer service. None of these have come close to being as appropriate and impactful as Mr. Curtin's service message of elevating service from ordinary to extraordinary through 7 simple service behaviors. A little over two years ago while working at a hotel in Boston, I had the aboslute pleasure of getting to hear Mr. Curtin speak at an all associate "rally". His message, "Service Elevated" and the service behaviors associated, was so simple and sincere, we eagerly incorporated it into our daily routine at the hotel. The impact was immediate and response was grand. We saw increases in guest satisfaction and our hotel was among the top hotels in guest satisfaction in the country within our brand. After having left that successful hotel for one that was in a state of "rebuilding", I started researching Mr. Curtin and "Service Elevated!" and was delighted to find that he had since wrote "Delight Your Customers" and immediately purchased a copy. His book was just as engaging as he was. Thoughtful, fun, encouraging, and entirely appropriate for any customer focused team. About 5 pages into the book, I went online to look for any training resources available that I could use to support this message while incorporating into our Front Office. I didn't find anything specific and contacted who I thought was Mr. Curtin's publishers. Imagine my surprise when Mr. Curtin e-mailed me back himself almost immediately! He made time to discuss his service message over the phone with me and went as far as coordinating an order of training materials/posters for us. WOW!!! All the while, he so flawlessly executed each of his 7 service behaviors. I was blown away. Our Front Office is now in the process of rolling out a service program based around his 7 service behaviors and the rest of our hotel department heads are in the process of reading his book. Each of them is just as enthusiastic as I am about facilitating our service program based on his ideas. I absolutely recommend any service industry associates/leaders read this book and encourage you even more to apply it!