Great customer service starts with doing the unexpected

Would you do almost anything to make a customer happy? You may have to. If you manage a customer service team, look at your policy. Does your team follow it to the tee? A team that goes by the book for every customer interaction wins merits, but could also drive some customers away.

That’s a costly mistake.

Companies lose $62 billion a year due to poor customer service, according to Qualtrics, an online survey platform.

What could they be doing wrong? The list is long. But near the top is giving the same robotic response to concerns or requests from customers.
That common-sense approach to customer service doesn’t always work.

Today’s customers don’t want a shoulder to cry on. They want action.
So, what should you do? What are some ways to treat your customers better?

Do the unexpected.

Break a pattern.

Why? Humans adapt to the same patterns. The same old sensory stimulation makes us tune out. This principle was highlighted in
the book Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

What makes you tune out?

If you hear a car alarm go off in your neighborhood at night, you’ll look out your window. If it happens again the next night, you’d cover your ears with your hands and scream. Third night: You’d likely block it out in your mind, rollover in bed and go to sleep.

Think of the sounds of police sirens, loud truck mufflers, and car horns. You tend to forget those sounds if you hear them everyday from your window.

What grabs attention?

If one day there’s only silence, you’ll notice that. Humans become consciously aware of these things only when something changes.

To be a surprise, an event can’t be predictable. For example, customers expect a friendly voice from your reps. After making a minor complaint, customers know they might get a discount on a future purchase.

Principles of your company’s service policy keep interactions with customers moving in the right direction. But at the same time, you’ve got to inspire your team to go beyond the bare minimum service.

How? Here are a few examples.

Be flexible. Maybe a customer needs an order delivered outside of service hours. Forget about an outside service. Be willing to do it yourself.

Stay on the scene. Let’s say a frequent-buying customer skipped a line in your product’s instructions manual and, oops, your product failed. Instead of backing away, think of how to hold on to your best customer.

Listen to your customers. A supermarket in the UK got a letter from
a child who asked, “why is your ‘Tiger Bread’ named that? It looks like a giraffe.” Management agreed. Wa-la, they changed the name to “Giraffe Bread.”

Why the unexpected approach benefits your company

There are plenty of reasons to go beyond what your customers expect from your company. To stand out, push your actions beyond common sense to uncommon sense. What’s in it for your company?

Your customers are likely to:
• Remember you
• Become loyal to your brand
• Share the positive experience with friends
• Write a favorable comment on social media

This isn’t to say you should do away with your customer service guidelines. On the contrary. They give consistency. They offer guidance. But, there will be many times when your team may have to think creatively based on the interaction.

How can your company do this kind of customer service?

That depends on its size. But the idea of the unexpected can be a motto rather than a hard-and-fast rule.

That’s because doing the unexpected can be easier for smaller companies than larger ones. For example, at Urban Surfaces, we’re a growing luxury vinyl flooring manufacturer and distributor. We’ve become known for the kind of customer service that surprises. That’s how we offer value.

On the other hand, larger companies deal with red tape, approvals and procedures. They might even outsource customer service to a third-party provider, which rarely wins awards.

So, do what you can. When you do the unexpected, you jolt a customer in a positive, memorable way. And, surprise! You’ve got a happy customer.