Top twelve tips for brilliant customer service

Although I don't write business books much these days, I am still passionate about creativity and customer service in business, and I thought it would be useful to occasionally throw in something from my customer service book, Capturing Customers' Hearts. I've called this 'top twelve tips' but really it's more the twelve aspects of customer service you need to focus on if you want your business to have charisma - to actually appeal to customers, rather than be somewhere they go because there's no other choice.

1. Going the extra light year

In a way, this first component pulls all the others together. It’s an attractive trait if someone goes out of their way to help you. Equally it’s attractive if a company goes that extra mile. But for true charisma, to stand out like a beacon, you have to do more – to go the extra light year, the first component of capturing customers' hearts.

2. If it’s broke, fix it

We all get it wrong sometimes. Zero defect is a fantasy beloved of quality circles, but it is not a fact of human life. However good our systems and procedures and staff, things will go wrong – and then the customer measures the company's worth on how well we fix things. All too often, service recovery is grudging, set about with conditions and rules that make the hard-done-by customer feel like a criminal. If this is how you treat your customers, you are missing a huge opportunity for building up charisma.

3. I’m in love with my car

There are some products and brands that produce a reaction in the customer that is wildly disproportionate to their nominal value. It’s true of some cars, for instance, which have an almost fanatical following. Often these aren’t the best products by any conventional measure – instead they have a certain quirkiness that seems to generate such affection. You can’t engineer a product to be charismatic, but you can encourage it in that direction – and make sure that you maintain the benefit once you have a product that has achieved this status.

4. They know me

The whole field of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has built up around the thesis that you can give customers a better experience if you know about them and make use of that knowledge in the way you serve them. Unfortunately, all too often, CRM has been driven by systems (and systems manufacturers) rather than the realities of human relationships. But this shouldn’t be allowed to cloud the reality that the company that really makes the customer feel recognized and welcome has a big stake in the charisma game.

5. Star power

Companies who don’t have a star figurehead tend to be cynical about those who do. The key figures (think Richard Branson) are regarded as unrepentant self-publicists for whom the limelight is more important than the success of the business. Yet this overlooks the fact that the public like a recognizable human face for a company. You can’t identify with a corporation – you can with a famous chief executive. For that matter, you can with any famous employee (remember the Halifax's Howard?) – or maybe the whole team. Perhaps everyone can be a star.

6. They’re people like us

As a gross generalization, people like people. They like dealing with real people. They have relationships with real people, not with companies. So the more it is possible to make your customer contact staff into real people, the better. That means staff who behave like people, not like automata. It means real people with real enthusiasms – especially those that are shared with the customers. And it means people we have to trust to get it right. There can be no charisma from staff in a strait jacket.

7. Surprise, surprise!

Dullness and charisma don’t go together. Once upon a time, consistency was a customer service god, but if everything is the same, if everything is predictable, there can be no excitement, no charisma. The element of surprise, provided it is a pleasant surprise is a key component to keeping your customers intrigued and coming back for more. Don’t bore them until they run over to the competition – keep the creativity and fun flowing.

8. Technical wizardry

It’s often said that men don’t really grow up – they remain enthralled by toys for their whole life. Whether your customers are men or women, technical flair will appeal to their male side. Sometimes charisma needs a little gloss – used correctly, technical polish is a valuable addition. Technology needs to be optional – some customers are turned off by it – but for many it is an effective attractor.

9. They’re mine, all mine

To call someone parochial is usually an insult, and yet we all have a degree of positive parochialism. It doesn’t matter if it’s my town, my country or my football team – we like to see our own do well. The more we can bring customers to feel that they own the company, the more they will feel inseparable from the company and its fortunes. Make the company theirs and loyalty is no longer an issue – it’s a fait accompli.

10. Cute and cuddly

If technology appeals to the male in us all, there’s something about being cute and cuddly that tugs at our female side. To be charismatic is not necessarily to be loveable, but companies that give their customers that warm glow are inevitably charismatic.

11. We keep in touch

Communication is at the heart of human relationships and is equally important in fostering the relationship between a human being and a company. So often the things that go wrong are a result of a breakdown in communications. Keeping up a dialogue and making it obvious that you enjoy that communication makes it difficult for a customer to resist. You should never let up on communications.

12. The twelfth component

That’s eleven out of the way, but what of the twelfth? I have to confess that consideration of a twelfth component arose initially out of a sense of order. There’s something lumpy and unsatisfactory about the number eleven, compared to the serried order of twelve. When I began to think about what a twelfth component could be, I realised it was just as well that I had undertaken the exercise, because I had missed something big. Most people would accept that some companies have attributes that make the unique. What I came to realize, however, is that this statement can be generalized. Every company has its unique attributes, and these form the twelfth component that can bring charisma.