September 28, 2012

8 Companies with Exceptional Customer Service

8 Companies with Exceptional Customer Service

Taking to the loudspeaker about your exceptional customer service is all too common these days.

Those of us in the know (folks like yourself) look at the data: you can't hide the fact that most companies just plain suck at delivering outstanding service.

For every 10,000 companies that claim they offer a superior customer experience, only 100 or so are actually delivering it.

Today, it's time to recognize some of these awesome companies.

Below you'll find a sampling of just a few of the companies out there that are truly "WOWing" their customers with superior service, and we'll even take a look at some specific instances that prove these companies are ready to go above-and-beyond.

Let's get to the list!

1. Trader Joe’s

I've always been a big fan of Trader Joe's, which, if you're unfamiliar, is a specialty and privately owned grocery chain.

While I love the brand for it's great organic products and reasonable prices, I was shocked to find out just how far they would go for their customers!

First revealed to the world from a monstrously popular thread on Reddit, this story took off and was featured on several big news publications.

The tale: An elderly man of 89 was snowed in at his Pennsylvanian home around the holidays, and his daughter was worried that he wasn't going to have access to enough food due to the impending storm and bad weather in the area.

After calling multiple stores in a desperate attempt to find anyone who would deliver to the home, she finally got a hold of Trader Joe's... who told her that they also did not deliver... normally.

Given the circumstance, they told her that they would gladly deliver directly to the man's home, and even suggested other items that would fit perfectly with his special low-sodium diet.

After the daughter placed the order for the food, the employee on the phone told her that she didn't need to worry about the price: the food would be delivered free of charge, and that they hoped she had a Merry Christmas.

Less than 30 minutes later the food was at the man's doorstep, paid in full.

Now that's service to remember!

TAKEAWAY It's okay to break the rules from time-to-time to help customers in desperate circumstances, your service quality shouldn't always be dictated by company rules.

2. Rackspace

Great service comes to us across all industries. Proving that even tech companies can have amazing service in a space where a lot of folks like to automate, Rackspace justifies their premium prices with an amazing product and fanatically helpful service.

The story I'm referencing today comes from Fred Reichheld, a Fellow at the management consultancy firm Bain & Company. According to Mr. Reichheld:

One of my favorite examples of this happened at Rackspace, the managed hosting and cloud computing company. An employee on the phone with a customer during a marathon troubleshooting session heard the customer tell someone in the background that they were getting hungry.

As she tells it, 'So I put them on hold, and I ordered them a pizza. About 30 minutes later we were still on the phone, and there was a knock on their door. I told them to go answer it because it was pizza! They were so excited.'

That's a true "frugal WOW" in action, because the pizza essentially "bought" a tremendous amount of goodwill with a customer who was initially having a rough time.

I can also only imagine the utter surprise and joy of the customer who this happened to, talk about winning someone over for life!

TAKEAWAY When things are going wrong, don't be afraid to get creative, a huge majority of people are willing to give brands a second chance if they provide great service. [source]

3. Ritz-Carlton

The folks at Ritz-Carlton know how to deliver an outstanding customer experience, that much is certain.

In order to justify their premium prices, Ritz makes sure that it's customers receive painstakingly good and personalized service whenever they stay at their hotels.

They take things to the next level in this story covered on Business Week: a family that had been staying in the Ritz-Carlton in Bali had brought specialized eggs and and milk for their son who had numerous food allergies.

Upon arrival, they saw that the eggs had broken and the milk had soured!

The Ritz-Carlton manager and dining staff searched the town but could not find the appropriate items. Luckily, the executive chef at this particular resort remembered a store in Singapore that sold them.

He contacted his mother-in-law, and asked that she buy the products and fly to Bali to deliver them, which she agreed to do.

The words of Ritz-Carlton's COO Simon Cooper shows the control Ritz is willing to give their employees to empower them to deliver an amazing experience:

The goal is to develop such a strong emotional engagement between the hotels' staff and their guests that a guest will not consider staying anywhere else, even if they have an option.

TAKEAWAY Give employees incentive and control to deliver an amazing customer experience, and place their priority with customers rather than regulations.

4. Wistia

Our friends over at Wistia are known for their amazing support, especially with newbies who are often quite confused when first getting started with video (this guy!).

One thing I really commend them for though is their ability to adapt.

It can be a tough decision to remove your phone number from your website, because in many cases it might feel like you're trying to avoid customers rather than solve their problems.

What the Wistia crew shows us, however, was that this isn't always the case: great customer support doesn't just have to "be amazing", it also has to be consistently deliverable and is has to scale.

Because of their relatively small team, the Wista staff started to realize that their phone support was dragging down their overall support quality, as they just couldn't keep up anymore:

Without a change, the legendary support we had become known for would cease to be a reality.
Their answer was to shift their support focus to personalized emails, which may not have the benefit of "speaking" with customers, but scales far better in order to deliver more consistent service. They currently use Help Scout to accomplish this.

Phone volume has gone down over 25%, and while support email has gone up, that system is far more scalable.

We've also been able to have more in-depth conversations with customers and new trialers, so we can learn what features within Wistia remain unclear.

TAKEAWAY It sometimes takes tough decisions to continually produce superior customer service, and in many instances, the overall quality of your support should outweigh the use of specific mediums.

5. CVS

I've always had great service at CVS, but I never knew about the awesome experiment they run known as the "CVS Good Samaritan van".

For nearly 30 years, these vans have been rolling around a variety of areas helping stranded customers with their car troubles.

The cost? Filling out a comment card on the service they received.

The Consumerist even ran a story on a woman who was stranded on a dangerously busy highway with a flat tire and was "saved" by one of these Good Samaritan vans, who subsequently helped her get back on the road with a new tire, free of charge.

This is a perfect example of using great service as marketing channel: this "1-on-1" marketing makes for extremely memorable experiences that can create lifelong and ideal customers out of thin air.

We saw how Sweetgreen applied this same strategy with their handing out of gift cards to bicycle riders in the rain, targeting a healthy group who would likely enjoy their healthy menu.

TAKEAWAY Great service can be used as an effective acquisition strategy as well as a retention strategy for happy customers. Getting creative and surprising customers is key.

6. BufferApp

I discovered first hand just how much Buffer loves their customers when I interviewed Leo Widrich on how the Buffer team handles support.

Leo describes the priority that customer happiness recieves during his very busy work day:

Starting with "why" is absolutely important. Giving the best customer support possible is at the very top of our list.

It is the number one thing we want to get done every day. That's also the reason why we call our support team a Happiness Team.

This is especially commendable for a highly social app that supports an intimidating amount of free users in addition to it's paid clientele.

You have to ask: Why would the Buffer team place so much emphasis on support if they have a ton of free users already?

According to Leo:

Instead of us going out and telling everyone how amazing Buffer is, which is much less effective, we want to do it in a different way. We let people come to us with any problems or questions they have.

We then help them in the fastest and best way we can and they go away feeling happy and WOWed telling their friends about us.

Leo shows how great service turns from, "something we should be doing" into a precise and targeted method of generating amazingly positive word-of-mouth referrals.

When you look at all of the references that Buffer gets on major news sites and industry leading tech blogs, it appears that this strategy is certainly working.

TAKEAWAY Word-of-mouth is still the ultimate marketing channel, and the only way to "pursue" it is through amazing support at every level; you brand's best evangelists won't always be your highest paying customers.

7. JetBlue

Airline companies always consistently ranked the lowest for overall customer service, year after year. [source]

It's a tough business to be in for sure, there are a lot of things that can go wrong with so many customers and with the logistics of flying all over the country or even the world.

Despite this, JetBlue has maintained some of the highest customer service reviews I've seen, which is quite an impressive feat.

One cool aspect of JetBlue's culture is the mysterious "People Officer" who randomly surprises customers on flights and in airports with rewards of all types.

One such passenger reports of the People Officer standing up mid-flight and announced that he had free tickets to give away to anywhere that the airline company flew.

The man played trivia games, and handed out tickets to anyone who knew the answers. In all, around a dozen free tickets were handed out during the mid-flight games.

I can imagine a lot of life-long customers being made from that single JetBlue ride! When's the last time a flight you took had anything even remotely as pleasant?

Many places such as Bloomberg have covered how sites like Orbitz often force airlines to get incredibly conservative with their "luxury" expenditures, due to the fact that people try to book bottom dollar most of the time.

JetBlue steers a bit in the other direction, promoting the quality of their flights as the main selling point.

With great examples like the one above, it can be easy to see why one would pay more for a better flight to the exact same location.

TAKEAWAY Even in industries throttled by efficiency, companies can avoid the rat race to bottom-dollar prices by standing out with super service and experience.

8. StudioPress

I can speak very personally about this one, as I am a customer!

While I'm quite impressed with how active the StudioPress team is in their support forums, with the managers having over 60,000+ replies and questions getting answered in as quickly as a few minutes, what I really like about what the team does is their huge emphasis on content...

They know when to get out of their customer's way!

What I mean is, you don't always have to get someone's attention in support to answer a technical question. With a huge array of blog content and detailed tutorials available from the outset, you have the option of learning and tackling problems yourself.

Not only does this allow you to get to know the product better, it is certainly appropriate (and even feels good) to handle situations on your own time: not every question you have requires an emergency phone call to the support line!

Content in this form gives control to the customer and also allows for those frequently asked questions to be answered in a scalable way, letting the support team get back to more difficult queries and keeping customers happy.

TAKEAWAY Sometimes great service means getting out of your customer's way, and giving them the tools they need to solve their own dilemmas.

Your Turn

I've only got one question today...

Name me 1 other company who you feel has amazing service.

I'll be looking forward to your responses!

If you want a little more strategy on creating customer happiness, be sure to download our free e-book on 25 Ways to Thank Your Customers, it's awesome, promise. :)

Buffer

Written by Gregory Ciotti Greg ciotti

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12 Comments

Nick Francis Sep 28

One of my favorite customer-loving companies is Nordstrom. Open Forum has a nice article about them here- http://www.openforum.com/idea-hub/topics/the-world/article/customer-service-lessons-from-nordstrom-1.

It's so legendary in fact, that there's a book on the Nordstrom way- http://www.amazon.com/Nordstrom-Way-Customer-Service-Excellence/dp/1118076672.

PJ Sep 28

I've gotten support requests answered at very very late times on a Saturday from both Securi and CloudFlare.

Since I never seem to have problems during business hours this is a big deal for me!

Gregory Citoti Sep 30

I can definitely speak for CloudFlare PJ, great company!

Ivan Blatter Oct 2

Without thinking about it:
WP Engine, http://www.wpengine.com, @wpengine

Best hosting company with the best support!

Gregory Citoti Oct 5

I've always heard good things about WP Engine Ivan!

Maya Oct 9

Zappos... has to be on this list. Amazing CS!

Story here:
http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/may2009/sb20090512_831040.htm

Gregory Citoti Oct 9

I definitely agree Maya! We just thought Zappos has gotten enough love from us already ;)

See here: https://www.helpscout.net/blog/the-1-thing-that-creates-loyal-customers/

Sharon Harry Nov 9

Amazon has been really good to me. I order things for business and for personal use though them. After recently selling my out of state house, I placed an order on Amazon not realizing until a week later that I sent it to my OLD address! Amazon didn't mind that it was my mistake, and replaced my order. Wow. Thank you Amazon!

James Flanagan Nov 23

While the Customer Service in the commercial and digital world that surrounds each of us has to compete for attention and business from everyone there are wonderful examples who don't have to compete. While the companies listed above certainly have "stars" that are buring brightly, there is a supernova out there that shines so brightly that it is often overlooked and in many ways taken for granted. It eclipses the ratings of the best of the best and it does it each and every time.

Ranked #1, and consistently scoring above 95% in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for the last 10 years, the National Cemetery Administration (Department of Veterans Affairs) has and continues to provide a perpetual level of customer service and satisfaction second to none in the entire Commercial world or across the entire Federal Government and surpasses the cream of the crop in Fortune 500 companies in every corner the world. This level of service is in large part due to the hard work and comittment the federal employee's to the mission that they are charged with accomplishing (to care for those who have borne the battle and their widow and orphan) and it also has to do with knowing, measuring, and providing for every need of each and every one of our customers. We measure it all, we validate the results, we train with a specific goal and focus, and we never step out of our need to honor and provide for the dignity and respect of our members of the Armed Forces of the United States.

OK, I'll admit a bias but look it up, it's not bragging if its truth and make no mistake, it an accomplishment that has not been challenged or acheived by any other company or government agency before or since.

rawra Mar 16

You forgot about home depot...

We find our customers make sure they are finding everything fine and help them how we can. Especially lot attendants. If you see a lot attendant tell them thanks and good job.

Cause that is a grueling job.

Kathie Apr 10

USAA strives to consistently provide exceptional member service and maintains the highest member satisfaction rating in the industry while having the lowest loss business results year after year. I think that they deserve recognition for putting their members first and foremost.

Melinda Tanner Jun 14

Greg,
Searching for a great speaker on Excellent Customer Service. Do you do speaking engagements?
The audience would be public library staff.
If not, recommendations would be welcome.
Thanks!

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