By John Stanley The perception in the marketplace, according to research, is that customer service is declining. Whether consumer expectations have increased or services have declined over the last few years is debatable. The fact is, perception is truth, in the consumersï¿½ eyes. Having stated that, some businesses still seem to excel in customer service and get rave reviews from consumers, surely they have a different strategy. Internal Customers Remain The Same It is my view that everyone joins a business team to do their best. It is the culture of the business that affects their performance level. There is an African saying ï¿½the boss casts a long shadowï¿½ and this is especially true when it comes to the standard of customer service we experience in businesses. Every one wants to excel at customer service, but starts from a different point and performs to the cultural expectation levels of the business. The consumer experiences customer service based, in my view, on the different levels: Level One: Synthetic Service Level Two: Genuine Service Level Three: Super Service It is the understanding of the team and the implementation process that make the difference. Synthetic Customer Service This is based on all team members being trained to provide a ï¿½customer serviceï¿½ act. They are given a script, told to remember their lines and to repeat the same process with every customer. This approach is common in the fast food industry and is often criticized by many business people, due to its artificial approach. But, in my opinion, it does have a role. Not every one has the experience and attitude to provide customer service at level two or three. Most young people do not have the life skills to move to level two or three. The same is true when employing people from a different culture to your target customer. Companies that provide awesome customer service appreciate that not everyone will be awesome. They therefore ensure they have a rigorous training programme to make sure all team members are trained and skilled at least in level one customer service. Genuine Customer Service This should be mainstream customer service. It is based on employing a team member with personality and then giving them confidence by providing product knowledge and skills training in selling. Genuine customer service today is often labeled Customer Relations Management. It requires team members to open conversations using ï¿½open questions”. They then rely on their listening skills and product knowledge to build a relationship and foster loyalty with the customer. Genuine customer service has to be sincere and has to provide solutions for consumers. Therefore the sales person has to think for the customer and to think through their customerï¿½s needs and wants. This approach ensures the consumer trusts the salesperson. This is based on the sales person selling themselves prior to selling a product, service or business brand. Most of your mature team should fit into this bracket, but they will require on-going training sessions on selling, product knowledge and consumer care trends. The process of how to be an effective host, consultant and seller, plus how to build effective relationships is explained further in my latest book Think FOR Your Customer (2004). Super Customer Service Super Customer Service is provided by your top performers. Super Customer Service occurs when the customer perceives they are receiving service that is above and beyond what they are expecting. The customers receive acts of spontaneous kindness that delight them. As a result, they become advocates for your business and promote your business by telling others about your awesome service. The formula for success is: Expectation + 1 The bad news is that you cannot put this type of service standard into your company policy, if you do, it wonï¿½t be spontaneous. What you must do is ensure that team members are empowered to provide super customer service and are recognized by management when they do. A recent example I came across of Super Customer Service was at an international airport. A family of travelers had flown with British Airways on a long haul flight and had passed through customs with a large amount of luggage. They were struggling to a rental car when they were spotted by two British Airways flight attendants in the parking area. The BA employees dropped everything and grabbed the familyï¿½s luggage and helped them to their rental car. Now thatï¿½s Super Service, it was spontaneous and even after the sales package had been completed by the airline. Introducing Awesome Customer Service into Your Business You have recognized that not everyone is going to be awesome and that a business is judged on the performance level of its lowest performer. You need to accept that in a successful team you will have team members who will be at different skill levels of providing service. Some team members will need a precise training programme to provide them with a script. It may appear synthetic, but given time, and training, they will move to level two. More mature and culturally aware team members will, given product knowledge and skills training, be able to provide genuine customer service using open conversations. Finally, for those top flyers, have an empowerment policy that allows them to create a raving fans policy for your business. There are a few businesses that only need to concentrate on one level. Successful businesses understand that they need a three tier system to grow awesome salespeople who will in turn grow their business by creating customer advocates for the business.