Exceptional Service is the ‘Necessary Evil’

When you take an average customer service training workshop you spend much of the time in the session looking for ways to practice exceptional service.You look for different ways to attempt to separate your company for the competition and how to shine when you make a mistake with the customer. And to the degree of how well you deliver the service – it may be perceived as exceptional.

But delivering exceptional customer service may be a losing effort. Exceptional service is what I call the necessary evil – we have to do it, if we don’t our competition will. But there are three issues with exceptional service.  

First, let me paint a picture. If I own an auto repair station, and you own an auto repair shop, and you’re my competition, and you hear after doing business with me I’m washing the cars of my customers. Can you start washing the cars of your customers? Sure you can. If I hear you’re filling the gas tanks of your customers, can I start filling gas tanks? Of course I can. That’s a big problem with exceptional service; it can be duplicated. 

Duplicating our competition is easier than ever, all I have to do is go to your website and look at the services you provide. If I see something you’re doing that I’m not, all I have to do is copy you. All you have to do is come to my auto shop and look around, maybe have a car serviced there and you will know what types of services I’m providing. Then you can decide if you want to duplicate them.

Here’s another problem with exceptional service. If I’m filling the gas tanks for my customers or if I’m washing the cars before I return them to my customers, can that be expensive? That’s a big problem with exceptional service – it can be expensive. Companies that focus their energy on providing exceptional service to their customers run the risk of violating the ‘slight edge’ of economics. Especially small businesses in tough economic times, you have to be careful about where your money is goes. Providing exceptional service can be expensive.

Another evil to exceptional service is this. Let’s say, after getting my car fixed, I say to you, “Hey, I just got my car fixed at that dealership and when they were done, they washed my car for me.  Pretty cool, right?” You may say, “Well, they should wash it, with the high prices they charge.” 

You see, exceptional service suffers from a problem of perception. What I perceive as exceptional, you may not have the same view. Just because we proclaim to be practicing exceptional service doesn’t mean our customers will perceive it as exceptional.

We have to practice exceptional service, if we don’t, our competition will. But this necessary evil can be easily duplicated, can be expensive and a large percentage of our customers may not perceive what we practice as exceptional.



Companies that deliver great customer service have faith. What do I mean by faith?  Having faith means, believing in something you have no proof of. We think that smiling, making eye contact, and using the customer’s name will bring them back but, we really don’t know it does. But, we do these things because we have faith that it will bring them back.

So many times participants leave my workshops with some great ideas that will allow their company to deliver outstanding customer service and separate them from their competition. Of those who do put their ideas into action, many, after a few weeks or months of not seeing the results they had hoped for, drop the idea. 

Having faith is about measurements; you need to put things into place that demonstrate you are on the right track. If you develop a new customer service performance standard and you don’t have any signposts to help make sure you’re getting the results you want, you are very likely to stop doing it. 

If you ever want to read a really good book someday, read “The Game of Work” by Chuck Coonradt. In his book the author gives you methods of how to measure, or keep score, of how you are doing. The key is to put something, anything, into place to help you keep score.

Let’s say your Big Picture is to live a healthy lifestyle. And to do that you’ve decided to put yourself on a diet and exercise plan to lose ten pounds. What measuring tool would you use to let you know you’re on track? A bathroom scale, right? No scale and you will have to use other, less accurate methods like notches on your belt. Or worse, you won’t have anything to go by. If this happens, you are very likely to stop pursuing your goal. 

The scorekeeping method you use is best if it is (1) Objective; there is nothing subjective about the bathroom scale. Make sure your signposts are specific. (2) Self-administered; ask your staff what measuring method they would like to use on themselves. You will be helping the staff take ownership of the idea by valuing their input. (3) Dynamic; use two or three methods of measuring. Allow the employee to compare current performance with past performance. 

Keeping the faith is all about measurements. Don’t let good ideas die on the vine. Have the courage to take action on your idea. Use signposts to make sure you’re on the right path. Give feedback to nurture the actions and help the staff take ownership of the idea. 

Don’t become frustrated if you don’t get immediate results. Remember, unsuccessful people take forever to make a decision, and then change their minds quickly. Successful people make decisions quickly and are slow to change their mind. 

“Ask Affirming Questions”

Companies that deliver great customer service Ask Affirming Questions.  If you ever want to read a really good book someday read Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.  It’s an old book but a very relevant book today.  In his book Maltz teaches us that our bodies are designed to look for the answers. That there is something in us that drives us to look for answers. Some may say it’s God, some may say it’s DNA but, Maltz calls it the ‘servo-mechanism.’  He says our bodies are designed to look for the answer to the questions we ask it.  The problem is that we ask it bad questions.

 Think about this, maybe you’ve done this, I know I have.  You’re sitting at your kitchen table and you have all those bills spread out in front of you. Maybe you’re paying by phone, maybe online or maybe the old fashion way, you’re writing out a check. And when you’re done you look into the registry and see there’s still some month left at the end of the money!  And you ask yourself that very bad question, “Why am I always in debt?”  Or, “Why can’t I get ahead?”  Or, “Why do I live check to check?”

 Our bodies are designed to look for the answers.  So, when you ask a question like, “”Why can’t I get out of debt?” Your mind is answering, “Well, your credit cards are maxed out, you only pay the minimum, and everyday on your way to work, you stop and buy a $6.00 latte. 

 When you ask yourself, “Why am I so fat?”  Your mind answers, “Well, because I’m like the average American, and sit around everyday watching four hours of television eating cheese puffs.”

 Here’s your hint, most affirming questions start out with, “How can I” or “What can I.”  So it’s not, “Why am I so fat?” it’s “How can I lead a healthy lifestyle?”  Or, “How can I eat right everyday?”

 The rephrasing leads to reframing in our minds.  We begin to look for solutions instead of looking at the problem. 

 Companies that deliver great customer service are continually asking their customers, “How can we help?”  “What can we do for you?”  “How can we do better?” 

 Companies that deliver poor service ask the upset customer questions like, “What’s wrong?”  Or, “What’s the problem?”  If you ask an upset customer, “What’s the problem?” what are you going to hear?  But if you ask, “How can I help?” what are you going to hear?

You see, sixty percent of the public will terminate a relationship with a company based on a bad customer service experience.  And the problem is they don’t tell us, they just leave.  Developing the skill to ask affirming questions in your marketing pieces, in your frontline employees, and in your customer surveys will keep the customer close and communicating.

 I believe the next big wave in customer service will be, making it easy for customers to complain. If we can get the customer talking to us we build better, more profitable, relationships.  And the way to get them communicating is by asking affirming questions.

 The first step in developing this skill is to start observing the kinds of questions you are asking. Listen to the quality of questions you are asking yourself and listen to the people around you.  Make sure you’re all asking affirming questions that look for solutions.  Remember, it’s not, “What’s the problem?”  it’s “How can I help?”

 Then, through effective coaching, get everyone practicing this powerful tool.  


Stop Trying to Please Your Customers. What’s the Difference Between Quality & Exceptional Service?

Companies pushing the ‘exceptional’ customer service mind set are misguided in their focus. As I have written several times, exceptional customer service is necessary evil. It’s evil because it can be easily duplicated by our competition, it can be expensive, and to some of our customers, it won’t even be perceived as exceptional. 

I have also written, over my 25 years of being a customer service expert, that exceptional customer service is necessary. It’s necessary because it’s in the customers face, it’s something they can touch and see. Also, if we don’t deliver some exceptional service, our competition will. 

The key to exceptional service is to steer your effort away from constantly trying to find newer and better ways to deliver great service, stop wasting your time. Our American mind set has led us to always be looking for ways to do it more, faster, better. You can come up with the latest and greatest customer service idea, but if your service provider is in a bad mood or poorly coached by their supervisor, the best ideas will fail. And, as I feel with exceptional customer service, I think we’ve maxed out, it’s time to stop trying to beat our competition with exceptional service and switch our focus to quality customer service.

 Ultimately, the level of service you provide for your customers will depend on the culture you create for your employees. Quality customer service switches your focus from the customer to the employee, helping them to be engaged, and it builds open and honest communication. 

While having well trained managers and supervisors to create this type of candor is important, it is only one step in the process. First, leadership must make the commitment to quality service. This isn’t a 180 degree turn in how you deliver service now; as I wrote, you need to practice some exceptional service. And, if you are already delivering exceptional service, the change is actually easier because you don’t have to worry about that aspect.

Next, you have to switch the focus of your frontline team from SOLVING problems to PREVENTING them.

Only through an investment of training into the managers and supervisor and then to the frontline team will you be able to help everyone understand that they can and must help to ‘create a customer’ for the company.

Thank you.


Leadership Series of Webinars

My leadership Series of Webinars are really taking off, I’m gaining new subscribers every day.  I wanted to take a moment to let you know about the next two.

If you can’t attend the live webinar, for the same price you can purchase the link and watch the video recording on your own time. 

First, on August 18th, for 90 minutes, I will be conducting, “Effort & the Role of Leadership” my time management workshop specifically for leaders.  This is not your grandfather’s time management workshop, this is an entirely different approach.  

Next, on September 13th, is my “Effective Communication for Leaders” webinar for managers and supervisors.  For two hours leaders will learn how to fully engage their team using a logical, repeatable communication tool.

 Remember, for the same price I’ll send you the recording for you to watch on your time.

 Each is $97.00 and I don’t care how many participants you have from your company.  If you sign-up for both and I’ll reduce the price to $77 each, $154 total.  You will see me on video with a power point presentation and I’ll send you a handout to follow along.  Also, I’ll send you a copy of my power point presentation.  This is a great package.

 Thank you.


Big Picture Thinking

If you’re not happy with the level of service you and your company provide, it’s because you haven’t taken the time to define what you mean by great service.  You haven’t developed a strong enough WHY for your staff to align themselves with.  You’re allowing them to show up for work at 9:00 in the morning with the only thing on their mind is, “When and where is lunch.” 

Employees that don’t see the big picture, and are confronted by an upset customer, ask themselves questions like, “Why is this guy yelling at me?  Doesn’t he know that I have a lot of data I need to put into the system before I can go home?” 

Whereas an employee that understands the big picture deals with the upset customer in an entirely different way.  They ask, “How can I deliver great service to this person?  What does it mean to me, to the customer, to the company if I deliver great service now?”   

If you’re not getting the level of service you want from your staff you have no one to blame but yourself.  You haven’t painted a big enough, bright enough, clear enough picture for them.

“Another very important “Slight Edge” is Courage”

Another very important “Slight Edge” is Courage; the courage to take action.  I have seen many companies go through my workshops and do exercises that help them come up with new and different ways to separate themselves from their competition.  They leave Minneapolis with such excitement to go back to their companies to make a positive difference in the company’s level of service.  But then I reconnect with them only to find they have yet to put their ideas into motion.  Sometimes there are barriers that keep us from going forward.  It may be the culture of the company or it may be the fear of doing something different.  Either way these barriers must be identified and dealt with.

“The Seven Slight Edges to Keeping Your Customers”

Remember, the “Seven Slight Edges” are the result of what I have observed over my twenty two years of working with companies from all around the world.  I have seen that companies that excel in delivery great service to their customers practice these ‘slight edges,’ the seemly little things.  Companies that deliver great service practice, either consciously or unconsciously, all seven.  They are the topic of my book, coming out this fall, called “The Seven Slight Edges to Keeping Your Customers.” 

The first of “The Seven Slight Edges” is Big Picture Thinking.  Companies that deliver great service know why they deliver great service.  They understand the long term impact of great service.  And they use this ‘why’ to drive their commitment to service. 

Big picture thinking allows us to look outside of ourselves, to see beyond what’s in front of you and understand how you impact the level of service your company provides.


 Mark Isaac has been a training professional for twenty three years. He specializes in management and leadership communication. He travels extensively working public and private sector companies to increase customer and employee retention. He has conducted seminars in front of hundreds of attendees, workshops with company management and leadership teams, as well as one-on-one coaching. 

His programs have been described as “insightful, clear-cut, and action provoking”. Past participants have said that Mark “takes complicated information and makes it understandable”. His seminars and workshops are successful because people leave with specific plans for their company to keep the customers and employees they have. 

Mark has his B.A. from the University of Minnesota and has completed over 30 marathons.



“Faith; Living in Your Imagination”

The ‘Slight Edge’ of FAITH has many facets.  First; it’s about measurements; companies that deliver great service have faith and have units of measurements in place to help them keep the faith.  For instance, one client told me the first time a customer comes into their store they spend $20.00.  But, the second time the customer comes in spends over $100.00.  They track the number of times a customer returns and how much they spend.

Faith is belief in something we have no proof of.  This is another facet to faith, confidence in things we can’t control.  Companies that deliver great customer service don’t know for certain that smiling, making eye contact, standing up to greet the customer will bring them back but, they have faith that it will.

But here is the aspect of faith I would like to share with you.  Companies, or people for that matter, that lack faith, are living in their history.  Living in their history means they are always making excuses; “That’s not how we do things here.”  Or they say, “This is the way we’ve always done it.”  They are always looking in their rearview mirror.  They are continually looking at the way it’s always been, not how it could be.  

Whereas companies and people who live in their imagination are always looking to how things can be.  They see a future of positivity, a future that includes a new and different way to look at things.  They are motivated by what could be and not by what has been. 

Listen to the way you and the people around you are talking.  Are the comments you hear reflective of history, status quo?  If so, you need to set the example of living in your imagination by painting a big picture of how things can be.


Mark Isaac has been a training professional for twenty three years. He specializes in management and leadership communication. He travels extensively working public and private sector companies to increase customer and employee retention. He has conducted seminars in front of hundreds of attendees, workshops with company management and leadership teams, as well as one-on-one coaching. 

His programs have been described as “insightful, clear-cut, and action provoking”. Past participants have said that Mark “takes complicated information and makes it understandable”. His seminars and workshops are successful because people leave with specific plans for their company to keep the customers and employees they have. 

Mark has his B.A. from the University of Minnesota and has completed over 30 marathons.