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"We are what we repeatedly do, therefore, Excellence is not an act but a habit" – Artistole

Are customer service levels dropping while service expectations are rising? Are companies like Amazon, Uber and Starbucks permanently seting a high bar for all product and service providers?

These questions were going through my mind lately, after I had endured a number of exceptionally poor customer service experiences from traditional companies. I thought, with waves of disruptive innovation rolling through the economy, fuelled by technology and new business models, certainly traditional businesses would be making service the cornerstone of their growth strategy in order to stay competitive. Apparently not!

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In one example, I had called a local, mid-sized, reputable home services company for an estimate on a job. The owner had been advertising heavily in the local market, and seemed genuinely interested in differentiating based on customer service. I called and, after several attempts, spoke with someone who took my contact information, though could not book an estimate. Several days later, an estimator called me and we arranged a time and date to meet to review the work. On that agreed date he arrived unannounced two hours before the agreed time, while I was in a meeting. He looked decidedly unhappy to be doing the estimate at all, and proceeded to tell me what he thought I needed, not what I had wanted. He departed, and sent me a quotation several days later, with my name was spelled wrong, and I have not heard from him since. Zero follow up. The owner of the company continues to invest heavily in lead generation, but if my experience is typical, he needs to be investing just as heavily on how to close the sale.

Service expectations are high these days, largely driven by massively expanding options from low-cost, technology-enabled global companies that can be competitive on price, selection and service. Traditional businesses are at significant risk of losing ground as the knowledge driven consumer and new business models, enabled by mobility, cloud technology and m-commerce, compete for discretionary spending. Some companies understand this new paradigm, have adapted and are now reaping the rewards. For instance, CarMax, the largest used-vehicle retailer in the U.S., uses a fixed price, no commission sales person model, knowing the consumer is informed and service hungry. This approach is enabling Carmax to expand rapidly to a total of 133 stores, after adding 13 new locations in 2013, giving it an 18 per cent per annum unit sales growth.

If I was coaching the owner of the business in my example, here are the seven things I would suggest:

  1. Put some of your advertising budget towards training staff on customer service, sales, and closing.
  2. Convert leads to sales by ensuring follow up calls until you get a Yes or No. If no, ask why?
  3. Reinforce your brand advertising with better execution, to build long-term customer relationships.
  4. Compete on service excellence, not price, since you can’t buy everything online, yet.
  5. Explain to your staff the unique value of face-to-face customer interaction, and how to leverage it.
  6. Use mystery shoppers, customer calls, and follow up surveys to get feedback.
  7. Embrace technology and innovation and get ahead of the curve, since your customers already have.

The majority of businesses in Canada, both big and small, regional and national, strive for and achieve exemplary levels of service excellence.

Many small businesses set standards for service within their domain. However, there are still business leaders that maintain the status quo, oblivious to the significant risk status quo poses to long term viability.

Don't do it. Instead, use customer service excellence as the cornerstone to building a high growth business, particularly in this age of technological, demographic and economic change.

What would you advise business owners to do in order to build a great customer service culture? Let me know on Twitter at @EamonnPercy.

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Eamonn Percy is the principal of The Percy Group, a business advisory and capital firm focused on helping business leaders accelerate the growth of sales and profit. Subscribe to his newsletter at

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