Customer Experience News & Trends

Pick your customer service style: There are 9 to choose from

Nearly every company wants to provide the best service. But many miss the mark because they skip an important step in the experience: defining their service style and committing to being the best at it.

“Service should be designed with as much care as products, but most companies are not designed for service,” say Thomas Stewart and Patricia O’Connell, authors of Woo, Wow and Win: Service Design, Strategy and the Art of Customer Delight.

The best customer service can come in many forms. In some industries, customers might consider the fastest the best. In other industries, customers might believe personalization is the holy grail. In some other industries, customers might say expertise is their top priority.

“Great service is not just a consequence of good intentions, attentive management and a supportive culture,” the authors say. “In fact, cause and effect are reversed. Service needs to be laid into the company’s keel, the way performance is built into a BMW or intuitiveness designed into an iPad.”

Companies and their customer experience professionals want to know what’s most important to their customers, then pivot their service to be the best in that area.

Here are nine service styles that Stewart and O’Connell identified, plus who does them well and how you can master them for your customers:

1. The Aggregator

They’re one-stop shops, the place for customers to go to meet all of their needs. Their focus is on a vast array of products and services.

Leaders: Amazon, iTunes, W.W. Grainger.

How you can do it well: Aggregators aim to save customers time and money. Give customers lots of choices, and get what they want to them quickly. The key is to focus on behind-the-scenes processes that make choices, transactions and delivery efficient.

2. The Bargain

They’re value lies in low prices. They don’t offer anything fancy, but they’re glad to be the solution to customers’ pricing problems.

Leaders: Walmart, Spirit Airlines, Red Roof Inn.

How you can do it well: Set clear expectations and stick to them. Bargain companies can only stay bargains if costs are kept down. Simplify pricing. Charge extra for any extra attention — from more speed and comfort, to rework and recovery.

3. The Classic

They’re top-of-the-line. They might not be cutting-edge, but they’re known as the best in their industry with reliable products and customer service behind them.

Leaders: Four Seasons Hotels, Ralph Lauren, Mayo Clinic.

How you can do it well: The Classics aren’t exciting. They build their customer service reputations on reliable products and the people behind them. The key is to make sure the experience is dependable and consistent at every touch point.

4. The Old Shoe

When the names of these places come up, customers often say, “Good place, good service, good price” (or something similar). They’re usually a local business (or a larger brand owned or franchised by a local), where the employees know the regular customers and what they like.

Leaders: Credit unions, Cracker Barrel, Radio Shack.

How you can do it well: Build and develop personal relationships with customers so empathy and engagement come natural between employees and customers. Most employees — from the owner or president, to the front-line service pros and clerks — should have regular contact with customers.

5. The Safe Choice

These companies are solid. Customers have learned that they can’t go wrong purchasing from them. Customers won’t be wowed or delighted, but they won’t be disappointed, either.

Leaders: Allstate Insurance, Dillard’s, Microsoft.

How you can do it well: You can’t please all the people all the time, but you can come close to it. Safe Choices offer solid and fair customer service. Nothing is over-the-top or pricey, but employees treat customers fairly and policies are fair to all customers.

6. The Solution

The Solutions build partnerships. They’re most valuable when customers’ needs are complex, problems are multi-faceted or wants are unique. They can pull together all the moving parts and get them in sync.

Leaders: IBM, Deloitte, UPS.

How you can do it well: The Solutions’ customer service is valuable because it is a whole answer, not just part of a bigger solution. Service professionals need to be experts in a variety of areas and able to pull together the right amount of information from each of those areas for the ultimate solution. You won’t be the fastest or most economical company. But you must be the most thorough.

7. The Specialist

The Specialists have the highest level of expertise, and make it available to customers at a premium price. They’re a cut above other companies like them. But customers have to pay well for that kind of attention and knowledge.

Leaders: USAA, East West Bancorp, Goldman Sachs.

How you can do it well: Most Specialists invest in their employees and technology, which are both on the cutting edge. They offer customers top-notch solutions and continue to add value to the relationship by doing their own research, hosting customer conferences and making experts available.

8. The Trendsetter

These companies are sleek and hip and make customers feel hip, too. They provide unique experiences and make customers feel smart for doing business with them.

Leaders: Apple, Barney’s, Uber.

How you can do it well: Trendsetters put a trendy face forward: sleek website and logo design, minimalist offices and fashionable employees. They might be cool, but they do work at building engagement with customers. They maintain systems so they can listen closely to customers and, most importantly, act on changing needs and demands.

9. The Utility

The Utilities deliver essential services to customers. They’re usually regulated, sometimes bureaucratic and often the only game in the town.

Leaders: AT&T, Comcast, U.S. Postal Service.

How you can do it well: Just because Utilities often don’t face competition doesn’t mean they can get away with poor customer service. Utilities can balance regulations and hard policies with robust dispute resolution. If employees are trained on and practice empathy, they can create experiences that are genuine, not bureaucratic.

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