Service Done Right – The Best of the Best

Best-in-class companies go out of their way to cater to their customer base, using service as the key differentiating factor in trying to win them over…

You can download PDF version of this whitepaper here.

Ever wonder why most banks’ branches are open from 9am – 4pm only on weekdays, the exact same hours and days when a significant majority of their customers are working? And then when customers are actually able to visit during their lunch breaks the branches are closed for lunch or have lines out the door?

Or, when there is a significant delay or cancellation, that airlines don’t bother telling their customers before they get to the airport? But when a passenger tries to check-in even one minute after the “45 minutes before departure” window he or she is denied and told to wait for the next flight?

The poor service we as consumers receive from companies knows no bounds – not in terms of sector, nor in terms of the levels of it – companies seem to be literally going out of their way to provide poor service every single chance they get. But some don’t. Some place value on service, on ensuring their customers are treated with respect.

The above listed service downfalls are cited for a reason – because two best-in-class companies saw the opportunities that addressing them presented, and by doing something about it, are now recognized by their customers, peers, and us at Forte Consultancy alike as the best of the best:

Commerce Bank: Opened in 1973 with one branch in the state of New Jersey in the USA, this bank modeled itself not after other banks, but after retailers. Realizing that customers were not being done-right by their banks, they made it a core policy to work around their customers’ schedules. The bank’s stock grew more than 2000% during the 1990’s, ultimately resulting in its’ highly profitable acquisition by TD Bank in 2007. Things setting this bank apart included:

  • Being open 7 days a week, 365 days a year
  • Staying open till 8pm on weekdays, until midnight on Fridays
  • Always opening 10 minutes and closing ten minutes after stated branch hours

Other service differentiators included free coin-counting machines for children and adults alike, as well as free lollipops for the kids – this all on top of excellent customer service, supported by tens of thousands of mystery shops a year to ensure quality remains high, and a wow team that rewards the best-performing employees.

Qantas Airlines:  All the way back in 2001, almost before SMS became an irreplaceable part of lives, Qantas launched the “Qantas Flight Update” service – sending details of flight departure time changes to registered users with compatible mobile phones (for any delay of 30 minutes  or more). Since then, many other airlines have followed suit; others still don’t offer it – British Airways just launched their version last year, Turkish Airlines is without. Qantas has been a pioneer of the aviation industry, particularly around the service it provides – it has been recognized by Skytrax as being one of the five best airlines in the world in providing service, for five years in a row now.

Aside from the firms cited in the above examples, some other companies have become legends around delivering service, known for the best-in-class experience they provide their clients. Two of the most cited companies are:

The Ritz-Carlton: The single most cited company when it comes to service excellence, the hotel chain has won two Malcolm Baldrige Awards for the quality of the service it provides its guest. Everything starts and ends with the “Ladies and Gentlemen of The Ritz-Carlton,” the chain’s exceptionally well trained and empowered front-line staff. As one example of this empowerment, each employee is authorized to spend up to $2000 to rectify a customer problem or issue. The chain invests an extraordinary amount of time into training its employees around service excellence, particularly around its “Gold Standards,” the base in its service mantra. This service is so legendary and well recognized that non-hotel employees can even enroll for the course, to learn from the chain’s experiences and approach.

In addition, the company compiles a great deal of information regarding its customers, in order to provide better and better service in each customer stay. Ordered several diet 7-Ups on your stay last year in the Ritz-Carlton Dubai? It will be waiting for you in your room when you arrive the next time you stay at a Ritz-Carlton, regardless of location.

Nordstrom: Probably the most cited retailer when it comes to service excellence, this US chain has been renowned for the emphasis it places on service for over 100 years now. At the core of its efforts is the empowerment of employees (in line with The Ritz-Carlton), with a simple guide in place – “Use Good Judgment in All Situations.”

Every morning in every Nordstrom, employees start the day by telling stories of their customer interactions from the day before, sharing learnings and interesting examples of the ways in which they excelled in servicing the clientele. In a similar vein, employees are encouraged to recognize other employees who they believe has gone above and beyond in delivering excellent service to a customer, for which the employee is recognized and rewarded.

This excellence around service is supported by smart policies that guarantee no hassles for the customer base – for example, the merchandise refund policy is a “no questions asked” one – if a customer wants to return any given product, he or she can without having to give a reason. Another policy which in this day and age is hard to find – customers can contact the store and department they want to speak with directly – no calling a national contact center. Several books and awards later, Nordstrom continues to set the standard for the retail industry around service excellence.

For companies considering improving the level of service they are providing their customer base, we have several simple recommendations that should be followed in so doing:

  • Employees Are Key – Excellence in service can only be achieved when its delivery is flawless. All the little and big things that employees do every day in their interactions with customers define this delivery and its flawlessness. From holding the door open to smiling, to using the customer’s name and setting expectations, the employees define the way customers see companies. As such, the biggest investment of time and resources around improving service quality must be with and around employees – their trainings, compensation, rewards, promotion or demotion, all tied inseparably to service excellence.
  • Data is Too! – Knowing as much as possible about customers on an individual level is of critical importance – the channels they interact through, their preferred time for being contacted, their favorite products and services, their demographics, etc. Any and all data that can be used to customize the way in which a company interacts with each customer should be obtained, stored, analyzed, and used – just as The Ritz Carlton is ensure Diet 7-Up is waiting in certain guests’ rooms when they arrive, so too should any company tap into its customer data to go above and beyond in terms of service delivery.
  • Wow Factor – Every company should look to do something for its customers that no other company does, something that resonates with the base, and with market observers, becoming legend. A couple examples – The Ritz-Carlton even trusts its janitors to spend $2,000 on guests to satisfy them…a no-cost version – Southwest Airlines’ hostesses sing songs before flights take off to put on a smile on their passengers’ faces.
  • Get the Basics Right – The best service in the world wouldn’t help a company that doesn’t have the basics right – a competitive set of products and services, offered through a variety of channels, at a competitive price, promoted in an effect manner. Those companies that aren’t up to par around the basics shouldn’t try to tackle their service issues.

We recommend companies in the service industry examine their own operations and the way they do business to determine whether they are more like the banks and airlines mentioned at the beginning of this article, or more like The Ritz-Carltons and Nordstroms of the world. The findings will unfortunately be likely disappointing.

To learn more about improving the level of service provided to customers, please contact us at


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