To understand how some people just have an innate sense for great customer service, you need only look back at Shep Hyken's job during college. Before Shep became a world-renown customer service expert and best-selling author, he worked at a gas station.
"One very, very cold day...a woman got out of the car to pump gas, an elderly woman," Hyken explains. "I went out and pumped her for gas for her. My manager got upset with me for pumping this lady's gas. He says, 'we're a self-serve station' and I thought, well you know, 'but she could have died, slipped piece of ice, I mean she looked frail'. So I helped her and he says, 'What is she going to do the next time? She's going expect the same thing.' And I said, 'well that's fine because there's three other stations, one on each of the corners [of] the intersection, and I think that I'd love her to come back and always do business with us.'"
Today, Hyken consults with many companies and teaches them how to employ this same mindset to what is becoming the ultimate competitive advantage.
"You're going to compete on really one of two things: You're either going to compete on price or something else," he says. "If you're not competing on price alone you're competing on something else and that something else is always going to be part of the customer experience."
So how has social media changed the game for customer service?
"Customers have a bigger voice than ever before and therefore I believe it raises the bar for every company to do an effective job," Hyken says, adding that it's critical that companies respond to every post, whether positive or negative. "That's why they call it social," he says. "Because it is. It's a conversation."
The other thing social media has done is raise customer expectations. The airline industry especially has set a really high bar for any brand in social media, with response times often in just a few minutes. (See Southwest Airlines, for example.)
"What's happened is that customer expectations are higher than they've ever been, and that is outpacing the strides that some companies are making," Hyken explains. "When I have a great experience on Delta Airlines and then I go to any other business, I say, 'Why can't they be as friendly as the people that took care of me on Delta Airlines?' If I go to a restaurant and I'm treated well and then I go to a bookstore I'm going to compare the person who's apathetic, introverted, not outgoing, barely talks to me, barely looks at me, to the friendly server that I had the night before."
So in other words, that innate sense of great customer service is more important today than ever before. While social media has had a huge impact on overall customer experience, getting the basics right - online and offline - is still critical.
As Hyken looks to the future, he is excited about cognitive computing and how it will ultimately lead to a truly personalized experience.
"What [IBM's] Watson is doing and some other artificial intelligence systems are doing is they're not just retrieving information, knowing where to get it, how to assimilate it, and to make it sound good to a human," he says. "They are actually thinking. They're truly going to learn about their customers. And every time they interact with us they're going to get even better and better."
Hyken graciously talked with me for Episode 45 of the Focus on Customer Service Podcast.
Here are some of the key moments of the interview and where to find them:
1:17 How Shep's childhood shaped his customer service expertise today
6:38 The cost of doing business and the cost of not doing customer service well
7:45 Managing customer expectations
12:06 Are all companies in the customer service and customer experience business?
14:57 Examples of great experiences that don't cost a lot of money
18:30 How has social media impacted customer service overall?
20:41 Customer surveys and what it means to deliver "10" service
24:46 Why companies should respond to every single comment on social media
29:05 How companies can build relationships with customers in digital channels and raise expectations for everyone else
37:35 Where is social media customer service going next?
For more on Shep Hyken, visit his website at www.hyken.com.