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Empower Your Customers and Exceed Expectations With These 3 Customer Service Strategies Customer expectations have transformed radically — here's how to keep exceeding them.

By Cheri Beranek

Key Takeaways

  • Take the word "no" out of your vocabulary. Instead, we find a way to give them a "Yes, and…."
  • The best customer service salespeople talk only 30% of the time because the other 70%, they spend listening.
  • Exceeding customer expectations is an opportunity to reset, and then, break down silos to ensure organizational alignment
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Giving people what they want drives the bottom line. Statistics consistently show that consumers are more likely to buy, purchase again or recommend a company to a friend based on the quality of their customer service. Until recently, competitive businesses knew the equation to meet those expectations and stay ahead: Listen well enough to understand what customers wanted and provide it, but one step better.

Today, customer needs have changed. In a 2023 Salesforce survey of 14,300 global consumers and business buyers, 80% said the buying experience is now just as important as the products or services a company offers. Seventy-three percent expect greater personalization alongside advancing technology. Competitive companies now need to "win hearts and wallets" by proving their ability to consider the customers' best interests.

This year, rather than New Year's resolutions, our company made reaffirmations to the core institutional practices that have driven its success, including efforts to exceed customer expectations. Knowing those expectations have fundamentally changed and may continue to do so, here are our three main customer service strategies:

Related: 5 Reasons Setting Customer Expectations Goes a Long Way

1. What they want, and…

In the past, our approach to exceeding our customers' service expectations was simple: focus on product and network training so we could provide the best quote and turnaround with the least amount of lead time. Now, our customers still want quality, price and lead time, but to provide that one step better, we need to help them navigate new purchasing problems and find new ways to make them happy.

Our post-pandemic path of high demand and supply chain challenges has left many industries in a position of over-inventory. As a fiber-optics connectivity supplier, exceeding our customers' expectations has meant helping them make better decisions with what they have and, in the face of rising inflation and interest rates, more cost-effectively.

To do this, we take the word "no" out of our vocabulary. Saying "no" to a customer request would not exceed their expectations. Instead, we find a way to give them a "Yes, and…." If a customer comes asking, "Can you take my inventory back?" on a non-returnable item, I can say, "Yes, I understand your inventory challenge, and I can reach out to some customers who might need what you have to help resolve it." If they want a specific product unavailable at our company, I can say, "Yes, we have an equivalent product, and I think it could fulfill your requirements equally or better."

Never lie if something is not possible. Rather, empower people to offer "Yes, and…" honestly. The truth opens the door for a future opportunity to work together, but getting caught in a lie can keep someone from ever returning for more business. Empower individual contributors with a clear understanding of what is possible and alternative options so they can apply their "Yes, and…" response most effectively.

Related: How to Keep Up With Customer Expectations

2. Listen

Sometimes, to arrive at a successful "Yes, and…," we need to listen. Suppose a customer wants ten items delivered within eight days, and I know we can only turn around an item per day. In that case, asking for more information might help me respond with a suitable "Yes, and…" Customers are not always aware of what they truly need when it comes to technology components, and listening to how they intend to use the products might empower me to say, "Yes, I can get you eight of the items you need in eight days, and still achieve the same solution."

The best customer service salespeople talk only 30% of the time because the other 70%, they spend listening. Listening to customers keeps them sticky. When a significant potential customer came to us looking for a new fiber optic cabinet supplier, we listened and heard them describing a desire to do more with fewer resources. So, we conducted field studies to assure them that our cabinets could allow twice as many connections. We also provided free field training so they could conduct the study and see the results for themselves. That customer stuck with us even after they passed through their economic difficulties because, by listening, we were able to go above and beyond what they needed.

Related: 8 Ways Customer Service Affects Your Business's Bottom Line

3. Reset and align

Exceeding customer expectations is an opportunity to reset — a reintroduction to your customers and their needs. We were previously focused on drawing the early majority in the technology product adopter lifecycle: more adept and in need of constant change. Now, our biggest customers are in the late majority, who are less confident, require more support, and are more convinced by lower prices. Our job is to strike the right balance.

So, to replace the requirement of having a sales engineer present the first time installing a product, we invested in building a technology platform. Using the same application that could explain how to assemble a newly purchased grill, customers can now learn our technology in bite-sized chunks over their phones. Exceeding the expectations of the late majority meant providing more accessible support and requiring less effort.

After a reset, we need to break down silos to ensure organizational alignment. Nearly eight out of ten of Salesforce's 2023 survey respondents said they expected consistent service interactions across a company, but more than half felt like they were communicating with isolated departments. Under pressure to make a sale, a product manager might offer to meet a price that undermines gross margins, while among leadership, we find that greater customer awareness of market prices tends to diminish such expectations. Especially after a customer reset, breaking down silos ensures alignment around best practices when meeting customer needs.

The pandemic allowed me some time to work on my business, but now, we need to work in it. Our leadership teams are getting more hands-on, and we are working to empower our people to say, "I'll get right back to you." Whenever they find themselves without a "Yes, and…," they can turn to their manager or leader for more insight. Our examples and experiences help team members navigate their customer challenges and discover new ways to exceed expectations.

Cheri Beranek

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of Clearfield

Cheri Beranek is the CEO of Clearfield and a 2023 EY National Entrepreneur of the Year award winner. Under her leadership, Clearfield has grown from a concept to a market cap of more than $500 million, providing optical-fiber management and connectivity solutions across North America.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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