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Understanding the 3 Tiers of Customer Service (and How to Get to the Top) Where do you stand in terms of customer service? And how do you rise to the top? Here's how to prepare for sustainable bottom-line results.

By Micah Solomon Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • When you've only reached the middle rung of customer service, you're not yet loved (or even probably remembered) for the quality of your service.
  • Anticipatory customer service can take your customer service to the next level.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The way I see it, your decision to read this article already puts you ahead in the customer service game. Here's my logic: There are literally billions of human beings out there who, unlike you, will never read an article or book on the subject of customer service improvement because the subject isn't of interest to them, and they don't understand the power that customer service improvement can bring.

Because of your demonstrated interest in the subject, I'm going to assume that you're already providing "pretty good, much of the time" customer service. You're already getting quite a few things right — at least on most days and in most customer interactions. So, take a moment to pat yourself on the back. (But don't strain your neck.)

If I'm right about this, it means that you've already learned the value of customer service from the moments when you have gotten it right, and you're now inspired to take these successes even further. You're ready to elevate and polish your relationships with customers to a sufficient level to build the customer connections (and business results) you've always hoped to achieve.

In other words, you're ready to get out of the middle of the pack — what I call Rung 2 of the Customer Service Level Ladder — and ascend to the top rung, Rung 3.

When you've only reached the middle rung of customer service, while you may be judged more-or-less satisfactory by your customers, you're not yet loved (or even probably remembered) for the quality of customer service you provide.

Related: Yes, the Rich Are Different — Here Are 5 Customer Service Secrets I Learned While Working With Wealthy Clients

The problem of providing "pretty good, much of the time" customer service

Being on the second rung loads better than languishing at the bottom on Rung 1 (unacceptable service). Still, it will never inspire the engagement, passion and loyalty you need from customers to grow your business.

The problem is that a merely satisfied (Rung 2) customer will still have a wandering eye. And how can you blame them? If your more-or-less-decent customer service is no better and no worse than what your competitors can also supply, where's the value to a customer limiting themselves to only one supplier — you?

What do merely satisfied customers look like? Picture them like this: Although they harbor positive feelings towards your business, they haven't yet ascended to becoming a devoted advocate for your brand. Unlike a genuinely loyal customer, merely satisfied customers maintain (frustratingly) open minds and remain willing to explore alternatives to your business in the vast marketplace.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Your Business Is Losing Customers

A merely satisfied customer is like a free agent, always ready to be enticed by competitors

In other words, here's what you need to remember: A merely satisfied customer belongs to the marketplace. A loyal customer belongs to you.

This is why it's so important to elevate your organization's performance to Rung 3, the level of iconic customer service, where customers now consider you their only possible supplier—a category of one—and start going out of their way to sing your praises and share the word about the extraordinary level of customer service you provide.

Once you're viewed this way in the marketplace, you'll be able to use your new, elevated status to grow your company reputation and to reliably and repeatably grow your bottom line.

Moving your organization up the customer service ladder: The art of anticipatory customer service

If customer service were a game of hockey…that would be super weird, wouldn't it?

But let's say for a minute that it is, in which case the highest level of customer service, anticipatory customer service, is like being one step ahead of the puck, giving customers what they want before they even know they want it, and anticipating their needs, desires, and questions even before they express them. It's one step beyond generic reactive customer service: simply fulfilling a request when asked, and it's the key to creating unforgettable experiences—and memories of your business—for your customers.

Customers often don't ask for what they need because they don't realize they could benefit from something your product or service offers. (Or even know that you offer it.) Or, sometimes, they're too shy to speak up or "don't want to be a bother." (I promise: this last phenomenon isn't as rare as you think!)

That's why anticipatory customer service is so powerful. You're actively seeking out unexpressed needs and going above and beyond to meet them, as well as unasked questions and answering them. When you uncover and take care of those unspoken needs and wishes, you create a whole new reality for your company. In this reality, delighted customers become loyal advocates, spreading the word about your exceptional service.

This level of mind-reading service, where customer needs are met before they can even utter a request, is the ultimate secret to winning customer loyalty. And guess what? You can train and inspire your employees to get there—and transform your relationship with customers (and your business results!)

You may have some doubts

Now, I get it: you have some doubts. You're probably wondering if your employees could become Jedi masters of customer anticipation. Hold onto your hats because I assure you they can and will. This will, however, require you to:

  1. Embrace the anticipatory mindset
  2. Promote this mindset throughout your company
  3. Support the anticipatory customer service approach with targeted, meaningful customer service training.
  4. Build, over time, a culture of anticipation through the power of "positive peer pressure," an environment where employees know that the way things are done around here is to do more than the minimum in a way that is meaningful to our customers, rather than merely complying when asked to do so.

You also might be doubtful for another reason. You're wondering if you can afford to provide such an extravagant standard of service. And yes, it doesn't come for free. But creating mind-blowing service systems is a brilliant investment for any business. The rewards in terms of customer loyalty are worth every penny of your investment and then some. Once you commit to elevating your game and embracing the power of anticipatory customer service, get ready to score big and watch your business grow and prosper like never before.

Micah Solomon

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Customer Service Consultant, Trainer

Customer service transformation expert, consultant, author, keynote speaker. Named "World's #1 customer service transformation expert" by Inc. Magazine. Reachable at micahsolomon.com. Very happy to hear from any readers at any time.

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