Tips and inspiration for elevating the experiences that customers will have with your business to an unrivaled level.

By Melinda R. Cordell

Providing extraordinary service is crucial for building a loyal customer base and growing your business. But there’s more to it than understanding your desired customer experience and embracing a culture of exceptional customer service.

Shep HykenCSPCPAE, is the CAO (Chief Amazement Officer) of Shepard Presentations in St. Louis, Mo. As a global authority on customer service and customer experience (he has worked with more than 1,200 organizations, ranging from “Fortune 500” companies to small and medium-sized businesses, to help them improve the customer service experiences they provide) and the bestselling author of eight books and hundreds of articles on the subject, Hyken emphasizes that every touchpoint matters—from how customers are greeted when they walk through your doors to how you answer the phone. By creating a customer service philosophy rather than just a tactic or strategy, you can ensure that your team will be aligned and committed to providing unmatched and uncommon service. 

Winning the Customer

So, why do people buy flowers? It’s often for powerful emotional reasons. Flowers are the best expressions of one’s feelings for loved ones—“I care about you,” “I love you,” “I miss you,” “I want you to get well soon,” “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Customers’ emotions can run especially high, and Hyken says that’s why, when there’s a customer service issue, florists must be proactive in solving it.

“When problems arise, think about what you’re trying to achieve,” Hyken suggests. “Are you trying to win an argument with a customer, or do you want to win the customer, possibly for life?” Research shows that when a business goes above and beyond when resolving mistakes and mishaps—doing everything possible to exceed the expectations of disgruntled and dissatisfied customers—those customers, overwhelmingly, become loyal (or even more loyal, for existing customers) to the business—regardless of the problems—because of the way in which their situations were handled. To provide unparalleled “five-star” customer service, you want to restore the customers’ confidence when you make mistakes. You might not make money on that particular transaction, but the customer will come back.

The bottom line is that it costs a lot of money and time to acquire a customer, and it costs a lot less to retain an existing customer—which should be your goal. As the late author, speaker and businessman Stephen Covey pointed out in his most popular book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “You don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.” We’re not saying that your customers are a bunch of geese, but if you focus only on the golden eggs but neglect the goose—customer service—you will soon have neither the goose nor the golden eggs.

customer at a flower shop

The Six-step Process

Here is a six-step process that will help you create a customer-focused culture for your business.

1. Define your vision for the ideal customer experience. Look at your own personal customer experiences outside of work. What places do you keep going back to, and why? Use those experiences to build your vision of the customer service you want to provide. Also research the world-class customer service provided by renowned companies—whose customer service is their brand—such as Nordstrom; Disney theme parks, hotels and resorts; and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, which is, perhaps, the most frequently cited exemplar of customer service in today’s business world. Then put the customer service experience you want into one short sentence.

To get you started thinking, here is some information about The Ritz-Carlton customer service that should pique your interest: Three tenets of The Ritz-Carlton’s customer service are 1) a warm and sincere greeting, using the guest’s name; 2) anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s needs; and 3) a fond and sincere farewell. Additionally, the use of certain “signature” phrases—including “My pleasure,” “Right away” and “Certainly”—unifies The Ritz-Carlton employees around a shared identity and contributes to the distinctive “Ritz style.” (A short list of words and phrases to be avoided—at all costs—includes “No problem,” “OK,” “hey,” “folks” and “you guys.”) And if that’s not enough, digest this: The Ritz-Carlton’s famous “$2,000 Rule” gives each employee a stipend of $2,000 to immediately remediate any customer service issue without having to ask a manager. This policy is most definitely one you should borrow and adapt for your business.

Hyken says that the vision for his business is encapsulated in three words: “Always be amazing.” Why? “We want to be amazing not only to our clients but also to the people who work here,” he explains. “We teach our clients to be amazing to their customers, guests or members.”

2. Communicate your customer service vision constantly and continuously. Keep it front and center.

3. Train everybody to your vision, whether they’re customer facing or not. Even if your employees are in the backroom making arrangements and never see or speak to a customer, their work still impacts your customer service. Everyone behind the scenes supports the customer-facing people, so they’re just as important to the process. 

4. Be a role model. If you’re the owner or manager, lead by example. Act the way you want the rest of your employees to act. Stephen Covey wrote, “Integrity is, fundamentally, the value we place on ourselves. It’s our ability to make and keep commitments to ourselves (and to others), to ‘walk our talk.’”

When Walt Disney walked through his theme parks, he would stoop down and pick up litter and throw it away. “Mr. Disney called that ‘stooping to excellence,’” Hyken shares. “As a leader, if Mr. Disney walked past that piece of paper, he gave permission for every employee to walk past the paper and not throw it away.” In the best companies, the leaders and managers don’t just tell the employees what to do; they set examples for their employees. This doesn’t mean you have to set yourself up as some paragon of virtue, but if you expect certain things from your employees, you must also do those things yourself.

5. Defend your vision if somebody falls out of alignment. Hyken explains, “Say I had an employee who showed up late every day, walked in like a tornado, hurried to sit down at his or her desk and disrupted everyone else doing their work. After a few days, I bring him or her in and say, ‘Now, we’ve talked about this. But what’s our motto and mantra here? You know it is “Always be amazing.” Do you think that showing up late every day is ‘amazing’? The answer is ‘No, it’s not.’” It’s important to guide an employee back into alignment; otherwise, you will likely deteriorate your customers’ experience and damage the morale of your employees.

6. Celebrate it when it works. Let your employees know when they’re doing a great job. After all, they are the ones keeping you in business, so reward them with perks, prizes, bonuses and even raises when they do good work. When you talk to your employees, ask them for examples of when they created a positive experience for a customer. Then, ask them to share their examples at team meetings, and talk to everybody about them.

“I refer to that as creating service awareness,” Hyken says. “We are making people aware of the moments. And when they share it with others, it means they really recognize ‘Oh, this is what I’m supposed to be doing,’ and you get to congratulate them.”

Creating “Five-star” Processes That Work

Many customer service authorities agree that there are key tenets of good customer service; here are eight that are widely accepted as essential: Respect, Patience, Empathy, Competency, Personalization, Convenience, Responsiveness and Proactivity (remember The Ritz-Carlton’s “anticipation … of each guest’s needs”?).

Say you suddenly find yourself out of baby’s-breath. Or maybe your sale ad shows featured arrangements in red vases, but you discover that all you have are pink vases. So how do we solve this? The best way to handle issues like these are to catch them before they get to the customers. 

Create checklists for various processes, and check off the steps as they’re completed. These checklists will ensure that everything is working the way it’s supposed to, every step of the way. After all, sometimes things get crazy behind the scenes, and sometimes things get missed. Did we send the contract to the customer? Did we get the deposit back? Did we set up our follow-up call? A checklist can help you remember and prioritize.

Take time to focus on recurring tasks, whether monthly, quarterly or yearly, and create short checklists or processes for the trickier ones. While you’re doing this, make a note of any recurring problems and find a way to fix them; then put those steps on your checklist. Once you’ve set up a process, follow it.

Checklist processes are very powerful. If you miss something, you see it instantly and can fix it before it gets to your customers. Later, if you discover you’ve forgotten a step, or if you find a way to make the process run more smoothly, you can always modify and improve the checklists.

“I recently worked with a major online flower company,” Hyken shares. “What was interesting to me is that 25 percent of all transactions have some customer service issue related to them. That doesn’t mean the customer called to complain; in some of the cases, the customers were never aware of the problems because they were fixed before the customers found out.” The florist “nipped it in the bud,” as it were.

Creating Instant Gratification for Customers

“One of the things we teach is ‘Be like Jimmy John’s,’” Hyken informs. “We want to return all emails and calls freaky fast.”

Instant gratification is another part of “five-star” customer service. If a customer calls, answer within 10 seconds. Find a way to keep the customer from being transferred here and there and everywhere—and resolve his or her complaint on the first call. Send the customer email notifications, with photos, when an arrangement is designed and again when it’s delivered.

Also, look into all the times you contact a customer. Are these interactions working as they should? Create “customer journey maps” to show all the interactions (a.k.a. touchpoints) that your business has with your customers. You might need to create more than one map for each journey, to cover each department and how each one impacts the customer experience.

“Mistakes are going to be made, and problems are going to happen,” Hyken acknowledges. “But if you have a good process, with checks and balances along the way, you’re golden.” 

happy sutomer at a florist

Dealing with Reviews and Customer Complaints

Good reviews are fantastic, but one bad review can feel like the end of the world. Would you believe that one-star reviews are good for business?

Think about it: If you see a business with nothing but five-star reviews, you’re instantly skeptical, right? You’re not the only one. Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., conducted a study, the results of which show that bad reviews actually boost sales—because most consumers are suspicious of anything that’s too good to be true. An average rating for a company or product between 4.2 and 4.5 is most likely to influence sales because consumers see those ratings as being authentic.

Should you respond to customer reviews online? Yes, if you can, even if you just say, “Thank you so much” or “We’re so glad to have you as a customer.” If your company gets thousands of reviews, it will be difficult to respond to every one without sounding like a broken record. To save your sanity, respond only to those who put a lot of effort into their reviews.

On the other hand, you should respond quickly to negative reviews—ideally within 24 hours, if possible—but not in a defensive way. You want to fix the problem, so contact the customer directly if you can, apologize sincerely for what happened, and find a way to resolve the issue to the customer’s satisfaction—and then do something extra, above and beyond—regardless of whether you lose money. 

Once you resolve the issue, come back to the review and write, “I’m glad we had a chance to correct the problem. We’ve gone ahead and sent you another …”—or whatever solution you’ve provided—“and thank you for bringing this to our attention and enabling us to rectify the problem (or ‘our mistake,’ to take ownership).”

Sometimes, if you ask this as a favor of the customer, he or she will revise the review. He or she doesn’t need to take the review down, but by getting it updated by the customer, you can post a thank you and a short rundown about how the problem was solved. Then, other consumers will see how you’ve followed up to make things right.

“We like when a client leaves a bad review because that give us an opportunity to fix the problem,” Hyken says. “It shows the world that we care, and it’s a beautiful thing.”

And these are just a few ways to deliver “five-star” customer service.

To discover more about providing “five-star” customer service, visit and