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6 ways to achieve 'wow' customer service and create lifelong customers

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1. Empower your employees to make on-the-spot "wow" decisions without having to run to a manager for approval

1. Empower your employees to make on-the-spot "wow" decisions without having to run to a manager for approval

More than any other step on this list, this one is essential. You cannot unlock the creativity and discretionary effort of your employees if they always "need a moment to check with the manager" or have to worry that they're overstepping.

Herve Humler, cofounder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, which has famously built intense customer loyalty via "wow" customer service, said that the company's employees "have total power, and all the resources of our organization, to create these moments, these stories, on their own, without needing to ask permission, without needing to involve management, without needing to worry that they're going too far. The time spent creating these stories isn't time taken out of their job; this time spent is their job."

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2. Recognize and applaud your employees' efforts to wow customers

2. Recognize and applaud your employees' efforts to wow customers

Take a close look at how you react when employees go the extra mile for your customers. You can either express your disapproval by punishing employees for what they did, on the grounds that the extra assistance they provided to a customer took extra time and reduced the employee's (narrowly defined) productivity, or you can celebrate and applaud their actions. The choice is yours, and it will make all the difference.

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3. Encourage your employees to anticipate customers' needs

3. Encourage your employees to anticipate customers' needs

This means answering a question or fulfilling a need or desire that a customer hasn't even voiced — maybe because they're shy, they don't want to appear ignorant, or they don't know the extent of how you can help them. To use the terminology of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, strive to "serve even the unexpressed needs and wishes" of your customers. Anticipatory customer service is one of the most effective ways to create wow.

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4. Be sensitive to when it's the right and wrong time to wow your customers

4. Be sensitive to when it's the right and wrong time to wow your customers

A customer who is in a rush or busy with a phone call isn't going to appreciate being disrupted, no matter the good intentions. New employees who are still getting used to delivering "wow" service are the most likely offenders here. Be sure that, if they do misfire in their early attempts, you set them straight gently, so you don't turn them off entirely to trying again the next time, when wow is in fact appropriate.

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5. Remember that not all wow moments are the result of elaborate actions

5. Remember that not all wow moments are the result of elaborate actions

They can also be created in small ways through an empathetic, memorable conversation with a customer, or a conversation that makes an emotional connection. For example, Zappos employees strive to make a connection on every single phone call by bonding over something relatively workaday (a love of pets) or dramatic (a more serious shared interest/concern) based on cues the employee picks up on from the customer.

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6. Actively recruit and hire wow-capable employees

6. Actively recruit and hire wow-capable employees

Although encouragement and empowerment can go a long way, do yourself a favor and start with the right raw material if you can. Make a point of aiming your recruitment and hiring efforts at identifying and hiring those potential employees who would delight in serving and wowing customers when opportunities arise. These are individuals, who exemplify warmth, empathy, teamwork, conscientiousness, and optimism.

Micah Solomon is a customer service turnaround expert, consultant, speaker, and the author of "Ignore Your Customer (And They'll Go Away): The Simple Playbook for Delivering the Ultimate Customer Service Experience."

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