What Is the Key to Exceptional Customer Service?


Throughout my career, I’ve noticed that some of the best companies, both large and small, put a premium on providing exceptional customer service. I’ve also noticed that exactly how to achieve it often tends to be elusive. It is this same question that companies, consultants, and marketing gurus all over the world have attempted to answer many times. As a result, there is now an abundance of strategies, formulas, programs, and methodologies designed to help organizations find that sweet spot.

The problem, at least in my mind, is that most of the strategies focus on modifying behavior in some form or another. Certainly, that does work with the right motivation, but it often does not last, and a new concept needs to be introduced again and again. I’ve seen it happen myself often. With time, the fervor of one new concept starts to wane, and another must takes its place, sometimes with a great deal of effort and cost, including large kickoff events, special speakers, video presentations, and materials, etc.

But what if the answer is more fundamental than all of this? What if instead of cold methodology, we appealed to human nature, seeking not to change behavior, but rather to inspire exceptional customer service with a shared belief?

Let me explain.

A fascinating concept emerged a few years back, championed by the author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant, Simon Sinek.

Sinek explained the concept in his bestselling book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and his famous Ted Talk on the same subject. This idea that Sinek calls “Start with Why” has proven to have important implications for marketing as well as leadership. Bear with me, and I’ll explain how I believe it can also do the same for customer service.

To codify his ideology, Sinek uses what he calls the Golden Circle. It looks like this:

Sinek Golden Circle DiagramThe Golden Circle’s three layers include:
• Why: This is the core belief of the business. It’s why the business exists.
• How: This is how the business fulfills that core belief.
• What: This is what the company does to fulfill that core belief.

According to Sinek, most companies do their marketing backward, starting with what they do and then how they do it. What most companies fail to identify, however, is why they do what they do, and many do not even know why they do what they do.

To illustrate this difference, Sinek uses Apple as a model. As we know, Apple customers are extremely loyal. Is it because Apple makes a better computer or tablet or phone than anyone else? Sinek says not necessarily. Instead, he maintains that it is how Apple presents itself to the world. Sinek draws a comparison between how it would look if Apple were like most companies instead of how it is.

If Apple were like most companies, it would present itself like this:
We make great computers. They’re user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?

Not particularly inspiring, is it?

Now compare it to how Apple actually does present itself:
With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently. Our products are user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?

The difference is pretty obvious. People relate so well to Apple’s “why” that it builds a connection and thereby secures their loyalty. It’s the same with companies like Harley Davidson, which is as much a product as it is a lifestyle. Likewise for Subaru and its “Love” campaign, and ADT with their “line in the sand between your family and an uncertain world.” The reason why these companies do what they do resonates with their customers.

But what does this have to do with exceptional customer service? Here’s what.

Customer service is more likely to be exceptional not as much because of some methodology or behavior modification, but more as a result of a shared belief and purpose that exists and is lived out culturally by every member of the organization, every single day.

“Start with Why” is really about biology. As humans, the need to belong exists across all cultures and all people. It is the feeling we get when those around us share our values and beliefs. When we feel like we belong, we feel connected, and we feel safe. We want to be around people and companies who are like us and believe what we do.


“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first,” says Simon Sinek.

What we are talking about is an emotional investment, which is vastly different than behavioral modification or methodology. When there is an emotional investment, passion becomes a homogenous driving force, genuine and sustainable. When a company clearly communicates “why” they do what they do, and their employees believe in it, those employees will often go to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate their commitment to that belief. It’s a matter of pride, devotion. That includes providing exceptional customer service.

If you are a leader, entrepreneur, or business owner, and your operations include customer service, it’s clear what “Start With Why” can do for you. Making customer service exceptional is crucial. Personally, I’ve traveled out of my way, even paid more for a product, to support a company whose customer service was that good. I know others who have done the same. As an employee working for someone else, customer service, whether internal or external, may also be a part of your life. If something like “Start With Why” is not active in your organization, find a way to make it begin with you.

You’ll also like The 6 Qualities That Make a Female Leader StrongDoes Finding Your Purpose Really Matter?, 6 Things You Should Do to Protect and Advance Your Career, 10 Ways to Be a Great Boss and How to Manage Your Team, 3 Keys to Successful Leadership in the Midst of Chaos and Must Reads on Work and Money for a Grit and Grace Life.

And you won’t want to miss this episode of our podcast, This Grit and Grace Life To the Working Woman: A How-To Guide for the Workplace – 023.


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