Ultimately, a “brand” is a promise of an experience. And the experience Americans crave is customer service.

But they aren't getting it.

These days, customers are often happy when they can get even 80 percent of what they want — whether that’s help returning a product or simply picking a paint color.

Against that dismal backdrop, it’s easy to see that there’s never been a better time to excel at delighting customers. Here’s how:

Make it part of your culture. Perennial customer-favorite Southwest Airlines puts it this way on its corporate website: “We like to think of ourselves as a Customer Service company that happens to fly airplanes (on schedule, with personality and perks along the way).”

Say the words that customers love. In addition to its clever “Eat Mor Chikin” cow campaign, Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A creates raving fans when friendly team members fulfill customer requests with a simple and heartfelt, “My pleasure!” Other words you can use to take customers to their happy place include, "I'll be happy to," "Here's what we will do" and “Can I do anything else for you?"

Solve problems. When customers bring their problems to you, you should have two goals: to solve their problem and make them feel good for having asked you to solve it. Apple’s Genius Bar is a great example because customers know they are dealing with an expert.

Give a little more than customers expect. In his book Delivering Legendary Customer Service, Richard Gallagher drills down to a very simple philosophy: When your customers have a reasonable expectation to a certain level of service, give them what they expect — plus a little bit more. He calls this the 105% Principle. For example, if you need to refer a customer to someone else, instead of telling the customer to call Mr. Smith, offer to arrange for Mr. Smith to call the customer.

When things go wrong, own it. Customer service screw-ups are opportunities, not outcomes. The vast majority of customers are willing to forgive and forget — and give brands a second chance — if they handle fumbles well.

Surprise your customers. While the shipping policy of online retailer Zappos states the item will be delivered in "3-4 days," the incredibly successful shoe company automatically upgrades all customers to priority shipping — without mentioning it. The result: unsolicited, authentic customer testimonials that have helped the retailer build a stellar brand image.

In the end, great customer service doesn’t involve a lot of extra work. Typically, it requires small, incremental efforts that may add only a few extra seconds to a customer interaction. But the payoff can continue for years as superior customer service becomes your brand.

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The contents of Financial Insight have been compiled from data and sources believed to be reliable but are not guaranteed as to accuracy or completeness. Opinions expressed are those of the authors or the interviewees and are not necessarily the opinions of City National Bank. This publication is intended to be a source of general information regarding City National Bank and its affiliates and their capabilities, the Financial markets, fraud deterrence and other matters of interest to smaller businesses and our personal clients. The effectiveness of the advice or suggestions presented will depend on the reader’s situation and are for the reader to determine. When investments are discussed, the discussion should not be relied upon as specific investment advice directed to the reader’s specific investment objectives, nor should any discussion of specific securities be taken as a solicitation or recommendation for any reader to buy or sell such securities. City National Bank (and its clients or associated persons) may at times have positions in securities and investments discussed from time to time in this publication and may make additional purchases or sales.

City National Bank, as a matter of policy, does not give tax, accounting, regulatory or legal advice. The effectiveness of the strategies presented in this document will depend on the unique characteristics of your situation and on a number of complex factors. Rules and Regulations in the areas of law, tax and accounting are subject to change and open to varying interpretations. The strategies presented in this document were not intended to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding any tax penalties that may be imposed. The strategies were not written to support the promotion or marketing to another person of any transaction or matter addressed. Before implementation, you should consult your own advisors on the tax, accounting and legal implications of the proposed strategies based on your particular circumstances.

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